Equality in the Legal Sector: Omission of Partners from Pay Gap Reporting “Outrageous”

Equality in the workplace has been a hot topic recently, with different business sectors coming under scrutiny with regards to their progress towards achieving equality, and the legal sector is no exception to this.

Pay Gap Reporting

Many of the biggest legal firms, along with other professional services firms, have come under intense criticism over how they chose to comply with the recently introduced gender pay gap reporting requirements.

Under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017, all private and voluntary sector employers with 250 or more employees in England, Wales and Scotland were required to publish information on their gender pay gap by 4th April this year.

When some law firms published their information in line with these requirements they chose to exclude equity partners’ remuneration from the figures on the basis that they are not employees. This led some critics to comment that the firms were complying with the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it. As women are still in the minority at the higher levels of many law firms, the inclusion of partners would undoubtedly increase the reported pay gap.

Omission of Partners “Outrageous”

These criticisms haven’t gone away in the months since the reporting requirement came into effect. A recent report from Parliament’s Treasury Committee has described the fact that partners who are remunerated differently to employees can be exempt from gender pay gap reporting as “outrageous”, and has called for partners to be included in future reporting. The Committee has also noted that it would like to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer be more “vociferous” on the matter.

The Law Society of England and Wales has also said that it supports the inclusion of partner pay alongside employee pay data in gender pay gap reporting, describing such a move as “an important step towards greater equality”. It notes that this would give firms a useful benchmark and enable an evidence-based action plan to tackle inequalities.

Law Society’s Annual Statistics

This comment came as the Law Society published its Annual Statistics Report for 2017, which revealed there are now more women than men practising as solicitors in England and Wales.

The report showed that:

  • There were 139,624 solicitors with practising certificates (PC holders), which is a rise of 2.5% on 2016’s figures.
  • Women now make up 50.1% of the 139,624 PC holders and 48% of the 93,155 solicitors working in private practice.
  • Women made up 61.6% of new admissions in 2016/17.
  • Women PC holders are younger on average (40 years of age) than male PC holders (45 years).

“With more women than men and a steadily growing proportion of solicitors from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background, it is more important than ever the profession recognises and rewards talent equally,” commented Law Society president Joe Egan.

“Every step towards greater equality will benefit businesses, clients and solicitors alike,” he added. “We are keen to support our members in adopting and shaping best practice so that law firms comply not just with the letter but also with the spirit of the law. Our diversity charter, diversity access scheme, social mobility ambassadors and our fair recruitment toolkit are just some examples of our work to help people succeed in the sector regardless of background.”

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