This may, actually, be a running theme on this blog. But I just can’t help it. It appears that big firms charge 2 or 3 times as much as I do, even when I charge the same hourly rate (which I don’t–my rate is about 60% of theirs). Why, then do the big firms charge so much? Well, consider this for an answer:
Suppose a case has an odd fact that affects whether or not a particular law applies. A small firm lawyer looks up the law and proceeds accordingly. S/he may not even bill the file for “checking a statute” but could, depending on exactly what is being checked. But if it does take some time to research, s/he only bills the research time (maybe 0.6 hours). But if the question comes in a BigLaw firm, the partner asks the question (billing 0.1 hours) of a Senior Associate, who thinks about it (billing 0.2 hours) before passing the question to a Junior Associate to research. The Junior Associate then looks up the answer, writes a 2 page memo for the file (billing 1.2 hours because first you get the answer, then you have to write it up so someone else can understand what you did and why you got the answer you got) and sends it back. The Senior Associate (assuming no typos or additional questions) reads the 2 page memo (billing 0.4 hours) and sends it to the partner who scans it (billing 0.2 hours) before calling the client to answer the question (billing 0.2 hours) . This totals 2.2 hours v. my 0.6 hours. Finally, in BigLaw firms, the client is frequently billed for photocopies and secretarial time to type the memo.
Does this help?
Now you know why I like to work in my own small firm.