Equal pay between female and male lawyers has become a major concern for many lawyers in the Irish legal market, as reflected in responses to the Sunday Independent Best Law Firms 2023 survey.
Almost half of the lawyers surveyed by market and consumer data company Statista on the subject expressed concerns.
The results of the survey will provide food for thought across the industry, which appears to be divided on whether or not wage parity is a significant concern.
As of 2014, there were more female lawyers than male lawyers in Ireland and the trend has continued in recent years, with women now accounting for more than 53 per cent of the profession.
However, the upper echelons of law firms remain male-dominated, with women filling just 35 percent of partner-level roles.
“Male lawyers continue to dominate top positions and demand higher salaries than women. Law firms need to take into account that women have been conditioned by society to be less forward with their ambitions,” one lawyer told Statista.
More than 1,000 lawyers commented on the subject in the survey between March and May of this year.
A total of 21.3 percent of respondents identified wage parity as “a very big problem,” while another 27.6 percent said it was “a fairly big problem.”
In contrast, 23.6pc described it as “rather a small problem”, 4.6pc as “a very small problem” and 23pc as “not a problem at all”.
Measuring the size of the gender pay gap would be difficult given the large number of self-employed people.
Back in 2016, global recruitment firm Morgan McKinley estimated the Irish legal sector gap at 20 per cent.
Of those who told Statista wage parity was “a very big problem,” there were multiple views as to why this was the case.
A lawyer took the view that there were “significant deficiencies in the partnership and promotion model within the companies”.
“At the top end of the scale in the leading Irish law firms, male lawyers far outnumber female lawyers, but never before has there been more women entering the profession,” said the lawyer.
Another argued that while both sexes can achieve equal pay, it took working mothers longer to reach the top of the profession.
“Due to the pressure of work, more and more working mothers are taking a step back in their job – which affects their ability to work,” said the practitioner.
Another said: “Many women work a four-day week to balance childcare and work. In 14 years of practice, I have never met a man in a four-day week.
“However, the number of women working into the night to ensure they work the same hours four days instead of five is endemic. But the wage gap does not even out.”
One respondent said the problem “could even out over the next few years as younger female attorneys are promoted and older male attorneys retire”.
Another claimed male-dominated partnerships were “just lip service” to the issue.
However, these views were far from universal, with just over half of respondents downplaying concerns.
A lawyer, who described pay equality as “a rather small issue”, said most medium-sized and large professional companies have already taken steps to ensure equality.
Another said: “For employed lawyers this is not an issue. It may be more difficult for women to become equity partners, but this is due to disproportionate child-rearing responsibilities that fall on women. I have never experienced gender discrimination.”
A lawyer said: “There are some anomalies at the top end of some companies, but sex/gender hasn’t been an issue for years.”
A male practitioner told Statista: “I have never seen my female colleagues earn less than me for the same work and with the same experience after training.”
Another said: “It’s a meritocracy now, and that’s the way it should be.”
The divergent views come after a period when there have been a number of initiatives to improve leadership prospects for women lawyers.
The Law Society has been running the “Women in Leadership” mentoring program since 2016.
This includes providing mentors, women in very senior positions in the public and private sectors, to help lawyers who are on their way up the corporate ladder to achieve higher positions.
Well over 100 lawyers have used the program.
More recently, the Law Society, Secretary of Justice Helen McEntee and the Irish Women Lawyers’ Association (IWLA) have encouraged more women to apply for priority patents, a government award that allows solicitors and barristers to hold the title of senior counsel due on their experience and expertise.
In 2021, the IWLA hosted an event where senior women attorneys outlined the path they took to obtaining priority patents.
The call to arms appears to have had an effect.
Irish legal history was made last June when more women than men were awarded the title of Senior Counsel in the most recent round of awards. 20 women were selected compared to only 14 men.
This figure was reached without affirmative action, as the Patent Advisory Committee does not distinguish between applicants’ gender. It makes recommendations based on the criteria laid down in the Legal Services Act with regard to professional competence, honesty, independence and excellence in the legal profession or specialist litigation.
According to an IWLA submission, issues contributing to the gender pay gap in the legal profession may involve unconscious biases that expose female practitioners to stereotypes about the work they undertake, leading them to be considered better suited to family law be regarded as law for criminal or commercial law.
It is also said that female lawyers may be perceived as less available to provide the level of productivity required in the long hours culture in many companies.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irelands-best-law-firms/irelands-best-law-firms-2023-parity-of-pay-is-a-big-topic-but-not-all-see-it-as-a-significant-issue-42026884.html Ireland’s Best Law Firms 2023: Equal pay is a big issue, but not everyone sees it as an important issue