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Attorney Hourly Rates: How to Calculate Your Hourly Rates 

updated
December 16, 2022
10 min
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If you are a novice lawyer or an experienced one who has not taken on new cases for several years, then you will 100% have problems with estimating the cost of your services. With this gap in knowledge, you may be overestimating the cost of your services, thereby scaring away potential customers with your high prices and retainer fees. However, the other option is no better -because of the same lack of knowledge - you may be underestimating the hourly pay so much that crowds of customers will rush to you, you cannot serve everyone, and you're undercharging for your hard work.

Lawyers need to know how to set their fees in order to stay afloat and make a profit. This can be hard to do, especially in market conditions. Determining the hourly rate for an attorney can be tricky, which is why we'll explain how to justify your rate by looking at your goals. In addition, we will also look at various factors to consider when setting growth goals for your law firm.

What you'll see in this article:

  • Average attorney hourly rate: 2023 statistics
  • Which is better: flat fee vs. hourly rate for attorney
  • How to calculate my lawyer's hourly rates?
  • Determining the annual value of your business
  • Calculation of the number of billable hours
  • Dividing the value of your business by the number of hours billed
  • Comparing Your Attorney's Hourly Rate to Attorney's Market Rates
  • Other Factors Affecting Attorney Hourly Pay

Average Attorney Hourly Rate: 2023 Statistics

When starting a new law firm, it can be hard to understand how much to charge for your services. You can ask other experienced lawyers for advice, but their answers may not be relevant to you. The best way to determine your fees is to research the cost of similar services in your area.

Data-driven sources like the billable hour index from the Statista Report can help you position yourself more confidently.

You can use data to charge your clients a premium rate that is in line with your extensive experience. For example, the average attorney hourly rate in the immigration field is $334 per hour. This information can help you make informed decisions about your pricing. However, there is still a question that all lawyers want to know the direct answer to: “What should my hourly rate be?”

Depending on their level of experience and the complexity of the case, attorneys charge between $100 and $400 per hour. Small-town attorneys or newly admitted attorneys bill between $100 and $200 per hour, whereas seasoned attorneys in big cities bill between $200 and $400 per hour.

How much money attorney charge their clients per hour

The Occupational Outlook Handbook of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates a generally optimistic job outlook for attorneys, with a 4% expected growth rate for lawyers between 2019 and 2029, which is in line with the projected average for all jobs.

In terms of hourly rates for lawyers by state, Statista's 2022 statistics show that lawyers in the District of Columbia charge the highest hourly rate for an experienced attorney, followed by lawyers in Delaware at $351 an hour. On the opposite end of the scale, West Virginia has the lowest average attorney hourly rate in the US. The research also examines rates that have been cost of living-adjusted, which is important to look at when determining where to practice.

Lawyers in Columbia charge the highest rate for an experienced attorney

Other statistics from Statista in 2021 also noted that law firms in North Dakota had the highest implementation rates in the US. Illinois and Rhode Island had the lowest collection rates in the legal sector. The implementation rate shows the difference between the number of billable hours billed and the number of hours worked, while the collection rate shows the number of hours collected divided by the number of hours billed.

What Is Better: Flat Fee vs. Hourly Rate for Attorney?

What is best for you depends on your area of law practice. Many legal firms still use the billable hour structure as their primary business model. However, other practice areas are changing to alternate fee structures, including flat fees or contingency fees.

Flat Fee for Attorney

The success of law companies that accept alternative fee arrangements is on the rise according to a 2017 survey by Statista. Fixed fee pricing gives cost predictability to clients, allowing them to organize their budgets more efficiently.

What's more, according to a 2016 LexisNexis study, almost 7 out of 10 flat-rate clients said they would "genuinely" recommend their lawyer, compared to 45% of hourly clients. This difference comes from the fact that the final amount is predictable- clients will not experience unpleasant shocks when receiving their bills. This is indeed one of the biggest advantages of a fixed fee.

