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Why Does the Gender Wage Gap Persist in Law?

Mark A. Cohen Law.com

Women have been fighting for equal rights since the early days of the Republic. In 1776, Abigail Adams petitioned her husband John, admonishing him not to put unlimited power into the hands of men. John Adams replied, “I cannot but laugh. Depend upon it, we know better than to repeal our masculine systems.” Fast forward to 2018: Adams and his fellow founders would be relieved to know those “masculine systems” are very much alive in the legal industry. The parochial, homogeneous, male-dominated, legal guild is showing signs of fraying, but the evidence shows it is still very much alive. The reports of the old boy network’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Elimination of Legal Industry Bias is a Goal, Not a Reality

The elimination of bias in the legal profession is one of the stated goals of the American Bar Association. Law has long had a bias problem—gender, race, religion, and lifestyle preference, among others. There are two principal reasons: (1) broader societal bias; and (2) legal culture. Lawyers commit to defend individual and societal rights. They are the first responders and last defenders of the rule of law. And they are self-regulated. So how and why is the profession anything but a model of equality?

Legal culture was forged by middle-aged white men of like mind, means, and background. It was designed to serve their interests financially, socially, and inter-generationally. Approximately half of newly minted lawyers are female, but don’t mistake numerical parity with equality in pay, promotion, or influence.

The 2017 In-House Counsel Compensation Report of legal recruiting firm Major, Lindsey & Africa reveals that female attorneys working in-house are paid significantly less than their male colleagues at all levels. While women are more likely to occupy the big chair in-house than at firms–25% of General Counsel positions at Fortune 500 companies (and 22.5% among the Fortune 1000)—they are not paid the same as their male counterparts. Total 2016 compensation for men was 17.5% higher than for women. Base salaries of male GC’s were 6.3 percent higher and bonuses 31% higher than female GC’s. The highest male bonus was $3 million, compared to the top female bonus of $675,000.

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