The Legal Field’s Dirty Little Secret: Female Paralegals Are Paid Less


The Cenus Bureau issued a report in August with astounding, shocking and disappointing news:  Women lawyers made a median of $93,600, a salary that was 77.8 percent of male lawyers’ median salary of $120,400. The fact that women lawyers make less is really not news. We all know or at least suspect that female lawyers lag behind males in the parity department as much as law firms deny it. 

However, the report concluded that female paralegal and legal assistants earned a median of $42,600, which was only 93.2 percent of the $45,700 median that men earned.

Let me get this straight.  1) The paralegal field is NOT a field that is male dominated.  All recent surveys show that while the gender gap is closing, the field remains female dominated.  2) This is a relatively new field that took off approximately 40 years ago with almost 100% females as it originated from the legal secretarial field that at the time, was practically all women.  3) The field started out with a fresh slate:  No one can claim that there were more men in the field, nor that men had the upper hand in terms of having a head start in the field (as is claimed about the lawyer position) nor that the field appealed more to men nor even that women were ever denied entrance to the field.  In fact, it's just the opposite. 4) Paralegal schools admit just about anyone who qualifies and have no quotas we know of regarding gender.

So, what on earth has happened? Are you telling me that the majority of men do a better job than all women paralegals? So much so, that men will automatically get paid more?  Are you telling me that men are promoted to the manager position faster than women?  Not according to the International Paralegal Management Association whose membership lists approximately 90% of its members as women.

The ABA Journal reported in an article entitled "In Search of Equality" that the conversation about gender equality has changed over the last 20 years. "But we hear an echo,” said commission chair Pamela J. Roberts of Columbia, S.C. “Barriers and impediments to gender equality remain.” One has only to look, she noted, at the dearth of wom­en in law firms as full equity partners, as tenured profes­sors in aca­demia and as corporate counsel to see how elusive the goal continues to be.

OK, but with paralegals whose genesis is women?  C'mon, Joe.  Say it ain't so.

2 Replies to “The Legal Field’s Dirty Little Secret: Female Paralegals Are Paid Less”

  1. Dear Ms. Estrin:

    I will respectfully offer a different perspective — one might call it the other side of the coin.

    When I saw the title of your article, my heart sank. What would the salary discrepancy be? Would male paralegals make 15% more than me? 20% more than me?

    When I saw that the discrepancy was 6.8%, I was hugely relieved. From my perspective, as a paralegal of many years, that’s great!

    We can overcome that tiny gap. My suspicion is that the gap is not totally produced by direct sexism.

    There is also indirect discrimination — the fact that many women, due to our very complex responsibilities, and American society’s reluctance to help working mothers — ask anyone who has ever tried to find daycare for their kids or a caregive for an aging parent — are usually the ones to leave the workplace for extended periods of time to take care of children, older parents, etc.

    This cuts into female paralegal salaries.

    Only a few men are willing to accept these responsibilities. And our current government — despite its pro-family “talk” — has been very unhelpful to women.

    I would suggest that if our government and our society were to become more helpful to working women — as many European societies are — part of the remaining paralegal pay gap would be erased.

    Now I suspect a 3 percent gap — a preference for male over female employees by some hiring personnel — might still remain.

    But women and men are evolving in the workplace, and the number of people holding those “male employees preferred” attitudes is steadily diminishing.

    Thank you very much for this article and your work for us. I am currently reading one of your books, “The Successful Paralegal: Job Search Guide.”

    Even as an experienced paralegal, it is helpful to learn new things about the profession. Complacency and failure to keep up with new developments are big dangers for many of us experienced paralegals.

    Robin Margolis

  2. I have a paralegal degree Associates my title at work now is a Legal Assistant isn’t it the same thing? I say Im a paralegal Legal Assistant I just wanted to clear that up its gets confusing

    thank you

    Danielle Boston

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