A biography of Penelope Warne, The Senior Partner and Head of Energy for CMS

Published 15th April 2019
Greatest Career Achievements:

As one of only twenty listed in the Law category in The Sunday Times “Britain’s 500 Most Influential”, Penelope has not just led the way for CMS – she has led the way for the legal market. As the Law Society Gazette reported “Few women solicitors have smashed the “glass ceiling” into as many shards as Penelope Warne”.

Penelope trained and qualified as a solicitor with Slaughter & May where she spent five years. A move to Scotland saw her additionally qualify as a Scottish lawyer and turn her focus to the oil and gas industry. She initially set up her own firm and joined CMS in 1993, establishing the firm’s Aberdeen office and becoming the first female oil and gas lawyer in Scotland. Over the course of Penelope’s career, she has been instrumental in CMS’ global growth, spearheading the opening of new offices across Scotland, Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In 2013, she became The Senior Partner of CMS, one of the first female leaders of a global law firm.

She is an Honorary Fellow and Trustee of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at Dundee University. A member of the Foundation Board at IMD, the highly acclaimed international business school based in Lausanne Switzerland. She is also a member of the Board of the Law Society for England and Wales and a member of the Oxford University Vice Chancellor’s Circle.

Penelope has received many industry awards including The Lawyer’s Hot 100, “Senior Management Partner of the Year” at the British Legal Awards and most recently the UK Legal 500 Award for Outstanding Achievement. These awards are the product of extensive research and client recommendation. They are a testament to Penelope’s wider industry recognition for building a top quality oil and gas practice, a leading firm in Scotland, a new powerhouse firm in London and globally as well as her role as a great influencer of culture, diversity and women’s careers.


Penelope has had a successful and inspiring career – heading up the firm’s leading Energy practice and driving the firm’s international growth. Throughout her career, she has worked at the cutting edge of oil and gas issues; working with clients on ground-breaking transactions, pioneering on important thought leadership work across the sector including debating the future of energy with industry leaders at Davos, and partnering with governments, economists and leading universities across the globe.

Penelope’s vision to build a market-leading presence in Scotland resulted in her leading the successful merger with Scotland’s top firm Dundas & Wilson in 2013.

Three years later came a transformational moment for the UK legal market. Led by Penelope, CMS completed the largest merger in the history of the UK legal market, combining with Nabarro and Olswang to become the 6th largest firm in the UK and one of the top 6 globally. The merger was also transformational for the firm, providing significant scale to invest in technology and expand the global platform to become a progressive, modern, future-facing law firm – recognised in the last year as Law Firm of the Year by the British Legal Awards.

It has always been Penelope’s vision to build a successful dynamic firm, with a supportive culture where the careers of all can thrive. At CMS, she has developed and championed standout CSR and D&I initiatives which have truly influenced the world of law. Penelope has been instrumental in the firm implementing many policies and procedures to promote diversity including an enhanced maternity and shared parental leave programme as well as a new scheme “Time Out”, that allows employees to take up to four weeks’ unpaid leave each year.

What are some of the challenges for the future, challenges for women and the wider legal industry?

Looking ahead in a changing market, Penelope says law firms have to prioritise their culture, know their vision and purpose and remain agile and adapt. Further, it is important to embrace technology, not only in the way lawyers work, but also using it effectively in the way firms deliver services to clients. CMS was one of the first firms to move to a collaborative open plan office using technology.

On the challenges facing women in the legal profession, Penelope believes we must support gender diversity at all levels both junior and senior, have visible role models and follow through on policies. It is not just about advancing women in senior roles; it is important to foster millennials through developing a flexible mindset and supportive culture which embraces mentoring and agile working and eliminates unconscious bias.

She adds: “We must work together in the legal industry to tackle this issue. As a proud advocate of women in business, and with 30% women on our board and in our partnership, 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 relationship with them. We have worked together with many clients on their D&I strategy, with a special focus on LGBT, Gender and Ethnicity. We benefit from their programmes and we share ours with them.”

Finally, Penelope emphasises that her enthusiasm for a challenge, her inspiration and zest for life is boosted by three very special people: Anthony to whom she has been married for 30 years and her two children William and Sarah.

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