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Women in law: Quinn Emanuel’s name partner Kathleen Sullivan and London MP Sue Prevezer QC talk diversity

With leading international firms including most of the Magic Circle nailing their gender diversity targets to the wall, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan’s London co-managing partner Sue Prevezer QC and New York-based name partner Kathleen Sullivan spoke to Legal Business about women in law, the US litigation firm’s handle on diversity and its style of doing business.

At the 690-lawyer firm, around a quarter of practice heads are female. Overall partner numbers are lower than that – 36 of the 202 partners, or 17.8%, are women – but Quinn, which does not have specific gender diversity targets, was the first Am Law 100 firm to include a female name partner, rebranding from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges to include Sullivan four years ago. Furthermore, 15% of women at the firm fall into its ‘highly compensated’ category.

How influential are women at the firm?

Sullivan: Senior women play a very integral part of the consultative process in this firm. This doesn’t happen a lot in other firms. For example, I play a direct role in every lateral hire the firm makes. I helped recruit Sue and other women. Being a senior woman in the firm, I think it is very important to recruit other senior women to the firm.

How diverse are the advisory teams at Quinn?

Sullivan: I was part of a jury trial team for a client, Motorola, which was acquired by Google. We had a trial team that had eight women and three men against a trial team that was 100% men. And we just composed the team of who the best people were. This happens frequently in our State side cases.

How do you assess female partner promotion prospects in the UK compared to the US?

Prevezer (pictured): There is a difference historically between the way women have gone through the ranks in the UK and the US. They are more gender blind, in a good way, in the States, and the glass ceiling has been heavier in the UK. This is changing but very slowly. There has been a higher rate of female promotion and a healthier disregard of gender in the US. It doesn’t surprise me that the targets aren’t being hit in the UK.

More generally speaking, how hard is it for women to make partner at present?

Prevezer: It is a challenge for women to make it right up to the partnership. It’s the same challenge at the Bar. A lot of women have set up their own businesses because of the inability to maintain a healthy work/life balance. However, it is quite sexist just to focus on women, because as long as you keep looking down that telescope, you are never going to change things. So you have to offer flexibility to men too. It is hard. To make it work, you need a fantastic support network both inside and outside of work. I am very lucky to have both.

How competitive are successful female lawyers with each other?

Prevezer: It’s nice to see another woman heading up a firm. Women network a lot. Karyl Nairn QC at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom is a great friend, as is Juliet Blanch at Weil, Gotshal & Manges and Natasha Harrison at Boies, Schiller & Flexner. We all know each other very well. Although we have come up the ranks through different routes we all have similar experiences.

Other than the advisory committee for the evaluation of contingency fee cases, why doesn’t the firm have a formal management committee?

Sullivan: It is a joy to be at a firm where we spent more time practising law and less time on committees and administration. Our office managing partners have administrative burdens and we also have a lot of women in that role. There is only one committee at the firm – the contingency fee committee and that is based in the US.

Sue Prevezer QC, partner and chair of the international trial practice, London

2008 – present: London co-managing partner, Quinn Emanuel

2007 – 2008: Financial restructuring group, Bingham McCutchen

2000 – 2007: Queen’s Counsel, Essex Court Chambers

Kathleen Sullivan, partner and chair of the national appellate practice, New York

2005 – present: Partner, Quinn Emanuel

1999 – 2004: Dean, Stanford Law School

1993 – 2012: Stanley Morrison professor of law, Stanford Law School