Hourly billing rates for associates nationwide have risen in the past year at an average of 7.5 percent over 2011, compared to partner rates that rose an average 3.4 percent and counsel at 3.6 percent, according to the Valeo Halftime Report from Valeo Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm that searches public documents to find hourly rates and fees.

Rate changes among New York firms were about the same: average associate rates rose 8 percent to $551 from $512; average partner rates rose 3 percent to $893; and average counsel rates rose 4 percent to $725, according to the report. Valeo said the boost in associate hourly rates is the highest in recent years. Its data shows New York associate rates increased by an average of 5.32 percent in 2011 and 1.45 percent in 2010. Many law firms deferred associate rate increases in 2008, said Chuck Chandler, head of Valeo’s legal consulting practice. “This is pretty much catch-up for the law firms as well as a retention strategy,” he said. He noted that the boost in associate billing rates applied across all classes and levels of experience.

Valeo said it calculated figures using rates from about 550 law firms, comparing average 2011 rates with 2012 rates for the same lawyers. The consulting firm says it uses about 30 data sources that are public documents.