Rate-setting has proven a bit vexing for law firm leaders this year as they grapple with setting rates in a time where firms span multiple markets and practice area. Clients are increasingly unwilling to pay the published rates, and alternative fee deals are a growing part of firm revenue.

As a result, firms are moving away from a uniformly applied rate structure to a specialized approach that may result in stark differences in rates charged across offices, practices and attorney level.

The rate-setting is becoming much more complicated,” Ballard Spahr chairman Mark Stewart said. “And I think it’s losing its appeal as a budgeting tool because there are so many of these things going on, including clients saying, ‘I don’t care what you tell me your rate is.’ ”

The end result is associates of the same class year, working in the same office, charging significantly different rates, Mr. Stewart said. All of this is putting pressure on associate compensation models, he said.

“Any type of lockstep system is under assault,” he said, adding he didn’t think that was a bad thing.


Mark Stewart