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Can an Attorney Be Worth a $1,000 Per Hour?

May 2, 2012

A recent report (2012 Real Rate Report) on the billable rates attorneys are charging their clients revealed, among other things, that 2.91% of all attorneys are charging $1,000 or more per hour for their services.  Is this justifiable?  Yes and no.

In the simplest of terms, an hour of real legal advice, backed by experience, knowledge and skill, can be far more valuable than a hundred hours of poor advice from a lesser skilled attorney.

Some examples where an attorney may be worth $1,000 per hour:

  • I’d gladly pay my tax attorney for his time where his expertise can save me $2,000 dollars for every hour spent on tax planning and implementation.  The classic win-win.
  • I’d gladly pay my employment attorney for his time where his advice in implementing a reduction in force can stave off numerous wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuits.
  • I’d willingly pay any senior partner for good strategic planning, implementation and management of any complex and unavoidable litigation, where each $1,000 hour well-spent could save me hundreds of hours of misspent attorney time billed at lesser amounts.

Examples where you’d better closely scrutinize those massive bills:

  • Your tax savings are barely more than your high-priced attorney and through sheer good fortune you haven’t been audited, yet.  Once that day comes, watch how fast those audit-defense bills add up.
  • You get hit with multiple wrongful termination and discrimination suits anyway (see bullet below)
  • Your $1,000 per hour partner isn’t such a good manager after all, and uses your company’s misfortune to pad his sizable billable hour quota with innumerable “further review of”s, further preparation of’s, conference with’s, etc.”

Bottom line – there are certainly times that $1,000 per hour advice or management can be cost-effective, but I would be paying awfully close attention to Mr. BigWig’s billable hours – or you will be paying an awful lot more than you needed to.  Which begs the question?  There’s gotta be a Ms. BoutiqueWig out there somewhere, who can provide similar advice at the relatively bargain basement price of $750 per hour, right?

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