Equal Pay Day & The Legal Profession

Posted on 11/11/2015 by Katherine Memery

In 2014 Hannah Brenner, Lecturer in Law at Michigan State University, wrote that ‘no longer are women singularly represented in a sea of male lawyers...no longer are classes of law students merely, if at all, dotted with only the occasional female’ in her paper ‘Expanding the Pathways to Gender Equality in the Legal Profession’. My experience of studying law at university and recruiting solicitors is certainly in line with Hannah’s view, which is something I believe the legal profession should now be proud of.  However, I still think we’ve some way to go before the profession can wholly claim to be a level playing field.

After hearing about the #imnotjohn campaign last week, I then encountered the Equal Pay Day concept for the first time this week. For those who are as unfamiliar with this concept as I was, Equal Pay Day is the day in the calendar year, shifting from one year to the next, when women are considered to have effectively stopped earning relative to men. Most people will already be aware that there sadly exists a gap in the average pay of men and women, but they might not know that this gap is estimated by the Fawcett Society to be so significant that women as a group are considered to have ceased to earn past 9th November comparative to their male counterparts.

Add to that the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s reported findings earlier this year that women returning from maternity leave are more likely to face discrimination in the workplace than they were a decade ago, with approximately 54,000 new mothers losing their jobs across Britain every year, and it is clear that workplace gender equality remains a big problem.

Equal pay and the legal sector

In terms of how this all looks in the context of the legal profession, I don’t think that hard statistics are really required. I think anyone who spends as much as ten minutes browsing the websites of an assortment of law firms will quickly come to realise that generally (and I place significant emphasis on that word) the number of men who are Partners, Directors or in positions of management significantly outweighs the number of women. And, of course, the more senior a role, the better paid it is. Still, the facts are there: full-time female solicitors were last year estimated to earn 20% less than their male colleagues.

I wouldn’t profess to have a unique or revolutionary idea of how to best combat the overall problem of the pay gap in the legal profession. It is obviously an issue bigger than just the legal profession alone. That said, I agree with Hannah Brenner that there is a certain hypocrisy that stems from the profession’s ‘devotion to the preservation of rights and equality while maintaining a sexist status quo'. Surely it is time for the legal profession to take the lead on addressing this issue? 

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