The Common Scold

The Common Scold is named after a cause of action that originated in Pilgrim days, when meddlesome, argumentative, opinionated women who displeased the Puritan elders were punished by a brisk dunk in the local pond. Believe it or not, the tort lasted until 1972, when State v. Palendrano, 120 N.J. Super. 336, 293 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.L., Jul 13, 1972) pretty much put it to rest. But the thought of those feisty women, not afraid of a little cold water, has always cheered me up and inspired me. I first used the moniker as the name of my humor column at the University of San Francisco School of Law many moons ago, and revive it now for this blawg!



Pay_2 On our LegalBlogWatch, Bob Ambrogi spotted this report from Chere Estrin, noting that there appears to be a gender gap in paralegal pay (and no, the women are not making more than the men). Here's Bob's commentary:

Pay Inequity for Women Paralegals

Given that women have long outnumbered men among the ranks of paralegals, it would seem safe to assume that here is at least one segment of the legal profession where salaries are blind to gender. Surprisingly, such is not the case. In what Chere Estrin at The Estrin Report calls "the legal field's dirty little secret," it turns out that gender is very much a factor in pay scales for paralegals and legal assistants, with women earning only 93.2 percent of what men earn.

Based on an August report from the U.S. Census Bureau, Estrin writes that women paralegals and legal assistants earned a median salary in 2007 of $42,600. Men earned a median of $45,700. This was not as bad as the gap between female and male lawyers, where women earned a median of $93,600, just 77.8 percent of the median salary for men of $120,400. But still, writes Estrin, this is a field that was originally made up almost entirely of women and where women continue to far outnumber men. "No one can claim ... that men had the upper hand in terms of having a head start in the field."

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.

For Estrin, there is only one explanation, and that is that we still face a lack of equality between the genders. While we are less surprised by that in other fields, it is a shock for a field whose genesis is women. As Estrin says, "C'mon, Joe. Say it ain't so."

I think this is nothing short of outrageous, and I challenge every law firm, EDD vendor, and GC to drop everything  -- call HR -- check records and remedy this TODAY.

Update: Turns out, the paralegals and lit support women are in just about the best posture within legal: because the news is far worse about our industry as a whole. The census figures reveal even more grim statistics: across the board, our women are earning 51% of what our men earn. FIFTY ONE PERCENT!!!!! 

Why? Read some of the comments here and on EDD Update -- but one big reason appears to be that too many women don't negotiate effectively, and often take the initial salary offered to them without countering.

September 17, 2008 in Diversity, EDD: E-Discovery, Law Firm Management | Permalink


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One of the reasons we try to mentor good legal assistants/Paras into Lit. Sup. and Ediscovery is to get around compensation issues like this. A good Case Manager/Para gets less respect and less money than an Edisco Project Manager doing similar work. It's all perception. WomeninEdiscovery.com is a great resource for paras who would like to make that leap. Also, look for us on Yahoo Groups.

Posted by: Babs Deacon | Sep 17, 2008 10:49:22 AM

One of the biggest reasons why men are getting higher salaries is because they ask for them. Women tend to underestimate their value (and are sadly raised to avoid conflict) and, as a result, request salaries lower than their male counterparts. For example, a male paralegal may negotiate his salary upward from the offer, while a female paralegal may accept what is offered.

Posted by: Christine M. Parizo, RP | Sep 17, 2008 12:15:30 PM

Men are also assumed to be supporting an entire family, where women are assumed to be doing the job just to supplement the family income.

So even accounting for the increased salary requests, men will get a bigger bump than women becuase "they have a family to support."

Posted by: Andrew | Sep 17, 2008 6:39:37 PM

I think Christine is right about this -- I have had to go through a lot of comp negotiation emails and a disproportionate number of females accepted initial employment offers.

At a particular company, the standard process was to lowball at the 25% point of salaries and then provide market to anyone who asked. Men asked more often than women, still only about 50% even seriously negotiated. The result however was a severe comepensation difference.

I find this particularly strange in the case of litigation paralegals. I am very surprised when people who are aggressive and relentless in their work negotiations will not apply that same stance when it comes to their own salary.

Posted by: David | Sep 17, 2008 8:28:29 PM

Why is there no comparison of industry? That is, the impact of what industry (public, public interest, corporate/in-house, law firm, etc.) the men and women are employed in as paralegals. In fact, this could possibly explain a significant amount of the difference between male attorney salaries and women's.

Posted by: nvs | Sep 17, 2008 9:05:13 PM

What about the recent study on the "social risks" of negotiating---suggesting that women who ask for raises are thought of negatively? That men were less willing to work with women who attempted to negotiate with them? What happens if I ask for a raise and get it, but my career is then negatively affected in the long run because now people don't want to work with me? The study suggested that women accurately understood what the reaction would be to their attempts at negotiation, and that may be why women are more reluctant to try. I'm not really sure what the answer is, but I think maybe the answer is not simply that women need ask for more--we need to be able to ask for more without being punished for it.

