$1,200 per hour billing???

Headline: “Some Top Lawyers Bill More than $1,000 an Hour for Bankruptcy Work”  http://is.gd/5qgxr

OK, I know we’re in a capitalist society and that people can charge whatever the market bears, but a lawyer making $1,200 for an hour in a bankruptcy (or any other type matter) seems absurd. That’s about $10,000 for a day’s worth of work! So, at a time when people are complaining about the unforgivably high salaries and bonuses of bankers, financiers, and others, should the legal profession be jumping on board to get the most it can, or should it be demonstrating restraint and reasonableness?

At what point does a lawyer’s billing violate the proscription in the Rules of Professional Conduct against unreasonable fees? Rule 1.5(a) states as follows:

Rule 1.5(a) A lawyer shall not make an agreement for, charge, or collect an unreasonable fee or an unreasonable amount for expenses. The factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of a fee include the following:

(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;

(2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;

(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; (4) the amount involved and the results obtained;

(5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;

(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client;

(7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services; and

(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

I’m not saying $1,200 per hour is per se unreasonable, and frankly those clients who would pay it are sophisticated and wealthy corporations capable of deciding how much they should pay, but at what point do extremely high fees of the legal profession hurt the image of lawyers. Many attorneys representing plaintiffs in personal injury matters have gotten blackened eyes because of their high contingency fees. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that an ethics complaint will be pursued against a lawyer who merely makes a lot of money off of a client. The question is, however, do these types of fees tarnish the images of lawyers as a whole?

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