Study: Compensation gap 44 percent between men, women partners

October 14, 2016

A new study has found that the compensation gap between male and female partners is 44 percent, a slight decrease as compared to two years ago.

Data from the 2016 Partner Compensation Survey by Major Lindsey & Africa showed compensation increased overall for law firm partners. The median salary climbed to $575,000, a 21 percent increase from 2014. However, the disparity between the genders is stark as the average compensation for male partners is $949,000 while female partners only earn $659,000 on average. The 44 percent gap is slightly lower than the 47 percent differential reported in 2014.

“After seeing much more modest increases in compensation following the Great Recession, the results from 2016 demonstrate that BigLaw is resilient,” said Jeffrey Lowe, Global Practice Leader of Major Lindsey & Africa’s Law Firm Practice and the study’s author. “However, notwithstanding these strong results, the effects of the Great Recession will continue to be felt for a long time. It was a watershed event that has forever changed the course of BigLaw.”

Also, male partners reported average originations of $2.59 million, representing a gain of 18 percent over 2014. However, female partners posted a gain of 40 percent, rising to $1.73 million from $1.24 million in 2014.  

The results of the fourth biennial study were based on responses from more than 2,100 U.S. law firm partners in U.S. firms with Am Law 200-, NLJ-350 or Global 100-rankings in the past five years.

Other key findings include:

•    Equity partners are earning an average of three times as much as non-equity partners. Equity partners make an average of $1.10 million, up 13 percent from 2014, and non-equity partners average $367,000, an increase of 9 percent over 2014.
•    Equity partners continue to originate substantially more revenue ($3.1 million) than their non-equity partner counterparts ($720,000), a key factor for determining compensation.
•    The average compensation of white partners is $876,000, up 14 percent from 2014. Likewise, Hispanic partners average $956,000, a 100 percent increase; African-American partners average $797,000, up 39 percent; and Asian Pacific partners average $875,000, a 36 percent bump.
•    Compensation varies greatly among geographic locations. Average compensation ranges from a low of $564,000 in Seattle to a high of $1.43 million in Silicon Valley, a difference of more than 150 percent.  

Also for the first time, the 2016 survey measured respondents’ satisfaction with their professional lives and their work as attorneys. Eighty-two percent of the respondents classified themselves as very satisfied, moderately satisfied or slightly satisfied when factoring in compensation, versus 72 percent when compensation was not taken into consideration.

“The legal industry has a reputation for being grueling and stressful, and many have always assumed that lawyers are just in it for the money,” Lowe said. “Instead, this survey shows that most law firm partners practice because they are passionate about their work, regardless of the financial incentives.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the compensation gap between genders.





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