Nat Slavin, co-founder of the Wicker Park Group, wrote extensively on his blog about the Wall Street Journal article (Feb. 23rd, page 1) on $1,000 an hour law firm partners. The article evidently disparaged such high priced legal talent, charging them with “taking advantage of companies.” Nat correctly pointed out that no one forces law departments to pay high rates; they do so because the very tiny number of partners who can bill at that level have earned that demand and respect. His full post is here.
When Nat sent me the link to his post, I wrote back with two observations and have one more. First, thousand-dollar partners are surrounded by a school of minor fish, but they charge time also. That is, you can’t get Chris Expert without a few associates and paralegals thrown in, because leverage means profit for Chris’s firm. To get undivided attention from a star, and only billings from him or her, is indeed a bargain.
Second, those stellar lawyers tend to be so much in demand that they rein in their own time, or at least I think they do. Like the adage, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person,” partners with more work than time to do it tend to be more efficient. Others, I suspect, spend 15 minutes on the phone but put down 30 “because they know they are premium players.”
Lastly, one more point. It rarely represents the legal industry well or fairly to single out extraordinary costs, wrongs, tactics or whatever. If .0002% of partners charge more than $1,000 an hour, and most are from megafirms in high-cost cities, does that give a representative picture about today’s buyer-seller scene for lawyers?