Gender pay gaps in the legal sector

Tuesday 12th June 2018

A recent study by market research company Acritas has revealed that men belonging to a select group of ‘stand out’ lawyers were paid nearly 30% more than their woman counterparts in the last year.

It is surprising to see that there is such a large gender pay gap at equity partner level, especially in the legal sector. Legislation under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) requires firms with 250 employees or more to publish their gender pay gap by 4th April each year. This allows the government to keep track on the larger companies’ pay gaps but still lets smaller businesses keep their pay distributions in house.

This legislation also excludes partners and this has prompted criticism within the news, stating that firms have provided a ‘carve-out’ for mainly male and very highly remunerated groups. The criticism within the news must have had an effect on some of the larger law firms as they have now reported the gender pay gap within their partnerships and some even reported the gap between partners and employees.

The world’s largest firm by number of offices, Dentons, have reported their partnership pay gap as 23%, while at international firm HFW, the gap was 8.7%. Mills & Reeve reported a 10.5% gap and Reed Smith a 0.8% gap. However, it’s not all bad news for women in the equity sector as Eversheds Sutherland have bucked the trend by reporting a 10% gap between equity partners in favour of women.

The major reason for why this gap still remains, according to the surveyors themselves, are that a high proportion of those female lawyers could be specialising in ‘labour’ where they may get paid significantly less because of job type, rather than gender. Other considerations must be taken into account, including pay increases being given based on experience an employee may have; as the number of female equity partners only began to rise in the last few years, females may not yet have the same long term experience as males. In any event, it is good to see that this is a live issue under proper scrutiny.

Courtney Hawkins, 

Commercial Assistant, Waldrons Solicitors