Billing rates going up

December 2, 2009
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Clients are going to have to pony up a little more cash next year for their lawyers. According to an Altman Weil survey on 2010 billing rates, only about 10 percent of firms surveyed plan to maintain their current billing rates or decrease rates. The average rate increase is projected to be about 3.2 percent.

Many of the firms said they felt pressure from clients to not raise rates, but felt it was necessary because they froze rates in the past few years. Some also said the move toward alternative fee arrangements makes the hourly rate increases “increasingly irrelevant.” A few firms noted the increases they’ll make aren’t nearly as much as they had in previous years.

Some firms will pass along the higher rates only to new clients or in certain practice areas. Associate billing rates will be the mostly likely to see the increase, and a higher rate increase to boot.

“Many firms feel the need to cover their associate costs with rate increases,” said Altman Weil principal Tom Clay. “And because associate rates are lower, increases there may attract less comment from clients than increases at the partner level.”

The AW survey includes comment from respondents regarding why they are or aren’t raising rates. Some interesting ones:

- “Firms need to push back on the clients' unreasonable demands to hold rates at 2008 levels and give a 15% discount off of those rates.”

- “We froze our rates moving from 2008 into 2009. I hear managing partners speaking of freezing rates moving into 2010. We can't sit out two years without changing, so we are going to do so, hoping that client goodwill from last year will cushion us at this year's hike.”

- “We don't even try to raise rates every year. The greedy SOBs that do have antagonized the entire industry to those of us who only seek to raise rates when economically necessary (and PPP isn't economic necessity).”

What’s your firm’s strategy in terms of billing rates for next year? Is increasing rates a better alternative than cutting attorneys for firms looking to find more cash?
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