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Is there a gender pay gap in the legal sector?

by Sellick Partnership | 26 October 2016

A career in law is highly sought after for a number of reasons; there is a clear progression path, there is a certain perceived reputation that comes with the role, and a successful legal career will typically pay considerably more than the UK average salary. For example, a recent study conducted by The Law Society shows that the average salaries for qualified legal associates/assistants is £30,000 to £35,000 compared to the UK average of £27,600 (ONS, March 2016).  As a result, numerous candidates will strive to have a long-term career in the legal sector to ensure they can lead a comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle. However, the reputation and perception of the legal sector has sometimes been tarnished with some having negative views, saying the industry is ‘backward’, ‘not in keeping with the times’ or that it is ‘old school’. 

In recent years there has been a concerted effort across the sector to focus on internal promotions rather than outsourcing for new talent. In addition to this, there has been an increasing number of women taking more senior positions at firms. So it’s fair to assume everything is moving in the right direction with gender equality in legal sector with it being a prominent thought in people’s minds, or is it?

In 2014 it was reported that 48 percent of legal professionals are women, with more women than men on average enrolling to the SRA year-on-year. Despite this, a recent study conducted by The Law Society released on 19 September 2016 shows that there is still a significant difference in salaries between female solicitors and their male counterparts. These figures suggest the gender pay gap is definitely still a problem within private practice in the legal sector, which is incredibly surprising and disappointing to hear in 2016. In many cases, the figures are quite staggering with annual median earnings of female solicitors being almost 20 percent less than their male colleagues.

The Law Society’s study also provides a full breakdown of average earnings and how they compared at differing levels of seniority. For example; a male associate typically earns £47,000, while a female associate earns 11% less at £42,000. As another example, a male solicitor (salaried partner) will earn approximately £70,000 on average whilst a female solicitor will earn around 19 percent less at £57,000. This trend appears to continue to some of the most senior positions at a law firm. For example, a male equity partner earns approximately £100,000 but female equity partners earn 20 percent less at only £80,000. 

Whilst these figures are only averages made up from a sample of solicitors across England and Wales, it does raise an interesting question.  Are these statistics a fair representation of the legal sector as a whole? Or should all solicitors, regardless of their gender, review their current positions and find out whether they are being paid an amount that is reflective of the market average and the work that they are producing? 

If you aren’t sure that what you are being paid a fair amount for what you do, then please do get in touch either to discuss wider salary benchmarking or likewise ways in which you can broach this issue to raise your salary to a level commensurate with your work.