Non-Equity Partnership Trends

March 12th, 2013 by Altman Weil

Since 1999, the Am Law 200 lists have tracked the number of non-equity partners in the 200 highest-grossing law firms in the United States. Between 1999 and 2012 there has been a significant change in those numbers.

In 1999, 65.5% of Am Law 200 firms had non-equity tiers; in 2012, that number had jumped to 84.5%.  Seventeen percent of all partners in two-tier firms were non-equity partners in 1999.  By 2012, 39% of all partners were in a non-equity tier.  Finally, the average number of non-equity partners in a two-tier firm went from 35.5 in 1999 to 108.8 in 2012.

The growth of non-equity partners as a lawyer category has reshaped law firms.  Many argue that the non-equity tier provides an easy way to offer the pride of partnership to associates, to introduce senior lateral hires, to increase billing rates of senior associates and elevate their status in the market — or to park underperforming equity partners.  However, it also builds a seemingly permanent class of high-priced leverage whose average billable hours are below those on either side of them (senior associates and equity partners).

It is critical for two-tiered firms to rethink their strategic intent with non-equity partnerships, including:

  • Analyzing short and long-term impacts on firm profitability
  • Rethinking non-equity compensation
  • Establishing tougher standards for entry and retention in the non-equity tier
  • Regularizing performance evaluations
  • Systematically managing transitions out of the tier

These steps will enable two-tier firms to begin the process of optimizing the productivity and profitability of non-equity partners.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 at 7:24 am and is filed under Law firm business model, Trends, Law firm staffing model. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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