Spotlight on: Penelope Warne

Penelope Warne, the first female senior partner at CMS, has helped to expand the firm as far afield as Brazil, Mexico and Dubai, as well as managing the growth and consolidation of CMS in Scotland.

  • Last updated Nov 14, 2019 12:01:29 PM
  • Elizabeth Hurst

Name: Penelope Warne

Notable for: Starting off her legal career as the only female trainee in her intake and then becoming the first female senior partner at CMS, Penelope Warne is at the forefront of the energy law field. 

Current role: Head of energy, senior partner and chair of the UK Board at CMS.

Early career: Penelope Warne spent five years at Slaughter and May, where she trained to become a solicitor. Afterwards she moved to Scotland, where she also qualified as a Scottish lawyer with a focus on the oil and gas industry. She set up her own firm before eventually joining CMS in 1993. 

At CMS: CMS Cameron McKenna is a law firm comprised of 74 offices across Europe, specialising in services within eight industry sector groups: consumer products; energy; hotels & leisure; infrastructure & project finance; insurance and funds; life sciences; real estate & construction; and technology, media & telecommunications. In 2017, CMS was ranked jointly with Slaughter and May as the law firm with the most FTSE 100 clients. 

Penelope Warne joined CMS in 1993 to set up an office in Aberdeen. Over the course of 26 years, she has transformed the firm’s practice in Scotland from just one person in Aberdeen to become the market leading practice in the country, following a merger with the firm Dundas & Wilson in 2014. 

Warne says on her decision to join CMS and focus on her chosen sector: “At the time I was a young and ambitious lawyer—I had recently moved to Aberdeen and saw an opportunity to become Aberdeen’s first oil and gas-focused lawyer, aligned with the thriving North Sea industry and advising as both an English and Scots qualified lawyer.”

In her role as senior partner, Warne has led the firm through two ground-breaking mergers. The first with Dundas & Wilson strengthened the firm’s position in Scotland. Three years later, CMS combined with Nabarro and Olswang, completing the largest merger in the history of the UK legal market. The move cemented the firm’s position as the sixth largest UK law firm, and one of the top six global law firms.

On the mergers, Warne comments: “To accomplish a successful merger, you must be future facing. You have to set out the strategic vision and purpose, then lead and inspire. Integration has to be efficient, and the importance of culture should not be underestimated. Winning hearts and minds is the difference between success or not.”

On energy: In her role as energy practice group leader for CMS, Warne has opened offices in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Brazil, Mexico and Dubai. Her practice spans the globe, advising her clients in the oil and gas industry in areas including the North Sea, the US, Norway, Brazil, EMEA and Russia. 

“Over the course of my long career at CMS, I have been proud to head up our leading energy practice and drive the firm’s international growth, leading new energy-focused offices in Dubai, Oman, Brazil and Mexico. Like many sectors, the energy industry is complex and faces many challenges.”

As an oil and gas specialist at the cutting edge of industry issues, she’s extremely active in thought leadership and trains future oil industry lawyers in her role as an honorary fellow and trustee of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at Dundee University. Warne also uses her wealth of experience in the energy legal sector to work globally with governments, academics and energy industry specialists. She’s also a member of the Oxford University Vice Chancellor’s Circle, the Foundation Board at IMD (the Switzerland-based highly acclaimed international business school) and the board of the Law Society.

“I am privileged to have worked on a number of ground-breaking transactions for clients over the years as well as partner with governments, economists and leading universities across the globe. For example, debating the future of energy with industry leaders at Davos and other important thought leadership work across the sector and more generally in the business of law.”

On being a role model: In the words of the Law Society Gazette, “Few women solicitors have smashed the ‘glass ceiling’ into as many shards as Penelope Warne.” Warne certainly leads the battle for diversity and inclusion from the front. She was CMS’s first female senior partner, and is also the only female senior partner in the top 20 global and the top 20 UK law firms. 

Not only leading by example, Warne also takes an active role at CMS. It’s been her vision to build a successful, dynamic firm that promotes a supportive culture in which the careers of all can thrive. Warne has helped to develop and champion corporate social responsibility and diversity & inclusion that has impacted the wider world of law. 

These initiatives include an enhanced maternity and shared parental leave programme, and the new scheme “Time Out”, which allows employees to take up to four weeks of unpaid leave each year. Warne says, “We recognise that some of our people may wish or need to take an extended break from work for a wide variety of personal reasons during the course of their employment. […] We continue to evolve our policies to support a culture where reasonable requests and a spirit of personal responsibility will be encouraged and supported.”

On diversity within law: Warne is passionate about getting more women into leadership roles in the legal profession, and maintains that gender diversity should be supported at all levels through visible role models and following through on D&I policies to ensure that gender parity is achieved at both junior and senior levels. 

 “It is not just about women in senior roles; it is important to foster millennials through developing a flexible mind-set and supportive culture which embraces mentoring and agile working and eliminates unconscious bias. I have always promoted pan-legal industry working in order to tackle this issue.”

As a proud advocate of women in business, Warne has paved the way for CMS to continually improve their standards of diversity and inclusion, achieving 30% women on their board. On this issue, Warne speaks about how their internal efforts can impact wider society, and how they in turn are able to learn from their clients.

“We regularly work with clients and other organisations, schools and universities to share experiences of best practice. In this way, we can help change perspectives in our communities and throughout society. Our clients value the work we do and it gives us a very different, strong and meaningful relationship with them. We have worked together with many clients on their D&I strategy, with a special focus on LGBT, gender ethnicity and disability. We benefit from their programmes and we share ours with them.”

Accolades: Warne is highly respected and has been awarded for her efforts both within the energy legal sector, as an exemplary female and champion for diversity and inclusivity. She is ranked as a leading energy expert in both Chambers and Legal 500, receiving many awards for her energy work. 

She has been recognised in The Lawyer’s Hot 100 twice, and was awarded “The Senior Management Partner of the Year” at the British Legal Awards 2017. In The Sunday Times/Debretts “Britain’s 500 Most Influential”, she was one of only 20 ranked in the law category. Recently, she was awarded in the UK Legal 500 Awards for Outstanding Achievement where her role was recognised for leading CMS and for her commitment to diversity in the city.

On the future: As she maintains her successful streak at the top of the legal profession, Warne believes that continuing to innovate through strategic partnerships and an ongoing dedication to diversity is paramount.

“[CMS’s merger with Nabarro and Olswang] was transformational, providing significant scale to invest further in our technology and expand our global presence to become a future facing, modern, progressive, sector-focused firm. I strongly believe that in order for law firms to remain relevant and successful, we must evolve. This means embracing change, driving forward innovation and harnessing technology to better deliver services.”


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