A recent article on American Lawyer’s annual survey of billing rates for partners and associates at top firms provides an interesting framework and commentary on the legal market as it continues to recover. It was released this December and looks back at 2012 as compared to 2011. Among the sampling of 55 firms among the NLJ 350, some of the findings included:

  • A firmwide median hourly rate of $425 in 2012, barely above 2011’s median of $420.
  • Partner hourly rates ranged from $347-$769 (median of $502) in 2012, very similar to the range of $342-$745 (median of $501) for 2011.
  • Associate hourly rates ranged from $216-$447 (median of $317) in 2012, nearly the same as the range of $216-$443 (median of $319) for 2011.

On the surface, these findings indicate the relative stagnation of rates which seems to refute an earlier survey released by D.C. based consulting firm Valeo Partners. Earlier this year in a study of 550 firms, Valeo indicated that billing rates for Associates rose in 2012 by as much as 8%, while Partners and Counsels increased by a more usual 3 and 4%, respectively.

Upon closer analysis, however, we can see the differences are not quite as broad as they appear. For firms that completed American Lawyer’s survey in both 2011 and 2012, firmwide rates increased from $410 to $432 (a 5.5% increase). Partner billing rates increased from $495 to $517 (a 4.4% increase), and Associate billing rates increased from $313 to $323 (3.2% increase). While the change in Associate rates is still not as high as indicated by Valeo, overall both confirm an upward trend across the board.

Another interesting note is the highest and lowest rates that were reported in the survey. The highest listed rate was $1,285 per hour, charged by a single real estate investment trust partner in Locke Lord’s Dallas office. The lowest rate was $130 per hour for associates at Cincinnati-based Dinsmore & Shohl.