Reports finds 1 in 5 of large law firms employ partners with high hourly rate

Billing rates at the country's largest law firms remain high despite pressure from clients in recent years--and in one instance have reached $1,800 per hour, according to a report published recently by ALM's The National Law Journal.

Nearly 20 percent of the firms included in a survey of the NLJ 350--the newspaper's list of the largest 350 law firms in the U.S. by attorney head count--had at least one partner charging more than $1,000 an hour. Foremost among them was Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson, who billed $1,800 per hour while representing mobile satellite service provider LightSquared Inc. in Chapter 11 proceedings.

The special report on law firm billing rates appears in the January 13th issue of The National Law Journal and is also available online now at www.nlj.com.

The median rate among the highest partner billing rates is $775 an hour, while the median low partner rate is $405. The overall average rate for partners is $604 per hour. For associates, the median high stands at $510 and the low at $235. The average associate rate is $370. Rates varied by practice area and location, among other factors.

"To put this into perspective, our research found that firms don't necessarily expect to collect at the rates they charge," said Beth Frerking, editor in chief of The National Law Journal. "Also, corporate clients have increasingly pushed for discounts--which they sometimes get--and the formal rates don't account for those."

The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at the Georgetown University Law Center has reported that law firms settle on average for 83.5 cents on the dollar billed.

Firms with their largest office in New York had the highest average partner and associate billing rates, at $882 and $520, respectively. Washington was the next priciest city, with partners charging an average $748 and associates $430. Partners charge an average $691 in Chicago and associates $427. In Los Angeles, partners charge an average $665 while the average associate rate is $401.

The NLJ asked firms on the NLJ 350 to provide their highest, lowest and average billing rates for both associates and partners. It supplemented those data with information gathered from public records. Altogether, this year's survey includes information for 159 of the country's largest law firms.

Published: Wed, Jan 22, 2014

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