Top 25 firms report drop in chargeable hours

Chargeable hours at the top 25 law firms have dropped, despite a continued rise in turnover and profits, a new survey has found.

The report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) reveals that between 2005 and 2006 average chargeable hours for assistants fell by 3 per cent. The biggest drop came for newly qualified solicitors, where chargeable hours fell from 1,324 in 2005 to 1,236 in 2006.

However, lawyers are still working harder than in 2004, when the average chargeable hour rate for all levels of qualification was below 1,300 hours.

The survey also found that the biggest salary increases have been targeted at the three to five-year PQE range, but that this has failed to prevent heavy attrition.

Over 40 per cent of the top 25 firms surveyed said they were experiencing attrition of more than a quarter of their three to five-year PQE solicitors each year, while all firms said they were losing at least 11 per cent of seven-year PQE lawyers.

Meanwhile, more firms increased their partner numbers this year compared with the past two years, although equity partnerships remain tight.

PwC also found that firms are spending more on their IT infrastructure, but that, along with travel and payroll expenses, many firms are considering outsourcing this function.

Alistair Rose, head of PwC’s professional partnership advisory group, warned that the financial growth is not necessarily sustainable, particularly given increasing pressure on staff utilisation and retention rates.

PwC surveyed 57 of the UK’s top 100 law firms, including 21 top 25 firms.