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Women attorneys face tight fist of the law

| Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

There was a big gap between male and female attorneys' pay in Allegheny County in 1990.

But 15 years later, the pay gap is still big, said the Allegheny County Bar Association reported Wednesday.

A survey of 1,250 local attorneys showed the average salary for men fell in a range between $100,000 and $149,999 last year. The average paychecks for women was in the $50,000-$99,000 range.

In 1990, male attorneys' average pay was between $60,000 and $79,999. The average for female lawyers was in the $35,000 to $45,999 range.

"These results are shocking," said attorney Sara Davis Buss, a partner at Houston Harbaugh, Downtown. "When the 1990 study came out, everybody was shocked even then."

"As lawyers, one of the things we're charged with is to make sure people are treated equitably and fairly. And here among ourselves, that appears not to be the case."

A less surprising finding: Female attorneys are "twice as likely to be dissatisfied as are men with salary decisions and promotion policies," said the bar's report.

The results prompted the bar association to form a gender equality task force to analyze pay and other disparities and to recommend corrective steps.

"The bar association is very committed to doing everything in its power to address these results," said attorney Gary Hunt, a member of the bar's board of governors and managing shareholder of Tucker Arensberg, Downtown.

"Pittsburgh isn't alone here," said Hunt. "Unfortunately, we are right in line with national results. We're no better, no worse. We want to be better."

"There is blatant gender bias" when it comes to pay, said attorney Jonnie Joseph, chairwoman of the bar's Women in the Law Division Council.

Female attorneys work as long as their male counterparts and share similar responsibilities, but get paid less, said Joseph, an attorney for seven years. She said the oft-cited rationale of paying women less because they may take time from their careers to raise children is just "an excuse."

"Men dominate the law firms at the top, and that is one of the reasons" for the pay gap, said Joseph.

An even starker gap exists for the very highly paid. One in five male attorneys made at least $250,000 last year, while only one in 20 women made that much.

One factor behind the pay gap could be the difference between practices for men and women. Hunt said female attorneys often choose -- or are steered toward -- family law, a relatively low-paying specialty. Far more male attorneys practice business/corporate law, which is considerably more lucrative.

Buss said high earners are the "rainmaker" attorneys who bring in most business. Most corporations and large institutions are dominated by male decision-makers who usually don't know many female lawyers, she said.

"They don't have women on the boards they sit on or at the golf club they play on or in their circles generally," said Buss. "They don't know women they could hire, and instead hire the guy they do know."

The bar association sent surveys to its 6,026 lawyer members and received 1,250 back, a 21 percent response rate.

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