Women in the Law

Is there a gender pay gap? Most surveyed law firms wouldn't provide the data


The latest survey on the progress of women in law firms shows little has changed, though some law firms were reluctant to provide data.

Only 17 percent of equity partners in 2013 were women, compared to 15 percent in 2012, according to a press release summarizing the results of the survey by the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation. At the staff attorney level, 64 percent of those in that lower-level position were women, compared to 70 percent in 2012. The study is available here.

NAWL surveyed the 200 largest law firms, and 92 responded. Thirty-three firms that declined to participate had previously participated in the survey as recently as last year. The reason for their reluctance may be lean staffing and not enough time to fill out surveys, the study said. Another explanation, the study said, is that the firms “are generally less interested in the subject of advancing women lawyers and/or are hesitant to share, even on an anonymous and confidential basis, statistics that show that their women lawyers lag behind their male counterparts.”

The study also reports that only 48 of the 92 responding firms reported compensation for male and female equity partners, though the response rate to other questions was as high as 90 percent. The study suggested a reason for the low response to the compensation question. “We believe that is because the gender pay gap found in so many past studies continues to be substantial,” the study authors wrote.

For those firms that did report pay data, having two or more women on the firm’s highest governing committee or its compensation committee made a difference in pay for women equity partners.

When there were two or more females on those committees, typical compensation for female equity partners was “roughly on par” with typical compensation for male equity partners, the study says. Women equity partners earned only 85 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts when there were fewer women on the governance committee, and they made 89 percent of the earnings of their male counterparts when there were fewer women on the compensation committee.

The survey also found:

• At most firms, the “vast majority” of the top 10 rainmakers are men.

• About 80 percent of new equity partners are hired laterally. About 66 percent of new male equity partners are recruited laterally, while about one-half of new female equity partners are recruited laterally.

• Asked why women weren’t attaining equity partnership, 44 percent of the law firms said lack of business development, 31 percent said attrition, 11 percent said fewer sponsors and mentors, and 10 percent said work-life balance issues. “These various impediments are, of course, to some extent within the control of a firm,” the study said. “Many firms create inordinate demands for billable hours, do not provide equal access to business opportunities, do not promote women into leadership roles, and do not make transparent the criteria or process of promotion to partnership.”

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