One way or another, there is still a downside to this type of payment - lawyers may overestimate or underestimate the amount of work required to win a case. If a case takes longer than planned, the law firm may simply lose money without getting paid a dime for their hard work. Alternatively, if the case is completed quicker than expected, the client may feel cheated, believing the law firm inflated the cost of winning the case.

Hourly Rates for Attorney

In general, the most frequent method of fee arrangement for legal services is hourly billing. Attorney hourly rates play an essential role in compensating attorneys for their work. Large law firms use them as targets when determining pay raises for their staff attorneys. Plus, attorney hourly rates are easy to post online so that anyone can easily find out how much a lawyer charges. It makes it simple for attorneys to promote themselves and find clients with specific requirements or monetary goals. Ultimately, an hourly fee makes it easy for lawyers to earn a living and provide high-quality legal services to clients.

The disadvantage of an hourly rate pricing model is that the customer is unaware of the total price of the legal services. Some customers may become concerned about the expense of hiring a lawyer as a result of this.

The hourly charge for a lawyer typically ranges from $150 to $325, but depending on the case's complexity and the lawyer's amount of experience, it might reach $500 or even more.

How to Calculate My Lawyer’s Hourly Rates?

There are a few ways to choose the best hourly attorney rates for you and your business, including:

  • Determine the annual cost of your business
  • Calculate the number of billable hours
  • Divide the cost of your business by the number of attorney billable hours
  • Compare your attorney's average hourly rate to the attorney's market rates
  • Other factors that impact lawyer hourly fees

Determine the Annual Cost of Your Business

Determine the annual cost of your business

The cost of running a business can be calculated using the following formula: sunk costs + desired salary ÷ number of paid days. To make it easier to understand, let's look at an example.

If you want to earn an annual salary of $80,000 and value the company's annual sunk expenses of $25,000, you would need a 40% profit margin. Accordingly, you will need to earn an additional $42,000 ($80,000 + $25,000) x 40% = $42,000).

To determine your business's yearly operating expenses, add these values together: $80,000 + $25,000 + $42,000 = $147,000. After that, you should divide this amount by the total number of billable hours you plan to have during the year.

How to Consider the Cost of Doing Business

1. Salary equivalence 

Lawyers often make the mistake of withdrawing funds directly from their firm's account when a client pays a bill. A better way is to "pay a salary" to yourself. A fixed monthly amount is used to hold money during months when the company is underfunded or can be used to reinvest in the company. Salary can cover your living expenses. Consider including your vehicle payments, travel expenses, taxes, and everything else that keeps you housed and dressed.

2. Business expenses (non-reimbursable)

You must include all annual costs associated with maintaining your office when determining non-reimbursable business expenses. Some of these expenses might be:

  • Workplace
  • Business Insurance
  • Furniture, stationery, and utilities
  • Medical insurance
  • Accountant
  • Postage and delivery costs
  • Filing fees

3. Firm profits

As a business owner, you should always be looking for ways to reinvest in your company. It allows you to take advantage of new opportunities, improve your marketing initiatives, and ensure you have the latest and finest equipment. Profits margins for AmLaw 100 firms are typically around 40%. However, profit margins of up to 60% were recorded by certain businesses. Small firms need to have reserve funds to cover slow billing periods and potential cost flow issues. It helps to ensure financial stability and peace of mind throughout the year.

Calculate the Number of Billable Hours

Assuming there are 260 weekdays in a year, and taking into account ten national holidays, that leaves 250 regular work days. So if you plan to work eight-hour days, that gives you 2,000 potential billable hours.

What's more, you may need to take some vacation time to prevent burnout, and it is sensible to plan for a few days when you are sick. If we include an additional four weeks out of the office, that would be a total of 20 working days or 160 hours. That would bring our total number of available office hours down to 1,840 (2,000 – 160 = 1,840).

