Although individuals in both categories are described as partners, equity partners and salaried partners have little in common other than joint and several liability. In many legal systems, salaried partners are not technically "partners" at all in the eyes of the law. However, if their firm holds them out as partners, they are nonetheless subject to joint and several liability.
In their most basic form, equity partners enjoy a fixed share of the partnership (usually, but not always an equal share with the other partners) and, upon distribution of profits, receive a portion of the partnership's profits proportionate to that share. In more sophisticated partnerships, different models exist for determining either ownership interest, profit distribution, or both. Two common alternate approaches to distribution of profit are "lockstep" and "source of origination" compensation (sometimes referred to, more graphically, as "eat what you kill").
Source of origination compensation is rarely seen outside of law firms. The principle is simply that each partner receives a share of the partnership profits up to a certain amount, with any additional profits being distributed to the partner who was responsible for the "origination" of the work that generated the profits.
British law firms tend to use the lockstep principle, whereas American firms are more accustomed to source of origination. When British firm Clifford Chance merged with American firm Rogers & Wells, many of the difficulties associated with that merger were blamed on the difficulties of merging a lockstep culture with a source of origination culture.
At common law, members of a business partnership are personally liable for the debts and obligations of the partnership. Forms of partnership have evolved that may limit a partner's liability.