Posted by: JLR | Sep 18, 2008 9:17:31 AM

The comment that women do a miserable job of negotiating salaries makes my blood boil. As a former exec in the legal staffing biz, I can assure you that is as much a wives tale and stereotype as anything else I have heard.

Does that mean that if a woman wears a short skirt, she's asking to be raped? Employers have an obligation to keep those salaries equal. I can assure you, being involved in thousands of negotiations in my 20 years of staffing, women in the legal field particularly, do not do a bad job of negotiating. In fact, if anything, they frequently overstate the dollars they know they will get in the first negotiation go-around.

Further, that argument of women being incapable of negotiating salaries does not account for the automatic and merit raises women get - that action far outnumbers the number of new hires a firm does. How do you account for those inequities?

When I wrote the blog (which will now be a feature article in KNOW, The Magazine for Paralegals) along with our new publication for women in litigation, you can be assured, it will be backed by plenty of surveys.

I am not getting off my soapbox on this one.

Posted by: Chere Estrin | Sep 18, 2008 10:38:03 AM

I think that the salaries for the most part have to do with expectations. Women who expect more and are confident do make the same amount as men. I believe that women do not negotiate. The employer benefits by paying lower salaries. There may be some descrimination at work but I believe that women should be confident and unified. Whatever they are offering you should counter with 7% -10% more!

Posted by: Connie Nichols | Sep 18, 2008 11:58:23 AM

ABC News' Good Morning America reported on a research study generally related to this issue that was conducted by Prof Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University. The following link is to a video of that news report:


After seeing this, my question would be, should the women in this video be responsible for asking for more? Or, should the people handing out the money be responsible for offering more, especially knowing that the men in this video were in fact asking for more than the women were? Not sure how this report translates into the real world, but the implications from the study are certainly very intriguing.

Posted by: EAF | Sep 18, 2008 12:10:41 PM

It would be interesting to look at how long women stay in a job compared to men. My sense is women stay at a firm longer than men which puts them into an annual COLA progression of salary, while the men jump firms and thereby jump salaries. Another factor which may be in play is the premium paid for IT skills. Women are seriously underrepresented in the IT ranks. There is value in being a "high-tech" paralegal.

Posted by: William Kellermann | Sep 18, 2008 12:59:44 PM

A shortfall stemming from gender discrimination needs to be erased. Equal pay for equal work--end of story.

That said, as we look to the details of the fix needed, how should we interpret this passage, from a Law.com bulletin about the shortfall:
"Looking at specific occupations in the legal field, the salary gap was the largest among judges, magistrates and other judicial workers, with women earning an estimated $69,500, compared with men's $108,100, or about 64 percent of their salaries."

Among judges and magistrates alone, is it fair to wonder if factors other than just ugly gender bias accounts for the chasm?

Aren't judicial salaries less prone to chauvinism, or am I assuming too much? How can justice be so blind to a disparity in what judges earn? What drives judicial salaries that could be so gender specific? Do the numbers include earnings from elements other than judicial salaries?

Posted by: Craig Ball | Sep 18, 2008 2:31:59 PM

Do you think law firm leaders: those who hire and determine pay might think to mentor women who are not aggressive in the negotiation phase, e.g. suggest to these uninitiated women that the salary is open for negotiation or 90 day review upon performance? Nah, that might cost them a few extra dollars. Not worth it.

Do you think the paralegal teams in law firms would be better off with all men? Do you think that women, in all their non-negotiating glory, may make better paralegals because of their temperament and non-competitiveness. A paralegal serves the lawyer much like a legal secretary. (Guy paralegals I have known more often see their job as a stepping stone to law school.) But that may be asking too much. Why make the men change their nature just because the women can't - right? Make the women change their nature. There you go. Problem solved.

Posted by: Jayne Navarre | Sep 19, 2008 10:00:46 AM

This is a great issue to address by opening a dialogue. As a manager I have seen women leave money on the table because they did not ask. I see salary disparity between men and women in the legal field (in-house) because of that difference.

At Cataphora, I am proud to say, we follow the equal pay for equal work philosophy. I am one of two women executives at Cataphora, the other being the Founder and CEO, Elizabeth Charnock, and we firmly believe in equal pay for equal work. Employees can negotiate for whatever they want, but at the end of the day it is a two-way street where employees need to ask for what they want and employers need to compensate for the work done.

Posted by: Sonya L. Sigler | Sep 19, 2008 11:45:25 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

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