Barrister fee records reveal scale of gender inequality

Female senior counsel who work for the State are getting paid less for each brief than men

Glass ceiling: figures indicate that female senior counsels are taking more briefs and getting paid less for each brief

Glass ceiling: figures indicate that female senior counsels are taking more briefs and getting paid less for each brief

Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 01:08

Recently obtained data on State payments to barristers appear to show the glass ceiling has been shattered by women at the bar. A thorough analysis of the data, however, shows this is not the whole truth.

Figures released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act (Home news, January 7th) reveal fascinating information on distribution by gender of a substantial category of State work to the barristers’ profession over the past 10 years.

News reporting on the data tended to concentrate on the earnings of the top-paid barristers briefed for civil work by the Attorney General’s office, with Siobhan Stack SC and Sara Moorhead SC topping the list on a cumulative basis from 2002-2013. Mention was also made of Emily Farrell, topping the list in 2011 and 2012.

There may be three female barristers in lead positions on the earnings table, but a closer look at the data shows inequality is still evident in the profession.

An initial analysis of the distribution of payments by gender between 2002 and 2012 shows movement towards more equal distribution over this time period. In 2002, only 17 per cent of a pot of €10.5 million was paid to female barristers. By 2012, they received 36 per cent of a total distribution of €9.4 million.

It is noteworthy that the number of female barristers receiving instructions from the Attorney General’s office remained stable over the time period. Therefore, the more even distribution of payments is not due to an increase in the number of female barristers being briefed. It appears the change is due to female barristers gaining increased seniority and expertise.

There has, however, been a reduction of almost a third in the number of male barristers instructed by the Attorney General’s office. The biggest reduction in a single year occurred between 2006 and 2007, when that number fell 22 per cent. In that year, the number of female barristers instructed fell by 9 per cent.

Immediately following this concentration of the barrister pool, the year 2007 saw an almost 50 per cent increase in the average payment to barristers and a 22 per cent increase in overall payments to barristers. Accordingly, the move towards reducing the number of barristers receiving instructions does not appear to have provided value to the State. Average payments to barristers did not return to 2005 levels until 2012.

Analysis of the figures relating to senior counsel provides further interesting information. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of female senior counsel instructed by the Attorney General’s office grew from 9 per cent to 15 per cent of total senior counsel instructed. Furthermore, the average payment to female senior counsel grew from 47 per cent of the average payment received by male senior counsel in 2002 to 97 per cent of the average payment received by male senior counsel in 2012. Average payment per brief is a different measure which provides startling results. The average payment per brief for female senior counsel is still just 88 per cent of that of male senior counsel, but this is a significant improvement from 58 per cent in 2002.

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