2020 Partner Compensation Survey | Major, Lindsey & Africa

Hanover, MD – December 15, 2020 – While male law firm partners continued to significantly out-earn their female counterparts in 2019, the gender pay gap has narrowed, according to the sixth biennial Partner Compensation Survey released today by Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm. Though male partners earned $1.13 million on average in 2019, compared to $784,000 for female partners, the growth rate of female partners’ compensation, at 15%, rose at twice the rate of male partners’, which increased by 7% during the same time period. Average partner compensation increased by 10% over 2018, from $962,000 to $1.054 million. The 2020 Partner Compensation Survey was fielded in conjunction with legal market intelligence and research specialists Acritas, and was based on the responses of 1,271 law firm partners across the U.S.

“Though all of our biennial surveys have shown significant disparities between men’s and women’s compensation, we are encouraged to see the gender pay gap shrink as the legal industry takes more proactive steps to address it,” said Jeffrey Lowe, Global Practice Leader of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Law Firm Practice and the study’s author. “We are hopeful that the gender pay gap will receive even greater attention by law firm leaders. Like many in the industry, we are concerned about the short-term and long-term effects that COVID-19 will have on female partners’ compensation, as more and more studies note with alarm the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women, both in and out of the workplace.”

The Survey, which was launched in July, also asked respondents how the pandemic would impact their 2020 compensation. While the majority of Survey respondents (70%) said they expected COVID-19 to impact their 2020 pay in some way, it also became clear during the drafting of the Survey report that the legal industry was faring better than initially anticipated during the early stages of the pandemic. In response to this changing climate, in November 2020, MLA independently conducted a smaller “flash survey” of law firm partners across the U.S. Nearly two-thirds of the 134 respondents to this flash survey reported that they did not expect their 2020 compensation to be affected by the pandemic. Additionally, of those respondents whose firms had implemented austerity measures at the onset of the pandemic, 43% reported that these measures have been completely reversed, while 41% said these steps have been partially rolled back.

“The legal industry proved much more resilient than many had predicted at the beginning of the pandemic,” Lowe said. “In fact, some firms even expect to out-perform their already-strong

results from 2019. It’s encouraging to see that many law firms were able to quickly respond to the challenges brought on by COVID-19 and adapt their strategies to end 2020 on a successful note.”

Additional key findings of the study include:

  • At $1.39 million, equity partners earned more than three times the total compensation of their non-equity counterparts, who earned on average $432,000. However, for the first time since the Survey was conducted, equity and non-equity partners saw similar percentage gains in compensation year-over-year. Equity partners’ compensation rose by 12%, while non-equity partners’ average compensation rose by 11%.
  • Average originations for all partners increased by about 3%, to $2.87 million. Additionally, the average billing rate increased by more than 9% from 2018, to $827.
  • Average total compensation for partners identifying as non-white was $869,000, 20% lower than those identifying as white, who made $1.046 million. Black partners, however, reported a 78% increase in compensation since the 2018 Survey.
  • Compensation also varied widely depending on geography, with partners in Atlanta reporting the lowest average compensation at $650,000, and partners in Palo Alto/Silicon Valley, at $1.66 million, and New York, at $1.64 million, reporting the highest average pay.

Major, Lindsey & Africa regularly conducts Partner Compensation Surveys in the U.S. and London, giving a platform to law firm partners around the world to share valuable insights about their earnings, compensation potential, and career satisfaction. Nearly 49,000 partners across the U.S. were invited to take the online survey.

The full text of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s 2020 Partner Compensation Survey is available here.

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