Law is one of the most lucrative branches of industry. Yet, it isn’t easy to find out how much does a partner at a law firm make. Fortunately, we are here to answer this burning question.
The Function of a Partner
An equity law firm partner holds joint ownership of their law firm. On the other hand, a non-equity partner isn’t an owner but climbs the corporate ladder instead. There is also the option of turning changing your position from non-equity to equity. This can be done either by buying a share of the company or providing great value to it.
The most prominent role of partners is to supervise and coordinate their teams, as well as take care of budgeting. However, they most often also have a part in multiple cases at the same time. Basically, they are overseeing every aspect of the firm, from determining salaries to handling cases and making sure everything is functioning at top capacity.
As you can see, the duties and obligations of a partner are numerous and require a lot of responsibility. Hence, law firm partners have to have a lot of education and experience under their belt. They also understand the way their respective business functions and have the opportunity to suggest improvements to their law firm.
How Much Does a Partner at a Law Firm Make in a Year?
The average law firm partner salary in the US ranges from $180.000 to $260.000, which makes the average being $216.000 as of Oct 29th, 2021. We will be focusing on the US firms, as there is enough data for a thorough analysis.
How to Determine a Partner’s Salary?
As you may have noticed, a partner’s job is not simple. The expertise, flexibility, strategic knowledge, and success necessary to become a partner are the basis for their salaries.
Position of the Partner
There are two distinct groups of law firm partners. They are equity and non-equity partners. The first group consists of the partners who own a part of the company. Their position depends on the success of their firm. That is to say, they are more at risk than non-equity partners if things go awry. The pay of equity partners depends on their billable hours, while an equity partner will receive partnership distributions.
The increased risk also brings more responsibility, rights, and benefits. In other words, equity partners earn more than their non-equity counterparts. For example, Major, Lindsey & Africa found out that equity partners of the 200 top US firms make more than three times as much as non-equity partners (1.39 million and $432.000 respectively). We will be focusing on non-equity partners in our article.
Many other variables determine a partner’s salary. The location of their firm is, naturally, the biggest factor. Simply put, salaries vary based on geographic location. The main reasons for these discrepancies are the differences in living costs and GDPs in different areas of the world. The cost of living and standards can vary even in different areas of the same country.
Education and Skills
Education level can significantly impact the height of a law firm partner’s income. This relates both to the level of education they’ve completed and the field they’ve specialized in.
Most (96%) of law firm partners have a doctorate. 3% have a Master’s degree, while only 1% hold a Bachelor’s. The education level also impacts the scope of a law firm a lawyer can join in the first place.
Additionally, the field of specialization and skills a partner possesses can also affect their pay. The most sought-out skills change as time goes. So, we have brought you a list of the most popular skills a partner can have at the present moment
- Intellectual property skills
- Corporate skills
- Legal document review
- Contract negotiation
- Mergers and acquisitions
- Regulatory compliance
Possessing these skills can bring a partner’s salary up from 10% to 19%. Hence, intellectual property (IP) skills will bring the partner’s average yearly salary up to $223.000.
The number of years in law also affects a partner’s salary. The more time one spends in the business, the higher their salary. That is to say, a partner with one to four years of experience will earn 37% less than the average wage in their field. On the other hand, mid and late career (5-9 and 10-19 years in the field respectively) will earn 19% and 1% less than the average.
Experienced partners, with over 20 years of experience in the field under their belt make 1% more than the average.
To put it differently, the average wage related to experience goes as follows:
- 1-4 years – $118.000
- 5-9 years – $151.000
- 10-19 years – $185.000
- 20+ years – $212.000
Trends in the Previous Years
Even though we cannot provide you with this year’s final set of data, we wanted to take a look back at the past.
Male and Female Partners
Even though we’d like to think the wage gap is a thing of the past, reaching wage equality among genders is still to be completed. Fortunately for female law firm partners, the growth of their wages in 2019 only was twice as big as their male peers (15% among women and 7% among men). To compare to the previous years, female partners saw a growth of only 8% in 2016 and 2018.
Despite bleak predictions at the beginning of 2020, the consequences of the COVID pandemic on the field of law were relatively small. They were, however, a lot different than the initial surveys have made out. The combination of the field being strong and the companies’ adaptability even resulted in some firms increasing their profit.
White and Non-white Partners
There is a significant difference between the salaries of white and non-white law firm partners. To be exact, this difference totaled 20%. Yet, there is good news in this field too, as Black partners saw a 78% salary increase in 2019.
Becoming a partner in a law firm takes hard work and dedication. Their salaries should reflect that as well. However, not every law firm partner makes the same amount. The most important factors that impact how much a partner at a law firm makes are
- Position of the partner in the company (equity vs non-equity)
- Location of the company
- Specific skills
Recently, we have learned that global events of great significance don’t have to impact the salaries of law firm partners. Simply put, the industry is extremely stable and doesn’t falter when facing adversity. As the trends suggest, the salaries of law firm partners are going to continue to grow.
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