Corporate clients paid for fewer hours and spent less overall during the first nine months of 2013 than they did a year ago. During that period, Am Law Second Hundred firms picked up market share. And, despite the drop in demand, law firms were able to once again increase their billable rates.
Those are the headlines from the latest LegalView Legal Market Index. The Index is based on the purchases of legal services by 70 large corporate clients spread across eight industry groups ranging from financial services to health care to industrials to technology. The LegalView 70 consists of big companies: 21 are in the Fortune 500; another 12 belong to the Fortune 1000. These are clients that hire a lot of firms: In each quarter these companies used 181 to 183 of the Am Law 200 firms and more than 3,000 others. These 70 clients spent $2.46 billion last year on law firm services, with $1.3 billion of that going to the Am Law 200 firms. TyMetrix, the giant electronic billing clearinghouse and data analytics and advisory company, produces the Index.
According to the Index, demand for hours dropped by 5 percent from about 6.1 million in 2012 to 5.8 million in the first nine months this year. Total spending also decreased from $1.886 billion to $1.847 billion, a drop of about 2 percent. The biggest and smallest firms took the biggest hits. Among the Am Law 100—the nation’s top-grossing firms—hours were off by 6.4 percent and fees by 3.5 percent. Among firms outside the Am Law 200, hours were down by 5.7 percent and fees by 2.5 percent. The Am Law Second Hundred firms—those ranked 101-to-200 on gross revenues—showed the only increases. Their fees were up by 6.2 percent and their hours by 3.3 percent.
Despite those gains, the market share of the three firm groups did not shift dramatically. The Am Law 100 accounted for 40.9 percent of the total spending, a decrease of .7 percent. The Am Law Second Hundred increased their share by a full percentage point, taking 11.5 percent of the $1.8 billion clients paid during the first nine months of 2013.
The practice areas with the highest billings during the third quarter came from the Am Law 100 firms. As usual, New York-based corporate practices brought in the largest amounts of revenue. New York finance and securities associates led the pack, logging 14,474 hours for revenues of $9.36 million. Just behind them were New York finance and securities partners, billing 9,591 hours, for revenues of $9.09 million. The median partner rate was $928 per hour; the median associate rate was $645 per hour. Cumulatively partners billed 450 more hours than in 2012 while associates hours were down by 2,329.
The practice described simply as New York corporate had the highest median partner fee–$950 an hour. But it took a big dip in hours during the third quarter. Partner hours were down by nearly 4,000 hours and corporate associates were off by 22,882 hours. During that period associate fees plunged by $11.5 million. (Click here for specific practice area and metropolitan area breakdowns.)
Of the 56 practice groups tabbed by metropolitan area for which clients paid $1 million or more during the third quarter, 28 were in Am Law 100 firms. The Second Hundred firms had only two in that category. The remaining 26, mostly insurance defense and intellectual property work, were divided among firms outside the Am Law 200.
While hours were down, paid rates increased across all the firm groups by about 3 percent. The Index includes data on a variety of timekeepers including partners, associates, and paralegals. The blended rate for Am Law 100 firms increased from $466.49 per hour to $480.29. Second Hundred firm rates increased from $338.37 to $348.39. And for firms outside the Am Law 200, rates went from $233.07 to $240.52.
The LegalView Index is different from other measures of the legal market. It is based on actual dollars paid by clients, not on surveys of law firm billings. Earlier this week Citibank and Wells Fargo reported the results of their third-quarter law firm surveys. The Wells data showed an increase of 2.5 percent in gross revenues through the first nine months of the year based on information gathered from 125 firms. Citi reported a 2.7 percent increase in revenue for the same period based on a survey of 173 firms. Full year reports for 2013 will likely be available beginning in February.