Gender Pay Gap Persists Among Big Law Partners


It’s 2019 — and the gender pay gap between male and female lawyers remains a hot topic. High-profile lawsuits alleging pay inequality continue to be filed in federal and state courts across the country.

A 2018 partner compensation survey conducted by my employer, global attorney search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa, in conjunction with legal market intelligence and research specialists Acritas, found a 53 percent difference in average pay between male and female lawyers across large U.S. law firms. Responses to the survey were received from 1,390 partners nationwide. There were not enough responses from Maryland partners to devise statistically significant inferences for the report.

Data from each of the four previous compensation surveys conducted by our firm also revealed a significant difference in pay between the genders – a gap of 44 percent in 2016, 47 percent in 2014, 48 percent in 2012 and 32 percent in 2010. Survey responses indicate a similar gender gap in the average originations and billing rates. When compensation is controlled exclusively for gender and originations, female partners report lower average compensation nearly 80 percent of the time. At most large firms, compensation is based primarily on originations.

Gender pay gap: The perception

For the purposes of this survey, the gender pay gap was defined as “the difference in compensation received by women as compared to men for the same work or contribution to the firm.” Notably, 28 percent of all respondents believed a gender pay gap exists, though female partners were six times as likely to perceive a pay gap as their male counterparts (67 percent vs. 11 percent). What’s more interesting, however, is the finding that all respondents perceived that female partners received only 6 percent less than their male counterparts for the same firm contributions.

Gender pay gap: Analysis

Using regression analysis, Acritas found that originations and hourly billing rates accounted for 75 percent of the variation in compensation, whereas working attorney receipts, number of firm lawyers and partner status (equity vs. non-equity) combined accounted for only 25 percent of the variation.

Is change in the air?

According to our survey, 66 percent of female partners and 57 percent of male partners desire some form of change in their firms’ compensation model. In terms of the gender-gap issue, however, only 23 percent of partners said firm management had discussed or raised the possibility of a gender pay gap, and just 26 percent of that group said their firm had taken action to address the gender pay gap. Actions most commonly mentioned were (1) the addition of more female partners to the management committee, (2) the addition of more female partners to the compensation committee and (3) an increase in female partners’ compensation.

Women: Focus on the things that YOU can control

While firms and their consultants tackle the gender-gap compensation and origination issues, what can you, as a female lawyer, do to promote your own advancement?

Build your professional brand. Work hard. Master the law in your practice area. Adopt a can-do attitude. Build relationships with colleagues and clients. Do a great job on every project. Ask for and embrace feedback. Seek mentors and sponsors across gender, race, professions and age. Write articles. Attend and speak at industry conferences. Become known in your field.

Join and meaningfully participate in professional and civic organizations, which should include women’s groups. Cultivate genuine professional relationships with female clients and women in business. When you have a conflict, send business to one of your female colleagues at another firm. Focus on being the best you can be. Don’t get angry. Get good, get known and get work! I have confidence the gender gap will shrink in time.



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