February 25, 2013 Practice Points

Gender Disparity Persists at Top Law Firms

By Joanne Geha Swanson

The struggle for gender equality continues at the nation’s top law firms, The Am Law Daily reports, and while an increasing number of women are finding more promising opportunities at smaller firms or in solo practice, others are choosing to battle it out at Big Law. With the availability of flextime schedules, the family-work balance concerns that once dominated the discussion for women lawyers are no longer the primary issue. According to Am Law Daily, “The conversation now appears to have shifted to money––equal pay, equity partnerships, and training to develop that crucial book of business.”

Surveys show significant pay disparity. A 2010 survey conducted by The Florida Bar shows that women earn just 59 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn. The annual survey of the country’s 200 largest law firms, conducted by the National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation, also shows significant pay gaps between male and female equity partners, although not as extreme. Women equity partners earned just 86 percent of that earned by their male counterparts in the 2011 survey year, and 89 percent in the 2012 survey year. A survey spearheaded by legal search consultants Major, Lindsey & Africa shows that the numbers have been going in the wrong direction. According to Am Law Daily, the survey found that the gap widened from 2010 to 2011, “with male partners’ earnings increasing eight percent while women’s decreased three percent in the same period.”

According to Am Law Daily, a lack of transparency regarding compensation may be one contributing factor. Rainmaking––or the lack thereof––may be another. “I think women are perceived as not being good at generating business,” Florida Association of Women Lawyers Laura Wendell is quoted as saying. “It would be helpful for women attorneys to have more mentoring and guidance from successful rainmakers, and that is typically men.”

Learning to manage relationships might also make a difference. A Greenberg Traurig shareholder from Fort Lauderdale, with a successful mergers and acquisitions practice, told Am Law Daily, “I came from banking, where I received lots of training and classes on how to relationship-manage. Law firms in general need to get better at teaching lawyers, especially young lawyers, these skills.”

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, pay, disparity, law firms

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