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20 of Canada's 25 largest firms are open to sharing wage data

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From today's Globe:

  • Last month, The Globe contacted Canada's 25 largest firms to ask if they would consider sharing wage data with a professional research body if asked today. Seven firms, including Aird & Berlis, agreed. Recently, the Globe asked again. Now, 20 of the 25 say they are open to it, subject to an agreed-upon methodology. These firms are: Borden Ladner Gervais; Norton Rose Fulbright; Stikeman Elliott; Aird & Berlis; Dentons; Stewart McKelvey; and MLT Aikins; as well as Gowling WLG; Fasken; McCarthy Tetrault; Blakes; Miller Thomson; Osler; Torys; McMillan; DLA Piper; Cassels Brock & Blackwell; Davies; Cox & Palmer; and McInnes Cooper.

What do you make of this? And what do you make of the 5 firms that maintain their unwillingness to participate in the exercise? 

 

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Posted (edited)

I think your understanding of "open to" is a lot more expansive than is intended here. Agreeing to participate in a research study with generalized outcomes is one thing, but what you actually want is to understand what everyone is getting paid and where they are getting paid that, right? I'd be shocked if even one firm wanted that, much less all of them. And there's nothing stopping any firm from advertising and publicizing what it pays if it wants to. Amazon does it.

What do I make of this? I interpret this to mean that law firms and legal employers exist in the free market and aren't completely stupid about it. They only want transparency to the degree it helps them, and mostly it doesn't.

The thing about these topics is this. I understand why firms don't want to provide more information than they need to. I understand why applicants, associates, etc. want more information. I understand the tension. What I don't understand is when applicants, associates etc. don't understand it themselves.

We're talking here about highly privileged professionals who make a good living off the free market economy in which we all live. The leverage that you bring with your greater-than-average skills, abilities, and marketable work allows you to earn far more than most people. That's exactly why you make six figures and the guy at Starbucks doesn't. You also work in a job all day applying these basic concepts to help clients make money in this system. All of which is fine. But then when the system stops acting to your advantage you claim to not understand it anymore and/or believe it's illicit in some way?

I made this point in the other thread you started. If already privileged people want to advance their own interests as best they can, I don't fault them. That's your right. But let's not act like we're confused about this, or pretend it's some kind of gross miscarriage. Law firms and legal employers don't want you to know what they pay in a fully transparent way because it doesn't help them to tell you and they have no obligation to do so. Other than the fact that you don't have information you would like to have, can you articulate what's actually wrong with this or why it's surprising to you?

Edited by Diplock
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2 hours ago, Diplock said:

I think your understanding of "open to" is a lot more expansive than is intended here. Agreeing to participate in a research study with generalized outcomes is one thing, but what you actually want is to understand what everyone is getting paid and where they are getting paid that, right? I'd be shocked if even one firm wanted that, much less all of them. And there's nothing stopping any firm from advertising and publicizing what it pays if it wants to. Amazon does it.

What do I make of this? I interpret this to mean that law firms and legal employers exist in the free market and aren't completely stupid about it. They only want transparency to the degree it helps them, and mostly it doesn't.

The thing about these topics is this. I understand why firms don't want to provide more information than they need to. I understand why applicants, associates, etc. want more information. I understand the tension. What I don't understand is when applicants, associates etc. don't understand it themselves.

We're talking here about highly privileged professionals who make a good living off the free market economy in which we all live. The leverage that you bring with your greater-than-average skills, abilities, and marketable work allows you to earn far more than most people. That's exactly why you make six figures and the guy at Starbucks doesn't. You also work in a job all day applying these basic concepts to help clients make money in this system. All of which is fine. But then when the system stops acting to your advantage you claim to not understand it anymore and/or believe it's illicit in some way?

