Despite expectations to the contrary, fees for legal services among partners at elite corporate law firms have risen in the face of flagging demand from clients. Recent documents filed in U.S. bankruptcy cases show rates among partners who specialize in such areas of corporate law as tax, litigation, and restructuring. Such court filings reflect a rise of 3% to 4% each year for the last 8 years.
In practice, many top tier firms are charging in excess of $1,000 per hour for their services. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “Proskauer Rose LLP’s hourly partner billing rate has climbed as high as $1,475, while Ropes & Gray LLP’s tops out at $1,450… Kirkland & Ellis LLP’s top hourly billing rate is now $1,445. And rates at two firms—Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP—peak at $1,425 an hour.”
Prices have risen amid slowing demand. To wit, demand in legal services from corporate law firms rose 0.5% last year, as clients retain legal work in-house and firms are constrained by competition from lower cost providers.
However, context is key and fees are not routinely above $1,000. For example, a survey of in-house legal departments by BTI Consulting Group found that the average highest rate paid for law-firm partners, though rising, was $875 an hour in 2015.
The figures cited in the bankruptcy filings do not account for client discounts, which are on the rise.