Knowledge of how staffing ratios vary by Am Law tier or matter type can help legal departments drive cost savings
According to a new report from Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions, law firm partner utilization in the “average” corporate legal department (CLD) stood at 38% in 2021, barely receding from the 7-year high reached in 2020 while less costly paralegal time represents just 1.5% to 2.5% of the dollar amount found on outside counsel invoices. The study is the fourth in a series of ongoing LegalVIEW Insights reports sourced from ELM Solutions’ LegalVIEW database, the most comprehensive legal spend database in the world at more than $150 billion in legal invoices.
An analysis by Nathan Cemenska, Director of Legal Operations and Industry Insights for Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions, indicates that while staffing numbers are relatively stable at a market level, they vary greatly among individual CLDs. The most common scenario finds that between 45% and 50% of law firm hours are billed by partners, while 25% to 30% stem from associates – but understanding the unique staffing ratios deployed by their own outside counsel will enable in-house legal teams to allocate work more strategically.
Additional highlights from the fourth LegalVIEW Insights report include:
Only 6% of CLDs demonstrate “very heavy partner utilization,” whereby 50% or more of all law firm hours are billed by partners. Conversely, another 6% of CLDs show “very low partner utilization” with partners responsible for billing only 5% of hours or fewer.
The type of legal matter at stake can also impact staffing ratios. For example, paralegals account for 23% of all hours billed in general liability litigation, but represent only 4% of hours billed in environmental litigation.
Staffing ratios vary greatly across Am Law tiers. The Am Law 10, for instance, typically generate fewer partner hours as a percentage of overall billings. However, 67% of Am Law 151- 200 firms generate the majority of their hours through partners.