Law firm diversity 2016

Law firm diversity 2016

Every year we ask law firms for their figures for gender and ethnicity. Here we analyse the trends.


  • Since 2014, numbers for women and ethnic minorities show slight progress.

  • Women are best represented at regional and national firms.

  • US firms have most ethnic minority trainees and associates.

  • Most of 'The 30% Club' are not on track to meet their goal by 2020.

Across the country, at all types of firms, the numbers are nudging in the direction of progress. The representation of women and ethnic minorities has increased since 2014. The image above show the average data across firms from 2014 compared to 2016. (Note that these figures are averages across the surveyed firms and are not weighted to reflect firm size.)

Ethnic diversity has shot up, with the proportion of trainees and associates from ethnic minorities increasing by around 40% since 2014; the average percentage of ethnic minority partners is up by 60%. Although we should note that these numbers are well shy of representing the population at large, and according to the Law Society, 27% of trainee enrolments in 2014/15 were ethnic minorities.

The number of women lawyers is increasing more slowly, but rising quickest at partner level, where there’s the most room for progress. Meanwhile, the percentage of trainees and associates who are women is creeping towards 60% – that's more or less the proportion of female LPC grads (and has been since the 90s).

Diversity at the junior end is rather better than you might expect: the assumption that law firms have a penchant for recruiting white male graduates looks unfair. The real problem is how both women and ethnic minorities progress through law firms: the numbers still drop off the cliff at partner level despite better efforts at recruitment.  

Which type of firm does best?

If you slice up the 2016 data by type of firm, some trends appear:

  • National and regional firms have the best representation of women at the junior end. In other words: a lot of female lawyers work outside London.

  • US firms employ most junior lawyers from an ethnic minority backgrounds. US firms are often more dedicated to the issue of diversity than their English counterparts and it's likely that their international work attracts individuals with an international background.

  • Non-City London firms have the most diverse partnerships, with the highest proportion of both female and ethnic minority partners. This group contains both private client and West End outfits like Farrer & Co and Boodle Hatfield and public interest firms like Leigh Day and Hodge Jones & Allen – both of these groups do well when it comes to diversity.

  Regional/national firms 64% 64% 31% 15% 10% 7%
  London – English City firms 53% 53% 20% 21% 14% 5%
  London – US City firms 57% 51% 16% 28% 20% 9%
  London – other firms 58% 63% 37% 16% 19% 14%

Percentages are averages of firms in these categories not figures for each group of firms as a whole.

Worth noting is that the firms with the most women – non-London and non-City firms – are those with the lowest salaries, while those that pay the most – City and US firms – have the fewest women. This difference goes some way to explaining the large gender pay gap in the law, which currently stands at a whopping 30%. The reason why this happens is cultural and complex, but places the greatest burden on City firms to change.

How do these figures compare to 2014? Generally, the same trends were visible in that year but with a few increases in 2016. The only decreases were in the proportion of female associates and partners in US firms (down from an average of 53% and 18% respectively in 2014).


Which firms are the top performers?

Below is a list of the ten firms which have most female partners, associates and trainees respectively. The first thing to note is that a real mix of firms is represented here: from regional outfits like Blandy & Blandy and Trethowans and national ones like Freeths and BLM to London firms like Kingsley Napley and Withers and US outfits Akin Gump and Ropes & Gray. One category is notable by its absence from the three top tens: English City firms.

  Most female trainees        Most female associates        Most female partners  
1  Arnold & Porter 100%   1  Kingsley Napley 82%   1  Hodge Jones & Allen 77%
2  Blaser Mills 89%   2  Hodge Jones & Allen 81%   2  Leigh Day 67%
3  Akin Gump 83%   3  Ashfords 77%   3  Blaser Mills 55%
4  Blandy & Blandy 80%   4  Winckworth Sherwood 75%   4=  Boodle Hatfield 50%
5  Freeths 79%   5  Blaser Mills 74%   4=  Kingsley Napley 50%
6=  Collyer Bristow 78%   6  Bevan Brittan 73%   6  BLM  49%
6=  Stevens & Bolton 78%   7  Trethowans 72%   7  Government Legal Service 48%
8  Ropes & Gray 77%   8=  Freeths 71%   8  Blandy & Blandy 45%
9  Wedlake Bell 75%   8=  Hewitsons 71%   9  Withers  42%
10  Higgs & Sons 73%   10  B P Collins 70%   10  Veale Wasbrough Vizards 41%

The list of top ten firms for ethnic diversity is notably different to that for gender diversity. A few firms – like Hodge Jones & Allen – do well in both categories, but many elite American firms have now appeared in these rankings; in the lists below over half of firms listed are US firms. A bunch of other types of firms are represented too: City firms, regional firms, non-City firms. In other words: there isn’t any specific type of law firm that’s letting down ethnic minorities.  

