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For what they’re worth – Links, 2Birds and Pinsents among law firms disclosing chunky gender pay gaps

The UK’s top law firms have begun disclosing figures on gender pay gaps, with an initial round of numbers showing City giant Linklaters has the biggest gulf between male and female earnings.

The Magic Circle firm on Wednesday (7 February) published its figures for gender pay bands, as required under legislation introduced last year, which showed Linklaters paid its male staff members nearly 60% more in bonuses than women. The firm’s female employees were paid on average 23.2% less than male colleagues. The gap widened to 39.1% when the median figure was considered.

Linklaters’ figures were published as three more top 50 law firms today (8 February) unveiled equivalent numbers: Pinsent Masons, Taylor Wessing and Bird & Bird.

Taylor Wessing had the smallest gap, as the average hourly pay was 13.48% higher for men, rising to 32.1% on a median basis. In comparison, female staff at Bird & Bird earned on average 14.5% less per hour than their male counterparts, a figure that grows to 27.6% when earnings are ranked on a median basis.

The average pay gap at Pinsents was significantly higher at 22.4%, which the firm said was due to its regional office network resulting in lower rates for bottom-earners. However, the firm had the lowest median gender pay gap of the group at 22.4%.

CMS has already announced its figures, demonstrating that the average UK hourly earnings rate for women is 17.3% lower than men, while the median average hourly rate was 32.8% lower. CMS had the lowest mean average gap in terms of bonuses at 26.9%, while the firm’s median gap was at 30.4%.

Figures for the group were lower than the mean and median pay gap for the legal sector overall, which the Office for National Statistics estimates at 24% and 25.7% respectively.

The disclosures cover all business support staff and associates and demonstrate the position as of 5 April 2017. All UK companies with more than 250 staff are required to publish such figures by 4 April 2018.

All the law firms profess confidence that they are paying male and female employees the same for equivalent jobs. They gave broadly similar reasons for their gender pay gaps, pointing to the fact that there were more women in less well-paid roles and a higher number of part-time female lawyers.

At Linklaters, women made up 79.2% of staff in the lowest-earning quartile – which includes secretarial and junior business team positions. In this quartile, the pay gap was 5.96% in favour of women. But in the upper quartile of earners at the firm, women accounted for 44.9% and earned 6.5% less than men.

‘We are confident that we pay men and women fairly for equivalent roles,’ stated Linklaters in a formal announcement, adding that there was a ‘more significant gender imbalance within our lower pay quartile’. ‘This also feeds into our bonus figures because the bonus potential for our secretarial and junior business team roles is generally lower than for our legal and more senior business team roles.’

Bird & Bird – where bonuses paid to women were on average 33.5% lower than those paid to men – stressed that the bonus gap also reflected the higher number of part-time female employees. Only two men worked part-time at the firm last year, compared to 60 women. ‘Unlike the pay gap figures, which are based on hourly rates, the bonus figures are the actual sums paid. This means that those who work part-time or have been on maternity leave for part of the bonus year will have lower bonuses than men carrying out an equivalent role,’ said the firm.

Cynics will argue that law firms have ducked the key issue as they are not required to disclose the gap in earnings between male and female partners. And law firms being fond of preaching high standards while taking the low road of pragmatism are collectively taking it upon themselves to report as little as possible. The jaded may also note that years of publishing poor numbers on female partnership ratios has had little discernible impact on the advancement of women.