This week we’re all talking about… partner promotions

Despite the ongoing turmoil in the financial markets 2008, has been a good year to be a senior associate.

So far 13 firms have taken the plunge in the annual promotions round but only three have made up fewer partners than last year. A cautious Trowers & Hamlins slashed the number of new partners from 15 to four, while Pinsent Masons and Ashurst both saw a slight dip in partner promotions.

But elsewhere associates had plenty to celebrate with firms evidently taking a longer-term view and looking past the present difficulties in the markets. As Wragge & Co senior partner Quentin Poole put it, after announcing a bumper set of promotions, the Birmingham-based giant is focussing on its “long-term future rather than making short-term cutbacks”.

Indeed, perhaps this explains why corporate departments continue to lead the way. Never mind that the gigantic M&A deals and IPOs of last year appear to be drying up – Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Macfarlanes, Herbert Smith and Ashurst all promoted heavily into their corporate teams.

Many firms are also banking on their international practices to see them through a potential economic slump, with an increasing number investing in new partners in Eastern Europe and Asia. At CMS Cameron McKenna, for instance, more than half of a total of 11 promotions were in Moscow, Bucharest, Warsaw or Prague while at Herbert Smith the Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing offices all won new partners.

One major surprise has been the success of real estate groups in the promotions round. Camerons, Wragges and Macfarlanes all invested in the property and construction sectors. All this against the back drop of falling property prices and the sub-prime crisis. Do they know something we dont?

And finally, a word on diversity – 2008 looks set to be a record year for female associates. Out of the first 10 firms to announce promotions, 27.5 per cent of new partners were women. Then came Ashurst, with a 35 per cent ratio of new female partners, its best ever rating. Only Macfarlanes has failed to make up a single female associate though the firm assures us it is committed to bridging the gender gap.

Still, the legal profession has a long way to go. As Olswang managing partner David Stewart pointed out: “The majority of entrants into the legal profession are women.”

But with women accounting for just over a quarter of new partners this year, theres still much more to be done.