Big business pays more for less legal advice

By Jonathan Ames

16 January 2013 at 10:53 BST

In-house legal teams at top US corporations are instructing law firms less, but paying more, according to comprehensive research released at the end of last year.

It doesn't buy the hours it used to

Fees billed to Fortune 500 companies in the first half of last year rocketed by nearly 15 per cent over 2010’s equivalent period, despite an almost negligible increase in hours worked of slightly more than 1 per cent.

Working patterns

The figures come from an in-depth analysis of corporate law firm working patterns and billing rates conducted by legal sector data analysts TyMetrix on behalf of the AmLaw Daily web site.
According to the research, fees increased roughly at the same percentage rate for both partners and associates. And to an extent, the data flies in the face of conventional wisdom arguing that the global financial crisis and its aftermath have put the thumbscrews on private practice billing rates.

Rate increases

Commenting on the survey – which included eight Fortune 100, eight Fortune 101-500 and 21 other companies – Aric Press, American Law Media’s editor in chief, said the results indicated three strong trends. ‘First, firms are getting rate increases from at least some of their clients. Second, despite the consternation over junior associates, customers are continuing to pay at least some of their bills. And third ... customers are buying more high-priced talent.’
Regarding that last point, the survey showed that top-tier lawyers were in more demand than ever, with in-house lawyers increasingly prepared to pay for those partners billing at $800 an hour. That bracket of hourly rates accounted for 14.3 per cent of hours purchased from the US’s top 200 firms and nearly 24 per cent of their fees. That compares with figures of 12.2 per cent and 22.3 per cent respectively for 2010.

Profitable practice areas

The report goes on to highlight the most profitable practice areas as: corporate and general business; finance, securities, banking and investments, litigation, and regulation and government. Litigation and finance ahead of the other two fields,
Six US cities dominate in terms of where the vast majority of the big corporate billers ply their professions – in alphabetical order they are: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington DC.


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