Top 10 highest-priced law firms: Does more expensive always mean better?

With some lawyers charging close to $2,000 an hour are they always worth the money, sometimes worth the money or can the exorbitant expense overshadow the potential benefit?

For the average Joe who is searching for an attorney the cost of representation, depending on the type of case, can seem daunting and quite possibly out of reach without a serious and debilitating financial stretch.

Hourly rates will vary by discipline and location with certain types of cases and attorney’s requiring a retainer be paid upfront while others are paid on a contingency basis. This is where the attorney only makes money if he wins a monetary recovery for the client.

That said are the hourly rates being charged by some of the top law firms always going to be worth paying if you can afford it, or at times could they be overkill based on a clients needs in a specific case? The answer of course is yes and yes!

In some instances, such as a serious criminal case or a complex corporate negotiation, it may be smart to hire a well-connected attorney with long experience and a solid reputation who will hopefully get the best result justifying the high cost (i.e. O.J. Simpson). But at the same time an attorney in a small or solo practice may have the same experience, reputation and contacts as his BigLaw counterparts while charging much lower hourly fees.

How to proceed is a difficult question to answer particularly when all law firm clients are naturally looking for the best result. It needs to be remembered, however, that the highest cost does not always mean you’re getting the undeniable best, but could mean that one firm has higher overhead than another and therefore needs to charge higher rates.

Let’s compare two firms, one in New York City and one on Long Island as an example. A large white-shoe law firm in Manhattan with hundreds of partners and associates may have three floors in an ‘A’ building, handle every segment of the law and have huge monthly expenses while servicing a blue-chip clientele on retainer.

The hourly rates they charge need to be commensurate with, and in some way compensate them for, all of that overhead in addition to the pay scale for the partners and support staff.

By comparison an attorney on Long Island in private practice or at a small law firm may also have many years of great experience, specialize in only one or two disciplines and doesn’t handle a Fortune 500 clientele.

The Long Island office will likely be operating with much lower overhead than its BigLaw NYC counterpart and therefore may bill at an hourly rate possibly 1/4 that of the NYC firm while providing equal, if not better and more robust, representation.

Additionally, with the smaller practice the client may likely be dealing more directly with the attorney they chose to hire as opposed to support staff.

The bottom-line?

More expensive is not always better, location is not always the ultimate determinant of the quality of work product and that a referral from a trusted advisor is often more valuable than a reputation that could possibly be more smoke and mirrors than reality.

And as always, to use a phrase that has been used here many times in the past, caveat emptor or ‘let the buyer beware!’

All of that said, these are the Top 10 law firms by highest partner billing rate from National Law Journal!

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