The Demographics of Equity - An Update

NALP Bulletin, February 2013

Are equity partners in multi-tier law firms disproportionately white men? The answer is decidedly yes — and new data are helping us to describe the unequal representation of men and women and minority and non-minority law firm partners in these firms with additional precision.

We have known definitively for nearly 20 years that law firm partnership ranks were disproportionately made up of non-minority men. (NALP first began tracking the demographics of law firm partners in 1993.) With the emergence and growth of multi-tier partnerships, however, there has been little data available to describe the representation of women and minorities among the narrower class of equity partners in these multi-tiered firms.

Starting in 2011, NALP began asking law firms to report demographic information for equity and non-equity partners through the NALP Directory of Legal Employers. With two years worth of data now available, the findings are many, but as first reported last year, there is a definite skew amongst women lawyers and minority lawyers who are partners toward non-equity status. The good news, to the extent there is any, may be that this skew is not more dramatic than it is. Nonetheless, the bottom line is that partners in general continue to be disproportionately both male and white, and in multi-tiered firms, the skew amongst equity partners appears to be even greater.

This type of data remains relatively new and is by no means definitive, but it provides a good start toward being able to say something meaningful about the ranks of equity and non-equity partners as to race and gender. Although many firms with multi-tier partnerships did not provide equity/non-equity partner demographics in 2012, many did, accounting for almost 23,000 partners, or 60% of the partners in the NALP Directory with multi-tier partnerships. Tables 1-3 provide several perspectives on the findings for 2012.

  • Overall, based on those offices that provided information, 64% of male partners were equity partners as of February 2012, while somewhat less than half (46-47%) of both women partners and minority partners were equity partners, a differential of 17-18 percentage points. See Table 1.

  • More dramatically perhaps, among equity partners, about 85% were men, 15% were women, and just under 5% 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 73% men, 27% women, and 8% racial/ethnic minorities. See Table 2.

  • Finally, among all partners, the equity/non-equity split is about 61%/39%. Just over half of partners were male equity partners; just over 9% were women equity partners; and almost 3% were minority equity partners (Again, minorities are also included in the counts by gender.) See Table 3.

Given the fact that law firm partners reported in the NALP Directory are still overwhelmingly white and mostly male — over 93% of all partners are white and about 80% are men according to NALP's most recent figures, also for 2012 — these findings about the demographics of multi-tier partnerships do not paint an entirely gloomy picture, or at least there is a glass half-full perspective that can be brought to bear. For instance, while less than 20% of all partners are women, 46% of women partners are equity partners, over 15% of all equity partners are women, and just over 9% of all partners are women with equity. Similarly, while less than 7% of all partners are minority lawyers, 47% of minority partners are equity partners, nearly 5% of all equity partners are minority, and almost 3% of all partners are minorities with equity. Though stark, the disparities by race and gender amongst equity partners are not dramatically worse than the overall numbers of women and minorities who are partners. Much of the disparity reflects the underlying representation of women and minorities among partners, a reality that is stark indeed.

In just the second year of collecting this kind of information, conclusions must be stated tentatively, however, and small changes should not be given undue emphasis or construed as a trend. Given how closely some firms hold the information about equity and non-equity demographics, we were pleased to receive the information for about 60% of all partners in multi-tier firms listed in the 2012 NALP Directory, compared with about 50% in 2011. Whether the findings based on those who did report can be extrapolated to the larger group of offices with multi-tier partnerships, however, is not known. We do not know the characteristics of those offices that did not report, and there is no other publicly available data set to use for comparison purposes, so these data must stand on their own until more data can be gathered.

It should also be noted that this data is being collected at a time during which the balance between equity and non-equity partners at multi-tier firms is itself changing. Even so, the percentages of women and minority lawyers reported in 2012 was consistent with the percentages reported in 2011 (see "The Demographics of Equity," NALP Bulletin, November 2011).

We are hopeful that, as with most of NALP's data collection efforts, the percentage of equity and non-equity partners for which the information is provided will continue to grow. Going forward, law students and other constituencies will likely push additional law offices to report on their equity and non-equity partner demographics, and multi-tier law firms will likely grow more comfortable reporting this data in a variety of settings. As a result, hopefully a broader and even more representative data set can be built.

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

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

Men partners 18,278
    % equity 64.2%
Women partners 4,578
    % equity 46.4%
Minority partners 1,423
    % equity 46.8%

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

Equity partners 13,864
    % men 84.7%
    % women 15.3%
    % minority 4.8%
Non-equity partners 8,992
    % men 72.7%
    % women 27.3%
    % minority 8.4%

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

Total partners 22,856
    % equity 60.7
    % men equity 51.4%
    % women equity 9.3%
    % minority equity 2.9%
    % non-equity 39.3%
    % men non-equity 28.6%
    % women non-equity 10.7%
    % minority non-equity 3.3%

Note: Figures are based on 259 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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