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French Women More Successful at Lawyering Too?

Vivia Chen

March 25, 2012

Paris©Isaxar-FotoliacomSo much chatter about how European women—particularly the French—have it so much better. As everyone knows, they get generous maternity leaves, job security, and subsidized, high-quality child care. Not to mention they get to consume gobs of butter, cream, and cheese—without ever getting fat! Now, the word is out that French women are better parents too, raising impeccably adorable, polite children—or so says a new book, Bringing Up Bébé.

They've got societal support, savoir faire, and innate chic. So why shouldn't French women be making greater strides in their careers too?

In fact, they've passed a notable milestone in the legal arena. According to The Lawyer, there are now more French women than men in the Paris bar. In fact, "over half of all female lawyers in Paris (52.7 per cent) are associates in large firms, compared to 31.4 per cent of men," says The Lawyer, reporting on a recent study by the Paris bar.

So women lawyers in France must be way ahead of their soeurs américaines, non? Pas du tout.

Sadly, it's a familiar story: lots of women in the junior ranks, but few in partnership—except that the gap seems even worse in France. Reports The Lawyer:

In 2005 12.6 percent of female lawyers in Paris were partners in a large firm, compared to 29.6 percent of male lawyers. By 2011 15.6 percent of women were partners, but the proportion of men who were partners had also risen, to 36 percent.

That female equity partner figure is just as pathetic as the one in the United States (in the U.S., women also make up around 16 percent of equity partners in big firms, according to the National Association of Women Lawyers). But the difference is that American female lawyers still constitute less than half (about 45 percent) of big-firm associates.

Like their American sisters, female French lawyers are also making less money than their male counterparts. According to a recent study by the Paris bar, "the average salary or profits for female lawyers in Paris was €57,818  ($76,308) compared to an average salary of €96,536  ($127,409) for men," reports The Lawyer. "The median salary for women was €42,000 ($55,320), compared to a median salary of €69,000 ($91,066) for men."

What accounts for this gap? The study says it's partially "due to the fact that male lawyers are collectively older than their female counterparts," reports  The Lawyer. Also, "more female lawyers are associates and tend to work in less lucrative practice areas."

Basically, you can imagine the same explanations we've been hearing for the money/power gap between male and female lawyers in the United States: It's a pipeline issue. It's work/life balance difficulty. It's the glass ceiling.

In other words: Who knows? 

Related post: Les Femmes Fatiguées




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In French firms, even the big ones and the outposts of international firms, there is no clear "partner track". There is a career associate track which is predominately female. Male associates are in demand and frequently zigzag between firms and in that way, get promoted.

Maybe guys are superior or work harder than women.


Well, not just maybe. Clearly.

Maybe junior American women aren't as plentiful in big firms because they have figured out that going the big firm route is the most unpleasant way to rise to the top, particularly if they want to have more than just a career. Maybe they're more advanced than their French counterparts b/c they realize that to get to the top they need to be in an environment that recognizes their value as an individual and is flexible to accomodate their outside interests, versus in the big firm environment where most of what is important at the long outset (and beyond?) is being a cog.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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