More large law firms are growing a nonequity partner tier to create leverage and improve recruiting and retention. But there are risks from a bloated nonequity tier, observers say, while law firms need to be careful with how they communicate with partners in the nonequity ranks.

“At some time, there’s going to be a balloon of individuals, theoretically, ready for equity partner. And given the equity partner promotion ratios, they could be looking at a long-term problem,” said law firm consultant Brad Hildebrandt, chair of Hildebrandt Consulting.