As recently as five years ago, law partners charging $1,000 an hour were outliers. Today, four-figure hourly rates for in-demand partners at the most prestigious firms don’t raise eyebrows — and a few top earners are closing in on $2,000 an hour.

These rate increases come despite hand-wringing over price pressures from clients amid a tough economy. But ever-rising standard billing rates also obscure the growing practice of discounts, falling collection rates, and slow march toward alternative fee arrangements.