Gender Differences in IP Law Practice


The gender pay gap in the legal profession is still a problem. The American Bar Association passed two resolutions to close the gender pay gap. The study showed that the average compensation for male partners at Am Law 200 firms was 53% more than for women and that general counsels’ compensation averaged 39% higher for men than women.

The American Intellectual Property Law Association sponsors an annual survey of its members. Bloomberg Law collaborated with the Women in IP subcommittee to analyze the results along gender lines. Survey respondents consistently found that men earning $150,000 annually are more common than women. While salaries have increased over the years, men still make more than women.

Salary equity is not a simple yes or no question. However, it’s possible to look at specific details about the practice to uncover additional avenues of inquiry.

The average salary for solo IP lawyers is half that of law firm partners. The gender pay gap between solo IP lawyers almost closed in 2016, but it reopened in 2018. Law firm partners saw their annual salaries rise from 2004 to 2018, with 2018 showing one of the lowest gaps between women’s and men’s salaries. However, the gender pay gap remains widening among IP corporate leaders, law firm associates, and general corporate lawyers. In 2018, the only track with a nearly equal gender pay gap was that of lawyers who are Of Counsel. These respondents, both men and women report making approximately $200,000 per year.

It’s not all about the money.

While salary is an indicator that observers consider when assessing equity within the workforce, other factors influence the description of women’s experiences in IP law. Click here to view our complete analysis of gender differences in IP Law.

The following demographic breakdowns of the survey samples will help you narrow down your focus on certain factors. The women in this sample are generally younger than the men. Only 43% of the women surveyed are between 50 and 55 years old, while 57% of the men are over 50. Our sample shows that younger workers are less tenured than older workers. 58% of respondents have been practicing IP law for at least 20 years, while 40% of the women have been involved in IP practice for this long.

A common assumption regarding surveys such as these is that pay differences result from men being more successful in their careers than women. Although there is a 10% increase in men aged 60+ than women, the proportion of women and men surveyed in all other categories is much the same. However, the significant pay disparity across all age groups over the past 15 years seems to be increasing among associates. This cohort tends not to be as young and just starting their careers. Of Counsel, positions are the only exception.

Job Responsibilities & Book of Business

IP law women report spending more time on administrative tasks than their male counterparts. We know from experience that women spend more time doing non-billable activities, such as mentoring junior lawyers and participating in diversity and inclusion programs, than men. While these efforts are significant–and usually fulfilling–projects, they divert women from the most effective career path.

How about the billable activities? Maybe we can see more equity in the work that is done. Unfortunately, not. It is much more common for women to say they have never been the first chair of a lawsuit than their male counterparts. Over half of IP law women say they have never served as a first chair. This compares to just one-third of IP lawmen. One in five IP law women report not having a book of business, which is a significant metric for determining whether they are ready to partner.

While the number of women who have no business book has declined significantly over the last few years to around 50% from 2015, it is still twice as many men with no business book. Women are often seen as great networkers, able to form relationships quickly but not great at closing deals. Men close deals, book businesses, and move up in their careers.

We like our jobs

Women are happy at work in the IP law practice. It is far from the truth. Nearly nine out of ten women say work allows them to have a good work/life balance. Three-quarters of those working report being satisfied with their jobs or loving them. Only a third of respondents have considered leaving the law and switching to another field. These responses portray IP law as a fulfilling career that allows women to develop and grow professionally.

Women are generally satisfied with their employers beyond the practice area. 60% of women report that job satisfaction is why they accept or stay in their current job. 77% of women report being satisfied with their jobs or loving them.

The top reason women look for new employment opportunities is the lack of advancement potential. About 25% of respondents mentioned this concern, specifically about why they might leave their jobs. As a result of the low advancement potential, nearly half of the female respondents to the survey report experiencing or seeing barriers to their career in IP law. This is compared to less than one-third for men.

Gazing Into Our Crystal Ball

This cohort’s responses show that women are behind men in IP law careers. We have evidence to suggest that this may not always be the case. According to the 2018 survey, 60% (and 48%, respectively) of men and women said they were already a partner or corporate head of the IP department. While this is a gap, more women than men say they are on a partnership/management track (31% vs. 21%).

An even more compelling story comes out in the percentage of women who say they are not on a partnership/management track. This number was 33% in 2015 and fell to 21% in 2018. If you dig deeper, almost half of the women who were asked why they weren’t given the option to be on a partner track indicated that they didn’t have it. This is down from 43% in 2018 to 43% in 2010. While the numbers at the partner level may not be equal, it appears that there is a trend toward more women being offered the option. They might even choose to do so in the future.

It is well-known that business credit and credit allocation constitute a significant part of many companies’ cultures. According to women, the firm culture is one where men can share business development and credit with other men but leave out women. Men using women’s names to show companies that they take diversity and inclusion seriously but not inviting women to pitch for work or share credit with them are other examples of inequitable treatment. These bids could not be accepted by the women who submitted them.

Brian Santiago

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