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Women more likely to see gender pay gap in law than men

Today (27 February), the gender pay data of Australia’s biggest employers will be made public by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency. Such a release is timely, given that new research shows that an overwhelmingly greater number of female practitioners believe a gender pay gap exists in the profession compared to their male counterparts.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 27 February 2024 Big Law
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The existence of an ever-pervasive pay gap between men and women lawyers has long been discussed, including by this masthead. At last year’s Women in Law Forum, Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) chief executive Mary Wooldridge said that “compositional” issues contribute to the gap in legal circles.

Recently, the release by the Attorney-General’s Department of the Legal Services Expenditure Report for the 2021–22 financial year showed that the value of briefs going to women barristers, profession-wide, is still falling short.

The release of the gender pay gaps of Australian employers with more than 100 workers by WGEA and what it says about the existence of a gender pay gap in law or otherwise will be known later today. For now, however, the fact that more women lawyers perceive such a gap in the profession than their male colleagues should offer some pause for thought for firm leaders and business owners in practices across the country, big and small.



According to the 2023–24 Legal Firm of Choice Survey, conducted by Agile Market Intelligence in conjunction with Lawyers Weekly, women lawyers are significantly more likely to see the existence of a gender pay gap in the profession than men.

The survey asked respondents whether they believe that a gender pay gap exists for legal professionals in roles similar to their own, based on both personal experience and that of their peers.

When putting the responses of both men and women together, one in two (51 per cent) lawyers believe that the gender pay gap exists in law, with 15 per cent ticking “strongly agree” and 36 per cent ticking “agree”.

At the other end of the spectrum, one in five (20 per cent) of lawyers either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the existence of such a pay gap, while 30 per cent of respondents were neutral on the subject.

However, when the findings are broken down by gender, a gap of a different kind emerges.

More than three in five (63 per cent) women lawyers believe that discrepancies exist in pay between genders in law, with 20 per cent strongly agreeing and 43 per cent agreeing with the question posed.

One-quarter (27 per cent) of women respondents neither agreed nor disagreed, and just 10 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed.

On the other hand, just one in five (22 per cent) of male lawyers see a gender pay gap in law. Only 3 per cent of men who responded to the survey ticked “strongly agree” to the question posed, and 19 per cent ticked “agree”.

More than one-third (37 per cent) of men neither agreed nor disagreed that a gender pay gap exists in the profession, and two in five male lawyers do not believe that there is a gap in law, with 25 per cent disagreeing and 15 per cent strongly disagreeing.

Ahead of WGEA’s publication of gender pay gaps across the country, Lawyers Weekly spoke with numerous legal recruiters about whether the unveiling of such data will spur lawyers to move employers and/or demand higher wages.

What is the Legal Firm of Choice Survey?

Now in its ninth iteration, the Legal Firm of Choice Survey identifies the most sought-after private legal practices across the country. It is conducted by market research agency Agile Market Intelligence for Lawyers Weekly.

This latest survey was conducted between 22 January and 14 February and received 401 responses in total, recording the attitudes, priorities, and perceptions of legal professionals in private practice across Australia.

Since late February, Lawyers Weekly has been publishing insights from the 2023–24 iteration of the Legal Firm of Choice Survey. To read those stories, click below: