04:13, October 20 87 0

2017-10-20 04:13:09
The three Irish firms championing gender diversity

From a data-collection perspective, Ireland remains Europe’s least transparent jurisdiction, with only Mason Hayes & Curran providing financial data and all-equity McCann FitzGerald equity-partner numbers for The Lawyer’s latest European 100 report.

The Lawyer has continued to gather data on gender diversity in European partnerships. The good news is the proportion of women continues to rise; the bad news is the increase has slowed. In 2012, women made up 16.5 per cent of partners in the European 100 firms. That proportion rose to 16.8 per cent in 2013 and 18 per cent in 2014. In 2015, women represented 18.9 per cent of the European partnership. Last year, this figure rose to 19.5 per cent – the smallest increase since 2013.

On the plus side, however, the number of firms where women represent more than 30 per cent of the partnership has risen substantially year-on-year. A total of 17  firms – up from 11 in 2014 and 2015 – broke this barrier last year.

Compared to other firms in Europe, Ireland’s biggest firms by headcount perform well. There are a total of five in the Euro 100 that are among the top-10 most diverse: William Fry with 36.3 per cent of female partners; followed by Mason Hayes & Curran with 35 per cent; Matheson with 33.8 per cent; A&L Goodbody with 32.2 per cent; and Arthur Cox with 31.9 per cent.

They stand alongside Spain’s Cremades & Calvo-Sotelo with 44.4 per cent; France’s August & Debouzy and LPA-CGR Avocats with 40 per cent apiece, followed by Fidal with 33.9 per cent; and Luxembourg’s Elvinger Hoss Prussen with 38.9 per cent.

Of the 17 firms where women represent over 30 per cent of the partnership, six are French and six Irish.

However, talent management and retention is another story. With a rough 50/50 split between men and women in the legal profession and a relatively high proportion of female partners at top firms, Irish firms are in a good position to stand out.

In this special report, The Lawyer takes a closer look at the three top Irish firms with the most developed diversity strategies.

Figures provided by A&L Goodbody show that almost half of the firm’s associate and lawyer cohort are women (143 of a total of 244) and that female lawyers make up a third of its partnership (28 of 87).

Over the past three years, the class sizes have ranged from 25 to 35 NQs, with a retention rate of 85-90 per cent. “The challenge is to ensure we recruit, retain and support the best people,” says managing partner Julian Yarr. “We foster talent, irrespective of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or social background. Ensuring this inclusion is inherent in everything we do, and clearly demonstrating this to our employees, is critical.”

The firm’s NQ retention figures for the past two years show the classes are between 25 and 35 NQs, with a retention rate from 85 to 90 per cent. This is perhaps in part because A&L has been ranked as one of the top 20 best large workplaces in Europe by the Great Place to Work Institute. It views this survey as “a core part of developing staff engagement and the working environment”.

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A&L was also the first Irish law firm to be awarded the Business Working Responsibly Mark, which is independently audited by the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

It has several offerings that underpin its retention and diversity strategies. “We have a work-from-home policy and 20 of our lawyers work elsewhere one day a fortnight,”  Yarr says. “A&L invested in laptops, remote-access technology and Skype for Business to facilitate this.”

Staffers are also offered career breaks and partners may take advantage of sabbaticals.

Career development and further learning is another key incentiviser in attracting and retaining talent. Aside from organising regular internal seminars, workshops and briefings, the firm has developed a business school for  its lawyers, from trainees through to partners. It operates in partnership with two University College Dublin schools:  Sutherland School of Law and Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

Of equal importance is remuneration. The firm says it is “at the top of the market in salary, bonus and other financial benefits”.

Data provided by Arthur Cox shows that more than half the firm’s associates are female, at 118 out of a total of 200. According to figures from the latest European 100, with 30 women partners, it has a 31.9 per cent female partnership, which represents an increase of 29 per cent on the previous year. The firm retains an average of 90 per cent of NQs plus trainees.

Partner and head of business development Rachel Hussey says Arthur Cox encourages and supports remote working, although it does not yet have a formal policy in place.

Its talent-retention strategy focuses mainly on trainees, with a bespoke training scheme that offers them the chance to hone their skills by working on high-calibre work.

“This development continues after qualification and throughout an associate’s career at Arthur Cox,” Hussey explains. “We have a dedicated learning and development team, as well as a team of professional support lawyers, who provide excellent ongoing training. This might take the form of regular ‘Lunch & Learn’ or networking sessions, which are open to all legal staff,  or the development programmes aimed  specifically at our trainees, newly qualified  lawyers or new partners.”

The firm also encourages lawyers to avail themselves of opportunities to continue both academic and professional development both within and outside the office. To support that, there is a bursary fund.

Technology has played an important part in the firm’s strategy. “All our professional staff are given a tablet, which facilitates  greater flexibility and enables them to move around the office, collaborate more effectively with colleagues and work remotely, if needed,” says Hussey.

Mason Hayes & Curran has the highest proportion of female associates of the cohort, with 80 per cent in total. It has retained between 70 and 80 per cent of its NQ classes in 2015 and 2016, with 12 and 11 respectively out of a total of 15.

According to the firm, its key attraction for talent is its flat structure and opportunities for career advancement. It operates from open-plan offices and offers part-time and flexible working arrangements.

“We see our graduate-recruitment process as integral to our talent management  – we believe we are recruiting the MHC partners of the future,” says managing partner Declan Black. “Our approach to graduate recruitment differs from other Irish firms in that we recruit our trainee solicitors through a four-week internship programme. By recruiting them from a pool of candidates who have successfully completed an internship with us, we feel they are more likely to succeed as a trainee and be offered a solicitor role on qualification. It also allows them to get a sense of the firm and whether they will be a good fit here and happy working in our fast-paced culture.”

Mason Hayes & Curran offers several  different development programmes for solicitors, trainees and partners as well as subject-specific training. It uses its annual performance review process as a chance to discuss fee-earner career development. During these discussions, training and development needs are identified.  “We take a rounded view of employee performance – time served is only one of the metrics we consider,” Black explains.