Say what you like, but whether its alternative billing arrangements, flat fees or anything else, the good, old standard bill-by-the-hour model still hasn’t changed in terms of remaining the preferred billing model by America’s big law firms.

Say what you like, but whether its alternative billing arrangements, flat fees or anything else, the good, old standard bill-by-the-hour model still hasn't changed in terms of remaining the preferred billing model by America's big law firms. 5

Value billing. Alternative billing arrangements. Flat fees.

Whatever the remedy to an oft-forecasted falling sky of unsustainability, the standard hourly billing scheme retains its majority stake on the invoices— and in the comfort zones—of corporate counsel, many of whom sharpened their baby teeth in Big Law.

While demand is on the uptick for other means of billing, Daily Report contributor Don Plummer tackles the question of how long the hourly rate will continue to dominate and if it will ever really take a back seat to alternatives. The answer, for now, is eh, maybe.

Certainly hourly rates were alive and well in 2011. And, although the average cost for an hour’s counsel has not increased at the same pace as gasoline and eggs, rates have continued to sneak upward past many indicators, even during the Great Recession of 2009.

In the past six years the Daily Report has collected more than 37,000 rates from 25,000-plus legal professionals in 40 countries and 42 states. This year’s package includes just north of 6,000 rates for 2011. Here’s the takeaway: Nationally, the hourly rate is on the rebound, but Atlanta’s hourly rates are on average flat for now.

Over the course of the past 10 years, Atlanta partners have increased their rates by an average 55 percent and associates by 43 percent.

The 2011 average rate among the 150 Atlanta partners and senior counsel we found was $462, down about 4.5 percent from 2010’s $484, and down 3 percent compared with $476 in 2009.

The average among the 102 Atlanta associates we found this year was $311, compared with $313 last year and $302 in 2009.

Nationally, though, we found an average $661 among partners and senior counsel, compared with $639 in 2010 and equal to the average in 2009. The average nationally among associates was $445, up slightly from $439 in 2010.

The top Atlanta billers we found this year are Alton & Bird bankruptcy partners Grant T. Stein and Dennis J. Connolly, tied at $825. Although Connolly’s rate has increased 8.5 percent from the $760 he charged in 2010, he has a way to go before he’ll hit our previous top biller, a now-retired King & Spalding tax partner who for two years topped the charts at $900. Stein is new to our online database.

Right behind them this year was Jones Day restructuring partner Jeffrey B. Ellman, who charged $800. We found eight Atlantans who charged between $710 and $785.

Regarding our research: Most of the rates were culled from Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings in five U.S. bankruptcy courts: the three Georgia districts, the Southern District of New York and the District of Delaware. We also looked at select cases in other jurisdictions where we thought we might find billing rates for Atlanta lawyers.

The hourly rates in our research are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all attorneys. They are a snapshot of what firms in Atlanta and across the country charged in 2011. Because the U.S. bankruptcy code requires that lawyers attest to their usual and customary hourly billing rates, we view the rates as reliable.

The spelling of names, use of initials, attorney title and home office location were entered in accordance with biographical information available on firm websites, State Bar websites or Martindale-Hubbell’s list of attorneys.

We account for reduced rates wherever identifiable. We recognize that lawyers often have left the firms where they are listed or have since made partner or retired, but we believe it’s important to capture them where they were when the fees were charged.

Because firms adjust their rates at different times throughout the year, the listed hourly rate may have changed. Some of the rates indicated may be blended, although we make every effort to avoid using blended rates. If court papers indicated a range of hourly rates for an attorney, the highest rate available was used.

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