April 24, 2020 2 minutes to read · 500 words

Women in Law: The Gender Wage Gap for Lawyers

By Mala Sharma

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As we remember and honor the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, we are also reminded how far we still have to go. Although women represent the majority of all law students, our numbers drop once you look at attorneys, partners, and equity partners. Why is it that, on a global scale, male equity partners earn 27 percent more than female equity partners?1 How can we change this inequity?

Gender wage gap is “the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings.”2 It affects all industries, including the legal profession. Closing the gender wage gap has been a priority for decades. The Equal Pay Act of 1963, signed by President John F. Kennedy, helped raise the earnings of women compared to men from 58.9 percent in 1963 up to 77 percent in 2009.3 That year the gender wage gap was addressed again with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by President Barack Obama. This act overturned the Supreme Court ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618, where employees’ rights to file suit for unequal pay were limited. As of 2018, the earnings of women compared to men stood at 81.6 percent.4

In the legal profession, women are paid less, notwithstanding how many hours they work in a day or how much work is accomplished. This is partially due to the fact that women’s billable rate is typically less than men’s. This leads to the obvious question of why firms price women’s billable rates lower. Further, women of color have the lowest rate. Another consideration is that while men are seen as stable when married with children, women are not. Instead, women are seen as undependable if they have a family to attend to and are considered not able to focus on their career. As a result, men earn more promotions later in life than women: Women typically don’t see any promotions after age 40, whereas men do. There are more male equity partners than female, as men continue to rise to the top at a greater rate than women. And even as equity partners, women still do not receive the same pay as men.5

The gender wage gap challenge will continue, and we will see more associations of women lawyers, locally and nationally, bring to light the evolving gender gap concern. One thing we must all do is continue the fight to reach our goal of equal pay. Women are worth every single penny as much as men. It is far past time for the legal profession to recognize and address this glaring issue.

Notes

1.      Kathryn Rubino, “There’s a 27 Percent Global Gender Pay Gap For Equity Partners,” Above the Law, April 20, 2018; https://abovethelaw.com/2018/04/theres-a-27-percent-global-gender-pay-gap-for-equity-partners.

2.      Australian Workplace Gender Equality Agency, “Australia’s Gender Pay Gap Statistics,” February 20, 2020; https://www.wgea.gov.au/data/fact-sheets/australias-gender-pay-gap-statistics.

3.      National Committee on Pay Equity, “The Wage Gap over Time: In Real Dollars, Women See a Continuing Gap”; https://www.pay-equity.org/info-time.html.

4.      Ibid.

5.      Alison Monahan, “Understanding the Gender Wage Gap in the Legal Profession: Learn More about the Gender Wage Gap Affecting the Legal Industry,” The Balance Careers, May 5, 2019; https://www.thebalancecareers.com/understanding-the-gender-wage-gap-in-the-legal-profession-4000621.

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Mala Sharma practices family and personal injury law with her family at the Law Offices of Sharma & Associates, founded in 1997. She has been appointed to leadership roles in the American Bar Association GPSolo and YLD Divisions, is a board member of the Houston Trial Lawyers Association, past president of the Houston Northwest Bar Association, and prior board member of the South Asian Bar Association. She is also a member of the Houston Bar Association. Mala has been named in 2019 and 2020 as a Texas Rising Star by Super Lawyers and included in Texas Monthly's Top Women Attorneys in Texas special section for 2019 and 2020. Mala has also been selected as one of the 10 Best Attorneys by the American Institute of Personal Injury Attorneys for 2018–2020, a Top 40 Under 40 by the National Trial Lawyers for 2018–2020, and a Texas Top 10 Personal Injury Attorney by Attorney and Practice Magazine for 2019-2020. She can be contacted at 281/893-8644 or by e-mail at mala@sharmalaws.net.

Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 9, Number 9, April 2020. © 2020 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.