Research: Some City firms are not as white and male as you might think — but many still are

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By Judge John Hack on

Exclusive Legal Cheek research reveals striking disconnect between representation of women at associate and partner levels alongside vastly different attitudes towards hiring ethnic minority lawyers


Some City law firms are more racially diverse than common perceptions suggest — with 16 of the biggest firms in the country surpassing or equalling the national average in numbers of ethnic minority associates. But 30 firms fall below this level and another 14 don’t disclose this information at all.

Ethnic diversity at partnership level, meanwhile, lags even further, with only five large firms beating the national average.

The figures — which show some firms streets ahead of others, and with several big names producing low numbers — emerge from exclusive Legal Cheek research of 60 leading firms in England and Wales for its new ‘Most List’.


Also shown from the data is that the ranks of associates at some regional firms are more than two-thirds female — yet firms’ partnerships remain dominated by men. The findings are considered in more detail below.

UK ethnic minority associates

Leading the ethnic minority diversity pack are two magic circle players. Some 28% of associates at both Allen & Overy and Linklaters have ethnic minority backgrounds. Latest UK census figures show that 13% of the national population as a whole have non-white backgrounds.

Following those two firms are the London offices of four leading US practices: Cleary Gottlieb, where 25% of associates have ethnic minority backgrounds, White & Case (22%), Latham & Watkins and Mayer Brown (both 21%).

Slaughter and May comes next, with the magic circle firm — perhaps surprisingly, considering its blue-blood reputation — on 20%. Rounding out the top ten are Mishcon de Reya on 19%, Clyde & Co on 16% and Baker & McKenzie on 15%.

The other firms either at or above the figure for the wider population are Baker & McKenzie, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Weil Gotshal & Manges, Fieldfisher, Norton Rose, Clifford Chance and Trowers & Hamlins.

At the other end of the spectrum, some big players lag behind. For example, only 4% of associates at leading regional and City firm Osborne Clarke are from ethnic minority backgrounds. DAC Beachcroft and DWF rack up the same figure, while RPC does even worse, with just 3% of its associates falling into this category. Meanwhile, international firm Eversheds and fellow City player Addleshaw Goddard are on 7%, while transatlantic giant Hogan Lovells is on only 8%.

UK ethnic minority partners

Mishcon de Reya takes the honours for the highest percentage of partners with an ethnic minority background, at 20%. It is followed by Mayer Brown (17%), Shearman & Sterling (16%), Cleary Gottlieb (14%) and Clyde & Co (14%). Indeed, they are the only partnerships at or above the wider national percentage.

Propping up the bottom of the table are leading international private client firm Withers and the London office of another transatlantic practice, K&L Gates; both firms have no partners with ethnic minority backgrounds.

While many leading firms are clearly beating the national figure in their trainee and associate recruitment, the figures do not look as bright when measured against the ethnic minority population of London, which is where most of the firms are based and where they focus much of their recruitment activity. The ethnic minority population of the capital is currently marginally more than 40%.

UK women partners

Gender balance highlights regional or practice-area differences. While no firm has hit the magic figure of 50% women at partnership level, some are getting closer, but they are not the big global corporate players.

Leading the pack is Withers, where 45% of the partners are women. Following is major regional practice Shoosmiths on 37% and fellow regional firm Irwin Mitchell on 34%.

In the City, only second tier players figure highly, with 30% of the partnership at Watson Farley & Williams being women, and 29% at both CMS Cameron McKenna and the London office of US firm Squire Patton Boggs. DAC Beachcroft has a partnership of 28% women.

At the other end of the spectrum, only 5% of the partners at the London office of top US firm Cleary Gottlieb are women, while Dechert — where Miriam Gonzalez, the high profile wife of deputy PM Nick Clegg is a partner — has a mere 10% female partners. A further 23 firms have less than 20% women partners in their UK offices, among them magic circle trio Slaughter and May, Freshfields and Allen & Overy.

UK women associates

But at associate level, the feminisation of some firms is striking. Some 74% of Irwin Mitchell associates are women, while Farrer & Co follows on 69%, Mills & Reeve 67% and Kennedys on 66%.

In total, 42 out of the 60 firms surveyed have more than 50% women associates. Bucking the trend are Cleary Gottlieb, Weil Gotshal, Travers Smith and Dechert — where women make up between 37%-42% of associates.

Euan Clarke, the diversity partner at Linklaters, which recently became the first business in the country to be awarded a new Equality Standards certificate, maintains that diversity is looming ever higher on law firm agendas.

“Clients are increasingly interested, and potential recruits are interested,” he said. “There are clear business imperatives. And it is also the right thing to do.”

For more information about the top 60 law firms — including which pay most, which are most diverse and which have the most social media clout — check out the new The Legal Cheek Top 60 Firms ‘Most’ List and accompanying law firm profiles.

The Legal Cheek Top 60 Firms ‘Most’ List [Legal Cheek]