Lawyer Compensation Survey: Firms Take Baby Steps In Raising Rates

, Daily Business Review

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Law Compensation 2013

Helped along by the slow economic recovery, South Florida law firms raised legal billing rates on a gradual upward curve this year.

Although some firms kept rates flat, a Daily Business Review survey of court filings listing lawyers' hourly rates showed many firms whose specializations were in demand bumped up rates by $15 or $25 an hour for certain lawyers. Gone were the across-the-board percentage rate increases of years past.

The survey is a collection of rates charged by about 200 partners, associates and counsel at 31 South Florida law firms. It is not a comprehensive list because most firms do not release their attorneys' rates.

A review of the billing documents showed more lawyers billed hourly this year in the $800s, $700s and $600s, but most firms bill partners at rates in the $400s and $500s.

The highest associate billing rates were found at Greenberg Traurig and Berger Singerman with associates billing as high as $430.

Greenberg has paraprofessionals billing as high as $235.

This year the survey did not find lawyers billing in the $900s. However, it's well known that South Florida lawyers in some high-demand specializations bill hourly rates over $900. Bob Hudson, an international tax lawyer in Miami with Baker & McKenzie, had a billing rate of $925 a year ago. The firm declined comment this year.

South Florida firms have many different ways of passing on increased legal costs to customers. Some say they do annual reviews in January for all lawyers, some let lawyers do their own reviews, and some raise rates for lawyers who are promoted to senior associate or partner.

"We're not increasing it much because we are not in an economy where our clients will accept much. They don't like to see an increase in their legal rates," said Byrd "Biff" Marshall, GrayRobinson's president and managing director. He said the firm reviewed rates as it normally does in August and raised rates for selected lawyers up to 5 percent. Some rates were unchanged.

"That is our 2014 rate increase. Our partners are all over the board. We have partners from $250 to $750. We have a broad variety of rates depending on the client."

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