A common theme emanating from our equality and diversity work is how important role models and learning from other's experiences are for our members, law students and others thinking of a career in law.
Penelope Warne is Senior Partner, Chairman of the UK Board and Head of Energy at global law firm CMS.
Length of post qualifying experience
More than 30 years!
What was your route to qualifying as a solicitor?
English law degree at Bristol University and traineeship at Slaughter & May. Qualified in Scottish law through personal home study.
What is the best piece of advice and/ or support you received during your career?
Always have a Plan B!
What advice would you give to someone starting out on their path to becoming a solicitor?
Always believe you can achieve your goals and do it in your own way, follow your values.
What was the greatest challenge in your career and how did you overcome it?
Overcoming the “City straight jacket” – it’s not necessarily about being female but rather taking a commercial approach to the traditional. I have always run a highly profitable energy practice but not required lawyers to sit at their desks until midnight. In my experience it is about being really good at what you do and achieving success through having a high quality team and being prepared to do things differently as well as innovatively, leading a supportive culture embracing all aspects of diversity.
Have you faced any particular challenges as a woman in the profession, if so how did you over-come them?
I am a passionate champion of diversity, and as one of only two female senior partners in the global top 20 firms, I feel a strong wish to support female lawyers who are largely underrepresented in law firms. At CMS, we have developed an inclusive culture and are proud to have over 30% female partners in the UK and on our Board.
What has been the greatest success in your career so far?
Building CMS’ oil and gas team from nothing. My priority has always been to lead a dynamic, successful and quality driven business with a supportive culture – so that clients get great legal services and the careers of our people thrive. Growth has always been high on my agenda. As Head of our Energy practice, I have been leading the firm’s international expansion for over twenty years, opening very high quality, cutting edge energy focused offices in Aberdeen (from a one person practice to the largest in Scotland), Brazil, Mexico, the Middle East and Asia. I lead a very busy London and global energy practice still undertaking transactional work, thought leadership and university teaching. I work with many of the world’s leading energy companies, universities and institutions; it is this which has driven my own and the firm’s approach to international expansion.
What do you think will be the greatest challenge to the legal profession in the next 10 years?
The first is advancement of technology. Law firms need to keep pace of the rapid change in technology so they are able to stay abreast of their clients’ businesses and key challenges. At CMS we have adopted cutting-edge technology as part of our move to our new London HQ Cannon Place – which facilitates mobility so that our lawyers can work in an agile way.
Increased competition is also another challenge, and is leading to tougher tender processes as clients seek more value. Firms will need to adapt and offer flexibility in terms of pricing and resource. The legal market is global because our clients are global. To serve your clients well, you do need to have both a size of law firm in terms of resources but also a geographical footprint that can be useful to them. Our intention is to build a great culture where people are encouraged and can develop their careers to maximum potential.
What do you think will provide the best opportunities for the legal profession in the next 10 years?
The best opportunities will be realised by lawyers who are sector experts and who keep quality technology and innovation at the forefront of their service delivery.