City firms announce partner promotions despite pandemic pressures

updated on 21 April 2020

City firm Herbert Smith Freehills has elected 26 partners worldwide – its biggest partner promotions round since 2012 and four more than 2019 – despite coronavirus concerns.

Among the 26 promotions, 50% went to women, eight new UK partners were elected and the first partner promotion in the firm’s pro bono practice in Australia was announced.

Highlighting the firm’s mission to look to the future despite growing concerns about the global pandemic, CEO Elect Justin D’Agostino said: “These outstanding lawyers have shown a real commitment to our firm’s culture and values. While covid-19 continues to create uncertainties and challenges, we remain focused on taking steps to navigate its impact while looking to the future – and promoting partners is an important part of this”, he said. “These promotions reflect our long-term commitment to investing in our people and our focus on continuing to bring through talented partners to build the sustainable success of our firm.”

The firm also revealed plans to reduce partner profit distributions and postpone pay reviews. Half of the bonuses for the 2019/20 financial year will be paid in July and the other half will be paid by the end of the calendar year.

Magic circle firm Linklaters joined the list alongside Herbert Smith Freehills, electing 30 new partners worldwide. The firm fell just short of its target to elect at least 30% female talent, with just 27% of the promotions going to women.

The promotions were described as a “testament to the firm’s resilience” by senior partner Charlie Jacobs, who added “Whilst the impact of covid-19 on the global economy is something which cannot be ignored, we have always taken a long-term view at Linklaters in relation to promoting talent.”

In a bid to protect its cashflow, Linklaters also revealed that it will not be paying out partner distributions in June, salary reviews have been delayed by six months and all but essential recruitment has been put on hold.

CMS announced a total of 41 new partners globally, with women accounting for more than 40% of these promotions worldwide. Of the 41, 18 new partners were elected in the UK, half of whom were women.

Elsewhere, City firm Macfarlanes showcased its “long-term view” of talent needs by keeping four of its five recently qualified trainees at the firm. Partner and head of graduate recruitment Seán Lavin said: “These are uncertain times but the continued success of our firm demands that we have the talent to meet the sustained demand from our loyal clients when the market recovers”.