Profession's women deserve a fairer deal

Women across the profession will no doubt be delighted by the appointment of Heather Hallett QC as chair-in-waiting of the Bar.

It is good to see that to some degree traditional male bastions are being eroded. It also sends a positive message to female barristers that perhaps there is room at the top after all.

However, the news comes at the same time as the depressing survey from Coopers & Lybrand on the state of pay for female solicitors, who earn substantially less than their male colleagues.

No firm would admit paying women less; indeed those who suggest otherwise are told in no uncertain terms that with the high numbers of females in the profession, all wrongs are being righted and that more and more women will be made partners, putting an end to discrimination.

However, the figures clearly tell another tale. With £3,000 less in median earnings at assistant solicitor level, and £1,700 less when circumstances are exactly the same, women are undoubtedly getting the rough end of the stick. The figures for partnership are much worse, with equity female partners earning a median of £15,000 less than their male colleagues. And, just as bad, it takes them more time to become partners.

All in all, it is not a pretty picture for women lawyers. While law firms are happy to advise clients on issues relating to discrimination, they seem quite happy to ignore the fact that they themselves are transgressors.

The Law Society makes all the right noises. But it does not seem to have achieved a lot in this field. Perhaps it is time to take firms to task when discrimination is obvious.

Women lawyers in these firms are hardly in a position to do anything about the problem. But the Law Society could campaign for salary equality by threatening action against firms shown to pay women less.