The gender gap continues for UK law firms, with a survey showing a stark drop in the number of women reaching the higher echelons of the profession.
The survey from The Financial Times showed a sharply reduced number of women progressing in the legal profession, which is exacerbated by a large pay gap between the sexes as well.
The Financial Times reported that the £28 billion legal profession is one of Britain’s most important exports but, like other financial and professional services sectors, remains among the most male-dominated industries globally.
The results are similar to the London law firm pay gap revealed in a recent survey also.
The disparity is in large part because the number of female equity partners across law firms in both the US and the UK, along with other jurisdiction, has barely increased in recent years, but also shows the lack of remuneration increases that women get once they are at the top.
Data collected from the largest UK and US firms in London, based on The Lawyer’s rankings, revealed that while there are now more women practising law in the UK than men, and just under half of associates — mid-ranking lawyers — in the firms sampled were women, only about a fifth of senior lawyers — or partners — were female.
Most firms only increased the proportion of women in their partnerships by a percentage point or less year on year. At Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, for example, women made up just under half of the firm’s associates but just 17 per cent of partners, up from 16 per cent the previous year, the FT reported.
Major firms like Freshfields and Baker McKenzie continue to make strides to close the gender gap, with the latter reaching almost 30 per cent female partnership this year.
The situation with full equity partnerships — where all partners must buy into the business — is worse, with a smaller proportion of women making it into this bracket. On average, in the firms sampled by the FT, women make up 19.6 per cent of full equity partnerships, compared with 23.5 per cent of partnerships that include both “salaried” and equity partners.
UK firm Eversheds Sutherland’s partners are one-quarter women but the firm’s equity partner quotient is 16 per cent female. Women are also typically being paid less than men when they do make partner.
For example Macfarlanes, a traditional UK firm, last year admitted to paying its female staff 75.3 per cent less than men on average, which it put down to a small number of women in its partnership and a paucity of women in senior roles.
The gender pay issue continues globally in the legal profession. A 2018 survey in the US showed that at top U.S. law firms, the average income for male partners last year was $959,000 and $627,000 for female partners.