Power of the Purse:

How General Counsel Can Impact Pay Equity for Women Lawyers

The Task Force on Gender Equity (Task Force) was created by American Bar Association President Laurel G. Bellows to address the continuing problem of gender inequality in the legal profession. Bold action is necessary for women lawyers to achieve parity with their male colleagues, as efforts to date have been insufficient. Power of the Purse: How General Counsel Can Impact Pay Equity for Women Lawyers is one of four publications sponsored by the Task Force, directed to law firms, in-house counsel, individual lawyers, and bar associations, all of which focus on recommended policies, practices, and actions for achieving gender equality.1 The gender gap is particularly acute in law firms, where fundamental change is needed to address and ameliorate long-standing disparities in (1) compensation, (2) elevation to equity partner, and (3) inclusion on the top management and policy committees.2 Statistics on the advancement of women paint a stark picture. Since well before the turn of the twenty-first century, women comprised nearly half of the nation’s law students.3 That full pipeline should have produced a far different leadership profile than we see in law firms today. Instead, key metrics on women’s advancement and compensation have barely budged. The National Association of Women Lawyers and the NAWL Foundation, which have been surveying the nation’s 200 largest law firms since 2006, report, “Women have not made significant progress either economically or in reaching leadership roles during the seven years the Survey has measured the impact of gender in law firms.”4 Women lawyers of color experience even greater barriers to advancement.5 The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession (Commission) has long recognized the important role that clients can play to ensure that women outside counsel receive appropriate credit and compensation. Since 2008, the Commission has held a series of national and regional summits for women general counsel and senior in-house counsel to discuss how corporations and firms, working together, can help to close the gender gap. It is noteworthy that Hillary Rodham Clinton, who served as the first chair of the Commission, observed in a groundbreaking 1988 report

Skip to content