If I were a general counsel, when I look at billing rate increases of my favored incumbent firms (See my post of April 16, 2009: incumbent firms with 11 references.), I would want to see two trends. One trend should be a lower pace of rate changes than in general for my pool of firms (See my post of March 23, 2007: moments in statistics to describe different measures of variance.).
The second pattern I would look for is whether the rate increases by the much-used lawyers at that firm are less than the increases for others in the firm. That implies there is no lock-step rate increase in the firm and I am getting the considered regard my loyalty deserves.
Across the table, if I were the responsible partner at one of those go-to firms, I would argue the opposite effect. If my lawyers have invested time to understand the client and become more skilled regarding its legal issues and more knowledgeable about its business, then since their productivity and effectiveness have probably increased, their rates could increase FASTER than for other clients.