Opinion | 05-11-15

Partners in Italian law firms - how are women faring?

The topic of equal opportunities in general for women continue to make headlines around the world and recently the legal sector has tried to catch up. The most prominent law firms around the world have started to discuss how they can widen access and ensure that women have the same chances as men of reaching the top. The situation in Italy is no different, and in this article our consultant Andrea Brugiotti discusses the current state of female lateral hires across the legal sector. 

Back in 2012 the EU began to present legislation that would force businesses to hire more women. It suggested that businesses would be obliged to have a certain number of women in the boardroom and occupying the most prominent roles. Historically, Italy has always been behind the rest of Europe on this point, and in 2012 only 6% of the total number of boardroom positions were held by women. The Italian government therefore instigated a law that would require one third of boardroom positions of Italian listed and state owned companies to be held by women by 2015. This was known as the “pink quotas” law. With this kind of pressure, it begs the question of whether or not law firms are trying to follow suit. 

Unfortunately, it does not appear that law firms in Italy are following suit, with only a few having women holding their most senior positions. Exceptions to the general situation include Roberta Crivellaro, who heads the Italian offices of Withers, and Leah Dunlop and Fulvia Astolfi, respectively Italian Managing Partner and Managing Partner of the Rome office at Hogan Lovells. 

Many argue that an increase in the number of women at partner level within the legal profession is a direct result of the UK and US law firms building businesses in Italy. In the past, many female Italian lawyers would opt to quietly withdraw from the profession to look after their families. With the opening of Magic Circle and US firms in Italy, who have a different vision of the profession, we have seen things start to change slightly. Those women partners with impending maternity leave began to stay at work right up to when their babies were due and started returning to work much more quickly.   

Where exactly are those female partners?

The table below gives a snapshot of the number of female partners within different categories of law firms: 

 Italian firms ** (%)UK firms (%)US firms (%)

Female partners*

33   1511

* Equity and Salaried/Junior Partners
** Including a number of mid-size boutique law firms

Current figures suggest that the domestic firms in Italy are ahead of their international counterparts in their hiring and promotion of women partners.  To give some specific examples, Portolano Cavallo, Toffoletto De Luca Tamajo, Pirola Pennuto Zei, Carnelutti and Lexellent have 43%, 37.5% and each 33% of female partners respectively. Compare this to international firms such as Paul Hastings which only has 29% female partners. Norton Rose Fulbright and Simmons & Simmons are even further behind with 20% and 19%. What is perhaps even more surprising is that there are also some international firms, including Shearman & Sterling, King & Wood Mallesons and K&L Gates who still have no female partners at all in Italy. 


We work constantly with law firms recruiting at the partner level and it does appear that there is a wider acceptance of the need to have more women within most firms and at the decision making level. Although it may seem that women are few and far between across Italy at the partner level, the market has been busy recently with women making high profile moves. There have been over 40 female partner moves over the last five years, Paola Tradati being one of the most recent. She exited her role as Managing Partner of employment boutique Toffoletto to become the Head of Employment of Gianni Origoni Grippo Cappelli & Partners. Within the last two years we also saw Paola Leocani leave Allen & Overy to join White & Case and Maricla Pennesi move from DLA Piper to Baker & McKenzie. 


Across Europe more generally the situation is slightly different. In London and Germany, where the markets are more mature, it is arguably easier for women to rise to senior positions. For two examples, Julia Mueller recently become the first female partner at Herbert Smith Freehills in Germany (moving from K&L Gates), while finance partner Jay Sadanandan was appointed as Latham & Watkins’ first female London managing partner. 


More recently, in London, Ashurst promoted nine female lawyers to partnership in its 20 lawyer promotion round. Mishcon de Reya has also made up three women to partner in its annual promotions round, in addition to another nine being promoted to the role of legal director, bringing the representation of female partners at the firm to 32%. Baker & McKenzie also recently promoted 83 lawyers to partnership worldwide, with over 40% being female.


Overall, while some gains have been made across this area, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, recruiters need to continue helping law firms understand the importance of promoting female partners and helping women to strike the work/life balance that is right for them. 


If you would like more information on the Italian legal market or are looking to make a move within Italy please contact Andrea Brugiotti