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The Gender Analysis: Women in Law

Written by: Evie Courtier
Published on: 4 May 2023

Gender pay gap

The topic of gender equality and pay parity within the legal profession is a contentious subject in continuous flux. Impacting both senior and junior roles, the gender issue infiltrates the legal landscape from the ground up. Since 2018, when our audience surveys began, TotallyLegal has seen a steady continuum of pay inequality, with the average industry-wide gender pay gap narrowing from 38% in 2018, to 33% in 2022.

The past 12 months have demonstrated significant strides in gender representation and pay parity. The gender pay gap has narrowed from 33% to 13%, with women now outnumbering men in several of the sector’s most senior roles, including Partner (62% female) and Head of Department (55%). Nonetheless, progress is stilted further down the pay scale, with women dominating many of the legal profession’s lowest-paying jobs. ​

Gender Representation:

Courtesy of the TotallyLegal 2023 Salary Survey, detailing the insights of the working lives of over 900 legal professionals, we can identify the trends barricading the achievement of equal pay. In 2023, female representation stood at 65% across our audience, commanding 19 out of 24 job titles surveyed. Senior roles demonstrated healthy gender representation, with women leading the way in a variety of the profession’s most lucrative positions such as In-House Counsel (62%) and General Counsel (49%).

The gender balance of legal roles further down the pay scale is an issue that continues to impact the profession. The female-dominance of lesser-paid roles, such as Legal Secretaries (100%), Legal Executives (80%) and Conveyancers (100%), reiterates the bias of gender inequality in junior/non fee-earning positions. Despite the bucking of the usual mid to high 30% trend, tracked across the past 5 years, there’s apparent progress to be addressed within junior echelons to alleviate gender inequality.

The Gender Pay Gap:

In short, men continue to earn more than their female counterparts overall, however in the past 12 months, the legal world has moved closer to pay parity than ever before. ​Covering a broad legal spectrum of roles ranging from Partner to Paralegal, it’s welcoming to see the drop of the gender pay gap from 33% to 13%. In 2023, the average salary for male professionals stands at £72,313, compared to £63,903 for females – a £8,410 disparity.

Analysing salary trends by gender across each job title reveals the starker disparities across gender lines. Legal Assistants experience the widest disparity in pay, with male respondents earning 74% more than their female colleagues. The chasm between graduate pay grew from 44% to 50% year on year, and while the divide narrowed significantly from 131% in 2022, Document Review roles still pay men 55% more.

Promisingly, imbalances across Litigator positions shrank from 64% to 34%, and in the lawyer category, female respondents took home 12% more than their male counterparts. ​

Significant progress was also made at senior level. Head of Department and In-House Counsel pay gaps stood at 5% and 2% respectively (down from 17% and 29% year on year), and female General Counsel respondents out-performed males by 2%, with an average salary of £121,397.

Practice Area Evaluation:

Gender pay disparity was apparent within 11 out of the 18 practice areas surveyed, with just 7 sectors boasting equal or higher pay for females. Equal pay lent itself to the Commercial Property and Corporate sectors, with Dispute Resolution (-38%), and Media & Entertainment (-20%) surpassing the norm and offering women higher wages than their male counterparts.

Litigation stands at a 31% pay gap in favour of male colleagues - the widest pay discrepancy of 2023 - followed by Healthcare at 22% and the Public Sector with 20%. Despite ongoing inequality, 2023 ignites the downward trend of catastrophic figures; just two years ago wage gaps were far greater, with six practice areas reaching over a 70% pay difference.

PQE Analysis:

Non-qualified legal professionals and newly-qualified respondents enjoyed year-on-year pay increases in 2023, with non-qualified employees, such as Paralegals and Legal Assistants, averaging an annual salary of £38,379. ​Those with 1-2 years’ PQE under their belt earned a mean salary of £50,458.

With this in mind, it’s interesting to note the 24% difference in pay between non-qualified female and male colleagues; the largest gender discrepancy in terms of PQE level for 2023. By contrast, those in newly-qualified positions saw a 14% difference between the sexes - a 16% drop on 2022 figures.

Refreshingly, those with 3+ years PQE have made leeway in the achievement of pay parity. In 2022 the pay gap stood at 6% for professionals with 3-6 years PQE; by comparison, it now falls at -5% in favour of females. Those within the 7-10 year PQE bracket have also witnessed a 16% decrease in pay disparity with the gender pay gap decreasing from 20% to 4%. Finally, those with 10+ years experience have seen the average female salary grow to £87,607, resulting in a pay disparity of 6% between male and female colleagues.


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