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The great dollar divide in law

From practising lawyers to the highest echelons of our judiciary, remuneration is far less princely for women in law.

user iconMelissa Coade 12 December 2016 Corporate Counsel
The great dollar divide in law
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New Australian Tax Office figures have revealed that male judges earn an average of $381,323 and female judges earn an average of $355,844.

For solicitors with salaries in the top two tax brackets, the data shows a $22,588 difference in pay between men and women.

The latest pay packet comparison comes from ATO data published in The Australian Financial Review last week.


Reading into the numbers a step further, those male judges who earn $27,479 more on average than their female colleagues occupy only the 13th most lucrative job for their gender.

However, if you are a judge in Australia and also happen to be a woman, this is as good as it gets. Last year, a judge’s salary of $355,844 was the highest reported income among Australian women.

Days after the ATO released its data set, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency announced its Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) citation for Australian employers.

Seventeen law firms were included on the government agency’s list of the top 106 employers for gender equality.

The Law Society of NSW was also recognised on the list.

“WGEA data shows there is progress towards gender equality in Australian workplaces, but it is too slow,” WGEA director Libby Lyons said.

“It is only through more employers taking the initiative to promote gender equality in the workplace that we will see the pace of change pick up,” she said.

According to Australian Women Lawyers (AWL) president Ann-Maree David, it is a sign for the better that a number of top-tiers are actively pursuing WGEA accreditation. However, she warned that a gender disparity among the senior ranks of the law would continue without serious initiatives focused on attraction and retention of parents in particular.

“The policies that these law firms cited in their applications to WGEA are all great, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Ms David said. 

“These policies need to be enforced and take-up measured.”

She suggested that improved resources for working parents and more flexible work arrangements for lawyers, both men and women, could transform workplaces.

“We also need to appreciate that lawyers have lives beyond legal practice and they should be encouraged to live them.  Clients look to engage lawyers who can relate to them; and lawyers without lives will find it difficult to relate to anyone outside law,” Ms David said.

The prerequisites for inclusion in WGEA’s annual citation include tangible company policies, training, planning and development for gender equality in the workplace. These benchmarks are aimed at a number of relevant staffing issues such as recruitment, retention and performance management.  

“It is encouraging to see some new citation holders this year in diverse fields including transport, engineering, manufacturing, insurance and law,” Ms Lyons said. 

“We hope all EOCGE citation holders can drive change in their own organisations as well as playing a leadership role to promote gender equality across their industries.”

The 2016 WGEA-certified firms are: Allens, Ashurst, Baker & McKenzie, Clayton Utz, Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, DLA Piper, Gilbert + Tobin, Herbert Smith Freehills, Henry Davis York, Holding Redlich, K&L Gates, King & Wood Mallesons, Maddocks, McCullough Robertson, MinterEllison and Norton Rose Fulbright.

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