Male Partners Make 44 Percent More Than Women, Survey Shows

The legal search firm’s biannual partner compensation survey found that male partners make $949,000 on average and female partners make about $659,000.

The average compensation for male law partners is about 44 percent higher than that of female partners, a new survey released Thursday by Major, Lindsey & Africa found.

The legal search firm’s biannual partner compensation survey found that male partners make $949,000 on average and female partners make about $659,000.

The gender wage gap actually decreased slightly from the 2014 survey, which found that the average male partner made 47 percent more than the average female partner. Compensation for male partners increased 22 percent from the 2014 survey, and female partner compensation increased by 24 percent.

Still, the survey results paint a bleak picture for partner pay equity. Based on the 2016 results, women partners make on average about 69 cents for every dollar male partners make. That’s a greater disparity than statistics on compensation by gender for all lawyers or only equity partners.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2014 showed that full-time women lawyers are paid 77.4 percent of what their male counterparts are paid. The National Association of Women Lawyers, in its 2015 report, said the typical woman equity partner earns 80 percent of what the typical male equity partner earns. That actually shows a wider gap than NAWL reported in its first annual survey in 2007, when it was 84 percent.

Much of the inequity is due to origination, said Jeffrey Lowe, managing partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Washington, D.C., office and author of the study. On the survey, male partners reported average origination of $2.59 million, and female partners $1.73 million. Origination and working attorney receipts have become the main determinants of partner compensation, he said.

“That’s the crux of the issue: Why are men generating more business than women?” Lowe said. “Is there some boys club aspect or not?”

Still, the women partners made improvements in that area since 2014. They showed a 40 percent increase in originations, the survey said, while the originations by male partners increased 18 percent.

The percentage of women partners who are dissatisfied with their compensation has grown, according to the Major, Lindsey & Africa survey. In 2016, 8 percent of women said they were not at all satisfied with their compensation, compared to 5 percent in 2014. Nineteen percent of the women partners said they were not very satisfied. But 27 percent said they were very satisfied, which showed an increase from 23 percent in 2014. Forty-six percent said they were somewhat satisfied. (Click on the chart below to enlarge.)

Male partners seemed slightly more content with their compensation, according to the results, as 6 percent said they were not at all satisfied, 13 percent were not very satisfied, 32 percent were very satisfied and 48 percent were somewhat satisfied with their pay.

Partners who said they were unsatisfied were asked what factors played a role in their compensation. Only 10 percent cited gender bias, down from 12 percent in 2014. About 24 percent attributed their pay dissatisfaction to cronyism.

The compensation inequity between male and female partners could be related to equity versus nonequity partnership, Lowe said, as the survey showed equity partners getting about three times more than nonequity partners. Lowe noted that while 25 percent of respondents overall were women, the survey did not break down the gender of equity and nonequity partner ranks. But a survey by The American Lawyer released earlier this year showed that at 254 of the largest U.S. law firms by head count, women made up 27 percent of nonequity partners and only 17 percent of equity partners.

Lowe said firms seem to be recognizing that pay equity is a problem. But oftentimes it takes prodding from a client to motivate real change, he said.

“Many firms want to address it,” Lowe said, “but when you try to address it with them it becomes a question of, ‘How much business do [these lawyers] have?’”


Major, Lindsey & Africa also found average compensation for all law firm partners surveyed increased 22 percent from 2014 to 2016, reaching $877,000. Equity partners earned $1.1 million on average, and nonequity partners made $367,000 on average.

When divided by practice areas, labor and employment partners had the lowest average compensation, at $597,000, and corporate partners had the highest at $1.06 million.

The average compensation by race was $876,000 for white partners, $956,000 for Hispanic partners, $797,000 for black partners and $875,000 for Asian partners. Since 2014, average compensation increased by 100 percent for Hispanic partners, 39 percent for black partners and 36 percent for Asian partners.

Lowe noted that, while these were “nice gains,” the survey gets relatively few respondents of color because the legal profession is “overwhelmingly white.” Of more than 2,000 respondents, 1,900 were non-Hispanic and white, he said.

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Contributing Author

Lizzy McLellan

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