gender pay gap in law

Even among second-year lawyers, women earn less than men

A new study reveals the ugly truth of the gender pay gap in law
A new study reveals the ugly truth of the gender pay gap in law

Walk into any big law firm in the country and select a pair of associates, one a man and the other a woman, both called to the bar two years ago. Ask how much they make a year. Odds are the man will out-earn his colleague by about $10,000.

Such is the reality at the largest firms in Canada (those with more than 100 lawyers), according to a recent survey of junior lawyers published by the University of Toronto. And it doesn’t get much better at smaller firms or other sectors of law. The study shows that, on average, second-year male lawyers make $5,500 more than their female counterparts.

“It’s hard for lawyers to imagine how this could happen,” says Ronit Dinovitzer, the sociology professor who authored the study. Indeed, conventional wisdom holds that men start earning more than women at the senior-associate level, as women take maternity leave and prioritize raising children over their careers. But this can’t explain pay inequity among second-year lawyers. As Dinovitzer points out, of the more than 1,000 lawyers she surveyed, a greater percentage of men had children than women.

So what’s going on? Dinovitzer suggests the answer lies not in base salaries — which large firms often fix for junior associates — but in bonuses. The most likely cause of the pay gap, she says, is that partners are more likely to put men on the most lucrative files, meaning they rack up the most billable hours. “If women are systematically kept off these files, they’ll earn smaller bonuses.”

Though the statistics are grim, says Dinovitzer, they’re hardly surprising. “I’ve studied American lawyers for the last decade, and I’m used to finding a gender gap,” she says. “People think that Canada is different, but it’s not. We need to accept that this is going on.”


The scales of imbalance

Total average compensation of full-time, second-year lawyers across Canada:

Type of practice



Solo $60,000 $47,500
Private firm (2-20 lawyers) $75,000 $70,000
Private firm (21-100 lawyers) $85,000 $80,000
Private firm (101-250 lawyers) $86,000 $76,000
Private firm (250+ lawyers) $110,000 $100,100
Provincial or local government $78,000 $76,000
Federal government $70,000 $65,000
Non-government public sector $62,000 $65,000
Private sector (in-house and non-practising lawyers) $100,000 $79,000
Other $88,500 $83,304

Source: A 2015 study published by the University of Toronto

Cover of the Fall 2015 Issue of PrecedentThis story is from our Fall 2015 issue.