'But are they comparing apples to apples?' MBA survey finds female attorneys still earning less than men

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By Tom Gantert

Legal News

Janet Hamilton assumes there may be a gap between what men and women earn on a global basis.

But the Jackson attorney has never seen it at work in her profession.

"I would never have perceived it," said Hamilton. "I hit the ground busy. I've been too busy the whole 30 years I've been in practice. I do not perceive gender as having held me back."

The Michigan Bar Association's annual salary survey found in 2010 full-time female attorneys had a median salary of $75,000 in private practice and $80,000 in non-private practice. By comparison, male attorneys made the same median salary of $100,000 in private practice and in non-private practice in 2010.

The gap between men and women salaries has stayed about the same. In 2007, the median salary for all women attorneys was $73,000 while the median salary for all male attorneys was $100,000.

Jennifer Salvatore, who has represented clients in pay-equity cases in Michigan with Ann Arbor's Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard & Walker law firm, said the numbers don't surprise her.

"In the legal community, there is a lot of debate and a lot of controversy about it," she said.

Women are leaving the higher paying jobs at bigger law firms because of the business model those firms have, she said, explaining that many bigger firms pay based on billable hours.

For example, Salvatore said she worked at a Chicago law firm that mandated 2,200 billable hours a year.

"If you consistently don't make your hours, you won't make partner," Salvatore said. "It's hard to do that and have kids."

Wage discrepancies aren't unique to the legal profession.

"I know there are gaps across most industries," said Jennifer Sheehan Anderson, a partner at Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn in Ann Arbor. "I do not generally pay attention to those things. I wonder if they are comparing apples to apples. Is everybody working the same amount? That is one of the things most of the surveys don't tell you. That's one of the reasons I don't really pay attention to them. It is a difference between someone working at a law firm or at corporations. That could potentially skew the numbers as well."

Rosemary Frenza, president of the Washtenaw Region of the Women's Lawyer Association of Michigan, said she chose to work in a smaller law firm because she heard so many horror stories about women and pay and equity issue.

Frenza said she's never had an issue at her firm.

"I know that inequality persists, absolutely," Frenza said. "I hear from other women that you are pushed off partner track if you have a baby. ... I don't think it is just in law. I think it is all the professions."

Brittany Catterick, an Ann Arbor attorney with Westerman & Morrissey, said she will be taking a 3-month unpaid maternity leave this summer.

"That does factor in (on salary)," Catterick said. "That is going to be a big impact."

Catterick said the expectation is still that the woman be more involved with babies.

"My husband is not going to take off any time," Catterick said. "That is sort of how the world still works. While we still may be working more, we still have those priorities."

Hamilton said women who are self-employed could lose income by taking time off for family reasons.

"When you are self-employed, earnings are dependent upon how much they want to earn," Hamilton said. "Women who have children and are self employed and choose to spend more time with family could earn less. It might have less to do with gender than we think."

Published: Thu, Mar 8, 2012

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