How In-House Attorneys Can Impact Gender Pay Equity at BigLaw

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on September 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In 2012, American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows formed the ABA Gender Equity Task Force "to address the continuing gender equity issues that exist in the legal profession and in society at large."

In a recent publication, Power of the Purse: How General Counsel Can Impact Pay Equity for Women Lawyers, the ABA recommends six ways that General Counsel can influence gender equity at the firms they hire. Here's a brief rundown on the matter, in case you don't have time to read the whole thing.

Why In-House Counsel Should Care About Pay Equity at BigLaw

The ABA notes that although women attend, graduate and find work in roughly the same numbers as men, as you go up the pay scale you see fewer and fewer women at the top. With a massive brain drain of female talent, corporate clients are suffering.

The ABA cites things such as familiarity with the client, knowledge of the client's history and legal issues and a level of comfort that can't be replaced, when top female attorneys leave. In their wake, firms are left spending lots of resources to train new attorneys.

What In-House Counsel Can Do To Influence Gender Pay Equity at BigLaw

The ABA came up with six things that General Counsel can do to increase pay equity at the firms you hire to conduct your company's work.

1. Educate Firms

Communicate with firms and let them know your company is looking to work with diverse teams that reflect the diversity within your own company. In-house attorneys can relay these messages in meetings and at law firm panel discussions.

2. Diversify the Pool of Talent

Diversify the pool of talent you look at when considering which firms to hire. Rather than going by old standbys, look to create a diverse group of firms to consider when making hiring decisions.

3. Request for Proposal (RFP) Process

When your company begins the RFP process, the ABA suggests that you ask "firms who seek [your] business to disclose the percentage of women attorneys serving on the firm's management and compensation committees." Follow-up and make sure women are included in the pitch and the actual work.

4. Benchmarking

Keep tabs on the firms that provide your company with legal services and compare firms' diversity metrics.

5. Credit Allocation

Since so much of an attorney's advancement in a firm has to do with how credit is allocated, you must be willing to have conversations with your company's firms whether it's making sure that female attorneys get the credit they deserve, to asking for female representation.

6. Do As We Do

The best way to communicate your company's message of gender pay equity is to lead by example. If you find that your company is lacking, try to implement ways to instill gender pay equity there.

While in-house counsel is limited in what influence it can exercise at firms, it does control one thing -- the purse strings. Let the firms you work with know what values are important to your company and you'll see that they will do what they need to do to retain your company's business.

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