When major Bay Area law firms announced their profits per partner for The Recorder’s annual survey this January, one dropped a bombshell.

Pillsbury Madison & Sutro — a firm that has languished near the bottom of the region’s top 10 in profitability — reported a handsome $ 505,000 in average profits, up $ 155,000 from the number reported a year previously. What’s more, this figure was delivered with a twist. The firm reported only 94 equity partners — down from 170 — while the number designated non-equity ballooned from 62 to 131. The dramatic changes raised questions about whether Pillsbury’s profits were really as high as the firm had claimed, and if so, who constituted this vast new class of non-equity partners.

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