Women and equalities minister Nicky Morgan – a former solicitor – has called for a ‘change in culture’ at law firms to address the disparity in gender pay and working conditions.

In a speech to the Leicestershire Law Society last week, Morgan (pictured) said a recent study showing that female lawyers earn almost a third less than their male counterparts indicated an ‘astonishingly large difference’.

The minister, who worked for 16 years as a solicitor and was with City firm Travers Smith before entering politics, said the profession needed a behavioural change in organisations to influence greater equality.

She said equal pay was one element of greater equality in the legal sector but emphasised the importance of a change in culture as well.

‘Pay women as much as you like, but if they don’t feel comfortable in the working environment, we’ve only fixed half the problem,’ she said.

Morgan stressed that all members of law firms have a responsibility to insist upon a culture that ‘recognises that success comes from more than 9-5 working, from shouting the loudest, or from hiring certain groups of people from certain backgrounds’.

The minister said there was no reason why top jobs in leading firms should remain an ‘enclave for the privileged few’. She added that while 7% of the population in England and Wales attend a fee-paying school, the proportion of privately educated magic circle firm partners is more than 10 times that percentage.

But she reserved praise for the legal profession in its adoption of the professional support lawyer role – a job which she held during her time as a solicitor.

‘I think the legal profession deserves a lot of credit for developing a role which allows men and women to take contact with clients and lawyers, and also allows them to work fixed hours and part-time hours, and I talk about this at every opportunity.

‘If you haven’t got a professional support lawyer role then you should consider doing so, in order to keep your brightest and best engaged at a time when they have other commitments.’