What does "equity" mean?


If you've ever wondered what "equity" means, as distinct from "law," here's a primer I recently posted on SSRN. It's called "A Student's Guide to the Meanings of Equity." Here is the abstract:

Equity remains a significant part of our legal system, but the different meanings of "equity" often cause confusion. This essay distinguishes three meanings of the term: the distinctive treatment of an exceptional case, a moral reading of the law, and the doctrines and remedies developed in the Court of Chancery. By distinguishing these meanings, carefully and without an excess of technicality, this essay illuminates a difficult but important part of law in the United States.

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  1. It is unfortunately riveted into our law by the Seventh Amendment, which forces everyone to look into the workings of the British court system in the years going up to 1791. Stupidity? Madness?

    1. The laws are written by lawless D-words for their selfish rent seeking purposes. Equity is impossible to get because of all the obstacles and defenses available to the above. When you do get it has nearly no value, is very late, after wasting tremendous effort and time.

      It should be replaced by the word, utility. Murderers should not inherit the estates of their victims because it would cause more murders of still alive people.


      1. I know one is not supposed to do this, but combining this post and that on suing dictators below, here is a lawyer question.

        Could the Uyghurs go to a US court to seek equity and put a lien on the $trillion debt of the US to the Chinse Commie Party for their genocidal maniac devastation of their country and of their culture?

  2. Does this have anything to do with the modern use of “equity” as an alternative to “equality”, in current political arguments?

    1. No. This is more 13th Century lawyer nostalgia. I recommend reading the article. It is an excellent and clear review.

      1. I love what the law is going to do this guy. However, is it equitable? Would you pay $65 billion for the marital relationship of this Commie feminist? I might pay $650 if she throws in a good evening of conversation about charity.


  3. I feel like a victim of a bait and switch. I was getting ready to rant about the use of “equity” as a buzzword for “favoring people we like.”

    I think my state formally merged law and equity actions in the 1970s. Except only the Superior Court can hear equity cases. Except except, the District Court can hear equitable defenses if they are a complete bar to recovery. Except except except, magistrates in small claims cases can issue wide-ranging injunctions in consumer protection cases. There are still some procedural relics related to whether the judge or the jury finds facts.

    1. Thank you for your clear review of the difficulties of reaching equity.

  4. Has any other attorney always wanted to have some advertisement that incorporated “attorney at equity” but didn’t because that’s an expensive joke most people wouldn’t get?

  5. Is it true that we almost rejected equity as being too Royal and too much like what we had revolted against?

    1. Jefferson was on record of being suspicious of courts of equity. Many of the founders were also highly concerned with preserving the civil jury trial, which led to the Seventh Amendment. But I’m not aware of a concerted effort to end courts of equity or equitable concepts in the law.

  6. Democrat Tom Allen (1st ME, lost to Collins in 2008 Senate race) was a lawyer in the 1970s and he had matchbooks he distributed in bars in Portland — on the front he described himself as a “Solicitor in Equity” and on the back was the slogan “When you’re busted, he’ll appeal.”

    Memory is that there was a well-endowed topless young lady on the matchbook as well. Portland was a very different community back in the 1970s — it still was a gritty industrial city, complete with an active railroad track down the middle of Commercial street — it didn’t go yuppie until the late 1980s…

  7. “Equity” means “I’m pushing a political agenda that i can’t remotely justify, so I’m going to throw in a BS word to try to scare everyone away from calling me on my bad policy”

  8. Thanks. That was a really informative article and disentangles some of the intertwined meanings of the word.
    For those that didn’t read it, I’ll mention that the buzzword “anti-racist” use of the word isn’t in the article, which focuses on the legal use of the word and its predecessors.
    The buzzword use could be thought of as an adaptation of the second of the three meanings that are discussed in the article.

  9. What about the people who look at their brokerage portfolio when they want to find out about the balances of their equities?

    Which definition covers them?

  10. Negotiating and documenting a range of investment transactions and subsequent divestment transactions would be my job as the equity lawyer in Brisbane (https://hodgsonlawyers.com.au/) but will this not differ for practicing as a lawyer in Australia. The laws cannot be the same in the United states as well or is it the same. I cannot get this clear. Could you please throw some light on this, how will this help?

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