(Photo: posteriori/Shutterstock.com) (Photo: posteriori/Shutterstock.com)

Corporate Counsel’s 2018 General Counsel Compensation Survey provides insight into trends and growth areas for the legal market as a whole. In addition to showing a rise in compensation for top lawyers in middle market companies and the dominance of the finance and entertainment industries, the survey also highlights another issue across the legal industry—fewer women in high-level roles and a persistent pay gap. However, the raw numbers belie some positive trends as women progress through the corporate legal ranks.

Among the 100 most highly compensated GCs surveyed by Corporate Counsel, 23 are women. The Top 10 for 2018 has only one—Laureen Seeger of American Express. In addition, executive search firm BarkerGilmore’s 2018 In-House Counsel Compensation Report showed that women GCs make about 78 percent of the average total compensation that their male counterparts receive.

But there are signs of change. The pay gap is smaller at managing counsel and senior counsel levels—where women receive 90 percent and 89 percent of their male colleagues’ compensation, respectively. And BarkerGilmore notes that annual salaries are increasing at a higher rate for female GCs.

Although the process is slow, the pay gap will likely continue decreasing as more women rise through the ranks as both in-house and law firm attorneys. Considering that between 1947 and 2018 the percentages of female law school students increased from 3.3 percent to 48.7 percent, there is no reason to believe this forward progress will not continue.

In addition, the women topping the ranks of Corporate Counsel’s survey in recent years are standout. One departing female GC—Denise Keane, who retired in 2017 after 40 years with Altria Group Inc.—received a hefty retirement package that has been cited as an explanation for why the average total cash compensation for the 100 highest-paid GCs decreased by 4.2 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Further, although Seeger is the only woman in the 2018 Top 10, she moved up a spot from last year to be second on the list with $6.7 million in compensation (just behind Morgan Stanley’s Eric Grossman, with $6.9 million). Seeger oversees American Express’ 200-lawyer legal department, comprised of 57 percent women.

Now that Seeger has reached the highest echelons of in-house attorneys, she is working hard to close the pay gap and support women and minorities. In an interview with Corporate Counsel earlier this year, Seeger said she prioritizes diversity not only on her team, but also in the outside law firms she retains:

“When we’ve had a new case, if the firm wasn’t diverse enough, we haven’t selected them to represent us on that new matter. … The only way we’ll know we’ve succeeded and other companies have succeeded is when we start seeing more women partners as a percentage and more people of color as a percentage in the law firms that we hire.”

And there may be more diverse firms to choose from than ever before. Diversity Lab recently released its first group of law firms certified under the Mansfield Rule. The Mansfield certification means law firms affirmatively considered women and lawyers of color—at least 30 percent of the candidate pool—for leadership and governance roles, equity partner promotions and senior lateral positions. Diversity Lab says the goal of the rule is to boost the representation of diverse lawyers in law firm leadership by broadening the pool of candidates considered for these opportunities. Forty-one firms earned Mansfield certification. Twenty-seven are certified as Mansfield “Plus,” which means at least 30 percent of leadership positions are now held by women and diverse attorneys.

And GCs are taking notice, said Diversity Lab’s Lisa Kirby. “It seems like every few weeks we hear of another legal department that has started asking outside counsel in their RFPs whether they are participating in the Mansfield Rule or are Mansfield Certified,” Kirby said via email. “Some GCs have even told their firms that they must become Mansfield Certified or lose their spot as preferred providers. I think GCs see participation in the Mansfield Rule as a way to help identify firms that are truly committed to taking action to improve their pipelines and broaden their thinking.”

Whether the law firm leaders become GCs or work for GCs, this measure could both increase opportunities for lawyers of all backgrounds and create a positive financial impact for law firms.

Meredith Whigham Caiafa Meredith Whigham Caiafa

Meredith Whigham Caiafa is of counsel in Morris, Manning & Martin’s Employment, Benefits & Executive Compensation practice group. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.