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Tackling the gender pay gap - 42% difference between male and female solicitors

31 July 2015 | tagged News release

For some female solicitors, Friday, 31 July marks the point after which they are effectively working for free until the end of the year.

Law Society of Scotland research shows a 42 percent gender pay gap among its members. The figure has been reached through comparing average full time and full time equivalent (for part time/flexible hours employees) salaries for women and men at all career stages.

Janet Hood, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Equality and Diversity committee, said: “A 42 percent gender pay gap reflects very badly on what is otherwise a modern and forward thinking profession – with some female solicitors effectively working for free for five months of the year.

“There are many and nuanced reasons why the gender pay gap exists, and the legal profession is certainly not alone – figures from November 2014 show that the overall UK gap was 9.4%. However we have seen little change in the past decade compared to other professions such as accountancy or dentistry so it is a major concern that such a substantial gap persists 45 years after the UK Equal Pay Act and after a decade of Law Society equality research and promoting good practice within the legal profession.

“Quite simply it is not something we can afford to ignore, for either ethical or business reasons.

“Women now represent half the legal profession in Scotland and there should be no limit set on their talent and ambition.

“Employers have legal responsibilities in relation to equality as well as any commercial considerations. They need to be aware of the extent of the gender pay gap within their own organisations and take action to ensure that they meet their obligations and, importantly, work to retain talented individuals who can help their businesses thrive now and in the future.

“Many government and other organisations sourcing legal services also include equality criteria as part of their tendering processes. If law firms are not taking steps to ensure that they are meeting these, they could be adversely affected.”

The Law Society published equality standards, which are currently voluntary, earlier this year. The 10 standards set out that employers should publish an annual statement about the composition of organisational roles, reporting on gender as a minimum, and for organisations with more than 150 staff, publish pay gap figures for full-time and part-time staff at each level of seniority. The Society has also published an equal pay toolkit to help firms do this. 

Ms Hood added: “We introduced the 10 equality standards and the equality toolkit following strong support from the profession for a more prescriptive set of standards to complement our other equality guides. With so many women now entering the solicitors’ profession, it is essential that we continue in our efforts to reduce the gender pay gap and to monitor this generation of solicitors as they progress in their careers.

“I hope that publishing the gender pay gap figures and making them a discussion point will help empower people to ask questions and stimulate further change – and that in another decade we will not see such a significant pay gap between male and female solicitors.”

The research by the Law Society of Scotland has shown that the average gender pay gap within Scotland’s legal profession at specific stages ranges from 2% to 38% and affects solicitors working in private practice law firms and those working in house for other organisations. The findings have shown that in the earlier stages of solicitors’ careers, there is very little difference between male and female solicitors’ earnings. However from age 36 onwards, women generally appear to be paid lower salaries than men of the same age, with women are more prevalent in the salary bands up to £65,000 and men more prevalent in salary bands over £65,000.

The research findings have also shown that women tend to remain associates or assistants rather than be promoted to partner level. While the findings suggest that there is very little direct discrimination in terms of women being paid less for directly equivalent roles and experience, there appears to be an issue around assumptions made about women, with the report indicating that women earn less than their male counterparts whether or not they have children.

In the later stages of a solicitor’s career, the research indicates that there is less of a gap at 32% for solicitors who have been qualified for 21-30 years, and 21% for those qualified 31+ years.  However, this is in large part due to lower male earnings in these age groups, rather than increased pay for women

The research has indicated that career breaks longer than six months are a significant barrier to career progression. Many respondents also considered that part-time working was detrimental to a person’s career, for both males and females, even in firms that were supportive and accommodating of flexible working arrangements.

Some findings have been more encouraging. In comparison to the 2005 Women in the Legal Profession in Scotland report, there appears to have been a move towards childcare responsibilities being viewed as a joint responsibility rather than solely a mother’s responsibility. Women are still largely expected to take time off when a child is sick, although the gap here has also narrowed slightly.

The Law Society plans to publish a series of guides later this year for solicitors returning to work following a period of maternity, paternity or adoption leave and is currently seeking views from solicitors on their return to work experiences.


Note to editors

The Law Society of Scotland has over 11,000 practising solicitor members. As part of its work on equality and diversity within the legal profession the Law Society launched equality standards in February 2015. The UK Government also passed legislation in 2015 that requires larger employers across all sectors to publish gender pay gap figures.

The full equality and diversity research findings are available on the Law Society of Scotland website:

Profile of the profession

Working patterns in the legal profession

Equal pay toolkit – Ensuring fairness, closing the pay gap  The table below shows the average annual salary for each year qualified. It represents full time or full time equivalent earnings (part time actual earnings are calculated on a pro-rata basis to give the full time equivalent). 

Gender Pay Gap


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