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Tim Sales

Partner, CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang LLP

Quotation Marks
One of the great developments in the post-pandemic world is increased flexibility to be engaged in family life on a day-to-day basis, while still being a successful litigation partner

Closing the gender gap at the partnership level of the legal profession

Closing the gender gap at the partnership level of the legal profession


Tim Sales shares his experience of attempting to balance life as a partner committed to his career as a litigator and a father, and why highlighting such actions by males within the profession is important to closing the gender gap

In October 2023, the London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) held its inaugural roundtable discussion, focusing on closing the gender gap at partner level within law firms. The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s most recent figures report that 37 per cent of law firm partners identify as female, dropping to 28 per cent at equity partner level in firms with 50+ partners. There are multiple reasons for the current state of play, but an acknowledged factor is that many women have set aside partnership ambitions because they look to the top and they do not see themselves (or the way they want to live) reflected.

One aspect that came out of the LSLA discussion is the importance of male (as well as female) role models, successful in their careers and engaged in uninterrupted quality time with their families on a day-to-day basis. As a partner and father of two (with much still to learn and improve on), I am keen to get us all thinking about specific actions men can take to help improve the appeal of partnership for women, particularly those with families.

Shared parental leave

The Department for Business and Trade’s latest report found that since the introduction of shared parental leave (SPL), only 5 per cent of eligible fathers took SPL, across all industries. I have had the privilege of two periods of SPL, three months each time – one as a senior associate and one as a partner. Having time off with my family was my main priority, but like many who take extended leave I did wonder: what impact would SPL have on my career? How will colleagues and clients react? With hindsight, I need not have feared – most colleagues were excellent and the reaction from several clients was beyond encouraging. Both periods of SPL were special times, immersed in family life with my wife. From the more mundane (but essential) nappies, feeds, washing, cleaning, cooking, hosting visitors etc, to the more unique joy of bonding one-on-one with our newborn (and second time around, also with our older child), as well as going away together as a family. The time also set us up well for when I came back to work - I was used to solo parenting, bringing a real freedom to my wife, which we didn’t see with lots of friends who couldn’t (or didn’t) use SPL, and a great joy for me, building on the solid foundations laid down initially during SPL.

One of the great developments in the post-pandemic world is increased flexibility to be engaged in family life on a day-to-day basis, while still being a successful litigation partner. As a result, more men are involved in daily family life, which I hope makes being an engaged parent and having a successful legal career more of a ‘parent’ issue and less of a ‘female’ issue (acknowledging there is still a long way to go, both practically and with the mental load). I think this is a key part of closing the gender gap at partner level. After all, a huge proportion of partners in law firms are also parents.

Male engagement in family life

One of the easiest ways I have seen to make family engagement evident to colleagues is through shared calendars. Regular visible diary appointments show what some of your priorities are. For example: school drop-off, pick up from nursery, school parents evening, concerts, blocking out time for family dinner, bath and bedtime etc.

We have all seen out of office messages that make us smile. If we are taking a day off to be with our kids, why not write that in any internal message – ‘Thanks for your email. I am out of the office today hanging out with my little daughter’. Most people won’t read it but associates always raise it with me when they do, feeling far more comfortable to be open about their own family priorities sitting alongside their commitment to work – seeing that the two are not viewed as mutually exclusive by everyone.

For many, pursuing success in a legal career and being engaged in day-to-day family life, like all life choices, comes with compromise. Some of the great encouragements for me have been others openly talking about it. For example: choosing to live closer to the office (in a smaller house) for a shorter commute to spend more time with your family each day; or being very strategic about business trips or functions, saying ‘no’ due to family events or children’s birthdays.

While potentially a risky minefield, it has also been great to see colleagues find ways, on occasion, to bring their kids into the office – seeing a glimpse of them as fathers (and mothers).

If we are going to see the partnership gender gap closed, it needs all of us (men included) to attempt to model life as partners committed to both our careers as litigators and our families.

Tim Sales is a committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Association (LSLA) and a partner at CMS