JUST when women in the law thought things could only get better, a recent survey of the NSW profession has revealed an alarming increase in the salary gap between the sexes.
According to the 2003 instalment of the Law Society of NSW’s annual Remuneration and Work Conditions Report, women, on average, earn $20,225 less than their male counterparts each year.
Obtained by Lawyers Weekly, the findings reveal that what was commonly perceived as a salary gulf between male and female lawyers grew to chasm-like proportions in past 12 months. Last year’s 13.1 per cent differential more than doubled to 29 per cent in 2003, with men now earning $95,556 while the fairer sex take home only $74,331 per annum.
Women fared worse than men in all three sectors of the profession surveyed — corporate, private practice and government. The gap was most prominent in-house, which manifested a stunning $47,674 difference. Female government lawyers placed only $3,239 behind the men, while those in private practice were $16,703 worse off.
Of the 1,898 respondents (approximately 13 per cent of the NSW profession), whose average age was 34, 55 per cent were women. That statistic prompted researchers Mercer Consulting to question whether or not the enormous jump was in fact reflective.
“[The widening gap] could be a result of an increasing number of younger females in the sample or the significantly higher number of females working part-time who are in the 31-49 age groups, who have a higher earning potential,” the report reasoned.
Despite a younger survey sample, still more than three-quarters of which had been admitted for 10 years or less, overall incomes soared 9 per cent in 2003 to an average of $83,896 — up from $75,377 last year.
Legal recruiter Jonathan Walmsley, of Garfield Robbins International, thought the incidence of women leaving the profession at a higher rate than men might explain the findings.
Males were still more highly paid than women, he said, but the gap was more likely to appear at the more senior end of the scale.
“For lawyers below partner level, there’s a similar cross-section and almost no differential,” he said. “In any case gender is totally irrelevant to salary when firms are recruiting.”
One outcome that Walmsley struggled to account for was the finding that Sydney suburban lawyers earned more than those in the CBD — $91,247 to $84,547.
He was similarly surprised by the fact that IT, IP and communications sectors rated highly.
“Without exception it has been those three industries which have been depressed over the past couple of years, they’ve been extremely flat,” said Walmsley, who expected banking & finance and corporations law to be the most lucrative areas. “Perhaps the figures in those industries [IT, IP and communications] have been distorted because there has been little recruitment of junior lawyers of late, meaning things are more weighted towards the senior end.”
Walmsley’s opposite at Robert Walters, Miranda Hilton, believed the salary figures were “inaccurate”, because of the small number of respondents.
“Salaries vary within corporates, government and private practice depending on what level they are at and how much experience they have, so I wouldn’t say that you could take the average from the 13 per cent of respondents to be an accurate reflection of the market,” she said.