“You can only divvy up the pie so much and distribute it so much before it starts eating into the profitability,” says Dan Binstock who, with Gary Miles, returns to the podcast to discuss the latest trends in corporate law partnership. More and more major law firms are shortening the length of time it takes for their associates to make partner, or bestowing the title of partner to those who are, in practice, really senior associates. This allows firms to to charge partner-level prices while clients receiving associate-level prices. This raises issues about quality, integrity, transparency. How long can such a practice continue before firms’ integrity and performance are sacrificed for short-term profitability? What happens when firms over-leverage themselves?

By misrepresenting their statistics, Gary explains, more and more firms are robbing valuable players of their due recognition and compensation, and the profits are split among a larger pool of people. Part of the problem is the psychological pressure on both sides–firms don’t want to look like they’re not expanding (and therefore falling behind), and so they offer partnerships to candidates who want to feel like they have a seat at the table.

Part of a recruiter’s job, Dan explains, is to help partners understand what equity means at different firms. He, Gary, and Chris discuss what will happen when, with inflation, rates continue to go up and the inevitable pullback comes. They also explain why firms should think in terms of categories and not tiers.

“There are a whole bunch of other reasons, like recruiting benefits and profitabilities increasing and going so much higher, you can only divvy up the pie so much and distribute it so much before it starts eating into the profitability. And as we’ve got groups and groups of people who are really skilled but may not have the business development chops to bring in as much business, putting them into equity may dilute the profits.” (11:23 | Dan)
“More firms are increasingly needing a home for the people whom they don’t want to lose, who are very, very valuable but who aren’t yet equity-ready, for one reason or another. They’re losing these people to other firms who are saying, ‘Come over here, we’ll make you an equity partner.’ And it’s an ego and a marketing thing–well, calling it an ego thing is not fair. It’s not just ego, it’s marketing and feeling like even if you’ve got a small seat at the table, it’s still some type of seat.” (12:04 | Dan)
“You could be a partner that’s on the lower end, or in the middle, and you did what you were supposed to do but you didn’t receive any overrun. It has nothing to do with the firm’s performance. The firm took that money, put it into their bonus pool that all equity partners share in, but then disperses it very unevenly.” (18:19 | Gary)
“I think, really, the whole term of equity, at a lot of firms, is just that: it’s just nomenclature. We all know, at most firms, you have as much equity as the contribution you make to the firm, usually in the form of business. That’s generally where the equity lies.” (20:04 | Gary)
“One thing we don’t talk enough about–and this plays at the associate level but plays even more at the partner level of recruiting–is how much psychological and political stuff is baked into the cake already. How important it is for law firm leaders, or the pressure law firm leaders feel, to stay consistent in where they are or rising in the ‘outward presentation of a hierarchical ecosystem of firms.’” (35:06 | Gary)