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To improve hourly billing, raise rates for the truly experienced, lower them for other timekeepers

My friend Bob Haig, the indefatigable editor of West’s Successful Partnering between Inside and Outside Counsel, kindly sent me the updated chapter 14 on billing. Written by Brackett Denniston and Alex Dimitrief of General Electric, it summarizes nicely the current state of play on law firm billing.

In Section 2, the authors propose six “relatively modest changes” that “will go a long way toward comforting clients that they are sensibly buying value by the hour.” The second change is to “decompress billing scales.” In essence, they urge “a healthy dose of gradualism at all experience levels without an artificial ceiling on the rates for the very best experienced lawyers.”

On their view of an acceptable higher ladder, with more space between the rate rungs, partners who really know what they are doing may well be worth and bill at more than $1,000 an hour. However, firms should not bunch less qualified partners just below the presumed ceiling rate of their best partners and they should slash new associates’ rates. The wisdom of this recommendation is welcome.