$1,000 per hour club

The Wall Street Journal does it again, in today’s edition. Their headline talks about the few (less than 2.9%) lawyers in this country who can command $1,000 or more in hourly rates.

Their headline ignores some of the very important considerations client think about when deciding who to represent them and how much to pay:

  • The lawyers who receive the big bucks are thought to be folks who can get them out of very expensive matters more quickly than others could, thus saving them thousand and millions of dollars in litigation expenses or other business expenses … or close deals faster that would enable the client to start making a lot of money sooner.
  • The attorney might have a unique set of skills needed by the client at that moment.
  • Lawyers who command high prices tend to be in limited practice areas such as bankruptcy, taxes and M & A, where the stakes are extremely high … and the cost of the lawyer is really only a blip on the screen for the client.
  • The cost per hour is irrelevant to the total cost of the legal services delivered.
  • Fees to lawyers are more frequently now based on value to the client. The lawyers compensation becomes his/her equitable contribution to the benefit delivered to the client, making the "cost" per hour irrelebant.
  • U.K. based lawyers, according to WSJ, charge more.

The writer also ignores the thousands of lawyers, more than 50% of the profession who earn less than $100,000 per year at hourly rates as low as $50 per hour, sometimes lower. Is there a cognitive dissonance here? I think so. One’s reality, the high-flyers, is not the reality of all. And the WSJ should recognize that instead of flaming the flames of hatred against lawyers by throwing around large numbers of an infinitesimal group of people — they are not representative of the profession. And, oh by the way, where is the companion piece that talks about how much money the CEO, CFO, et al of these very same companies that are hiring these lawyers? Let’s look at a balance and fair perspective.


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