Thursday, September 28, 2023
Exploring the Pay Gap in Large Law Firms and the Role of High-Profile Litigation in Facilitating Pay Equity
Rachel S. Arnow-Richman, Beyond the Glass Ceiling: Panes of Equity Partnership, Fla. Int'l U. L. Rev. (2023 Forthcoming)
This Article, prepared for a “micro-symposium” on Professor Kerri Stone’s monograph Panes of the Glass Ceiling (2022), explores the partnership pay gap in large law firms and the role of high-profile litigation in facilitating pay equity. There is a rich literature and extensive data on the gender attainment gap in elite law practice, particularly with regard to women’s attrition from practice and poor representation within the partnership ranks. Less attention has been paid to the way in which the exceptional women who achieve equity partner status continue to lag behind their male peers. This Article explores “Women v. BigLaw,” a cluster of equal pay cases brought by women partners late 2010s against elite firms. Using Stone’s work as a lens, it reveals how the same unspoken beliefs that underlie the law firm glass ceiling operate above it, placing women partners at the bottom of a new compensation hierarchy centered on origination credit. Due to historical allocations, a culture of deference toward male rainmakers, and implicitly biased attorney development and evaluation practices, origination operates as a form of “legacy credit” that locks in preexisting entitlements favoring male partners. Despite this, gender equity in law practice has been framed principally as a professional value, not a legal imperative. Women v. BigLaw and the unprecedented use of the court system by women lawyers reveals, however, that partnership pay practices pose a liability risk to firms. This new reality may incent structural change in ways that attention to gender equity as a managerial and professional goal could not.