Knowledge Center

Women in Law

Data and sources for Canada, Europe, and the United States.

Canada

Nearly Half of Practicing Lawyers in Canada Are Women1

In 2016, there were 43,595 practicing women lawyers and 53,257 practicing men lawyers.2

  • Among new lawyers (practicing for 0-5 years), women are in or close to the majority in many regions:3

Region

Percent Women

Percent Men

British Columbia

49.3%

50.7%

New Brunswick

56.2%

43.8%

Newfoundland and Labrador

55.2%

44.8%

Nova Scotia

52.7%

47.3%

Ontario

51.9%

48.1%

Barreau du Québec

63.2%

36.8%

Chambre des Notaires du Québec

73.9%

26.1%

 
Yet Significantly Fewer Women Make It to Senior Leadership4 

Breakdown of Licence Types for Women and Men, Ontario Lawyers, 2016:5

 

Percent Women

Percent Men

Sole Practitioner

14.5%

25.8%

Law Firm Partner

9.3%

22.3%

Law Firm Associate

19.0%

16.3%

Law Firm Employee

2.9%

2.8%

Legal Clinic

2.1%

0.7%

In House

13.4%

10.5%

Government

18.1%

9.9%

Education

1.8%

0.9%

Other Employment

6.8%

5.8%

Retired/Not Working

12.2%

5.0%

 

Visible Minority and Indigenous Lawyers Remain Underrepresented6

The representation of racialized7 lawyers in Ontario increased from 18.6% in 2015 to 19.3% in 2016, but these numbers do not reflect the general population.8

The Pay Gap Persists at All Job Levels9

Gender differences in pay are especially pronounced in higher wage levels:10

  • 8% of women in-house counsels earn $180,000–$200,000 CAD, compared to 13% of men.11

  • 15% of women in-house counsels earn $200,000 CAD or more, compared to 26% of men.12

Among all types of law firms, Canadian women earned 93% of men’s salaries across all stages of their careers in 2012.13

  • In the largest private firms, women earned 91% of men’s salaries.14


Europe

There Are More Women Law Graduates Than Men in All EU Member States15

At the doctoral level, however, there are more men graduates in the majority of EU member states.16

  • Across the EU, women were, on average, 44.6% of doctoral graduates in 2015, compared to 51.3% in 2014 and 50.5% in 2013.17

Women Remain Underrepresented Among Practicing Lawyers in the European Union18

Although women are half of all lawyers in France, a French woman has never served as a permanent judge on several international courts, including the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the European Court of Justice.19

In Germany, the percentage of women lawyers rose to 34.4% in 2016, up from 33.9% in 2015.20

In the United Kingdom, women were 48% of all lawyers in law firms in 2017.21

  • Women made up 33% of partners at all firms, but just 29% of partners at the largest firms.22

    • Only 18% of partners at the top ten UK law firms are women.23

  • Women lawyers have the greatest representation at mid-sized firms (54%).24

  • 3% of lawyers identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) in 2017.25

    • 2% of solicitors and 1% of partners reported a gender identity different than that assigned at birth.26​​

  • 2% of lawyers in the largest firms reported being disabled in 2017.27

In the United Kingdom, the Gender Wage Gap for Lawyers at the Associate Level Is Narrowing28

In the United Kingdom in 2016, women lawyers at the associate level still earned 6.3% less than men based on median annual salaries, compared with 16.9% in 2000.29

  • At every career level, three times as many men (34%) as women (12%) are in the highest salary bracket.30

  • Men received, on average, 40% more of a bonus than women.31

Women Report Sexual Harassment Is Prevalent in UK Law Firms32

In one survey, 42% of women working in UK law firms said they were sexually harassed at work.33

Almost Half of All Law School Graduates Are Women34

Women have been approximately half of law school graduates for the past 20 years.35

  • In 2016, the number of women law students was higher than the number of men law students for the first time. 36

  • The gender gap starts at admissions: men who apply to law school are more likely to be admitted than women.37

    • This is especially true at higher-ranking schools where there are still fewer women than men students.38

Minority students’ JD enrollment has been slowly increasing since the 1970s.39

  • In 2016, people of color received 31.7% of total degrees. 40

Women Are Almost Half of All Associates, but Partners Continue to Be Predominantly White Men41

Women made up 45.5% of associates in 2017, up slightly from 2016 but still below 2009 levels.42

However, few women (22.7%) are partners among major law firms in the US, compared to 77.3% of men.43

Women of Color Remain Underrepresented at Law Firms44

While the percentage of lawyers of color in law firms in 2016 was the highest it has been in a decade at 16%, partners and management continue to be predominantly White. 45

Women of color hold an overall larger share of positions in law firms than do men of color, but they are still less likely to be partners than men of color or white women.46

  • Black women are only 0.6% of equity partners and only 1.6% of all lawyers.47

  • Latinas are just 2.4% of associates.48

  • Asian American women make up 6.6% of associates.49

Law Firm Demographic Data50

Associates

Equity Partners

Non-equity Partners

Of Counsel

All Lawyers

All Women

45.8%

19.8%

30.2%

39.8%

35.0%

Women of Color

13.4%

2.5%

4.6%

6.8%

8.1%

Openly LGBTQ

3.3%

1.8%

1.7%

2.3%

2.5%

Individuals with Disabilities

0.4%

0.4%

0.4%

0.6%

0.4%

 

Women of Color Are Overrepresented in Departures51

In 2016, Black women attorneys were the most likely to leave their firms at 18.4%, followed by Asian American women (14.4%), Latinas (12.4%), and White women (11.6%).52

The Number of Women General Counsels at Fortune 500 Companies Has Steadily Grown Since 199953

In 2017, there were 132 women serving as general counsel at Fortune 500 companies, holding 26.4% of those top roles.54

  • Women of color continue to lag in advancement and representation. 108 of these general counsels were White women, compared to 24 women of color. 55

In 2017, the three industries with the most women general counsels in the Fortune 1000 were finance (147), technology (104), and energy (103).56

While The Number of Women Lawyers Is Rising, the Gender Wage Gap in Law Is Persistent in the United States57

In the United States in 2017, women lawyers’ weekly salary as a percentage of men lawyers’ salary was 83.3%, a gap that widened from 89.7% in 2015.58

  • Median weekly earnings for women were $1,753 USD while men earned $2,105 USD a week in 2017.59

  • A 2016 survey of US and global big firms found that men partners earned 44% more than do women partners. Women partners earned an average of $659,000 USD while men partners earned an average of $949,000 USD.60

Most Women Lawyers In United States Law Firms Say Sexual Harassment Is a Problem in the Workplace61

Women lawyers in US firms report losing career opportunities after rejecting unwanted sexual advances.62


Additional Resources


How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in Law (October 2, 2018).