April 21, 2014 Practice Points

Challenges to Female Wages and Career Advancement

By Katie Foley

In the article, “Female Lawyers over 30 Earning 25% less than the Men,” Lottie O’Connor analyzes the potential reasons behind the statistic that while women in their early twenties make 30 percent more than their male counterparts, by their mid-thirties they earn 25 percent less than men their male colleagues. O’Connor notes that the lack of work/life balance is at the core of the issue. A total 96 percent of the female lawyers surveyed stated that work/life balance was central to their sense of career satisfaction. However, this work/life balance is a challenge in the legal industry. All of the lawyers surveyed for the article indicated that “unrealistic and unmaintainable hours” were the primary impediment to their future in the industry. The hours and time commitment are even steeper for those who plan on making partner. After the recent economic recession the path to becoming partner takes longer and lot of female attorneys are faced with choosing between having a family or making partner. Some firms have flexible work arrangements for working mothers; however, O’Connor cites one ex-lawyer who left the industry when she had kids as saying, “no-one I know has been able to actually negotiate any sort of flexible work arrangement, so either has gone back full time, or given up law altogether.”

The article also indicates that men are also disenchanted with the legal industry. Of those surveyed, 26 percent of men rated “[g]reater opportunities for flexible working” as “crucial for their future careers.” The article indicates this might be a result of a generational preference. Younger generations, such as Generation Y, prefer a progressive way of working and see little appeal in lifetime job loyalty and job with “endless long hours and zero flexibility.” The article indicates that while many young lawyers may be attracted to the training and financial benefits of a legal job, they may not want to continue to work in the legal industry in the long term. The article concludes with a warning to law firms. O’Connor argues that firms will need to look at “working practices and incentives,” like other corporations, to prevent a “mass exodus of promising young lawyers” only a few years after they start.

Keywords: woman advocate, litigation, work/life balance, wages

Katie Foley is a Law Student at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota

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