The (£850) Hour

The recession has forced the legal industry to rewire its clock. Even at the top, firms such as Allen & Overy (A&O) are having a rethink.

Yesterday A&O launched a legal contract service aimed at topping up resource at peak periods of demand. Many others, most recently Wragge & Co and LG, are looking to adapt by hooking up.

But the top firms are steadfastly holding onto to that hourly rate despite demands for change from in-house lawyers. Today, new research shows partner rates at magic circle firms have spiralled 62 per cent since 2005 with work-hungry top guns charging up to £850 per hour. Despite being hit by the worst economic crisis in decades, this marks a new high for the legal market.

Are firms pushing up rates so they can offer discount deals? Kingsmead Square director Chris Bull certainly thinks so. Like a price-pumped bottle of plonk before it goes on sale, Bull reckons firms are just beefing up their rates to make up for that shortfall once a discount is agreed.

Yes, supermarket law really has arrived.

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