London partner promotions at US leaders rise 30% as firms shrug off Brexit jitters

Top US law firms made up almost one third more partners in London this year than last, according to new Legal Week research which also found evidence of progress being made on female promotions by America’s elite.

Combined City promotions at 32 of the largest US firms in London jumped by 28% this year, as American outfits continue to expand their UK presence, despite widespread expectations that many would cut back in the wake of the Brexit vote.

In total, 60 new partners were made up in London with effect from 1 January out of a global haul of 585 - the equivalent of roughly 10% of new partners worldwide. Last year’s London promotions equated to roughly 8.5% of the firms’ new partners globally.

The 28% percentage increase in London promotions far outstripped the increase in new partners globally, with total promotions across the firms standing just 6% higher year on year.

Almost half of the firms from which data was drawn made up more partners in London this year than last, with only eight cutting back on City promotions.

Kirkland & Ellis had a standout year for new London partners, more than doubling last year’s figure of six City promotions to 13 this January.

At White & Case, which promoted seven City lawyers this year, London executive partner Oliver Brettle said: “London remains a very important place for the firm in terms of the business it provides, and our promotions  reflect that. A large number of financial institutions and major corporates have substantial operations here and instruct us. If you are going to be a global elite firm, you have to be strong here and in the US and invest across all levels.

“A number of our London trainees make partner here – people want to be at a firm that is able to deliver a long-term career for them.”

Other US firms to have increased their London promotions this year included Mayer Brown, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Vinson & Elkins. Gibson Dunn promoted two lawyers to partner in the City this year – both of whom were women - after making up just one last year.

London corporate head Charlie Geffen said: “In a growing office, the rate at which you promote internally is bound to be different to a much larger office. It’s particularly pleasing that we had two promotions in London this year and that they are both women.

“London is one of the world’s most important financial centres and US firms have to continue to provide a strong offering here. It’s hugely important for US firms to have homegrown talent and expertise across all levels of seniority.”

Eight firms promoted City lawyers this year after overlooking London last year, including Shearman & Sterling and Proskauer Rose, both of which promoted a trio of London lawyers after not making up any last year. Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison, Dechert, Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy, Fried Frank and Bryan Cave all made up one new partner after none last year.

The figures also suggest US firms are upping their game when it comes to female promotions globally, with the total number of women promoted at the 32 firms increasing by 23% this year. Of this year’s total partnership intake worldwide, 35% are women, up from 30% last year.

Kirkland made up 35 women - equating to 36% of all partner promotions – up from 22 last year, while Latham & Watkins promoted 11 female lawyers after just four last year. Sidley Austin doubled its female promotions this year, jumping from five to 10, while Gibson Dunn also significantly improved on last year’s tally, making up eight women compared to three last year.

Among the 32 firms, White & Case saw the biggest drop in female promotions, with five making the grade compared to 16 last year. However, London chief Brettle is confident that this year will be a one-off due to measures the firm has put in place to ensure management accountability for improving diversity.

He said: “There was a dip in the number of female partners made up this year, but we can see a robust pipeline of women coming up through the ranks for future years. One of our leadership accountability measures is having a strategic plan in place for each business unit regarding current and projected rates of retention of senior women and future pipeline to partnership.”

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