Seasoned Women Lawyers Gaining Leverage in Salary Talks

The time is now for well-credentialed women lawyers to negotiate for more money and power.

 A long list of observers have offered that urgent advice, including Hilarie Bass, president of the American Bar Association and a co-president of Greenberg Traurig, other female lawyers who have recently made lateral moves, law firm consultants and legal recruiters for in-house legal departments and law firms.

Senior female lawyers are increasingly in high demand, but low supply, and thus capable of commanding higher salaries than perhaps ever before, they said.

Corporate clients’ greater interest in the diversity of their outside counsel has prompted some firms to look for more women hires, as some of those same firms, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, seek to avoid claims of gender-based pay gaps, discrimination and harassment.

But while demand may be on the rise, supply remains an issue in Big Law, which has a checkered history of advancing women to prominent positions in the legal profession.

For one, there is the statistical pattern of female lawyers entering law firms at the same rate as men, but exiting at an even higher rate before they reach partnership status.

“It’s a moment and it shows no sign of waning,” added Eliza Stoker, a frequent commentator on hiring and employment affairs, as well as an executive director for the in-house practice group of the eastern region at legal recruiting giant Major, Lindsey & Africa, about the trend.

For women lawyers seeking a raise even if they plan to stay put at their current employer, Stoker offered a tip.

“There is a piece of advice flying around like wildfire and it’s apparently very effective,” she said.

Her recommendation: Women should call their human resource departments and ask for data about the existing pay range for their current position and the maximum pay for their title.

“There is no way your employer is not going to know you asked those questions,” Stoker said.

But since enforcement guidelines by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bar employers from retaliating in any way against workers for “talking to co-workers to gather information or evidence in support of a potential EEO claim,” an employers’ only reasonable option is to offer the requestor of such information a pay raise if gender-based pay inequities exist, she said.

“Both sides of the table are changing,” said Stoker, noting that female lawyer candidates are entering negotiations with more confidence and employers are feeling more pressure to accommodate them.

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