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Is Origination to Blame for Women Partners’ Lower Pay?

Lizzy McLellan and Katelyn Polantz law.com

In the face of a glaring pay gap between male and female partners, some firm leaders point to the emphasis on origination credit as the key culprit. But moving away from such a model may not be so easy.

A survey released this week by Major, Lindsey & Africa showed that male law partners are paid 44 percent more than female law partners, on average. Among the survey respondents, all partners at large firms, the average male partner makes $949,000, compared to $659,000 for the average female partner. Based on those numbers, women partners make 69 cents for every dollar male partners make.

Of more than three dozen leaders of large law firms contacted about how their firms work to combat gender pay disparity, most declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment. Of those that did, some said the traditional methods for determining law partner compensation are to blame for disparity.

“I’m disappointed, but I’m not surprised,” said Beth Wilkinson, a trial lawyer formerly with Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison who co-founded the boutique Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz this year. “Firms pay people based on two basic things: hours and bringing in business. Both, I think, are a challenge for women over their careers.”

Jeffrey Lowe, managing partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Washington, D.C., office and author of the study, made a similar observation. Origination and working attorney receipts have become the main determinants of partner compensation, he said.

Women did see a larger rise in origination than men in the latest survey, with originations by women growing 40 percent compared to an 18 percent rise for men. But it wasn’t enough to bridge the gap between overall originations between the sexes. According to the survey, male partners reported average origination of $2.59 million while female partners reported $1.73 million in average origination.

“That’s the crux of the issue: Why are men generating more business than women?” Lowe said. “Is there some boys’ club aspect or not?”


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