I made this point in the other thread you started. If already privileged people want to advance their own interests as best they can, I don't fault them. That's your right. But let's not act like we're confused about this, or pretend it's some kind of gross miscarriage. Law firms and legal employers don't want you to know what they pay in a fully transparent way because it doesn't help them to tell you and they have no obligation to do so. Other than the fact that you don't have information you would like to have, can you articulate what's actually wrong with this or why it's surprising to you?

I just used "opened to" as it was used...in the article. I didn't proffer a more expansive interpretation of "opened to" in that initial post. 

I think more transparency around wages is an objectively good outcome for workers. I think this is one of the few things that was met with near consensus from the commenters in the other thread. That's why I want transparency:  it increases the leverage belonging to the workers. I don't care that it's bad for the firms - what I care about is what's good for the workers. Employers are never benevolent, they only give things to workers when pressure is applied. You do not need to explain to me that it is not in the interests of the firm to do exactly what I want. I simply do not care. 

You're quite right that the firms only want transparency to the degree it helps them. But now they're dealing with a PR backlash if they are not transparent--note the fact that 20 firms are now willing to participate, up from 7 a month ago. So they have to balance that PR backlash against their desire not to share the information, which may expose some imbalances in compensation based on sex or race. Which in turn prompts further uncomfortable conversations about the internal governance and decision-making structures in place at these firms. 

Law firms and legal employers don't want you to know what they pay in a fully transparent way because it doesn't help them to tell you and they have no obligation to do so. Other than the fact that you don't have information you would like to have, can you articulate what's actually wrong with this or why it's surprising to you? 

You're quite right: they have no obligation, unless pressure is applied to make them tell people. It would be to the advantage of associates, articling students and prospective employees to have this information, ergo, it would be to our advantage to apply pressure. 

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Okay, fair enough. We agree again that you're entirely free to pressure firms and legal employers as best you can to get what's in your best interests and not in theirs. Completely true. Though allow me to say, I think you'll be disappointed at the PR "backlash" you anticipate here. There's a zero percent chance the general public is going to care about this. And I can't see that even current law students, associates, etc. are upset in any targeted way about a lack of transparency here. There's always the generalized grumbling. Of course you'd like things better than they are. Everyone would. But you represent employers all day long who'd never provide transparent compensation information about their employees nor would you advise them to. Why would you expect your employer is going to do differently?

Anyway, good luck. But I don't see a story here, or even the beginning of a hint that things are moving in a direction that could somehow one day result in a list of how much each firm pays in searchable form. Not until the entire economy works differently.

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Posted (edited)
4 minutes ago, Diplock said:

Okay, fair enough. We agree again that you're entirely free to pressure firms and legal employers as best you can to get what's in your best interests and not in theirs. Completely true. Though allow me to say, I think you'll be disappointed at the PR "backlash" you anticipate here. There's a zero percent chance the general public is going to care about this. And I can't see that even current law students, associates, etc. are upset in any targeted way about a lack of transparency here. There's always the generalized grumbling. Of course you'd like things better than they are. Everyone would. But you represent employers all day long who'd never provide transparent compensation information about their employees nor would you advise them to. Why would you expect your employer is going to do differently?

Anyway, good luck. But I don't see a story here, or even the beginning of a hint that things are moving in a direction that could somehow one day result in a list of how much each firm pays in searchable form. Not until the entire economy works differently.

Perhaps! I've talked to some lawyers at the 5 firms not named who are very annoyed that their firms refused to participate in this initiative. I do not care about the general public. I do think there is a non-zero number of law students, articling students, and current associates who care about this type of thing. You're welcome to dismiss that as generalized grumbling. 

It's good that you don't see a story here. The editors of The Globe and Mail feel differently, evidently, given that this was above the fold on page 1 of their Monday newspaper, but you likely have a more discerning eye for news than they do. Second leading story on their website currently. You may want to let them know there's nothing to see here, and that the general public doesn't care. 

Edited by AlecBerg
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2 hours ago, Diplock said:

The thing about these topics is this. I understand why firms don't want to provide more information than they need to. I understand why applicants, associates, etc. want more information. I understand the tension. What I don't understand is when applicants, associates etc. don't understand it themselves.

