Top firms step up pressure on partners to take responsibility for improving diversity

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Some of the UK’s largest law firms are placing more impetus on partners to take individual responsibility to improve diversity among their ranks.

UK top 10 firms Hogan Lovells, Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and Allen & Overy (A&O) are among those stepping up efforts to hold partners to account by more explicitly linking diversity to compensation and performance reviews.

Hogan Lovells, which already holds line managers to account for their efforts on diversity, is now set to include the issue in its partner compensation process.

The firm will update its compensation systems later this year to include specific assessment of what individuals are doing to improve diversity at the firm, with all partners encouraged to demonstrate how they have contributed.

Grant-Ruth_616x372Ruth Grant (pictured), who chairs Hogan Lovells’ global diversity and inclusion committee, which was put together in 2015, said that the overhaul “has the potential to make a positive difference to diversity and to partners’ compensation”.

She added: “We want to be able to understand how partners are contributing to making a difference – how they are helping the long game.”

While Grant believes that the profession has improved a lot since she was London managing partner of legacy Lovells between 2005 and 2009, there remains much to be done.

“I think that during the next five years we will see lots of change. There is the ongoing sense that some elements required by the old model of partnership within a law firm are no longer fit for purpose. In my view, there will be a change in what is valued.”

Meanwhile, HSF, which already holds global practice heads to account on diversity, is also aiming to spur partners on to make more of an individual effort. Diversity and inclusion head David Shields said: “Currently, we assess partners on diversity and inclusion on an ad hoc basis. We are beginning to talk to partners about what they can do individually to help us achieve greater progress in this space.”

News of the moves comes after A&O announced earlier this year that all of its office managing partners will be held accountable by the firm’s leadership team for bringing sufficient numbers of women through to partnership.

Other top 10 firms that have already adopted similar practices include Ashurst. In 2016, all of the firm’s partners were asked to adopt at least one diversity target as part of their annual performance reviews.

Clifford Chance (CC) and Norton Rose Fulbright hold senior management to account, but do not formally assess individual partners.

CC said it works with its group, practice and office heads to “evaluate progress against gender targets within their teams”, while Norton Rose “considers progress on these matters in performance discussions” with its global diversity and inclusion advisory council, global executive committee, management committee, team leaders and practice group leaders.

While Linklaters said it does not have any formal measures in place to enforce management to bring female talent up to partnership, the firm said: “Implicit in our targets is that each office, practice and team head takes responsibility for ensuring that women are brought up through the partnership and leadership pipelines.”

At CMS Cameron McKenna, the firm encourages its partners to devote time to improving diversity, but does not have formal measures to assess such objectives. Senior partner Penelope Warne said: “We don’t currently have specific targets or performance assessments. On a practical level, we encourage our people to devote a minimum of 50 hours per year to diversity and inclusion and community activities. This behaviour is considered at appraisals for promotions and advancement activities.”

Elsewhere, DLA Piper has put together a “gender talent pipeline roadmap”, with senior partner and global co-chairman Juan Picon leading a push to increase the number of women at partnership level and in leadership roles at the firm.

DLA’s initiatives include gender analysis moderation of all promotions, unconscious bias training for all partners, maternity/parental coaching, and focus groups to help staff better understand the barriers to career progression.

Of the UK’s other top 10 law firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer declined to comment.