Everyone knows that lawyers are expensive right? But have you ever stopped to consider why? What is it exactly that goes into making up an attorney’s hourly price and how much do they take home at the end of the day? The Iowa State Bar Association answered these same questions in its ISBA 2011 Economic Survey of Legal Practice in Iowa. This survey was sent out via email to the approximately 8,000 member attorneys of the ISBA in Iowa. The survey received a 10.7% response rate with 858 responses, though not all respondents answered every question. Here's a breakdown of about how much attorneys make.
The main areas that are examined in this survey are bases for attorney income (billable hours, hourly rate, and contingent fees) and overhead costs associated with the operation of a law firm. For hourly rates this survey indicated an increasing price for legal services in general. The responses show that only 30% of attorneys still have an hourly rate of less than $150 as was the case in the last survey taken in 2006. Additionally 77% charge on contingency fees. About 60% of Iowa attorneys charged somewhere between $150 and $250 per hour, with a pretty even spread of prices in that range.
A lot goes into setting hourly rates, such as the difficulty of the questions and risk involved in creating legal counsel, the results obtained, and the amount of time invested by an attorney. Hourly rates represent the value an attorney is creating through being able to solve complex legal problems for clients. Each attorney has to set their price based upon what they think clients are willing to pay for their unique skills. Also, just like any other business, attorneys have to make ends meet and cover their own expenses. These skills and costs vary from attorney to attorney so there is wide price differentiation across the population.
The average number of billable hours charged per day was between five to seven hours. Meaning that an attorney charging $175 for 35 hours a week would be making $6,125 per week. However due to rent, utilities, staff payroll, advertising, and other business expenses, 50% of the respondents said that they spend 36-50% of their gross income paying these expenses. Meaning that our example attorney would spend 50% of his revenues on upkeep and would be taking home $12,250 per month (before tax). This would give him an income of about $147,000 yearly, but this is a rough number that doesn’t take into account paying benefits to employees, area of law practiced, or what type of business structure the firm operates as.
What most lawyers make:
Nonetheless our $147,000 number comes up on the high side of attorney yearly income in Iowa. According to the report the number of attorneys who make more than or less than $100,000 per year is more or less split evenly, with around 43% below and 57% above (with the high rounding out at about $250,000 per year). So we see that our example attorney would be more or less typical of the overall population. This is still however a basic example, many other factors specific to the individual attorney go into making up their income. Age and years of experience are two such factors that weigh heavily on an attorney’s income, with older and more experienced attorneys naturally having a more profitable practice than those fresh out of law school.