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Pay and Power Disparities and the Retention of Female Lawyers

Women lawyers leaving big or established firms are not always leaving law firm life.  Many are leaving to start solo or small law firms.  The reason may come down to the numbers.  According to the December 2018 report by Major Lindsey & Africa, male partners earn 53 percent more than female partners at top U.S. law firms. The reasons for this disparity include originations and billing rate discrepancies.  Add to that the issue that the amount of originations is often a key factor in making equity partner versus non-equity partner at many law firms.  Equity partnership means more voting power and higher pay.  Equity partners earn an average of three times as much as non-equity partners.  Last year, among the elite group of highest earning partners in the country – only one was female.  Clearly, the pay and power disparity in big firms can be huge and can understandably lead to a feeling of defeatism when you see the statistics.

One problem is that origination credit is not always easy to get.  Origination credit requires the ability to develop your own business and the ability to secure the credit for the business you developed.  For many women, those two things may not easily coincide.  After time, the pay off per hour worked may not make sense anymore.  Keeping female lawyers means providing training and support to help them learn to not only develop business, but also obtain credit for that business.  Until more of that happens, I suspect many women lawyers will continue to leave large firms and go solo or go smaller - developing a system of value and support that works better for them.    

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