If you see lawyers with their arms in slings, it's probably from too much patting themselves on their backs. According to a recent survey in the National Law Journal (subscription required), law firms raised their rates in 2011 by "only" 4.4 percent. The story now is that this is the third year of "modest" increases.From the National Law Journal:
For the third year in a row, law firms showed restraint with hourly rate increases, inching up at a rate only slightly higher than inflation in many cases. The average firmwide billing rate, which combines partner and associate rates, increased by 4.4 percent during 2011, according to The National Law Journal's annual Billing survey. That followed on the heels of a 2.7 percent increase in 2010 and a 2.5 percent increase in 2009 — all of which paled in comparison to the go-go, prerecession days when firms could charge between 6 and 8 percent more each year.
But if you get out the trusty slide rule, you'll see that rates have gone up fully 10 percent since the start of 2009. That's 10 percent during a massive recession. How many clients out there feel like their legal services are worth 10 percent more than they were three years ago?
Many firms had record revenues this year, all the while paying lip service to clients' "being in the driver's seat now." Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Just because firms aren't raising rates by 8 percent doesn't mean that clients are now thrilled.