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The American Lawyer released a recent report, conducted by LexisNexis’ legal pricing data service, CounselLink, which revealed that large law firms continue to dominate high-rate work and firm discounting is on the rise as clients reexamine their relationships during the pandemic in 2020. Now in its seventh year, CounselLink’s Trends Report is based on data derived from $35 billion in legal spending comprised of almost seven million invoices and more than 1.7 million matters. According to the report, the country’s largest 50 law firms, which each have more than 750 attorneys, earned 62% of invoice amounts billed last year in three combined categories: mergers and acquisitions; corporate, general and tax; and finance, loans and investments.

Additionally, the report found that partner billing rates for lawyers at the largest 50 firms, which have more than 750 lawyers, are 51% higher than those of partners in firms with 501-750 lawyers. And partner billing rates in firms with 201-500 lawyers are 29% higher than those for partners in firms with 101-200 lawyers. “I don’t think people realize how strong the correlation is between the size of the firm and the rates,” notes Kris Satkunas, Director of Strategic Consulting for CounselLink and author of the Trends Report. “Firms slightly smaller than the “largest firms” category, ones with head counts of 501-750 lawyers, have an opportunity, she added, as clients look for high-quality legal work at a lower cost.”

Five major cities showed rate growth of 4% or more over the last year, and over the last 3 years, the report notes. The biggest growth spurts in attorney rates for the last year were in New York City (6.9%), Boston (5.9%), San Francisco (5.7%), Washington, D.C. (5.2%) and Chicago (4.7%). Each of the five cities saw attorney rates grow at or above 4% in both annual rate growth and compound annual growth rate over the last three years. On the opposite side of the spectrum, three cities saw hourly growth rate below 3% in both metrics: Miami, Minneapolis, and Phoenix.

As clients reexamine relationships with their law firms this year during a recession, Satkunas said the industry may see more discounted bills. And the CounselLink data is bearing that out. The report found a trend of increased discounting in the past few months of 2020, with more than 16% of bills discounted in May, a threshold normally crossed only at the end of the year. However, Satkunas added she was hopeful that more firms will work with clients to adopt alternative fee arrangements, which have grown in popularity in recent years. In 2019, 12.1% of matters were billed with an alternative fee arrangement, up from 9.2% two years ago, and she said there is now an opportunity for firms and clients to be more creative, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See more highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

Law firms have a lot of room to increase leverage, despite clients pushing back against the use of more junior lawyers, reports ALM Intelligence Analyst, Nicholas Bruch from The American Lawyer. Bruch notes that real-world pyramid structures will never be perfect, nor will work cascade down them smoothly. However, he adds it’s hard to escape the inference that there is a lot more room for increased delegation and leverage. In addition, there are many forces that align against increasing leverage, however, they can be overcome.

Nicholas Bruch notes that a starting point is that partners be clear on what increasing leverage requires. “It is not achieved, as some partners initially think, by adding associate hours on their matters, something they know to be difficult given the pushback they get from clients on ‘overstaffing.’ Rather it is about replacing partner hours with associate hours, keeping total hours close to constant, and bringing down total billings,” Bruch adds.

According to Bruch, it helps to also track and report out on leverage as closely as firms track partner hours; to get profitability measurement right (i.e. not just realization, but the combined effect of realization and leverage); and to have structured discussions about increasing leverage among partners (so all can see leverage can be increased without departing from the group identity as great lawyers). Curiously, raising partner billing rates also plays a role: some partners like to keep their rates low as they know not all they do is true partner work; raising partner rates leans against this, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Nicholas Bruch concludes that that the overarching message is that firms need to grow PPP to be competitive in the market for partner talent; increased leverage is a proven driver of PPP growth; today’s leverage levels are about half of what they could be; and firms have proven they can raise leverage despite the forces that align against doing so. The implication: leverage increases have a lot further to go.

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released a recent report, conducted by LexisNexis’ legal pricing data service, CounselLink, which revealed the gap between partner hourly rates for firms with 750+ lawyers and firms with 501-750 lawyers continues to grow. According to the report, the gap between the two groups widened by 11 percent over 2016, with the bigger firms now demanding a whopping 45 percent higher rate on average than their less gigantic counterparts.

The report also revealed rate increases were higher and more widespread than in previous years. The report showed that Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston all rivaled New York for partner billing rate increases. The Big Apple firms still led the pack, with a 5.7 percent growth rate. But firms in those other cities experienced greater than 4 percent annual growth in their rates. Nationwide, partner rates increased an average of 3 percent, with Minnesota, Georgia, Oregon and California seeing the highest increases on a statewide basis, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer reports on several key trends from this year and what we can expect for the legal industry in 2018. According to the article, key trends that we can expect to continue into 2018 include increases in law firm mergers, lateral moves within groups, and enhancements in legal technology innovation and the business operations of firms.

