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It’s a good time to be a lawyer. Billing rates for law firm attorneys jumped last year, with partners and associates raking in more dollars per hour than ever before. And at least one partner now charges $1,000, the first four-figure hourly rate reported to The National Law Journal. This year, 116 law firms responded to questions about billing rates included as part of the NLJ’s 2005 survey of the nation’s 250 largest law firms. (The survey is sent to about 300 firms, therefore some firms included in this survey are not among the NLJ 250.) Of those 116 responding firms, 102 also supplied answers to those questions in the 2004 survey. The 2005 results indicate that most firms raised their rates for both partners and associates at both the high and low ends of their ranges. Seventy-nine of the 102 firms that responded in both 2004 and 2005 raised their highest rates for partner this year, while 10 reduced theirs and 13 kept them the same. Seventy-six firms raised their lowest rates for partners, while 10 decreased them and 16 kept them the same. As for associates, 82 firms raised their highest rates, 15 decreased them and five maintained them. Seventy-four raised their lowest rates, eight decreased them and 20 kept them the same. At Venable, the partner high is up to $1,000. Just as remarkable, Dorsey & Whitney reported an associate high of $835-more than most partners make. “You have to look behind that [rate] to what those people do,” said Ward Bower, a principal at the legal consulting firm Altman Weil in Philadelphia. “It might be that there’s something unique that there’s a high demand for.” The partner charging up to $1,000 an hour at Venable is Benjamin Civiletti, the firm chairman and a 70-year-old partner in the firm’s Baltimore office who was the U.S. attorney general under President Jimmy Carter. He specializes in internal investigations and corporate defense. “That’s a rate that he charges for the most extraordinary work,” explained James Shea, the managing partner of Washington-based Venable, of the $1,000 rate. Shea said it was doubtful that Civiletti is the only partner at a major U.S. firm who charges $1,000. Civiletti raised his highest hourly rate from $810 in 2004 to $1,000 this year. Shea said the firm raises its rates based on the development of certain practice areas, and a demand for certain types of work. “None of that surprises or shocks me,” Bower said of the $1,000 rate. “How many Ben Civilettis are there in the country? With his expertise and his contacts, his Rolodex alone must be one of the most impressive in the country. “Big-ticket litigation, hostile takeovers, internal investigation, the top people in those areas are billing at the highest rates,” he continued. “Those are bet-the-company types of work. [Companies] want the best, and they’re willing to pay for the best. “If you look at a multinational corporation, they’re used to paying that much at London law firms,” Bower said. “They’re charging six, seven hundred pounds, and when you convert the pound, those lawyers are charging over $1,000.” He added, “It’s interesting to note that with all the talk of resistance to increase, the numbers still continue to go up.” Bower also pointed out that many large firms offer discounted rates, so the highs may be misleading because few clients are actually billed that high.
The Numbers

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