In the old days, if you were a partner of a law firm, more than likely you shared equally in the distribution of profits and, for that matter, losses. You had a proportionate say in the management and operation of the law firm, and it was very hard for you to obtain that status, perhaps only after seven to ten years of practice as an associate at the firm.
Those were the old days. Now, it is common to see lawyers bearing the title of “partner” after only two or three years with a law firm, but the term “partner” as used in today’s parlance has changed significantly. Now, compensation plans and organizational arrangements for law firms are much different, and becoming a partner simply means that you are, in many cases, a paid employee who gets a percentage of certain business that you bring in and, perhaps, an override regarding the success of the partnership as a whole. But unless you are an “equity partner” which means that you own a part of the organization, you are not in a position to determine compensation or the future operation of the law firm. Very few aspirants achieve the status of an equity partner, and it is important to distinguish the difference between being a “partner” and an equity partner in assessing the accomplishments of a lawyer who may blithely suggest that he is a partner without it really meaning very much, if anything, in regard to the management and operation of the law firm.