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Pinsent Masons promotes eight women to partner as Linklaters considers female boss

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Who run the world? Girls

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Notable progress has been made this week in the unrelenting strive for gender diversity in the legal profession.

It has been revealed that commercial giant Pinsent Masons has promoted 18 new faces to its partnership rank, eight (44%) being women.

The international law firm — which offers 75 training contracts a year — seems to take its diversity commitments more seriously than some others. Pinsent Masons pledged its official commitment in 2014, unveiling plans to shake up its senior ranks and set itself an interim goal of 25% female partners by 2018.

The newest recruitment round has edged its female partner figure up to 23%. This is up two percentage points from last year, and is just two further percentage points away from its interim target.

But the firm’s fundamental goal is to hit 30% — a figure achieved, to date, by just three of the country’s top law firms. With women making up 60% of Pinsent Mason’s associate workforce, it certainly doesn’t seem an unachievable target.

Even more excitingly, it looks like City giant Linklaters may well be on the cusp of making magic circle history.

Irish lawyer Aedamar Comiskey is in the running to be promoted to senior partner of the leading law firm this summer. Comiskey is up against two others in the running to nab the title from Robert Elliott, the firm’s previous leader. If she’s successful, she’ll be the first woman to do so in the entire history of the magic circle.

It’s undeniable progress, but sometimes the struggle for gender equality seems simply never ending.

For a start — though Linklaters’ consideration of Comiskey as senior partner is no doubt symbolic of changing attitudes to women in the senior ranks of the profession — corporate lawyer, and man, Charlie Jacobs is the favourite to snatch the post. It’s perhaps unsurprising given the pool of talent to choose from — only 24% of Linklaters’ partners are female (which, in fairness, is pretty good for a corporate law firm).

And in other law firms, the picture is far bleaker.

A quick scan of the Legal Cheek Firms Most List shows the shocking disconnect between the number of women entering the profession and the number reaching its top ranks. Depressingly, not a single one of the country’s top 60 firms has a female to male partnership ratio of 50/50. Withers boasts the most heavily female partnership at 45%, while the likes of Freshfields, White & Case and Allen & Overy fall well below 20% (despite having more female associates than male).

There’s been endless chatter about this undeniable disconnect, but it looks like the jury is still out. Does the old boys’ club mentality intimidate bright, determined women? Are the differing ambitions of female and male lawyers to blame?

Or is there an intrinsic bias towards men and against women when it comes to partnership recruitment rounds?

Law firms are all too quick to assure worried spectators that this isn’t the case, and that they are well on the way to achieving gender parity. Female associates just need to trickle through the system, they say, so more and more women stand to make partner in the not too distant future.

The stats tell a different story. Take magic circle big shot Slaughter and May. The firm’s 2013 promotion round saw three women make partner out of a total of seven (43%), yet 2016 has not proved so fruitful. Last month, the global titan promoted 10 of its associates to partnership — just one was a woman.