Income inequality is ‘a thing.’ Unfortunately, I know firsthand from working with clients literally around the world, that income inequality for women lawyers is pervasive.
I have seen a disturbing pattern of women lawyers tolerating situations that inure to their financial detriment. They charge fees below fair market value for their services, accept lower salaries and unequal billing rates, and liberally give away free legal advice. On the surface, their reasons for doing so are varied. However, at the core is always an underlying self-worth issue.
There are several reasons women lawyers charge and earn less than their male counterparts, including:
- They mistakenly believe charging less makes them a good person, thereby avoiding the negative stereotypes of those “who give lawyers a bad name.”
- They don’t want “to rock the boat” and fear being judged as ungrateful for the opportunity to sit with the ‘Big Boys.’
- They question what is “fair,” so they err on the side of accepting less instead of requesting more.
Some of those reasons have played out in the real life scenarios shared below (all names have been changed.)
Melissa, a deeply caring, heart-centered lawyer, practices in a US market where average billing rates for partners of firms her size is $500/600 per hour. Her rate was $425. Her (male) partner’s rate, $525. Her stated reason for this disparity was “I don’t want to charge rates beyond what my clients can pay.” If a client can pay $425 per hour, they can and they will pay $525. Clients who trust your advocacy for their best interests will gladly pay what you tell them your service is worth.
Melissa’s lower rate was a direct result of a worthiness limiting belief we uncovered. Her billing rate is now $525.
Sarah’s salary had been $100,000 per year LESS than her 2 (male) partners. Though she was the latest to join the partnership ranks, her financial liability and accountability for the firm was exactly the same as theirs (including the lease, business line of credit and payroll obligations). She was afraid to stand in her own worth and power.
In the 2 years since she made partner, this had cost her over $200,000. Sarah allowed her partners to dictate how powerful she could she be and she acquiesced. That, of course, had ripple effects in her authority and she could never really be seen by them as a full ‘equity’ partner because truthfully, she wasn’t.
In time, Sarah was coached to understand the value she brought to the partnership. She closed the income gap and her salary now equals her partners.
Catherine is a 25+ year practicing partner of a mid-sized Los Angeles area law firm. She has been working for several months on a high-profile 20M+ contingency fee case. Unfortunately, she was told she is not eligible for a bonus this year as her ranking would drop (thus her salary and draw) because her billable hours were down. Though she has worked excruciatingly long trial prep hours, she is being financially penalized because of the nature of this particular case.
I am certain if she were a male partner, her firm would never even consider suggesting such a thing.
Are you facing a similar situation?
Here are 3 Simple Mindset Shifts to Charge What You Are Worth and help you close the equality gaps in your income.
1. REMOVE EMOTION FROM YOUR FEE/SALARY
Immediately remove any emotionality around your fee or salary, which is simply a rate of exchange for a service. There is nothing emotional about that. If you do not charge enough for your services, you cannot pay for the infrastructure that allows you to actually be a business, practice law or serve the very people you became a lawyer to help.
Think of your fee or salary as a restaurant menu. You review the dishes and pricing. You place your order. Eat your food. Pay your bill and leave. The restaurant has ascertained the costs, overhead and profit margin to determine the price you will pay for your meal. See, no emotion in that. The price is just the price.
Your ability to provide a high level of service to clients can protect businesses and families from staggering losses and potential ruin. You must get this right.
2. YOUR FINANCIAL WORTH IS HEART-CENTERED
Lower fees do not mean you are a heart-centered lawyer. Being a heart-centered lawyer does.
Lower fees and undercharging sends a message that causes people to question the quality and value of your service and expertise.
Higher fees actually serve your best interests. For example:
- They filter out individuals and businesses who are not your ideal client. If you feel your service is worth $500 and a potential client only wants to pay $300, simply put, they are not the right client for you. They will ALWAYS request time for free, will likely challenge and/or ignore your advice to them, not pay the $300 on time and be a problem client from start to finish. Usually, things end the way they start. Start off lowering your value, end up lowering your value.
- With your rates increased and your business in financial flow instead of financial struggle, you can actually take on pro bono cases that matter and speak to issues personally important to you.
3. STOP TRYING TO MAKE UP FOR SHYSTERS
Lawyers are often maligned and mischaracterized. Most people have a visceral response to lawyers, believing they are either a superhero or someone who will take advantage of their vulnerable state and financially bleed them dry. Many women lawyers fear being viewed as a shyster so they over compensate by under charging, even giving away their valuable time and service for free.
If you are not taking advantage of your clients, then do not consider that negative perception as a reason for billing at a lower rate or writing off time for services rendered. If a client (or potential client) doesn’t trust lawyers, don’t work with them. Find clients who understand the value of the service you provide and happily pay you for it.
Changing your mindset is a process, but you can do it. Start today!
I would love for you to share this article with your friends and network. You never know what someone is going through. It might just be the encouragement they need today.
If you would like to know how I personally coach and support women lawyers just like you, message me on LinkedIn or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.