The time is now for well-credentialed women lawyers to negotiate for more money and power.
A long list of observers have offered that urgent advice, including Hilarie Bass, president of the American Bar Association and a co-president of Greenberg Traurig, other female lawyers who have recently made lateral moves, law firm consultants and legal recruiters for in-house legal departments and law firms.
Senior female lawyers are increasingly in high demand, but low supply, and thus capable of commanding higher salaries than perhaps ever before, they said.
Corporate clients’ greater interest in the diversity of their outside counsel has prompted some firms to look for more women hires, as some of those same firms, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, seek to avoid claims of gender-based pay gaps, discrimination and harassment.
But while demand may be on the rise, supply remains an issue in Big Law, which has a checkered history of advancing women to prominent positions in the legal profession.
For one, there is the statistical pattern of female lawyers entering law firms at the same rate as men, but exiting at an even higher rate before they reach partnership status.
“Firms are looking around and saying, ‘Oh my god, what happened to all the women? They are coming in but they are going out the other door,’” said Bass, who earlier this year oversaw new ABA guidelines designed to combat sexual harassment.
At the end of this month, the ABA will release preliminary results from a study conducted to determine why female lawyers exit law firms before making partner and what recommendations might reverse that trend, Bass said.
Nonetheless, Bass believes that now is the time for her brethren to seize career opportunities.
“Generally, the #MeToo movement has caused firm managers to focus on these issues,” Bass said. “[A year ago] if I talked to firm management about harassment or pay disparity, their eyes glazed over,” she recalled. “But when I talk to them today, those same people say: ‘I’m not aware of it, but it’s probably happening at my firm.’”
Kent Zimmermann, a principal at law firm consulting outfit the Zeughauser Group, agreed with Bass on now being an ideal time for female lawyers to seek pay raises.
“It’s a perfect storm in a good way,” he said. “It’s a heightened environment because of #MeToo. I think firms are understanding gender diversity is the right thing to do.”
Zimmermann, citing a recent study by consultants at Palo Alto, California-based DecisionSet showing that gender-balanced litigation teams outperform all-male or all-female teams, said firms without enough seasoned women litigators risk suffering from a competitive disadvantage.
“It’s a moment and it shows no sign of waning,” added Eliza Stoker, a frequent commentator on hiring and employment affairs, as well as an executive director for the in-house practice group of the eastern region at legal recruiting giant Major, Lindsey & Africa, about the trend.
For women lawyers seeking a raise even if they plan to stay put at their current employer, Stoker offered a tip.
“There is a piece of advice flying around like wildfire and it’s apparently very effective,” she said.
Her recommendation: Women should call their human resource departments and ask for data about the existing pay range for their current position and the maximum pay for their title.
“There is no way your employer is not going to know you asked those questions,” Stoker said.
But since enforcement guidelines by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bar employers from retaliating in any way against workers for “talking to co-workers to gather information or evidence in support of a potential EEO claim,” an employers’ only reasonable option is to offer the requestor of such information a pay raise if gender-based pay inequities exist, she said.
“Both sides of the table are changing,” said Stoker, noting that female lawyer candidates are entering negotiations with more confidence and employers are feeling more pressure to accommodate them.
Sandra Goldstein appears to be a poster child for women lawyers seeking higher pay. Goldstein recently jumped from Cravath, Swaine & Moore to Kirkland & Ellis in a high-profile move that The New York Times reported got her roughly $11 million per year in compensation. (Goldstein, who did not return a request for comment by the time of this story, recently spoke with ALM’s The Careerist about her move, one she said was not made for monetary reasons.)
Other seasoned women lawyers report they are accepting no discounts when they make lateral moves.
“I felt very comfortable in negotiations that I wasn’t being treated unfairly and I wasn’t leaving money on the table,” said patent litigator Esha Bandyopadhyay, who recently joined Fish & Richardson in Silicon Valley, only nine months after she made another notable lateral move to Winston & Strawn. Her latest move, she said, was precipitated by client conflicts.
Sisterhood helped her too, Bandyopadhyay added. At both Winston & Strawn and Fish & Richardson, she benefited because other women lawyers already at those firms were already in positions of power and played a part in the negotiations that led to her being hired.
Indeed, experienced women lawyers have such leverage these days that they should use it to win more than just more money. Go for the power structure, Bandyopadhyay said.
“Women should think about asking for leadership positions [when they are seeking new jobs],” she said. “If you are interested in serving on specific types of committees, say the compensation committee, negotiate that from the outset,” Bandyopadhyay recommended.
For instance, when she negotiated her terms of employment at Winston & Strawn, Bandyopadhyay asked for and secured a title at the firm as head of litigation for Silicon Valley.
“Once you’ve gotten to the firm it’s much harder,” to succeed when asking for the opportunity to take such leadership positions, she said.