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LSB finds ‘significant’ gender inequality at UK’s top 10 law firms

Says gender balance at trainee and solicitor level not carrying through to partnerships 

1 March 2013

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

The UK’s ten largest law firms have come under criticism by the Legal Services Board (LSB) for gender inequality in their partnerships.

It found that there is “a significant imbalance between men and women at partnership level”, with an average of four male partners for every one female partner.

The LSB said there is “a much more even spread” of men and woman at trainee and solicitor level, “which suggests that firms are not having a problem finding suitably skilled women”.

Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters, Norton Rose and Slaughter and May were cited as having a disproportionate number of male partners.

The LSB research found that, if the total number of partners remained the same at these firms, they would need to appoint an average of 27 more female partners to reach 30 per cent women partners, 63 more to reach 40 per cent and 113 more to reach 50 per cent.

“Given the numbers of women at solicitor and trainee level in the profession, we would expect to see the number of women making their way to partnership steadily increasing,” the LSB noted.

“It would also seem reasonable to expect that it shouldn’t take much longer than the length of time it currently takes to become partner, before the male/female split at partnership level much more closely reflects what we are currently seeing at the lower levels.”

“To really tackle these problems action is required right across the legal services sector with the managers and owners of law firms and chambers being held to account on the diversity of their workforce by fully informed regulators, clients, consumers and the public.”

The findings formed part of the LSB’s review of published evidence on the equality of pay in legal services.

It said that “all legal service providers need to be challenged to undertake and publish equal pay audits. Voluntary action is preferred on this but only if it results in the changes needed.”

“As would be expected, progression is a key factor affecting the inequality of pay, with the Law Society research highlighting a strong correlation between the sex or ethnic background of a solicitor and their level of seniority.  Men and white solicitors significantly outnumber women and BME solicitors in senior roles.”

The report noted that, in April 2012, the median salary in the legal profession for men was £53,651 and £42,019 for women, resulting in a gender pay gap of 21.7 per cent, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

By comparison, it said female private practitioners earned on average 28.9 per cent less than men in 2008, according to research by the Law Society of England and Wales. In addition, the median annual earnings of black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors were found to be £45,000, compared to £55,000 for white solicitors.

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