Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is encouraging its lawyers to connect with a more diverse set of barristers, hoping this will lead to more women being instructed and recommended to clients.

The magic circle firm announced today that it was rolling out a London-based networking events programme for its male and female lawyers, and female barristers. The 'speed-networking style events are designed to ensure that Freshfields lawyers develop connections with as broad a range of barristers as possible and to encourage chambers to present a more diverse bench', the firm said.

The first event, held this month, was for lawyers in the dispute resolution practice. Craig Montgomery, a disputes partner, told the Gazette that his department instructs counsel, experts and arbitrators more than other practice groups.

Montgomery explained that he and his colleagues looked at the counsel they instruct. The data showed a good gender balance among the senior QCs and people leading their biggest cases, 'but less so at the more junior levels'.

He said: 'The idea behind the event was setting up an initiative to get to know more diverse juniors at the commercial bar to build relationships and instruct them on future cases.'

Montgomery said feedback from the event was 'amazing' and attendees made good connections with people they did not know. One female QC who attended has set up an informal mentoring relationship with one of the firm's associates.

The speed-networking event comes off the back of a Every Day Gender Equality commitment developed by the firm's women's network last year, encouraging lawyers to take practical, everyday actions. These could be calling out non-inclusive behaviour, attending gender-inclusive team events and speaking in gender-neutral language. 

Freshfields has a global 30% female partnership target, which the firm says is calculated on a three-year rolling average. Its latest pay gap report, published in March, states that 23% of its UK partners are women.

Claire Wills, London managing partner, said today: 'Promoting diversity and inclusion across our business and across the wider legal profession is an absolute priority for us. While we still have more to do in this space, I am proud of the initiatives, programmes and efforts that we have underway and of commitment that there is across our teams to building a culture of inclusion.'