New Millennium, Same Glass Ceiling? The Impact of Law Firm Compensation Systems on Women
Joan C. Williams and Veta Richardson
Volume 62, Issue 3, 597-676
This Article reports on a survey of 694 law firm partners, virtually all women, who filled out an online survey about the impact of law firm compensation systems on women. The results were analyzed through the lens of thirty-five years of experimental social psychology studies of gender bias. Survey results showed considerable dissatisfaction among women partners with respect to their firms’ partner compensation systems. Thirty to forty percent of respondents were dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with their firm’s system, and minority partners were more dissatisfied than majority ones. Many respondents believed that their firms overvalued individual cash flow factors (origination, revenue and billable hours) and undervalued institutional investment factors (contributions to enhance the firm’s human capital), and that the systems lacked transparency. Disputes over origination credit were very common, with minority attorneys more likely than majority ones to experience them. About a quarter of majority equity women partners, and a third of majority income and minority women partners reported feeling “bullied, threatened or intimidated” in a dispute over origination credit. Respondents’ reported experiences track patterns of gender bias as described in the experimental literature. The Article ends with an extensive list of best practices to help firms address the problems identified in law firm compensation systems.