Legal Business

Pay for female lawyers not up by much


Pay for male lawyers in the UK is significantly down from 2011, while women enjoyed a small rise in salary in 2012. Despite this sliver of positive news, the gender imbalance continues with male and female lawyers still receiving dramatically different treatment. The profession still has a long way to go.

Recent research from recruiter Laurence Simons found that average pay for male lawyers – both in-house and in private practice – was down £5,000 on 2011, while pay among female lawyers was up by nearly £1,400. Even considering this feeble rise, men on average in the legal profession made over £50,000 more than women last year. Average salary for male lawyers was £162,689 compared to £111,293 for female lawyers looks pretty bad.

‘There is a long way to go to equalise pay among the genders,’ says Lucinda Moule, managing director at Laurence Simons. ‘A situation where women are earning two thirds as much as their male colleagues is a stark imbalance that will need to be addressed.’

Worse still, women are losing out when it comes to bonuses. In 2012, the average bonus size for a male lawyer was £47,496, while women were awarded just £27,532. This means that women make 76% of the average male salary last year.

The research is based on the responses of 988 UK based lawyers of which 63% work in-house and 37% work in private practice. The picture looks a little healthier in private practice, particularly among the Magic Circle firms.

Partnership prospects at the Magic Circle firms for female associates has improved from 2011, with 2% more women making it into the partnership ranks in 2012. While the rise is again, rather feeble, it does signal a developing change in attitude.

LB100 data shows that just 14% of all equity partners in the UK are female and 23% of total partners are female. Compared with last year, the numbers of down somewhat. In 2010/11, 17% of equity partners in the UK were female, while 23% of all partners were female.

And some firms are showing initiative to promote at the top: Ashurst has pledged that 25% of management positions within the firm will be held by women by 2014. Meanwhile, Hogan Lovells, through its global Diversity Plan, aspires to have women make up 30% of its management positions by 2015.

But the large discrepancy between female and male compensation takes the glimmer off the legal profession as an attractive place for new and young talent. And while these might seem like positive steps in the right direction, firms should be picking up the pace rather than paying lip service to the issue. A speech earlier this month by Law Society president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff outlined the need for a change in attitude towards female partners and that ‘disappointingly’ the path towards equity for female partners ‘remains stagnant’. She’s right. Things are moving so slowly that by the time the great gender divide is bridged, generations of talented female lawyers will have missed out on fair pay.