To be clear, not all time spent in the office is billable. On average, (76%) of lawyers only work 20 hours a week on billable work, not including client meetings or court appearances. With that said, if you plan to bill for 65% of your office time, that would amount to 1,196 billable hours (1,840 x 65% = 1,196).

Divide the Cost of Your Business by the Number of Billable Hours

Your business' cost per hour can be calculated by dividing your total operating costs by the number of billable hours you expect to work in a year. For example, if your business has total annual operating expenses of $147,000 and you'd like to work only 1,196 billable hours that year, your business' cost per hour would be $122.90.

Compare Your Attorney's Hourly Rate With Attorney's Market Rates

Demand for legal services might vary by state and industry, so it's critical to understand market pricing. You may be able to charge more where there is high demand for your services.

As of May 2021, the median annual salary for lawyers in the United States was $127,990, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data can be used by lawyers to estimate their potential earnings locally.

If you're looking for information on industry salary trends, you can check out the website of your state bar association. They often include breakdowns of the many types of law firms and practice areas. Talking to coworkers or mentors who have more expertise is also a fantastic idea if you're seeking market knowledge. Based on their personal experience, they can provide thoughtful market analysis.

Other Factors That Impact Lawyer Hourly Rates

Elements that may also affect lawyer hourly rates may include the following:

  • How difficult is the case
  • The lawyer's or firm's reputation
  • Law firm/lawyer billing method
  • The law firm's location and size
  • The cost of legal services
  • The overall number of cases the attorney dealt
  • Experience of the attorney

FAQ

  • What if my legal fees are lower compared to others?

    Suppose the going cost for veteran attorneys is $300 per hour. However, when you try to calculate an hourly bill with the calculator, it only bills you for $125/hour when most lawyers at your legal skill level charge $300/hour. Logically, this raises the question, "Why?" The answer is straightforward: if you want to meet your revenue goals, you must become more competitive. You could just work less. Or, you could raise your rates to match the market. It's up to you. Either way, you will be competing for clients with other lawyers who charge the same rates. When considering your rates, it's also essential to think about your potential client base. There are a lot of people who need legal assistance but can't afford the usual rates. If you're willing to charge a lower hourly rate, you might be able to tap into this market and still meet your income goals.

  • Should I have different lawyer hourly rates for different practice areas?

    Depending on the type of law they practice, attorneys may charge different average fees. For instance, attorneys who focus on personal injury law typically charge higher hourly rates than attorneys who practice criminal cases. Thus, it may make sense to get more based on the area of law you practice. As with any change to your billing model, you should evaluate whether your clients would be open to rate differentiation. However, having data to support your decision-making process can help establish why different areas of law would warrant different rates. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is best for your firm.

  • How else can I increase my attorney fees?

    Salary expectations are one important factor to consider when evaluating opportunities. However, there are methods to raise the cost of your legal services and increase your hourly rates. It might be accomplished by honing your expertise and raising the standard of your legal work. One of the key factors affecting your fee as a lawyer is your experience. Compared to young lawyers, experienced lawyers can earn 2x and 3x more. Additionally, some customers could be willing to pay extra for a superior customer experience. One of the strategies to stand out from the competition and raise the value of your legal services is to have years of experience. Moreover, it can lead to more referrals and sales in the future.

Conclusion 

After reviewing the data, it is clear that lawyer hourly rates vary depending on the type of law, the attorney's experience, and the geographic location. Either way, no matter what industry you're in, time management is key to success. If you can find ways to automate repetitive tasks and free up your time, you'll be able to devote more time to your clients, which will lead to higher profits. 

If you need to promote your law firm, contact our professional digital marketing agency, Grow Law Firm. We have a team of experts who know how to create and implement effective marketing strategies that will help you reach and engage potential clients. We can also help create and manage your firm's online presence so that potential clients can easily find and learn more about your firm.

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    Sasha serves as Managing Partner for Grow Law Firm, a Chicago-based digital marketing agency focused solely on specialized growth strategies for attorneys and their practices.

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