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Ambiguity in survey on average hourly rates of “most used firm”

Sharp Legal Brands – Global Elite (2009) from Acritas at 1 contains a scatterplot that shows the “average hourly rate for partner at Most Used Firm.” The median of those rates is around $510 an hour. That figure may be informative as far as it goes but it seems quite likely to me that the most used firm is the one paid the most during a year and that firm is likely to be representing the company in significant litigation. In major litigation, while cost does factor in, companies are less sensitive to the billing practices of firms who defend them from enormous liabilities. Or the highest-paid firm might have billed heavily for its work on a major acquisition, which again pays less attention to the size of legal fees.

If the “Most Used Firm” were the firm that is most commonly turned to, however, the results might be more representative of partner rates at firms generally paid. The most commonly used firm, as compared to the firm paid the most money would have a lower average hourly rate for its partners. Were this ambiguity resolved, it would make quite a bit of difference in how we interpret the median hourly rate.