Billing rates see small increase

December 8, 2010
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The National Law Journal’s 2010 Law Firm Billing Survey is out and it shows that firms are still increasing their billing rates, but not as much as in years past.

The average firm-wide billing rate went up by 2.7 percent this year, the second year in a row that rate increases grew by less than three percent. Firms used to increase their billing rates as much as eight percent when the economy was better in the mid-2000s.

Of those firms responding to the survey, 75 percent increased their rates this year; eight percent left their rates the same; and 17 percent lowered their average billing rates.

The survey was sent to the 250 largest law firms in the nation. Three Indianapolis-based firms made the NLJ’s 250 largest law firms list – Baker & Daniels at 152, Barnes & Thornburg at 85, and Ice Miller at 181 – but only Barnes & Thornburg listed its rates.

Barnes reports it has 494 attorneys in its 11 offices around the country with the average firm-wide hourly billing rate of $367; its median rate is $375.

The three firms did provide some information on how they bill rates. They all report they have discounted and blended variations on the billable hour. As alternative billing methods, Baker & Daniels cites hybrid, retrospective, fixed or flat, and contingent; Barnes and Ice both list hybrid, fixed or flat, and contingent.

Cincinnati-based law firms Frost Brown Todd, which merged with Locke Reynolds in early 2009; and Taft Stettinius & Hollister, which merged with Sommer Barnard in May 2008, also participated in the survey. Frost Brown Todd lists 404 attorneys and an average firm-wide billing rate of $279. Its median rate is $280. It reports that 76 percent of its revenue is generated through variations on the billable hour, which are discounted, blended, or “other.” The firm doesn’t have alternatives to the billable hour.

Taft reports 286 attorneys and its average and median firm-wide billing rates to both be $315. It says 40 percent of its revenue is through discounts on the billable hour. Taft reports 20 percent of the firm’s revenue is obtained through alternative billing methods: hybrid, fixed or flat, and contingent.

Frost is ranked 111 on the NLJ’s 250 largest law firms list; Taft is on the list at 149.


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