Does a Gender Pay Gap Exist for New Law Graduates and Has It Changed Over Time?

NALP Bulletin, October 2019

As a result of the dominating World Cup run of the U.S. Women's Soccer team this summer and their gender-discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, gender pay gaps have been back in the news — raising the question of whether such pay gaps exist for new law graduates. According to statistics in the ABA's 2019 A Current Glance at Women in the Law publication, overall, women lawyers' weekly salary was 80% that of men's in 2018, and male equity partners were paid 27% more than female equity partners. While we know that across employment industries pay discrepancies are usually smaller when men and women are in the early stages of their careers and widen substantially over time, it is still helpful to examine where pay gaps may exist early on and whether that has changed over time.

For Class of 2018 graduates in full-time jobs lasting a year a more and reporting a salary, women overall had a median salary of $70,000 and mean, or average, salary of $96,442, compared to a median salary of $75,000 and mean salary of $100,393 for men. Thus, when looking at the overall figures, a pay gap appears to exist for new law school graduates. However, we also know that there are gender differences in employer types that may account for some of this differential. For example, women are more likely to take jobs in public interest, which tend to pay less than jobs in other employment sectors. As can be seen in Table 1 and Chart 1, when exploring salary differences within employer types for 2018 graduates, the pay gap is rather small or virtually non-existent, particularly when looking at median salaries, with one glaring exception — business. This trend is consistent when looking at graduates from ten years ago as well. While there were some small median pay gaps for 2008 graduates in fields such as education that have narrowed or reversed over time, the pay gap in business remains.

The business and industry sector, however, accounts for a wide range of jobs in a diversity of settings, from service jobs in retail/hospitality to high-level management positions taken by graduates with extensive prior work experience; therefore, it is also necessary to examine whether there are gender pay gaps within common business job types. These differences are presented in Table 2. In 2018, with the exception of tax associates, the large pay gap within business also persists within job types. Differences in median 2018 salaries range from $4,000 for in-house lawyers to $21,000 for management positions. There are even more substantial gaps when looking at means, with salary differentials ranging from approximately $6,600 for in-house lawyers to $52,500 for management positions taken by new law graduates. Although comparison to 2008 is not possible for all of these business job types since some have been added more recently, we can also see that these gaps have persisted, and even widened in some cases, such as management jobs, since 2008.

While Table 1 does not demonstrate a pay gap within private practice overall for 2018 graduates, and in fact women's mean salary exceeded men's by about $750, it is worth examining whether differences are noted when looking at the data by law firm size. As seen in Table 3, in the largest firms of 501+, where salaries for most jobs are matters of public record and reported, it is not surprising that both men and women have median salaries of $190,000 and nearly identical mean salaries. Class of 2018 median salaries are also the same across gender in firm sizes of 1-10 lawyers, 11-25 lawyers, and 101-250 lawyers, although the relatively small gap in mean salaries in these firm sizes favors men. Median salaries for new law graduates in firm sizes of 26-50 lawyers, 51-100 lawyers, and 251-500 lawyers show gender gaps of $2,000, $3,500, and $10,000, respectively, for 2018, with corresponding gaps in mean salaries. Although it is surprising to see this gap in the 251-500 firm size for 2018, some of it may be explained by geographic differences. Men in firms of 251-500 lawyers were more likely than women (30.8% vs. 27.7%) to be located in firms in the Mid-Atlantic region, which tend to have the highest salaries, while women were more likely than men to take jobs in the East North Central region (15.8% vs. 13.1%), which tend to pay less. When looking at New York City in particular, where salaries in this firm size are likely to be $190,000 for many grads, 25.4% of men with a known location took jobs in New York vs. 22.5% of women.

When comparing Class of 2018 median salaries to those for the Class of 2008, there were some relatively modest gaps in the smallest firms of 50 or fewer lawyers in 2008 that have narrowed or disappeared within the past ten years. Medians remain equal in the largest firm sizes, with the exception of firms of 251-500 lawyers as noted above.

So, what does this mean for women law graduates? While other factors impacting salary such as prior work experience and a more detailed exploration of geographic location are beyond the scope of this article, it is important for women law students — and those who advise them — to be aware of where these early pay gaps may exist as they are negotiating their first post-law school job offers and of what, if anything, their potential employers are doing to address these gaps. It is also equally important for women law students to be aware of how these gaps may widen over time within their chosen employment sector.


