Firms are extremely sensitive about publicly differentiating between equity and non-equity partners. NALP decided to start collecting that data from firms, but the firms resisted and NALP has now dropped the effort, the AmLaw Daily reports:
NALP’s [James] Leipold says most firms cited privacy concerns for not divulging the details of their partnership arrangements. Because some firm offices are quite small, firms indicated they were concerned that nonequity partners would be easily identified and stigmatized, says Leipold.
A professor quoted in the article says the firms really want to protect their billing rates, not their nonequity partners. If clients don’t know the breakdown between equity and non, firms can charge high rates for all partners, she says.
Groups representing female and minority lawyers are especially peeved at the firms’ refusal to share their data. They want to know, basically, what proportion of a firm’s “partners” have a real stake in the firm and share in the profits, and what proportion are partners in name only, in actuality just employees with fancy titles.
It’s the difference between having real power and the semblance of power, says Fernande Duffly, a judge on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and a former president of the National Association of Women Judges. Duffly, an advocate for achieving greater diversity in the profession, had pushed NALP to collect the information for the last two years. “If you’re making a career selection, you want a place where you have opportunity for real leadership; I think law students want to be full partners,” Duffly says in explaining why the breakdown is important. She adds that she has a personal stake in the issue: “Law firm partners are part of the pipeline for our judiciary.”
For what it’s worth, The Daily Record also faced major resistance when we solicited information about equity versus non-equity partners for our Money Issue last year. A lot of firms refused to fill out our survey on revenue, profits and other money questions, but many also declined to break down their partnership ranks by equity and non-equity.