  Most ethnic minority trainees       Most ethnic minority associates       Most ethnic minority partners

1  McDermott Will & Emery 75%   1=  Hodge Jones & Allen 38%   1  Hodge Jones & Allen 35%
2  Morrison & Foerster 57%   1=  Thomas Cooper 38%   2  Leigh Day 28%
3  Hodge Jones & Allen 50%   3  Morrison & Foerster 36%   3  Ropes & Gray 25%
4  Ashurst 47%   4  Skadden 33%   4  Lester Aldridge 21%
5  White & Case 38%   5  Curtis 30%   5=  Cleary Gottlieb 20%
6  Clifford Chance 37%   6  Farrer & Co 28%   5=  Vinson & Elkins 20%
7=  Covington & Burling 36%   7  Cleary Gottlieb 27%   7  Freeths 17%
7=  Higgs & Sons 36%   8  Akin Gump  26%   8  Fladgate 16%
9  Trowers & Hamlins 34%   9  Mayer Brown 25%   9  Cripps 14%
10  Vinson & Elkins 33%   10  Sidley Austin 24%   10  Mayer Brown 13%

Most English City firms do not score terribly well in both tests for diversity, which is significant because they’re the most voracious graduate recruiters. This echoes our findings from 2014, which also found the mid-sized City firms to be the least diverse. To give you an idea of which English City firms are bucking the trend, here's an overview of the best performing firms in that category:


  Most ethnic minority trainees       Most ethnic minority associates       Most ethnic minority partners  
1  Ashurst 47%   1  Thomas Cooper 38%   1  Berwin Leighton Paisner 10%
2  Clifford Chance 38%   2  Clifford Chance 23%   2  Nabarro 9%
3  Trowers & Hamlins 34%   3  Herbert Smith Freehills 21%   3=  Allen & Overy 8%
4  Herbert Smith Freehills 32%   4  Slaughter and May 19%   3=  Ince & Co 8%
5  Thomas Cooper 29%   5  Allen & Overy 18%   5  Dentons 7%


          ENGLISH CITY FIRMS ONLY          
  Most female trainees                   Most female associates                  Most female partners  
1  Thomas Cooper 71%   1  Ince & Co 67%   1  Watson, Farley & Williams 28%
2=  Ashurst 60%   2  Simmons & Simmons 62%   2  Dentons 26%
2=  Ince & Co 60%   3=  Bird & Bird 58%   3=  Berwin Leighton Paisner 25%
4=  RPC 59%   3=  Nabarro 58%   3=  Nabarro 25%
4=  Trowers & Hamlins 59%   5  Berwin Leighton Paisner 56%   5=  Hogan Lovells 24%
                5=  Slaughter and May 24%
                5=  Thomas Cooper 24%


Why do some firms do better than others? 

A 2013 Legal Services Board report noted that women are disproportionately over-represented in practice areas such as employment, family and social welfare (all relatively low-paying areas). As an example, public interest firm Hodge Jones & Allen and employment specialist Lewis Silkin represents women well. There are historic, cultural and practical reasons why finance-oriented firms fail to retain female talent at partnership: we look into them in our feature Sexism and the City.

We asked US firm Cleary about their secret to success in ethnicity, and their response was typical of many American organisations with a well-resourced diversity committee: “We believe in the profound benefits of a diverse workforce and are pleased that our neutral recruitment policy continues to achieve this.” Having international experience is a huge plus in a firm with global ambitions, which helps explain the US firms’ success with ethnic minorities. Internationally focused English City firms – Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters, Allen & Overy – also have a respectable representation of ethnic minority lawyers, probably for similar reasons. A few of these firms specifically hire, for example, Mandarin-speaking trainees in London.

Many firms have rolled out diversity programmes in the past decade to help promote the recruitment of women, people from less privileged backgrounds, ethnic minorities, and other minorities. It's pretty hard, if not impossible, to measure the success of these programmes with statistics. But for the sake of interest we thought we'd take a look at the trainee ethnic diversity stats from the past three years for the 11 firms working with the organisation Rare Recruitment to hire people from diverse backgrounds.

The figures from our 2014, 2015 and 2016 surveys are below. We'd be lying if we claimed we could spot any significant trends in these numbers. But overall it's clear some of these firms frequently have a high proportion of ethnic minority trainees and at every Rare firm at least one in ten trainees is from an ethnic minority background. You might think that these big established City firms do not recruit many ethnic minority trainees – but you'd be wrong.

% ethnic minority trainees Rare firms 2014 2015 2016
  Allen & Overy 17% 19% 18%
  Ashurst 16% 21% 47%
  Clifford Chance 32% N/A 38%
  Freshfields N/A N/A N/A
  Herbert Smith Freehills 21% 36% 32%
  Hogan Lovells 13% 15% 15%
  Latham & Watkins 22% 14% N/A
  Macfarlanes 20% 10% 14%
  Slaughter and May 16% 11% 11%
  Travers Smith 17% 20% 19%
  White & Case N/A 25% 38%


The 30% Club

A few years back 13 major firms committed themselves to having a 30% female partnership by 2020, by becoming members of an organisation called The 30% Club. We wondered how they were getting on with hitting their target, so below we've compared the partner diversity data they provided us in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The good news is that for ten of the 13 firms the numbers are headed in the right direction. At one firm, Linklaters, the numbers are flat, while two firms – DWF and Norton Rose Fulbright – have seen their numbers fall back, so they really need to pull their socks up. By contrast, City firm CMS deserves to be commended for already having a 30% female partnership.

% female partners 2014 2015 2016
  Allen & Overy 17% 17% 20%
  Ashurst 12% 17% 17%
  Berwin Leighton Paisner 24% 22% 25%
  Clifford Chance 21% N/A 22%
  CMS 29% 31% N/A
  DWF 23% 22% 21%
  Eversheds 24% 25% 26%
  Freshfields 18% 19% 19%
  Herbert Smith Freehills 19% 15% 21%
  Linklaters 22% 22% 22%
  Norton Rose Fulbright 26% 24% 23%
  Reed Smith 18% 19% 23%
  Slaughter and May 18% 24% 24%

While it's hard to project from the data points above, only Reed Smith, Eversheds and Slaughter and May are showing the type of steady growth that could see them reach the 30% mark by 2020.

Click here to view our comparison function with full firm-by-firm gender and ethnic diversity data.

This feature was first published in December 2016.