Litigators— lawyers who work to help clients win, or survive lawsuits—can have high-stakes careers. One female litigator's job, however, came with a less thrilling description.
“She had always been the self-appointed ‘detail-oriented task manager on the team, scheduling meetings, keeping the calendar and taking notes,’” wrote the author of a broad study on workplace inequality in law, released by American Lawyer magazine last week, about one of the lawyers who journalists interviewed. The lawyer's male colleagues called her their “work wife.”
The "work wife" badge is a symbol of a culture in which women are seen as supporters of, rather than equal to, their male peers. Women in law tend to do lower-level tasks for clients and earn less for the hours they work, according to the study, which based its findings on interviews with four dozen firm leaders, professors, consultants, and women partners.
Law firms have been trying to hire more women and keep the ones they have, but they are missing the mark. The report found that at the 200 top-grossing firms, just 17 percent of equity partners are women, a share that has hardly budged over the past decade.
“All the Pinot Grigio-fueled women's networking events and anti-bias ‘training’ seminars” have failed, wrote Julie Triedman, a writer for the American Lawyer.
Part of the reason women earn less, on average, seems to be that many of them want to have children and don't see any way of doing that without leaving their job. But even women who stay on track end up earning less than men for working themselves silly. Female lawyers earn nearly $250,000 less than men per year, according to a survey of 2,000 firm partners last year that was cited by the American Lawyer.
The pay gap belies the fact that law firms tend offer clients a discount on the work women do for them. Female partners at big law firms billed $47 less per hour, on average, than men, according to a 2014 analysis of $3.4 billion in bills. Most male partners charged more than $500 per hour, while less than a third of women did. Why do men earn more? Maybe because they don’t play the role of house husband at work.
"If you ask a woman litigator, 'Do you do the litigation housework?' they immediately say, 'We know what you mean, yeah, we do the task lists,'" University of California, San Francisco Hastings College of Law professor Joan Williams told the American Lawyer.
Even when women are doing outstanding jobs, they get less credit. Research has shown that women who reported bringing in the same amount of business as their male peers still got a smaller paycheck, to the tune of up to $1.1 million less. So much for the Pinot Grigio.