'Very dynamic with considerable vision - not hidebound by tradition,' is how one colleague sums up Lesley MacDonagh, the first woman to be elected managing partner of a top ten City firm.

Ms MacDonagh's appointment was announced by Lovell White Durrant last week.

She will take the reins on 1 May, sharing the load with fellow managing partner, Michael Maunsell.The 42-year-old Ms MacDonagh is 'extremely pleased' to have been elected.

'It is a challenging job - one that has got all sorts of facets that, if I could write down what I would like to be doing, I could not think of anything better.'The task ahead is formidable.

Charles Dodson, who has held the post for the last four years, makes no bones about the challenge, saying it has been 'hard work trying to move an organisation of this size forward' at a time of flux within the legal services business.

Nonetheless he has enjoyed it, and he believes Ms MacDonagh's 'dynamism and drive' is just what is required.Ms MacDonagh herself is charmingly self-effacing about her abilities.

When pressed hard she concedes she may have some management ability and marketing flair - observers says she has both in bucketfuls - but she begs not to be portrayed as blowing her own trumpet.People say of her that she is very approachable and even she does not deny this.

'I have no problem with dealing with difficult or personal issues and, in an organisation with 1400 people, I think it is quite nice [to be able] to walk in and say "I have this idea which may or may not be bizarre" or "I have a personal problem" and be listened to.' Because of her warm temperament, observers say she will be particularly good at the pastoral aspects of the managing partner's role.Ms MacDonagh cut her management teeth in the course of the planning and environment work which became her specialism within a short time of joining Lovells in 1978.'Planning work has a strong management side to it.

Working on the big inquiries is law plus organisation plus teamwork.' Her other property work, she notes, also raised her awareness of the commercial needs of business clients.

'If you are trying to get a headquarters for a business you have to know what they are about.'For the last two years, Ms MacDonagh has managed Lovell's property sector which gave her a seat on the executive committee - a body created two years ago, along with a board of management as part of an overhaul of Lovell's management structure.

The idea was that strategic thinking would be the board's sole concern with the day to day policy implementation entrusted to the executive committee.The two managing partners, who between them handle the full load from administration of domestic and foreign offices through marketing, training and research, sit on both bodies providing the necessary link.

Mr Maunsell, who will share the task with Ms MacDonagh, has been in post for two years.

It is a deliberate policy of the firm to match the newcomer with somebody who has already learned the ropes.A female observer heaps praise on Ms MacDonagh for her ability 'to keep several plates spinning at once without a crash'.

This is a reference to her very full life outside Lovells, which includes marriage, three children - ten, four and nine months - a seat on the Council of the Law Society and membership of the Department of the Environment's property advisory group.Ms MacDonagh admits to feeling 'passionately' about Lovells.

She believes it speaks volumes about the firm's approach that they are prepared to appoint a woman with a nine-month-old baby to a very senior post.

And, if anything, this display of confidence strengthens her commitment to the firm.'But it is not taking over my life,' she insists.

One 'huge bonus' is that she is married to another Lovell's partner.

'He knows precisely what the job is going to be like and he has given me his support even knowing that it will be very time consuming with travelling abroad etc.' The couple recently moved to Wimpole Street - maximum ten minutes from the office - in order to spend as much time as possible with the children.

'If you decide to have a full home life and a full career something has to go and for me it was commuting.

You can do so much more if you live close.'Ms MacDonagh, a good looking woman and a very snappy dresser, cuts quite a dash amongst the 'suits' on the Law Society's Council.

Indeed, one female observer worries that the 'trendiness and glamour' might cause her to be underestimated.

She may have a point.

One fellow Council member claimed, somewhat unconvincingly, not to have noticed her.

'Lesley who?' he asked.

And another said: 'Oh yes, blonde, spikey hair, very tasty.'However, somebody who has observed her performance at committee meetings is very impressed.

'She only speaks when she has something sensible to say.'Ms MacDonagh admits to enjoying 'women's things'.

'I love shopping.

I also love my home and interior decor is a bit of a hobby.' She has a kiln and has sculpted busts of her children amongst other things.In the run up to 1 May she will find out how the responsibilities of managing Lovells will be divided between herself and Mr Maunsell.

The firm has 8 foreign offices in Europe and the Far East, and so some foreign travel will be part of it.

She is also scouting around for a suitable management crash course to bolster the skills honed on the job.

She is finding it a difficult task.

'There is nothing that is tailormade for a very large law firm.'Ms MacDonagh, who had to be bullied into declaring a strength, is far less reticent in describing weaknesses.

She is, she says, inclined to be a 'bit thin-skinned' and she will have to work on that because it is the kind of job 'where things happen that you may have no control over and the buck stops here'.However, she is ready for what the job throws at her and expects to be held to account.

'Most decisions [taken by the managing partner] will be critical to some aspect of the organisation and will rightly be scrutinised.'