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At the center of two closely-watched lawsuits accusing Proskauer Rose and Chadbourne & Parke of discriminating against woman lawyers is a question that goes to the nature of Big Law partnerships today. Given the business realities of large law firms, should partners be treated as employees, even if they hold an ownership stake in their firms?

The suits, both seeking millions of dollars in damages, generally allege that the law firms unfairly paid women partners less than their male counterparts. And in both cases, the firms have argued that the claims are improper because the lead plaintiffs—former Chadbourne partner Kerrie Campbell and an unnamed Jane Doe plaintiff in the Proskauer suit—fell within the equity partnership ranks at the time of the alleged discrimination. (Following its recent combination with Chadbourne, Norton Rose Fulbright is also named a defendant in Campbell’s suit.)

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