Table 1: Classes of 2008 and 2018 Full-Time Salaries by Employer Type and Gender

Employer Type 2018 Mean 2018 Median 2008 Mean 2008 Median
Education Men $62,509 $51,000 $55,906 $50,000
Women $61,964 $52,275 $50,716 $47,000
Business Men $92,904 $80,000 $83,539 $75,000
Women $78,535 $72,000 $71,607 $65,000
Judicial Clerkships Men $57,024 $56,792 $50,044 $50,679
Women $56,730 $57,000 $48,551 $48,000
Government Men $64,047 $60,000 $55,138 $53,500
Women $59,233 $60,000 $52,449 $52,000
Private Practice Men $123,860 $120,000 $114,008 $120,000
Women $124,605 $120,000 $114,249 $125,000
Public Interest Men $53,759 $50,000 $46,279 $44,000
Women $52,783 $51,000 $44,408 $43,500

Source: NALP's Class of 2008 and 2018 Employment Report and Salary Surveys. Note: 2018 figures are based on salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more in 2018. Prior to 2011, job duration was defined and collected differently, with jobs designated as either short-term, that is with a fixed duration, e.g., contract attorney, judicial clerkship; or permanent, that is duration not specified, e.g., law firm associate. The jobs were not explicitly reported as lasting at least a year. In practice, however, the majority of salaries reported for full-time but short-term jobs were for judicial clerkships, and salaries for truly short-term jobs are rarely reported. Low salaries were checked and not used for jobs determined to be truly short-term.


Table 2: Classes of 2008 and 2018 Full-Time Salaries in Business by Type of Business Job and Gender

Type of Business Job 2018 Mean 2018 Median 2008 Mean 2008 Median
Compliance Men $100,940 $76,000 NC NC
Women $83,081 $71,000 NC NC
Consulting Men $105,341 $90,000 $91,327 $75,000
Women $92,974 $80,000 $77,978 $70,000
In-house Lawyer Men $89,113 $80,000 $80,657 $75,000
Women $82,515 $76,000 $77,769 $72,250
Management Men $129,947 $96,000 $101,248 $87,000
Women $77,446 $75,000 $77,603 $70,000
Business Development/
Sales/Marketing
Men $90,732 $75,000 $79,747 $75,000
Women $80,259 $67,500 $71,614 $65,000
Tax Associate Men $82,976 $80,000 NC NC
Women $80,579 $80,000 NC NC

Source: NALP's Class of 2008 and 2018 Employment Report and Salary Surveys. Note: 2018 figures are based on salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more in 2018. Prior to 2011, job duration was defined and collected differently, with jobs designated as either short-term, that is with a fixed duration, e.g., contract attorney, judicial clerkship; or permanent, that is duration not specified, e.g., law firm associate. The jobs were not explicitly reported as lasting at least a year. In practice, however, the majority of salaries reported for full-time but short-term jobs were for judicial clerkships, and salaries for truly short-term jobs are rarely reported. Low salaries were checked and not used for jobs determined to be truly short-term. NC = Not collected.


Table 3: Classes of 2008 and 2018 Full-Time Salaries in Private Practice by Firm Size and Gender

Law Firm Size 2018 Mean 2018 Median 2008 Mean 2008 Median
1-10 Lawyers Men $63,558 $60,000 $58,905 $55,000
Women $60,938 $60,000 $56,040 $52,000
11-25 Lawyers Men $73,360 $70,000 $73,681 $70,000
Women $72,968 $70,000 $67,546 $65,000
26-50 Lawyers Men $87,444 $80,000 $86,456 $80,000
Women $84,286 $78,000 $81,678 $75,000
51-100 Lawyers Men $101,485 $88,500 $101,985 $95,000
Women $94,669 $85,000 $99,858 $90,000
101-250 Lawyers Men $124,361 $120,000 $122,445 $120,000
Women $121,304 $120,000 $122,382 $120,000
251-500 Lawyers Men $156,906 $180,000 $141,747 $160,000
Women $151,079 $170,000 $139,613 $160,000
501+ Lawyers Men $177,257 $190,000 $155,816 $160,000
Women $177,281 $190,000 $154,597 $160,000

Source: NALP’s Class of 2008 and 2018 Employment Report and Salary Surveys. Note: 2018 figures are based on salaries reported for full-time jobs lasting a year or more in 2018. Prior to 2011, job duration was defined and collected differently, with jobs designated as either short-term, that is with a fixed duration, e.g., contract attorney, judicial clerkship; or permanent, that is duration not specified, e.g., law firm associate. The jobs were not explicitly reported as lasting at least a year. In practice, however, the majority of salaries reported for full-time but short-term jobs were for judicial clerkships, and salaries for truly short-term jobs are rarely reported. Low salaries were checked and not used for jobs determined to be truly short-term.

National Association for Law Placement, Inc.® (NALP®), 1220 19th Street NW, Suite 401, Washington, DC 20036-2405, (202) 835-1001 info@nalp.org, © Copyright 2020 NALP

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