I want to unpack this statement a little bit, not to pick on Diplock, but to expose a really silly line of thinking that I've encountered on this very strange website. 

  • What Diplock said: I understand why firms don't want to provide more information than they need to.
    • also understand why firms don't want to provide information than they need to. It's because if they provide more information, and their employees realize they're getting a raw deal (e.g. compensated unfairly relative to their peers), these employees might be very upset. And these employees might agitate for pro-employee change. Firms want to do what is best for the firms, which is not necessarily (perhaps even not often) what is best for the employees.
  • What Diplock said: I understand why applicants, associates, etc. want more information.
    • To reiterate, more transparency = more negotiating power for applicants, associates.
  • What Diplock said: I understand the tension.
    • The tension is in the often conflicting interests of "what's best for the employee" vs. "what's best for the employer". It is a power struggle that has existed for literal millenia.
  • What Diplock said: What I don't understand is when applicants, associates etc. don't understand it themselves.
    • The implicit logic here is that any "applicants, associates, etc." who gripe about the status quo in an attempt to agitate for positive, worker-centric change do not understand that these firms are businesses with the central aim of making money. This is, frankly, an insane thing to suggest. Of course I know this. I worked in one of these firms for years. I am well aware that the interests of the workers and the interests of the firm can conflict--I am simply advocating on behalf of the worker's interests in this case!
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I don't think there's any suggestion that firms are going to publicly provide a sunshine list or anything like that. To the extent anyone is suggesting that, they're out to lunch.

But the idea that firms will provide more transparent compensation data really isn't that out there. If you go to the Vault page of any major firm in the United States you'll see their compensation grid for first to eighth year associates. NALP already reports compensation grids for students and first year associates in Canada. There's no reason we couldn't see NALP report the same data that is disclosed by NYC firms, except there clearly hasn't been enough pressure applied to the firms to make them do that. 

Similarly, it's pretty common for raises/bonuses in the US to get reported quickly and anonymously on ATL, complete with screenshot email confirmation. In contrast, when someone posted here about a firm offering raises to midlevel associates a moderator said it was a "the type of rumour that isn't wise to spread." 

So yeah, the suggestion that a birds-eye-view of compensation data will never be shared in Canada seems off. It's already the norm in the United States, and once you're actually working on Bay Street its pretty common for associates to discuss compensation. I've also had conversations with recruiters at various firms about their compensation structure, so it's not like the firms are actually that opposed to sharing it. They'd prefer not to, I'm sure, but I don't think it's as strongly a held opinion as some in this thread and the other have suggested.

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41 minutes ago, Diplock said:

Anyway, good luck. But I don't see a story here, or even the beginning of a hint that things are moving in a direction that could somehow one day result in a list of how much each firm pays in searchable form. Not until the entire economy works differently.

You should probably let the Globe and Mail know.

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1 hour ago, Diplock said:

Anyway, good luck. But I don't see a story here, or even the beginning of a hint that things are moving in a direction that could somehow one day result in a list of how much each firm pays in searchable form. Not until the entire economy works differently.

So a bunch of firms state that they are willing to divulge salary data with a research body and your position is that you don't see "even the beginning of a hint that things are moving in a direction that could somehow one day result in a list of how much each firm pays in searchable form"?

I just want to get that right because this is a really odd take. What on earth would look like a beginning of a hint that things are moving in that direction?

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I'll freely admit I said "no story" too casually. It's in the newspaper, so by definition it's a story. But I maintain the position that was behind my loose language. It's a story the general public doesn't give a damn about. And please, don't try to convince me the Globe has never published one of those. Man, reading the comments.

