Ex top family judge condemns proposals to allow assisted suicide six months before death as “unrealistic” and “unkind”. Find out more
Conflict in Israel and Gaza – support for students. Find out more

blog

Wonder Women: Women leading the magic circle

Meet Linklater’s Aedamar Comiskey and Freshfields Georgia Dawson.

By Editorial Team. Published 14 August 2023.

“Every challenge is an opportunity”. This is the common thread behind Aedamar Comiskey and Georgia Dawson’s trailblazing careers and the zeitgeist of their new tenures as the first female senior partners in their respective firm’s long histories.

As one of six children in her family, Comiskey grew up knowing how to “fight her corner” and grab opportunities as they arose. She studied law at The University of Dublin before taking a leap from Ireland to the US where she spent three years in management consultancy and passed the New York bar exam. She then returned to the UK and joined Linklaters in 1992, having initially been attracted to the firm for its diverse and inclusive culture. From there, she rose to global head of corporate and was elected senior partner in May 2021.

Dawson, on the other hand, has a lifelong habit of seeking out opportunities wherever she finds them. Shortly after completing her legal education at The University of Sydney in Australia, she recounts having a “fascinating experience” working on a legal aid project in Vietnam. She then moved to the UK as a Chevening scholar at The University of Cambridge, before joining Freshfields’ London office in 2004. After five years in London, she moved to Hong Kong for seven years, and then to Singapore. During this time Dawson became leader of the firm’s Asia disputes resolution practice and Asia managing partner. She has now returned to London following her election to senior partner in September 2020.

Both describe how visible female role models and supportive cultures have been a key part of their careers. Comiskey says that it was her colleagues who initially encouraged her to run for senior partner, whilst Dawson puts her ability to rise through the ranks down to mentor figures giving her the confidence to take on new roles. “I have worked with some very strong, capable women leaders who have inspired me to be ambitious in what I can achieve”, explains Dawson.

Having benefitted first-hand from such supportive cultures, both Comiskey and Dawson centre the objectives of their tenures as Senior Partner on strengthening and expanding this trend. “We want people to be the best they can be and to be willed on by an inclusive culture and community that leaves you feeling able to ask ‘why not me!’ when an opportunity arises” says Comiskey. In their experiences, this has been achieved by encouraging flexibility around family commitments, fostering an open culture where “people can be themselves” and developing strong global support networks, exceptional training and career development.

According to Dawson, the key for Freshfields has been “providing access to great long-term training and development opportunities, as well as investing in our technology, our office spaces, and other parts of our culture”. She adds, “we have spent a lot of time defining very clear purpose and values as an organisation, so our people have clarity on what we stand for as a business and helps to foster a sense of belonging across the organisation”.

Yet there is still some way to go with an industry-wide discrepancy between the number of female trainees and the number of female partners at city law firms. Comiskey stresses the importance of breaking with the past in this area: “in the future, it won’t be a big deal being female in a senior position”.

With a target of 40% of annual partner promotions being women, she points to Linklaters’ sponsorship and mentorship structures that see senior members of the firm advocate for and guide talented juniors through their careers. “I am absolutely intent on meeting that 40% target” she underlines, adding “we need to attract the best people and retain our talent the whole way through [their careers] by doing things differently and making people feel proud of working at the firm”.

After almost a year as senior partner, Dawson is pleased with her progress in this area. “Our latest partner promotes, announced in May this year, were a 50/50 split of men and women. That was driven by several factors, including improved work allocation methods, unconscious bias training, mentoring programmes, and a focus from all our practice group leaders on ensuring diversity across their departments”.

An important firmwide initiative for her is Freshfields’ Global Sponsorship Programme for high-performing female associates. “This is a 12-month global programme that involves coaching, training, and sponsorship from a partner. We put this in place to recognise and invest in female future leaders who we want to retain and support as they develop their careers”. Now on its 6th cohort, over 130 women at the firm have completed.

Furthermore, there is a new impetus coming from clients in this area that acts as a further form of accountability for law firms. “Diversity and inclusion, and sustainability are top of every client’s agenda” notes Dawson. “Clients are very interested in our activities and commitments in these areas, and they often challenge us on whether there is more that we can and should be doing”.

And, as Comiskey points out, “collaborating with clients on their projects and plans in this area is a great opportunity. Working together is more impactful!”. To this end, Linklaters has developed its Diversity Faculty in collaboration with clients that seeks to offer a full-service solution for Diversity & Inclusion priorities.

So, what words of wisdom do Dawson and Comiskey have for budding female city lawyers and women at early stages of their legal careers? “Take opportunities when they present themselves, ask questions and for feedback, take every chance to learn and improve and, most importantly, believe in your dream and don’t give up on it” says Dawson. Meanwhile, Comiskey stresses the value of being a daredevil: “Don’t be afraid to give things a go. You have nothing to lose! Be bold and ambitious – it doesn’t matter if things go wrong, it will always open up other opportunities”.

 

This article was first published in our Verdict magazine – Read our Equality, Diversion & Inclusion Special now.