Vigorous Steps Needed To Fix Attorney Wage Gap, Paper Says

By Aebra Coe, Law360

Incremental changes won’t be enough to fix the substantial discrepancies in pay between male and female lawyers, according to a new research paper, which asserts that law firms must take more drastic steps to attain gender equality.

Law firms need to go beyond simply addressing individual biases to look at structural issues like how they reward attorneys for their work to truly tackle the continuing gender inequality in the profession, according to a paper published in the October 2016 edition of the Annual Review of Law and Social Science titled “Overlooked and Undervalued: Women in Private Law Practice.”

Authors Joyce S. Sterling and Nancy Reichman, professors at the University of Denver’s law and sociology schools, respectively, contend the existing methods law firms use to determine pay are major factors in the profession’s compensation discrepancies.

“Our review suggests that to address pay gaps, more must be done to align rewards to contributions,” the paper says. “Altering the reward structure to make it consistent with actual performance and contribution could lead to better morale among lawyers and lower turnover rates, and could begin to dismantle the remaining features of implicit gender bias in the practice of law.”

Across U.S. law firms, female equity partners make 80 percent of their male counterparts’ pay. Last year, while the men were taking home an average of $629,407, the women were averaging $504,000, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers’ 2015 report.

Despite graduating from law school in equal numbers as men for more than 15 years, women continue to be underrepresented in the industry’s top echelons, accounting for just 18 percent of equity partners and 22 percent of attorneys serving on top governance committees, the NAWL report said.

In October, legal consultancy Major Lindsey & Africa added another statistic to the mix: While pay is going up for both male and female law firm partners, the men on average make 44 percent more than the women. Factors like origination and billing rates are often pointed to as contributing to the divide.

Read more of this article at Law360.


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