In an uneven year in which Big Law saw profits slide, some of the biggest firms also appeared to heed the words of Shelby Cullom Davis. A leading investor and former U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Davis once observed: “You make most of your money in a bear market, you just don’t realize it at the time.” Indeed, the word “invest” was top-of-mind for many law firm leaders, particularly when it came to managing their equity partner ranks. Even as demand and profits fell in 2022, Am Law 100 firms increased their equity ranks by 1%, according to data compiled by Law.com Compass and The American Lawyer.
While not exactly enormous, the increase is notable not only because of the short-term context—a year colored by economic uncertainty—but the long term as well. Am Law 100 equity membership shrank in 2021, even as lateral movement significantly accelerated, and lawyer growth over the previous decade could arguably be characterized as a Great Bifurcation: fast-growing nonequity and nontraditional tracks and a much more stagnant equity tier.