On Billing Rates – “If You Can Get It ($1,000 an Hour), Get It”

Despite the majority of disgruntled clients who have sought in a myriad of ways to streamline legal costs—including insisting on flat fees, in some cases–there are apparently still a few clients around who will pay over $1,000 an hour.  

A recent Wall Street Journal blog ticked off all the downsides of the economy: unemployment at 9%, recent grads with “newly minted JD’s” are working, but not at the sort of work they had bargained for, and states are working hard to trim their budgets.  The blog then launched into a report by a WSJ colleague who had uncovered a circle of moneymakers who, as we speak, are able to charge—and get–around $1,250, and more, per hour for their lawyerly services.   (This is significantly more than in years gone by, so this group isn’t feeling the ill-effects of the recession.)  

How is this possible?  Apparently some clients are willing to pay “top dollar for some services”.   

At the peak of our economic boom in 2007, there were a few lawyers who raised their hourly bills to over $1,000 and were seen as billing pioneers.  After the recession hit, we read, many of the “elite” were hesitant to charge more than $990 per hour. Until now.  

Yes, at most firms, capped fee deals still exist, but companies are showing they “won’t skimp” on legal advice when stakes are high.  And, yes, this applies even (or especially) now when times are tough.  Such is the case if clients feel that a superstar attorney can help them out of a jam or will “resolve their problem faster and more efficiently than a lesser talent.”  

Weil Gotshal & Manges bankruptcy attorney Harvey Miller said his firm used to have “an artificial constraint” which limited his and other top partners’ hourly fees because “$1,000 is a lot of money.”  This constraint, however, was lifted once the firm looked into filings where colleagues had billed at least $50 more.  As a result, today, Miller and a few other Weil Gotshal partners charge $1,045 an hour.  “The underlying principle,” he says, “is if you can get it, get it.”  

Apparently there isn’t such smooth sailing for associates, however. “Plenty of clients say to me, ‘I don’t have any problems with your rates’, ” says a Washington-based tax lawyer at Bingham McCutchen. Last year, this lawyer brought in $1,065 an hour–and has now upped that to $1,095. “But there is price pressure for associates, especially junior lawyers.” 

Can rates possibly get any higher?  Already prognosticators are talking about the industry hitting the $2,000 mark in “seven to eight years.” Stay tuned!   Read more at: http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2011/02/23/on-billing-over-1000-an-hour-if-you-can-get-it-get-it/

-EM

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