Law Firms Get Terrible Scores on Internal Pay Equity

Maria Colacurcio, October 28, 2019

On Oct. 21, 2019, Law360 published an article entitled, “GCs Are Demanding Law Firms Fix Their Pay Equity Problem.” True to lawyerly writing standards, Law360 does not bury the lead: 

“Law firms are failing to make sure women lawyers are paid equitably and that failure has prompted general counsel to take action, demanding more transparency and equality in pay from the firms they use, general counsel on a panel in Chicago said Monday.”

Kudos to Susan Lees, general counsel at Allstate, for pointing out the fact that law firms that frequently conduct pay equity analyses on behalf of clients are some of the worst offenders in equal pay. 

The persistence of the pay gap is an indictment of the current and archaic approach toward pay equity in which lawyers who bill hours retain labor economists who bill even more hours flogging data and working hard to find the best way to analyze pay. Leaving aside the incentive to expand work into more time, counsel often strive not to find problems but to group data in ways that minimize pay disparities. This makes sense; after all, they’re advocates.

That’s not to say that all law firms are guilty of having pay disparities themselves. There are progressive firms with investments in innovation that are starting to look at pay equity more holistically. A few partner with our company to provide a pay equity analysis tool that enables ongoing pay equity analyses for clients and themselves. 

But many others are under threat of litigation around pay discrimination, and the list of law firms that have recently faced or are currently facing those claims is a who’s who of the country’s top firms, including Proskauer Rose, Sedgwick, Steptoe & Johnson, Morrison & Foerster, Jones Day, and Chadbourne & Parke LLP (now Norton Rose Fulbright). Even labor and employment law firms are facing these lawsuits. Ogletree Deakins, and large employment firm faces a $300 million class action suit in federal court, and Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, which was hit with an EEOC complaint for gender-based workplace discrimination, including equal pay violations, filed by one of its former employment partners.  

In calling for more transparency, the top lawyers at some of the country’s best companies are paving the way to change. This problem is 100 percent solvable. We can solve it now if we commit to ongoing analyses using vetted methodology and standards. The goal is to find problems and fix them instead of maintaining the status quo.

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