How Much Do Partners Make at Law Firms?

Written by Lauren Erdelyi6 minutes well spent
Download This Article as a PDF
Loading ...
how much do law firm partners make?

For many lawyers, becoming a partner is considered the apex of their legal career—an achievement that promises everything from professional prestige to decision-making authority.

While it also comes with significant financial rewards, many people wonder: Just how much do partners make at law firms? The answer, as it turns out, isn’t so simple. From the many factors influencing compensation to the art of negotiation, a multitude of aspects determine law firm partner salaries. In this blog, we provide clarity on this complex topic and shed light on the earnings of partners across US law firms.

Understanding law firm partner compensation 

Let’s start with the big question: On average, how much does a partner earn in a US law firm? 

According to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s 2022 Partner Compensation Survey, the average compensation for US law firm partners soared to a record-breaking $1.12 million—an unprecedented figure since the survey’s inception in 2010. The median compensation stood at $675,000. To put this into perspective, the National Association for Law Placement’s 2023 Associate Salary Survey report found that the median base salary for first-year associates was $200,000.

Of course, partner salaries fluctuate based on several factors, including:

  • Size and profitability of the firm. Larger and more profitable firms usually have greater resources to allocate toward partner compensation.
  • Practice area. Legal practice areas have different hourly rates, leading to variations in partner compensation. 
  • Geographic location. Partners in major urban centers or regions boasting a high concentration of corporate clients often command higher salaries than those in less competitive markets.

Along with these factors, compensation models also influence law firm partner salaries. Two common ones include:

  • Lockstep compensation model. Under this traditional approach, partner compensation is determined primarily by seniority. By offering predictable pay raises based on years of service, this model fosters trust, collaboration, and transparency. While typically used within prestigious firms, its prevalence has been declining in recent years.
  • Merit-based compensation model. Merit-based compensation models reward partners based on their contributions to the firm’s revenue. For example, a partner who brings in millions of dollars in business would receive a higher compensation than one whose contributions amount to a few hundred thousand dollars. This model acts as an incentive for partners to engage in business development activities to maximize their earning potential.

Whether a partner holds an equity or non-equity position also impacts their salary. Equity partners typically “buy in” to the firm and receive half of their compensation from the firm’s profits each year, while non-equity partners have a fixed salary. Equity partners tend to earn considerably more—the 2022 Partner Compensation Survey revealed their compensation was three times that of their non-equity counterparts ($1,473,000 compared to $460,000).

While the pay gap between male and female partners has been narrowing over the years, unfortunately, a significant disparity still exists. The same survey found that male partners outpace their female counterparts in compensation, earning an average of $1.21 million and $905,000, respectively.

The career path to becoming a law firm partner 

law firm partner

Becoming a partner at a law firm requires years of hard work. Typically, the career trajectory involves starting as an associate, advancing to a senior associate or counsel role, before having the chance to reach the coveted ranks of partnership. According to Leopard Solutions, a legal intelligence provider, associates at their original firms typically take almost nine years on average to achieve partnership status. 

Throughout this journey, aspiring law firm partners will hone a range of specialized skills and traits, such as:

  • Effective communication
  • Leadership abilities
  • Business acumen
  • Networking skills
  • Integrity and honesty

For all its rewards, the journey to becoming a law firm partner comes with its fair share of challenges. The role requires long hours, demanding workloads, and intense competition, especially within merit-based compensation models. Juggling client demands, firm responsibilities, and their personal life can prove to be taxing for some partners.

One effective strategy to position oneself for success is to seek out a mentor who can offer invaluable guidance and support along this journey. Whether imparting wisdom or simply offering words of encouragement, mentors play a big part in helping lawyers successfully navigate the path to partnership. Some firms offer formal mentorship programs that assign partners to mentor associates, creating a culture of professional development within the firm.

Exploring the benefits of law firm partnership 

We’ve discussed some of the challenges associated with law firm partnership. Let’s now move on to the advantages. Here are three of them:

  • Financial rewards. Partners enjoy a share of the firm’s profits and potential equity, leading to high levels of satisfaction with their compensation. According to Major, Lindsey & Africa’s survey, 29% of partners describe themselves as very satisfied, and 35% as moderately satisfied with their compensation.
  • Exclusive privileges. Partners also wield greater decision-making authority. That holds particularly true for equity partners, who have a say in matters like client representation, the election of future partners, and staffing decisions. Moreover, partners often gain access to high-profile clients, elevating their professional stature within the firm and broader legal community.
  • Professional growth. Partners benefit from a collaborative environment that empowers them to deliver on providing exceptional client service while advancing their careers within the firm. Additionally, many partners take on mentorship roles to help guide aspiring lawyers along the path to partnership.

Comparing partner salaries across different law firms 

The size and profitability of a law firm significantly impact partner salary, with equity partners at top firms enjoying impressive earnings that range anywhere from $3–$10 million—or for star partners, sometimes even more. However, it’s essential to also consider industry and regional-based differences when evaluating the average law firm partner salary.

In terms of legal practice areas, the 2022 Partner Compensation Survey revealed notable variations. Corporate partners had the highest average total compensation at $1,488,000, while Labor & Employment partners reported the lowest at $653,000. Moreover, the average total compensation for tax & ERISA partners was $1,145,000, and $1,054,000 for litigation partners.

A law firm’s location also matters. The same survey noted that average total compensation ranged from $714,000 in Seattle to $1,817,000 in New York. Across the US, smaller major cities have been seeing higher percentage gains, such as Dallas ($1,454,000), Atlanta ($987,000), and Houston ($1,348,000).

Tips for negotiating partner compensation

How much do law firm partners make?

We’ve covered many factors that come into play for law firm partner salaries. However, you may be wondering what else partners can do to receive top-notch compensation packages. Mastering negotiation skills is essential. Here are some tips to help you excel in this crucial area.

  • Do your homework. Thoroughly research industry benchmarks and your firm’s performance before entering negotiations. This knowledge will serve as a solid foundation for advocating for your compensation package.
  • Think about your priorities. Whether it’s base salary, bonuses, or benefits, think about how these priorities align with your financial goals and career aspirations. Knowing what matters most to you will guide your negotiation strategy.
  • Watch out for common pitfalls. Undervaluing your worth and failing to communicate effectively are two major ones. Again, preparation is key here. Spend time reflecting on your unique skills and biggest accomplishments—so you can clearly articulate them to strengthen your case when the time comes.
  • Be ready to compromise. Remember, flexibility is crucial. Be open to compromise during the negotiation to maintain a positive working relationship with your partners.

How much do partners make at law firms? Final thoughts

As you can see, the question “How much do partners make at law firms?” doesn’t have a straightforward answer. Law firm partner salary is influenced by numerous factors. While the benefits of partnership are substantial, achieving this highly coveted position requires hard work, dedication, and expertise. By understanding the many facets of partner compensation and using effective negotiation strategies, you can maximize your earning potential—and ultimately, take your legal career to new heights.

Categorized in: Business

Set yourself up for success with our free Guide to Starting a Law Firm.

Get the Guide
  • Work wherever and whenever you want

    What's Clio?

    We're the world's leading provider of cloud-based legal software. With Clio's low-barrier and affordable solutions, lawyers can manage and grow their firms more effectively, more profitably, and with better client experiences. We're redefining how lawyers manage their firms by equipping them with essential tools to run their firms securely from any device, anywhere.

    See Clio in Action