Why the gender pay gap in the legal profession is structural and what you can do about it
Ninety-six years after the first female
lawyer was admitted to the bar, there are more female students than male
students in the law faculties of German universities. At just under 45%, they
have now also arrived in the legal profession (BRAK statistics 2018). Notaries
and in-house lawyers are also recording growth (Kallenbach, BRAK Statistics,
However, the gender pay gap in the
German legal sector is by far the largest, at just under 30 %, not only within
the sectors in Germany but also internationally.
Reason enough to make this the topic of
a panel discussion at the annual congress of the German Bar Association in
Mannheim in June 2018: The item on the agenda at lunchtime took place in a
“broom closet” at the Mannheim Congress Center. Two rows of chairs
for approx. 15 participants were planned, 4 speakers squeezed next to each
other at the podium table. For comparison: At the same time, events took place
in rooms for approx. 50-100 or even several hundred people in the entire
In fact, however, more than three times
as many participants had gathered, even though there were no signs for them.
Others stood outside and followed the discussion in the corridor with the door
open. In addition to lawyers, there were representatives of professional
associations, human resources managers and recruiting platforms for lawyers.
What was discussed about the gender pay
gap? Now questions like these:
Is the gender pay gap in the legal
sector really so high, i.e. “adjusted” – and does it take into
account the fact that most female lawyers have lost time due to family time
(temporary or part-time) and therefore rarely reach the turnover-based
Do women lawyers want to pay the price
that a top lawyer pays for 80 hours – weeks with evening acquisition events?
Do female lawyers still sell themselves
below value and write lower fee grades or work in the legal fields, which tend
to be less well paid, with more commitment?
So far so good.
But do these discussions bring at all
anything around the disadvantage of the female lawyers, who led the one already
thousandfold and the others cannot hear already no more, at all?
need is obvious: not only because the “pay gap” actually exists, but
also because it shows the keen interest in discussing it.
At CLP – Consulting for Legal
Professionals, I have been dealing with law firm and career development issues
for years. For some time now we have seen an increase in requests for coaching
in preparation for the partnership. By women and men, mind you. A phenomenon –
and a very interesting one for the legal sector: Why? Because this is obviously
where the need lies,
… to face the challenge of partnership
with professional support, taking into account individual needs. This is
Personnel development programs are
finally also being thought of holistically in the legal sector: instead of the
traditional patent or mentor model, where a partner is assigned an associate,
whom he “takes under his wing” on the way to becoming a partner –
without further content-related, conceptual or structural specifications and
control mechanisms – programs are being established consisting of various
modules such as personality development and performance training through to
additional professional training in business management or communication
science issues (such as legal coaching or mediation). However, these programmes
are also designed as a whole because they are not only intended for women, only
for young parents or only for career starters, but reach everyone in the firm –
from the assistant to the associate to the partner. For difficult individual
situations there are additional contact persons with whom an individual
solution can be sought, e.g. the representative for “Diversity and
Sounds like a dream of the future? Not
really, because this is already part of the day-to-day business of human
resources development in law firms. Not in all, but at least in those who have
recognized that the employees are the greatest potential of the firm and not
only the partners and A-clients (see also “Founding and Development of Law
Firms” DeGruyter 2018).
The employees are the firm’s greatest
potential, not its partners and A-clients.
What has caused this change of
On the one hand, the debate that has
been going on for decades about female lawyers having equal access to the
profession, to professional associations, to decision-making posts, to
publications and (unfortunately lastly) to merit. Some things have already been
achieved here: The abolition of freelance work and thus the security of
maternity protection in employment for expectant mothers, the possibilities of
reduction and minimum insurance in the pension scheme of lawyers for non or
low-income women during the family break, the quota of the DAV for lecturers in
further training courses, the DAV’s deliberately diverse board of directors,
the recently awarded “Women of LegalTech” prize of the
Zukunftskongress (Wolters Kluwer), after one year ago it had been claimed that
“there are no women interested in it” – by the way, the standard
phrase that had already denied women access to justice a hundred years ago.
are no women who are interested in it” is the standard phrase that was
used a hundred years ago to deny women access to justice.
Much is owed to the Association of Women
Lawyers and the Working Group of Women Lawyers of the German Bar Association
(DAV), who are constantly committed to this cause.
This change of perspective has been
brought about above all by the change in values and culture brought about by
the generation change. And this is above all the merit of those who, as mothers
and fathers, raised this generation in the awareness that all people are equal
and have the same rights and therefore claim this for themselves as a matter of
course. My three teenage girls look at me every time as if I told them about
times long gone (“Grandma tells them about war again”) when I told
them about my work and the injustices that happened to my lawyers in the real
We experience the dismantling of the
“white silver back” as a natural ruler of power on a large scale in
the MeToo debate and the “chaos” of the autocrats and egomaniacs
Putin, Erdogan and Trump – which mercilessly holds up the mirror to this model
and illuminates its dark sides. On a small scale, it has long since taken place
in the parental homes and is already lived by at least one generation.
That is why, despite the outdated
structures of the legal sector, female students are increasingly striving to
enter the law faculties.
For this reason, more and more women are
becoming involved in HR and personnel development and are introducing a new
perspective on the suitability and qualification of potential junior staff as
well as the compatibility of career and family.
This change is supported by the fact
that the legal sector is being forced by competitive pressure and the pressure
of digitalisation to professionalise processes and structures; and is finally
making friends with the idea that it no longer has to do everything itself. As
a result, law firms are increasingly establishing corporate structures such as
HR departments and responsibilities for marketing and communications or
management and filling them with (non-legal) experts. These, in turn, bring the
self-image of modern industries of “diversity and inclusion” or
“equal money for equal work” to the legal sector.
who wants to promote women with programmes today discriminates against them
because he assumes that they need development because of their gender.
who treats the compatibility of family and career as a women’s issue sorts
themselves into the departing generation.
It is important to tackle the taboo and
to continue to bring the dark sides of the established structural model into
the light, to discuss them and to develop new models and approaches.
Taboos support authoritarian power
structures and prescribe standstill.
Discussions about the “gender pay
gap” as at the lawyers’ conference are therefore right and important, even
if the discussion alone does not change anything.
But it contributes to the change in
values and culture – and this will eliminate the gender pay gap as well as the
structural discrimination of female lawyers in the legal sector.
this sense, let’s talk.
Dr. Geertje Tutschka, CLP – Consultingfor Legal Professionals