Female solicitors are, from today, effectively working for free until the end of the year, according to new research on gender pay gaps in the legal profession.

Law Society of Scotland figures show a 42% gender pay gap among its members. The figure was reached through comparing average full-time and full-time equivalent salaries for women and men at all career stages.

Janet Hood, convener of the Society’s equality and diversity committee, said the pay gap reflected ‘very badly on what is otherwise a modern and forward-thinking profession’, with some female solicitors ‘effectively working for free for five months of the year’.

Research conducted by the Society this year has shown the average gender pay gap in Scotland’s legal profession at specific stages ranges from 2% to 38%.

In the earlier stages of solicitors’ careers, there is little difference between male and female solicitors’ earnings.

However, from age 36 onwards, women generally appear to be paid lower salaries than men of the same age. Women are more prevalent in the salary bands up to £65,000 while men account for a higher proportion of solicitors paid over £65,000.

Women tend to remain associates or assistants rather than be promoted to partner level.

In the later stages of a solicitor’s career, there is a 32% gender pay gap for solicitors who have been qualified for 21-30 years, and 21% for those qualified for 31 years or more. However, the Society suggested this is in large part due to lower male earnings in these age groups, rather than increased pay for women.

Hood said the legal profession had seen little change in the past decade compared to other professions such as accountancy or dentistry.

‘Quite simply, it is not something we can afford to ignore, for either ethical or business reasons.

‘Many government and other organisations sourcing legal services also include equality criteria as part of their tendering processes. If law firms are not taking steps to ensure that they are meeting these, they could be adversely affected.’