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What Law Firm Titles Mean: Of Counsel, Non-Equity Partner, Equity Partner Explained

One of the questions that many law students—and even attorneys have—is the pecking order of people working inside of law firms. For example:


  • What does of counsel mean?
  • What is a non-equity partner?
  • What is a partner/shareholder?

These distinctions (and what you have to look forward to if you are ever made one) are discussed below.


This is what awaits all associates if you are not asked to leave or are fired from your law firm after several years of service.

It is important to know what awaits you because it gives you the ability to make decisions about your future. It is also important to understand whether you want to accept one of these positions.

1. What Does Of Counsel Mean: The Types of Attorneys That Are Of Counsel

Of counsel is a role that is traditionally given to attorneys that the partnership of the law firm and others like and want to have around; however, it is reserved for the attorneys who traditionally do not have much business and are also not interested in working extremely hard. This depends on the caliber of firm, however. Someone who is “of counsel” at Skadden Arps would likely be a partner at a firm like Dechert. The quality of the law firm (and competitiveness of the law firm) often determines what types of attorneys are of counsel.

Of counsel is by definition an interesting role. It is not a partner and it is not an associate. The role has a “permanence” about it, unlike an associate. Someone who is “of counsel” in a law firm is generally someone who has been around awhile and will also stay around. In contrast, the shelf life of most associates is quite limited – clients and partners in the firm know that the associate is likely to be gone at any time.

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What Law Firm Titles Mean: Of Counsel, Non-Equity Partner, Equity Partner Explained


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