Biglaw, Billable Hours, Money, Partner Issues

The Biglaw Firms With The Highest Partner Billing Rates

There are only so many ways that we can tell our readers that the Biglaw boom years are over. Slow firm growth in terms of attorney headcount is now praised. Law firm mergers are common occurrences, if only because there’s always someone to save from a fate suffered like that of Dewey and the failed firms of yesteryear — Brobeck, Coudert, Heller, Thelen, and Howrey. Alternative fee arrangements are trending, and discounts are handed out as if clients are enrolled in fast-food loyalty programs (buy one multi-million dollar patent suit, get the next one 75 percent off!).

But just because the heyday is over does not mean that Biglaw’s all-stars are going to charge their clients any less cash. Back in the day, $1,000 per hour billing rates were considered obscene by some. Now, even in a still recovering economy, four-figure billing rates are just business as usual. In fact, some partners are edging closer and closer to a $2,000 per hour fee every day.

So which firms have the highest partner billing rates? Let’s find out…

Before we get to the inaugural members of the Four-Figure Club, here’s the methodology that was used by the National Law Journal (sub. req.) in its 2013 Law Firm Billing Survey (billing rates as of October):

The National Law Journal asked respondents to its annual survey of the nation’s largest law firms (the “NLJ 350”) to provide a range of hourly billing rates for partners and associates. For firms that did not supply data to us, in many cases we were able to supplement billing rate data derived from public records. In total, we have rates for 159 of the nation’s 350 largest firms. Rates data includes averages, highs and low rates for partners and associates. Information also includes the average full-time equivalent (FTE) attorneys at the firm and the city of the firm’s principal or largest office.

Without any further ado, here’s the list of the 10 Biglaw firms with the biggest hourly partner rates. Can you guess which partner commands each fee? We know one of their names, and we’ll share it with you later.

  • Gibson Dunn: $1,800
  • Dickstein Shapiro: $1,250
  • WilmerHale: $1,250
  • Akin Gump: $1,220
  • Kasowitz Benson: $1,195
  • MoFo: $1,195
  • Skadden: $1,150
  • Baker & McKenzie: $1,130
  • Bracewell & Giuliani: $1,125
  • Paul Weiss: $1,120

According to the NLJ, “[n]early 20 percent of the firms included in [its] annual survey of large law firm billing rates this year had at least one partner charging more than $1,000 an hour.” Damn. We suppose this is why people torture themselves in the hope of someday making partner — these legal hotshots aren’t making it rain, they’re making it monsoon. Make of this what you will for the future of Biglaw billing.

So who rakes in $1,800 an hour at Gibson Dunn? None other than former Solicitor General Ted Olson, one of the second-place finishers in our 2013 Lawyer of the Year competition. What a lucky, lucky guy.

As a bonus, we’ve got the details on the New York Biglaw firms with the lowest partner billing rates:

  • Proskauer Rose / Hughes Hubbard: $725
  • Kaye Scholer: $715
  • White & Case: $700
  • Dechert (NY): $670
  • Weil (NY) / Seward & Kissel: $625
  • Kasowitz Benson (NY): $600
  • DLA Piper: $450
  • Jones Day: $445
  • Kelley Drye: $435
  • Greenberg Traurig: $360

Where do you fall in comparison? Feel free to discuss your rate’s prestige or lack thereof in the comments.

NLJ Billing Survey: $1,000 Per Hour Isn’t Rare Anymore [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]
Billing Rates Across the Country [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

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