Law Partners Getting Richer. Associates Not So Much

By Edward Tan, JD on May 04, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

All you lowly associates take note: you are getting poorer. That is, compared to what your firm's partners are getting. A new survey reveals the gap between hourly associate rates and rates for partners is widening. So while partners become richer, those at the bottom aren't.

In 2011, the top 25 percent of law partners charged an average of $873 an hour, according to the survey conducted by analytics firm TyMetrix Inc. Attorneys at the bottom 25 percent earned only $204 an hour. The figures are based on responses from 4,000 law firms.

So what could be causing the gap?

Some analysts believe it's a combination of the bad economy and client relations.

The thinking is that with the economy in the crapper, lawyers on the poor end of the spectrum are being forced to cut their clients' legal bills to keep them happy. With consumers' wallets tightening, big fees for routine legal work like compiling documents and contract work have become harder for clients to swallow.

Top earning law partners on the other hand were able to hold or raise their hourly rates based on their experience.

Of course the irony is that, as most associates know, law firm partners can be idiots.

The one bit of good news is that even though the income gap between associates and partners is growing, both rates still rose -- albeit at much different levels.

While hourly rates for partners increased by 4.9 percent in 2011, rates for lawyers at the bottom rose by a little over one percent. Hey, it's better than nothing, right?

So the lesson here is that if you want to increase your hourly associate rate and get rich, become a partner.

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