Attention Women Lawyers: The Facts on Pay Disparity in the Law Profession

Today is Equal Pay Day, which draws attention to a subject that is very important to all women in the workforce.  That includes all women lawyers, of course, so I want you to have the facts you need to protect yourselves and get what you deserve.

As a source for this information, I looked to an article on by Mark Cohen, Chief Strategy Officer and Chairman of the Board of Advisors at Elevate, a law profession consulting entity.  Pay equity can be a complicated subject, so looking at a little history and applying it to the current conditions is not a bad idea.  “Why Does the Gender Wage Gap Persist in Law?” starts with that retrospective and is worth looking at for the history, the data, and opinions on what it will take to make pay equity in the law profession a true reality.

The article also focuses on the irony that the legal profession, responders and protectors of the rule of law, is not a model of equality.  That regrettable fact results from a legal culture that is male-dominated and was designed to serve the interests of men, financially, socially, and inter-generationally.  Although over half of the new lawyers today are women, those numbers do not assure equality in pay, promotion or influence.  Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way.

The article also points out the danger in focusing on some of the good news.  Yes, female managing partners are growing slowly, but it creates “a false positive reading of how female lawyers are faring overall.”  Here are the facts:

  • Among the AmLaw 200 firms, women comprise only 4 percent of executive management overall;
  • Only 19 percent of all equity partners in law firms are women;
  • Only 23 percent of top governing committees in law firms are women;
  • Only 28% of promotion and compensation committees in law firms are women;
  • The higher the compensation level, the more pay is skewed in favor of men in law firms;
  • Full-time female lawyers earn only 77 percent of what male lawyers do in law firms according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau; AND
  • 100 percent of law firms have reported that its highest paid partner is male.

As you can see, there is a long way to go on the road to pay equality between women and men in the legal workspace.  The Equal Pay Act of 1963 that prohibits sex-based wage discrimination cannot be taken for granted.  Neither can the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed more recently in 2009.  And, the bad data is not limited to law firms.  The data for in-house women lawyers also leaves a lot to be desired.

So, where is this going?  The conclusion is that the discrimination against women in the law profession will not stop until the culture of law firms is addressed.  It is the core values of law firms that need examining and correcting.  I have been writing about the culture of greed in law firms for years, and my new book, What Millennial Lawyers Want, examines that culture at greater length as it relates to a new generation of lawyers.  Watch for it this summer.

Mark Cohen’s article ends with this query, “If the legal industry does not commit to end the scourge of its internal discrimination, how can it have standing to do so for others?”

Good question.





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