Market Research for the Legal Industry

Last week’s guest post examined profitability of lawyer marketing ventures by using a cost-per-case analysis:

Total dollars spent
÷
New clients signed on because of the marketing effort

Another piece of the puzzle is understanding what market research tells us about our potential clientele. But where can we find this information?  Data about demographics, employment, supply, and demand can hard to find – especially in one convenient location.  But thanks to the hard work of Annette Shelton-Tiderman we have a resource!

In her post, Problem Solvers: Offices of Oregon Lawyers, Annette reports on the following topics:

  • Offices of Lawyers Reflect Oregon’s Diverse Population and Geography
  • Supply and Demand: Employment Reflects Changes in the Economy
  • Marshalling Problem-Solving Resources
  • Projected Demand Shows Change and Overall Growth

She includes interesting infographics on the statewide marketplace for legal services, employment growth rates, employment projections, and breakdowns on areas of practice.  Because the report relies in part on the bar’s 2012 Economic Survey, the data is a bit aged, but still helpful.

I first shared this resource three years ago.  Unfortunately, it was relocated on the Employment Department website.  It took some time to dig back up again, thus the repost.  If you’re looking for other ideas on market and economic analysis, read on.

More Resources for Market and Economic Analysis

Lawyer billing practices

Lawyer Demographics – County, Population, Age Group, and Trends

  • OSB 2012 Economic Survey – the main survey includes data on the future plans of survey participants (leaving the practice of law or retiring).  The Addendum has additional demographic data.
  • Learning the Ropes 2016 Program Materials from the Professional Liability Fund.  Locate page 264, “PLF Covered Lawyers — by County, Population and Age Group.”  From the PLF home page, Select CLE > Past CLE and find “Learning the Ropes 2016” in the alphabetical list of Programs.  Click the program link.  On the description page, locate QUICK LINKS (top right of screen).  Select the PROGRAM MATERIALS link.
  • Are you a member of the OSB Lawyer Referral Service (LRS)?  They gather data on supply and demand for all their programs.

Market Research Databases

Economic Forecasting

Occupational data and job listings (including Lawyers)

  • The State of Oregon provides data and occupation profiles on all occupations, including lawyers and legal staff, at this link.   You can also display statewide job listings. Alternatively, start at this location, then select the “Wage Data Tool” in second column under Workforce.  To give you a better idea of how this tool works, here is a snapshot from a recent search:

wage20tool

As you can see, it is possible to print a full report, custom report, or summary.  If you want to find career pathways, wage range data, or occupations with similar skills just be sure the appropriate boxes are checked.

Postscript

The Oregon Employment Department’s Web site is a helpful resource for businesses researching economic data, business indicators, and other information. There are 13 workforce analysts spread across the state who are responsible for assisting businesses with needed labor market information. This can include the demographics of a neighborhood – very helpful when a business is looking to relocate or expand. The Employment Department also tracks education levels, income, population data, and maintains a database for occupational and wage-related information that is easily accessed via its website. Services provided by workforce analysts are paid for by business taxes.  There is no additional cost to access their expertise.

All Rights Reserved Beverly Michaelis 2017

Setting Your Hourly Rate

Value billing.  The words alone sounded so good in 2000-whatever or 1990-something. But transitioning from concept to reality?  It was never easy and still isn’t.

Keeping it 100

Here’s the reality: everyone who uses flat fees or AFA/hybrid fee arrangements referenced or started with an hourly rate.  That’s the math, folks.  Unless you’re a 100% contingent fee lawyer who never intends to change practice areas, you need to have a sense of how to price your services on an hourly basis.  Here’s how to go about it.

The Anecdotal Approach to Pricing

We could also call this: “If Susan down the street charges $200 per hour, so should I.”

If you’re basing your hourly rate on what one, two, or a handful of other lawyers are charging, your sample group is too small.  Period.

I’m not saying don’t gather anecdotal data.  It can be informative.  Most of us can learn a lot from talking to colleagues or mentors about pricing and billing practices, especially if we’re new to an area.  But anecdotal data needs to be balanced with something more.

Use the Data the Bar Gave You

Every five years the Oregon State Bar conducts an economic survey.  If the bar adheres to its quinquennial pattern, the next survey will occur in 2017.  For now, use the 2012 survey. The important data on billing practices begins on page 29, “Hourly Billing Rate by Total Years Admitted to Practice,” reported by years of practice and geographic region. To use this data effectively, find where you fit based on years admitted to practice and area(s) of law, then scroll over to your region of the state.

Billable Rates by Years of Experience: Lawyers Admitted 0-3 Years

  • In 2012, the lowest hourly rate billed by this group was $113 in the lower valley versus a high of $246 per hour in Portland.
  • Statewide, lawyers admitted 0-3 years billed an average of $156 per hour.
  • While there are a few geographic blips here and there, the data bears out what common sense would predict: the longer you practice, the higher your billable rate.

Next, jump ahead to page 31, “Hourly Billing Rate by Area of Practice.”  Find your area(s) of law, then locate the rates for your region of the state.

Billable Rates by Areas of Law

  • The average hourly billing rates ranged from a low of $190 per hour for civil litigation-insurance defense to a high of $291 for civil litigation-defendant (not including insurance defense).
  • Other statewide average rates were:  Bankruptcy $269, Criminal $214, Family Law $214, Real Estate/Land Use/Environmental $283, Tax/Estate Planning $239.

Keep on Keeping On With the Law of Averages

Once you know the average hourly rate based on years of admission and area(s) of law, tally the rates and take the average again.  Once you know this number, feel free to reflect back on the anecdotal data you gathered.  If your anecdotal data differs wildly from what the survey says, go with the survey.  Use this hourly rate when calculating flat fee and hybrid fee arrangements.

Cultivate Confidence

Some lawyers low ball their rate because they don’t feel they can charge “what the survey says.”  Newer lawyers often fall into this category.  But perspective is everything: if you did the same work as an associate for a firm, rest assured they would bill clients in the average to high ranges documented by the bar.  Why, intrinsically, should your rate as a solo be any lower?

Nonetheless, part of the process of setting your rate is finding a comfort zone for what you charge.  If you can’t quite stomach the average and need to take it down a tick or two, I respect that decision [even though I may try to talk you out of it].

Either way, you must be able to face potential clients and communicate your rate in a matter-of-fact, businesslike, manner – with confidence and without hesitation.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

 

 

 

2012 Economic Survey of Oregon Lawyers

The 2012 Economic Survey is now available on the OSB Web site.  The data on billing practices begins on page 32 of the PDF:

  • Average hours billed per month in Oregon: 99 (all attorneys) – down from 2007
  • Average and median billing rates of $242 and $225 per hour compare to $213 and $200 in 2007 (when the last survey was conducted)
  • Hourly rates gauged by total years in practice – see the results on page 34
  • Hourly rates gauged by area of practice – details on page 35.  Here are some quick averages:
    • Bankruptcy $269/hour
    • Business (Corporate Litigation) $284/hour
    • Civil Litigation/Insurance Defense $190/hour
    • Criminal $214/hour
    • Tax/Estate $239/hour
    • Workers’ Comp $219/hour

Check out the full survey here.