Representation of Women and Minority Equity Partners Among Partners Little Changed in Recent Years

NALP Bulletin, April 2019

Equity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. New figures from NALP show that in 2018, just one in five equity partners were women (19.6%) and only 6.6% 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 20% of equity partners in 2018, and minorities accounted for about 8%.

NALP has been compiling its information since 2011, when it 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 (almost 71% white and male in 2018), 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 2018, many did, accounting for 21,026 partners, or about 65% of the partners in the NALP Directory with multi-tier partnerships. Tables 1-3 provide several perspectives on the findings for 2018 with comparative figures for prior years.

  • Based on those offices that provided information, 60.9% of male partners were equity partners as of February 2018, while somewhat less than half, just over 46%, of women partners and 45% of minority partners were equity partners, a differential of about 15-16 percentage points. See Table 1.

  • More dramatically perhaps, among equity partners, 80.4% were men, 19.6% were women, and 6.6% 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 69.5% men, 30.5% women, and 10.7% racial/ethnic minorities. See Table 2.

  • Finally, among all partners, the equity/non-equity split stood at about 57%/43%. Somewhat less than half of partners were male equity partners; just over 11% were women equity partners; and 3.8% 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. Additionally, given how closely some firms hold the information about equity and non-equity demographics, it is not possible to know the extent to which the equity/non-equity information reported — covering about 65% 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, but has ranged from just 61% to 67% since 2013, suggesting that this level is what is sustainable over time.

To the extent that broad trends in the data can be identified over the eight-year period, it does appear that the distribution of all partners by equity status has moved, but only in tiny increments, toward greater proportions of women and minorities, just as women and minorities have made small gains in representation among partners as a whole. For instance, between 2011 and 2018, the percent of all partners who were male equity partners fell from 51.7% to 46.2%, while the percent of all partners who were women equity partners rose from 9.5% to 11.2%, and the percent of all partners who were minority equity partners rose from 2.9% to 3.8%. However, the shrinkage in the percentage of partners who are male equity partners does not mean that percentages for women or minority equity partners increased by the same amount. In fact, they have stayed quite flat since 2016. What did increase was the overall percentage of partners who are non-equity partners. See Table 3. Among equity partners the percentage who were men in 2011 was 84.4%, and fell to 80.4% by 2018. During the same period, the percent of equity partners who were women rose from 15.6% to 19.6%, and the percent of equity partners who were minorities rose from 4.7% to 6.6%. See Table 2.

Over the eight 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 not quite 4 percentage points), and while percentages of partners who are women or minorities has crept up, these figures have changed little since 2016 (Table 3). So, even though the finding that the percentages of partners who are women or minority equity partners have not lost ground may be a small positive sign, it is not clear at this point how or if the flat-line trend of recent years will change.

To determine whether an individual law firm or law office is a multi-tier firm and to determine whether multi-tier demographic data was submitted for a specific firm, you can review the directory information the firm submitted at www.nalpdirectory.com.


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

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Men partners 16,134 18,278 18,083 17,641 17,476 17,456 16,309 15,930
    % equity 64.9% 64.2% 63.6% 63.5% 61.8% 62.5% 62.9% 60.9%
Women partners 4,104 4,578 4,778 4,835 4,971 5,145 5,041 5,096
    % equity 47.0% 46.4% 47.4% 47.7% 45.8% 46.9% 47.0% 46.4%
Minority partners 1,229 1,423 1,562 1,549 1,617 1,696 1,670 1,752
    % equity 47.1% 46.8% 47.2% 48.5% 45.5% 45.9% 45.9% 45.3%


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

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Equity partners 12,396 13,864 13,760 13,508 13,078 13,323 12,630 12,067
    % men 84.4% 84.7% 83.5% 82.9% 82.6% 81.9% 81.3% 80.4%
    % women 15.6 15.3 16.5 17.1 17.4 18.1 18.7 19.6
    % minority 4.7 4.8 5.4 5.6 5.6 5.8 6.1 6.6
Non-equity partners 7,842 8,992 9,101 8,968 9,369 9,278 8,720 8,959
    % men 72.3% 72.7% 72.4% 71.8% 71.2% 70.6% 69.3% 69.5%
    % women 27.7 27.3 27.6 28.2 28.8 29.4 30.7 30.5
    % minority 8.3 8.4 9.1 8.9 9.4 9.9 10.4 10.7


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

  2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Total partners 20,238 22,856 22,861 22,476 22,447 22,601 21,350 21,026
 % equity 61.3% 60.7% 60.2% 60.1% 58.3% 58.9% 59.2% 57.4%
 % men equity 51.7 51.4 50.3 49.8 48.1 48.3 48.1 46.2
 % women equity 9.5 9.3 9.9 10.3 10.1 10.7 11.1 11.2
 % minority equity 2.9 2.9 3.2 3.3 3.3 3.4 3.6 3.8
 % non-equity 38.7 39.3 39.8 39.9 41.7 41.1 40.8 42.6
 % men non-equity 28.0 28.6 28.8 28.7 29.7 29.0 28.3 29.6
 % women non-equity 10.7 10.7 11.0 11.2 12.0 12.1 12.5 13.0
 % minority non-equity 3.2 3.3 3.6 3.5 3.9 4.1 4.2 4.6

Note: Figures for 2018 are based on 214 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. In some cases, firms did not update their figures from 2017.

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