My basic point is still this. It's fine to advocate for your best interests. Of course it is. But if you're waiting for some groundswell of public outrage to propel your interests to the fore, you'll be waiting a very, very long time. After the public gets done caring about all the needy and powerless people out there - most of whom the public doesn't know about or have the energy to care about - and after the public gets done caring about issues that affect the average person in some way, which does not at all apply to what goes on in the glass towers on Bay Street - and after the public catches up on everything they've missed on Netflix...yeah, your issue will make it somewhere on their to-do list. Filed under things they'll pretend to care about some day but never get to.

I guess this goes to the reason I keep commenting, out of my element, on these threads. I feel I'm providing a needed correction in attitude not because I'm trying to be pissy, but because I'm trying to be practical. I have so many clients call me from jail - so many families call me - and they are living under horrible conditions right now. Out of their cells for 20 minutes every day, forced to choose between trying to get in one rushed phone call or a shower. Covid is making conditions that were already bad completely unforgivable. And no one cares. No one is going to care. It isn't going to happen. And I have to say that constantly.

What comes next is practical advice. How to help the individual client. How to better the specific situation. How to seek a remedy within available tools and avenues. When I say "no one cares" it isn't meant to be the end of the conversation, it's meant to be the start of doing something useful. But to get there, I have to move my clients past their expectation that the general public is going to rise up in outrage just as soon as they understand...what's...really...going...on!!

You have the same problem, only for opposite reasons. No one cares about my clients because in the minds of most of the public, they are simply shitty human beings too useless to care about. No one cares about your privileged lawyer problems because in the minds of the general public, you're complaining about the difference between earning ten times and earning twelve times what any ordinary person earns.

I come back to the same advice. Advocate within existing systems as best you can, of course. But if you're waiting for the general outrage of average people to fill the sails on your issue, you'll be waiting a long, long time.

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Last post, for me, on this.

I have my own axe to grind here, and a bias that's making me unable to see these issues from a properly rational perspective. Trying to explain myself in reply is only making that clearer. I apologize for dumping that here, and the more I engage the more I'm making this discussion about me and not about the original intended topic. Which isn't helpful to anyone.

I'll invite the mods to delete, move, or otherwise fix whatever I've done here. And let everyone get back to discussing the issues that affect their professional lives.

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I’m fairly sure today’s article was related to the “Wage Gap” series the Globe ran a few months back specifically focused on the gender wage gap, and it is within that context these firms are open to sharing some data. I don’t think any firms who said they’d share some numbers are contemplating doing so for any other purpose than looking into gender wage disparity. 

Likely, more firms got on board after the first ask for data after seeing a response to the Wage Gap series and hearing from their associates that they should think about getting on board. 

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Posted (edited)
20 minutes ago, Diplock said:

I'll freely admit I said "no story" too casually. It's in the newspaper, so by definition it's a story. But I maintain the position that was behind my loose language. It's a story the general public doesn't give a damn about. And please, don't try to convince me the Globe has never published one of those. Man, reading the comments.

My basic point is still this. It's fine to advocate for your best interests. Of course it is. But if you're waiting for some groundswell of public outrage to propel your interests to the fore, you'll be waiting a very, very long time. After the public gets done caring about all the needy and powerless people out there - most of whom the public doesn't know about or have the energy to care about - and after the public gets done caring about issues that affect the average person in some way, which does not at all apply to what goes on in the glass towers on Bay Street - and after the public catches up on everything they've missed on Netflix...yeah, your issue will make it somewhere on their to-do list. Filed under things they'll pretend to care about some day but never get to.

I guess this goes to the reason I keep commenting, out of my element, on these threads. I feel I'm providing a needed correction in attitude not because I'm trying to be pissy, but because I'm trying to be practical. I have so many clients call me from jail - so many families call me - and they are living under horrible conditions right now. Out of their cells for 20 minutes every day, forced to choose between trying to get in one rushed phone call or a shower. Covid is making conditions that were already bad completely unforgivable. And no one cares. No one is going to care. It isn't going to happen. And I have to say that constantly.

