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MLA 10-Year Partner Compensation Survey Reveals Steady Increase in Compensation Among Law Firm Partners

Hanover, MD – September 15, 2020 – Law firm partners’ compensation has increased more than 38% on average over the past decade, according to the 10-Year Partner Compensation Survey retrospective recently released by Major, Lindsey & Africa, the world’s largest legal search firm. These gains, however, have not been uniform. Equity partners saw a 40% uptick in pay over the past decade, while non-equity partner compensation has remained relatively stagnant, increasing only 10% over the same period. The Major, Lindsey & Africa Partner Compensation Survey, fielded in conjunction with legal market intelligence and research specialists Acritas, has been conducted biennially between 2010 and 2018.

“Law firms saw stagnation and increased rate pressure from clients in the earlier part of the decade, both the result of the Great Recession. At the same time, alternative legal service providers entered the market, causing law firms to re-evaluate how to approach growth and the business of law. Despite these early headwinds, many law firms rose to the challenge, posting record or near-record gains year-over-year as they cruised through the latter half of the decade,” said Jeffrey Lowe, Global Practice Leader of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Law Firm Practice. “Now, as the legal industry grapples with the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, our upcoming 2020 Partner Compensation Survey will provide an important historic baseline from which to evaluate the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic.”

Notable findings also included the increase over time in the pay differential between male and female partners. Despite the gender pay gap receiving more attention over the past decade, Survey results showed that by 2018 this gap had widened from 24% to 35%. Additionally, male partners’ average compensation increased by 42% over the past decade, compared to 22% for female partners – a disparity in part driven by the relatively small number of female equity partners.

Other highlights of the survey included:

  • On average, lateral partners earned 20% to 30% more than their non-lateral counterparts. Female partners in particular saw a more significant impact to their compensation upon making a lateral move, with their median pay increasing by 40%.
  • Partners are generally satisfied with their level of compensation. However, slightly more than half would be willing to sacrifice a portion of their pay for more time off or a reduction in hours or other perks. Additionally, equity partners reported higher satisfaction with their compensation than non-equity partners, and female partners were more likely than male partners to be dissatisfied with their compensation.

“The Partner Compensation Survey has been one of the most important sources of major trends in the legal industry over the past decade,” Lowe said. “As we look ahead to the legal industry’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the results of our 10-year retrospective and our upcoming 2020 Survey will prove invaluable in offering a lens with which to evaluate the shifts that law firms may experience over this period in time.”

The full text of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s 10-Year Partner Compensation Survey is available here.

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