Record numbers charge $600 per hour; downturn fails to stem New Year rises
US law firms are billing more than ever before. The National Law Journal's survey of the nation's 250 largest law firms has concluded that, regardless of an economic slowdown, firms are still putting their prices up. This year the 600 Club - a collection of firms with a top billing rate of $600 (£422) or more per hour - ushered in 14 new members. These firms run the gamut of US locations, although key US markets in New York, Washington DC and the West Coast make up the majority. They are: Bracewell & Patterson in Houston; Boston's Brown Rudnick Freed & Gesmer; Palo Alto-based Cooley Godward, Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich and Greenberg Traurig; New York's Hughes Hubbard & Reed; Dow Lohnes & Albertson and Patton Boggs in DC; Miami-based Steel Hector & Davis; Venable in Baltimore; Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Los Angeles; Strasburger & Price in Dallas; Columbia-based Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough; and San Francisco's Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe. Of these , Nelson Mullins' highest hourly billing rate leapt to $750 (£528). Managing partner David Dukes said the firm boasted one corporate partner who can command that figure. Joe Altonji, a director in the Chicago office of management consultants Hildebrandt International, told the journal: "Most law firms raise their rates on 1 January, so the storm clouds of recession were still gathering. The storm had not yet broken." Altonji also observed that the rises in rates for 2001 would have needed to account for the massive salary increases of the previous year. The collated data does, however, suggest that overall increases were lower than those witnessed last year. Commenting on whether clients will continue to accept higher fees, Altonji said: "There is significant push-back from clients of the more commodity-type practices, such as lower-level litigation." He predicted that hourly rates for next year would rise, but not substantially. 'Modest' was the word most favoured by partners quizzed at both Venable and Nelson Mullins.