What comes next is practical advice. How to help the individual client. How to better the specific situation. How to seek a remedy within available tools and avenues. When I say "no one cares" it isn't meant to be the end of the conversation, it's meant to be the start of doing something useful. But to get there, I have to move my clients past their expectation that the general public is going to rise up in outrage just as soon as they understand...what's...really...going...on!!

You have the same problem, only for opposite reasons. No one cares about my clients because in the minds of most of the public, they are simply shitty human beings too useless to care about. No one cares about your privileged lawyer problems because in the minds of the general public, you're complaining about the difference between earning ten times and earning twelve times what any ordinary person earns.

I come back to the same advice. Advocate within existing systems as best you can, of course. But if you're waiting for the general outrage of average people to fill the sails on your issue, you'll be waiting a long, long time.

Diplock we are quite literally trying to advocate within existing systems as best we can, only to have you enter this thread to remind us that other people have it way worse and that we don't understand why these systems are the way they are. If you think I do not know that, rest assured that I do and am working to alleviate the suffering of those less fortunate through other pursuits (beyond my prolific career commenting on this website).

This is lawstudents.ca. It's a collection of law students, and some legal professionals. That is why I am making these posts on lawstudents.ca. To hopefully create a modicum of awareness on behalf of law students and legal professionals about how these firms actually operate, and ways that they could potentially improve. 

You are out of your element, and I would encourage you to not post any further on this topic if it's just going to be some variation on the theme of "quit whining, rich dicks!"

Edited by AlecBerg
Edit: Started this comment before Diplock agreed to stop posting, which was wise. This does have broader application for other commenters who cannot wait to explain that Bay Street lawyers have it better than most people.

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3 minutes ago, easttowest said:

I’m fairly sure today’s article was related to the “Wage Gap” series the Globe ran a few months back specifically focused on the gender wage gap, and it is within that context these firms are open to sharing some data. I don’t think any firms who said they’d share some numbers are contemplating doing so for any other purpose than looking into gender wage disparity. 

Likely, more firms got on board after the first ask for data after seeing a response to the Wage Gap series and hearing from their associates that they should think about getting on board. 

Good colour to add. It is in response to that.

Regardless of the purpose for the firms' willingness to disclose, the push towards greater wage transparency is one that has broader application beyond bridging the gender wage gap. This is not disagreeing with you, @easttowest, just saying that greater transparency around wages can be a net positive for a number of "causes". 

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Posted (edited)

I do agree with @BlockedQuebecois that there is actually more salary transparency out there then some people make it seem (NALP, ZSA). Could there be more, maybe. But I also agree with @Diplock that a tension exists. And honestly I don’t think the issue is as clear cut as OP makes it out to be. I think there are reasons why full, complete transparency is actually not in anyones best interests, even the employees. But the thing is partial transparency can also be just as dangerous. As someone who has a science and research background I completely understand why firms would be hesitant to just hand over data to a research firm. Data can be analyzed and interpreted whichever way you want, within certain limits of course. That is a lot of power to just hand over.

Edited by Adapt
And ways to interpret data only increase as the amount of variables increase, which I is most certainly going to be the case here.
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I don't understand how associate pay transparency would be all that harmful. Partner pay is a bit more understandable.

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I think the answer as to how much transparency is appropriate is going to depend on the principle behind your reason. The principle driving my reasoning is equity (not equality). 

A culture that values equitable treatment (as opposed to equal treatment) is going to be built upon respect. Respect is built upon trust. To develop trust, you literally need to believe your employer is treating you equitably without having all the information. You need to trust your team and not scrutinize how hard someone is working for a certain amount of pay. Is this a large ask? 100%. Is having an equitable employer achievable though? Yes, because there are a few successful companies that operate in this manner.

