Representation of Women and Minorities Among Equity Partners Has Increased Only Slightly

NALP Bulletin, April 2017

Equity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. New figures from NALP show that in 2016, only 18.1% of equity partners were women and only 5.8% were racial/ethnic minorities.

NALP's findings on women equity partners continue to mirror those of the National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL), which in its most recent report found that women comprised about 18% of the equity partnership in 2015.

NALP has been compiling its information since 2011, when NALP began asking law firms to report demographic information for equity and non-equity partners through the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. As has been the case since 2011, there is a definite skew among women and minority lawyers who are partners toward non-equity status. Partners in general continue to be disproportionately both male and white (about 73% white and male in 2016), and in multi-tiered firms the skew toward men and non-minorities among equity partners appears to be somewhat greater than among partners as a whole.

Although many firms with multi-tier partnerships did not provide equity/non-equity partner demographics in 2016, many did, accounting for about 22,600 partners, or about 67% of the partners in the NALP Directory with multi-tier partnerships. Tables 1-3 provide several perspectives on the findings for 2016 with comparative figures for prior years.

  • Based on those offices that provided information, 62.5% of male partners were equity partners as of February 2016, while somewhat less than half, about 47%, of women partners and 46% of minority partners, were equity partners, a differential of about 16 percentage points. See Table 1.

  • More dramatically perhaps, among equity partners, 81.9% were men, 18.1% were women, and 5.8% were racial/ethnic minorities. (The minority figures include both men and women, so the three figures add to more than 100%.) Among non-equity partners, the respective figures were 70.6% men, 29.4% women, and 9.9% racial/ethnic minorities. See Table 2.

  • Finally, among all partners, the equity/non-equity split stood at about 59%/41%. Slightly less than half of partners were male equity partners; not quite 11% were women equity partners; and just over 3% were minority equity partners. (Again, minorities are also included in the counts by gender.) See Table 3.

During the time period that NALP has collected this kind of information, firms have become more familiar with reporting this information, making year-to-year comparison more meaningful. Nonetheless, small changes should not be given undue emphasis or necessarily construed as a trend. Nor, given how closely some firms hold the information about equity and non-equity demographics, is it possible to know the extent to which the equity/non-equity information reported — covering about 67% of partners in multi-tier firms — is representative of all partners in these firms. It is the case that coverage has increased from about 50% in 2011.

To the extent that broad trends in the data can be identified over the six-year period, it does seem to be the case that the distribution of all partners by equity status is moving, albeit in the smallest increments, toward a greater representation by women and minorities, just as women and minorities have made small gains in representation among partners as a whole. For instance, between 2011 and 2016, the percent of all partners who were male equity partners fell from 51.7% to 48.3%, while the percent of all partners who were women equity partners rose from 9.5% to almost 11%, and the percent of all partners who were minority equity partners rose from 2.9% to 3.4%. See Table 3. Similarly, the percent of equity partners who were men in 2011 was 84.4%, and fell to 81.9% in 2016. During the same period, the percent of equity partners who were women rose from 15.6% to 18.1%, and the percent of equity partners who were minority rose from 4.7% to 5.8%. See Table 2.

Over the six years that NALP has been collecting this data, the percentage of all partners in two-tier partnerships who are equity partners has declined slightly (by about 2.4 percentage points). So the finding that the percentages for women and minorities have fluctuated somewhat but not lost ground may be a small positive sign.

You can view information on partnership tiers and demographics submitted for an individual law firm or law office for the current year at www.nalpdirectory.com.


Table 1. Percent of Partners Reported as Equity Partners by Gender or Minority Status

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Men partners 16,134 18,278 18,083 17,641 17,476 17,456
     % equity 64.9% 64.2% 63.6% 63.5% 61.8% 62.5%
Women partners 4,104 4,578 4,778 4,835 4,971 5,145
     % equity 47.0% 46.4% 47.4% 47.7% 45.8% 46.9%
Minority partners 1,229 1,423 1,562 1,549 1,617 1,696
     % equity 47.1% 46.8% 47.2% 48.5% 45.5% 45.9%

 

Table 2. Distribution of Equity and Non-equity Partners by Gender or Minority Status

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Equity partners 12,396 13,864 13,760 13,508 13,078 13,323
    % men 84.4% 84.7% 83.5% 82.9% 82.6% 81.9%
    % women 15.6% 15.3% 16.5% 17.1% 17.4% 18.1%
    % minority 4.7% 4.8% 5.4% 5.6% 5.6% 5.8%
Non-equity partners 7,842 8,992 9,101 8,968 9,369 9,278
    % men 72.3% 72.7% 72.4% 71.8% 71.2% 70.6%
    % women 27.7% 27.3% 27.6% 28.2% 28.8% 29.4%
    % minority 8.3% 8.4% 9.1% 8.9% 9.4% 9.9%

 

Table 3. Distribution of All Partners by Equity Status and Gender or Minority Status

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Total partners 20,238 22,856 22,861 22,476 22,447 22,601
    % equity 61.3% 60.7% 60.2% 60.1% 58.3% 58.9%
    % men equity 51.7% 51.4% 50.3% 49.8% 48.1% 48.3%
    % women equity 9.5% 9.3% 9.9% 10.3% 10.1% 10.7%
    % minority equity 2.9% 2.9% 3.2% 3.3% 3.3% 3.4%
    % non-equity 38.7% 39.3% 39.8% 39.9% 41.7% 41.1%
    % men non-equity 28.0% 28.6% 28.8% 28.7% 29.7% 29.0%
    % women non-equity 10.7% 10.7% 11.0% 11.2% 12.0% 12.1%
    % minority non-equity 3.2% 3.3% 3.6% 3.5% 3.9% 4.1%

Note: Figures for 2016 are based on 217 offices/firms that have a tiered partnership and also reported information on equity and non-equity partner counts. A number of firms that otherwise reported information on an office-by-office basis reported their partnership information on a firm-wide basis. Minorities are also counted as men or women; hence percentages add to more than the total.

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