2017 is set to be a record year for U.S. mergers. So far this year, there have been 85 mergers and acquisitions involving U.S. law firms in 2017, according to Altman Weil data—just six shy of the all-time record, set in 2015. But while several large-scale tie-ups hit the headlines, the overwhelming majority of deals in 2017 were extremely small: Over 90 percent involved at least one firm of under 100 lawyers, while more than two-thirds were acquisitions of firms with 10 lawyers or fewer (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Last year also saw a large number of lateral moves that involved practice groups within targeted geographic markets. “I think there’s more and more pressure to grow breadth and depth, and laterals and groups are a big part of that for many or most firms,” notes Kent Zimmermann, a consultant at The Zeughauser Group.

In 2017, law firms continued adopting legal project management techniques to get a better grip on what matters actually cost. Am Law’s article reports more firms will adopt better pricing tools; legal operations staff will gain power inside legal departments; and the traditional competition for Big Law work will be upended. That won’t happen everywhere all at once next year. But better technology will make the change begin to gather speed. “The entire industry is stuck on the billable hour because it doesn’t understand its unit costs,” says Keith Lipman, President of the legal tech company Prosperoware. “If we get to the point of managing unit cost, law firms can actually get away from the billable hour. So, the faster you collect data to understand that is critical” (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Please contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The announcement of the $2,000 per hour lawyer and the first-year associate starting salaries rising to $180,000 has stirred up a largely negative reaction from Biglaw clients, Above the Law reported. After the first-year salary news release, Bank of America’s global general counsel made their opinions very clear in an email that’s become public, “we are aware of no market-driven basis for such an increase and do not expect to bear the costs of the firms’ decisions” (Above the Law). According to BTI Consulting Group, the $2,000/hour billable rate structure reflects a shocking 25% increase from 2014’s highest rates, as reported in The American Lawyer.

According to Above the Law, the increase of compensation and rates at large law firms will likely open a door for “value” firms, making them more attractive to legal departments at corporations. The technology and tools available today make it possible for smaller firms to have access to the resources that Biglaw can provide to its corporate clients. Social media outlets and digital publishing software play a large role in making it easier for smaller firms or lawyers to make themselves more reputable to a larger audience. The release of these two pieces of news has created an optimal time for small and medium firms to take advantage of impressing corporate counsel (Above the Law).

For more information, contact Bill Sugarman.

The American Lawyer just released the results of the most recent Am Law 100, their annual financial report of the top 100 U.S. law firms.  Overall, the data revealed only slight increases for the firms overall, with the average profits per partner increasing 4 percent since 2014 and the total net income up by 3.3 percent.  Latham & Watkins claimed the number one slot for gross revenue for the second year in the row, with an impressive $2.65 billion over the last-place contender’s $332 million (Kramer Levin).  The ever-growing Polsinelli tied with Locke Lord for the biggest change in their Am Law 100 rankings, each increasing by twelve spots from the previous year.  And predictably, major big law firms Latham, Greenberg Traurig, Mayer Brown, and Reed Smith worked their attorneys to the bone to claim the most billable hours in 2015, with DLA Piper leading the pack at over 5.5 million hours–an astonishing 2 million-plus hours over the second-place Latham.

See more of the highlights from the 2016 Am Law 100 on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

In-house attorneys have always extolled the abolishment of the billable hour as a major plus over traditional firm life.  But now, The American Lawyer reports that the time sheet “seems to be gaining popularity with in-house lawyers,” many who have begun using the it as a way to prove their worth to their employers.

Stephen Kaplan, general counsel and executive vice president of XOS Digital, is a strong proponent of the time sheet, having started tracking his own hours over a decade ago.  Kaplan notes that “the legal department is one of the only departments in companies that, without tracking hours, has difficulty coming up with the metrics that prove the company’s return on investment is worthwhile”–metrics that, since the recession, have become “increasingly important in the eyes of chief financial officers,” (as quoted in The American Lawyer).  Kaplan further points out that the job of every CFO today is to “ask the hard question of every single member of every single company: Why are you here?”

Although in-house attorneys, as non-income generators for the company, may have the most to gain from using time sheets to prove their value, some companies are now requiring all departments to report billable hours for clients.  Adam Rubin, general counsel for PrizeLogic, says that tracking hours is standard at his company, and observes that “this is a trend, not just for lawyers, but for all employees,” (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Of course, many attorneys still feel that tracking billable hours is a unnecessary and time-consuming burden.  Rubin argues that basing the worth of an in-house lawyer solely on the hours worked means that “you’re missing out on a more important analysis of the employee,” (The American Lawyer).

Kaplan concedes that tracking time may not be necessary if “you are naturally very organized or if you work in a department where your value has never been called into question,” but concludes, “How many of us are in an environment that checks both of those boxes?”