Further, consider how imposing more transparency on associate pay would play out. Ultimately, it may lead to firms disclosing situations such as, male and female associates being paid differently. This would put pressure on firms to pay said associates the same. So now you are in a position where everyone is getting equal pay. Great, but is there equitable treatment? Likely not, if the underlying culture is discriminatory. In fact, it may give the firm more leverage to perpetrate such a culture. The firm can then just sit back and point to the data that says look we are hiring equal number of female and male students, and look we are paying male and female associates equally. The issue is still mainly at the partnership level (and there are ways to ensure it stays this way, pay aside).

So not only are you moving away from developing the characteristics important in developing an equitable culture, but an inequitable culture may be encouraged to persist. For example, you could have male and female associates equal in all respects, even pay, yet the firm allows the male associate to work with more powerful partners, to take a holiday off, to work on more important deals, to be exposed to more clients and business development activities etc. It is likely that given this situation, it will be the male associate that makes partner, not the female associate. 

I think it becomes apparent pretty quickly, if you are at a firm that has a culture that values equitable treatment (and doesn't just pay lip service). You don’t need to see salary data for that. Further, seeing salary data could be demotivating, even if pay was equal. That demotivation could easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy for those that already have the odds stacked against them. Salary aside, we certainly do need more transparency regarding firm cultures, beyond just “you work hard”.  

Now truly, if we cannot change a culture that is inequitable, then yes, I am all for increased transparency in associate pay so that at least equal pay can be achieved.

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Posted (edited)
25 minutes ago, Adapt said:

 

To develop trust, you literally need to believe your employer is treating you equitably without having all the information. You need to trust your team and not scrutinize how hard someone is working for a certain amount of pay. Is this a large ask? 100%. Is having an equitable employer achievable though? Yes, because there are a few successful companies that operate in this manner.

That's not how a Big Law firms operates though. Big Firms base bonuses, compensation, and how successful you are perceived to be largely by billable hours. Obviously targets vary a bit by firm and by practice area, but they absolutely do use billable hours to scrutinize how hard you are working. Almost all firms have a minimum target. 

Blindly trusting your employer is naïve and is going to lead to you being taken advantage of. Especially in law firms, where there often isn't an HR department, there's huge discrepancies in power and no normal manager to employee relationship. There's no one there to make sure you're doing the work you want or only as much as you have capacity for. You do need to advocate for yourself. 

Quote

This would put pressure on firms to pay said associates the same. So now you are in a position where everyone is getting equal pay. 

I mean yeah, that is the point. Most firms are lockstep anyways, but if base salary varies widely between associates at the same year of call and in the same practice group, there should be a reason.  

Quote

Great, but is there equitable treatment? Likely not, if the underlying culture is discriminatory. In fact, it may give the firm more leverage to perpetrate such a culture. The firm can then just sit back and point to the data that says look we are hiring equal number of female and male students, and look we are paying male and female associates equally. The issue is still mainly at the partnership level (and there are ways to ensure it stays this way, pay aside).

This makes no sense? It's already public knowledge how many male or female students are being hired by each firm - look at a law firm's website. How is knowing how much each person is being paid going to matter? How is having more information and (hypothetically) more proof of discrimination going to hurt? 

As for your examples: 

  • Associates get the same amount of holidays (at all the firms I know of)
  • For the others - how is knowing how much you are getting paid in relation to others relevant to your other examples? Lawyers are intelligent people, they aren't going to say "well we're getting paid the same amount, so it's totally ok that Hot Shot Securities partner refuses to work with female associates!!"  
Edited by Starling
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2 hours ago, Adapt said:

 

So not only are you moving away from developing the characteristics important in developing an equitable culture, but an inequitable culture may be encouraged to persist. For example, you could have male and female associates equal in all respects, even pay, yet the firm allows the male associate to work with more powerful partners, to take a holiday off, to work on more important deals, to be exposed to more clients and business development activities etc. It is likely that given this situation, it will be the male associate that makes partner, not the female associate. 

 

This whole post was pablum, but this just doesn't make any sense. How does keeping associate pay opaque help with any of these issues? You said a whole lot of nothing and about the only time you addressed pay transparency was to say we should all trust our employers.

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