The nonequity partner tier mushroomed in 2020 at dozens of large law firms, while far fewer firms shrank their nonequity tier. Meanwhile, the equity partner ranks at many big firms kept flat or contracted.

Several factors are behind the trend: a movement of young lawyers into the partnership as others in the equity tier retire; hesitancy among firm leaders to let lawyers go when demand isn’t dramatically dropping; and the pandemic stiffening the criteria for equity partner decisions, first out of a concern to keep up profits.