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Salary Survey: The gender gap

Written by: Richard Simmons
Published on: 14 Jun 2015

    Across all private practice respondents to this survey, the average salary for a man was £87,820, while the average salary for a woman was £63,518. This figure is, of course, skewed by the fact that there are more men in senior positions across the legal profession.

    Indeed, at newly-qualified level, the picture looks different. Almost all firms (RPC is a notable exception) pay a flat rate to their NQs, regardless of their gender, so there is little difference in pay between the sexes.

    The picture changes quickly at more senior levels, however. Even at 1-3PQE level, men earn more than women on average. The two exceptions are the magic circle – the lockstep system and the small number of firms in this group mean the average pay of respondents to the survey was roughly the same, regardless of gender – and firms outside London.

    Why, overall, is the average salary for men higher than for women, even at such a junior level? The reason is probably that the highest-paying firms make a very conscious effort to make their training contract intakes an even split of males and females. Smaller firms, which pay less, are more likely to take majority-female trainee groups (reflecting the fact that the majority of law school graduates are women), meaning a larger proportion of males are likely to end up at a high-paying firm rather than because of any internal discrimination.

    At regional firms and the non-London offices of national firms, average pay for female 1-3PQEs was actually slightly higher than that of their male colleagues: £43,920 compared to £41,641. This may be because female solicitors often dominate the junior ranks of such offices (as opposed to London, where trainee intakes are more likely to be closer to 50-50 male-female) and because female graduates are more adept at bagging the training contracts outside London that offer the highest potential salaries, while males have to settle for slightly lower-paying regional firms. All-female trainee groups are not unusual in regional firms – they are certainly far more common than all-male intakes – and this is reflected among junior qualified solicitors.

    The gender gap is in evidence at mid- and senior associate level as well. Among 4-6PQEs, the average salary for men as of 2014/15 is £84,843, compared to £70,746 for women. At 7+PQE, it is £91,043 for men and £76,949 for women. At salaried partner level, the average pay for a man is £127,122, while for a woman it is £106,584.

    The reasons for the pay gap at more senior levels of the profession have been discussed on many occasions: women leaving the law to have children – or going part-time – is part of the reason. A number of firms have set themselves diversity targets to hit. Linklaters is aiming for 30 per cent female membership on its executive committee and international board by 2018, Berwin Leighton Paisner wants a 30 per cent female partnership by the same year, and Ashurst is aiming to ensure that 40 per cent of all partner promotions are female by 2018, as well as handing a quarter of management positions to women. Herbert Smith Freehills and Pinsent Masons are among the other firms that have set measurable goals. Moves such as these should hopefully have a positive effect on average salaries for women at every level.

    Salary Survey Gender Gap Graph

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