S RECENTLY AS FIVE YEARS AGO, LAW
partners charging $1,000 an hour were
outliers. Today, four-figure hourly rates for
in-demand partners at the most prestigious firms don’t raise eyebrows—and a few top earners are closing in on $2,000 an hour.
These rate increases come despite hand-wringing over price
pressures from clients amid a tough economy. But ever-rising
standard billing rates also obscure the growing practice of discounts, falling collection rates and a slow march toward alternative fee arrangements.
The statistics were compiled by The National Law Journal,
an affiliate of Corporate Counsel, in its annual survey of large
law firm billing rates last year. Nearly 20 percent of the firms
included had at least one partner charging more than $1,000 an
hour. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson had the
highest rate recorded, billing $1,800 per hour while representing
mobile satellite service provider LightSquared Inc. in Chapter
Of course, few law firm partners claim Olson’s star power. His
rate in that case was nearly the twice the $980 per hour average
charged by Gibson Dunn partners and three times the average
$604 hourly rate among partners at NLJ 350 firms. Gibson Dunn
chairman and managing partner Ken Doran says that Olson’s
rate is “substantially” above that of other partners at the firm,
and that the firm’s standard rates are in line with its peers.
“While the majority of Ted Olson’s work is done under
alternative billing arrangements,” Doran adds, “his hourly rate
reflects his stature in the legal community, the high demand for
his services and the unique value that he offers to clients given
his extraordinary experience as a former solicitor general of the
United States who has argued more than 60 cases before the U.S.
Supreme Court and has counseled several presidents.”
The data were compiled by ALM Legal Intelligence, the
research arm of Corporate Counsel’s parent, ALM Media LLC.
THE INDUSTRY IS STILL HURTING, THE JOB MARKET IS STILL SPUTTERING, BUT FEES RISE.
BY KAREN SLOAN