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Clock ticks on billable hours

To bill (per hour) or not to bill (per hour)?

That. Is the question.

In today’s shaky economy law firms are talking about (and implementing) alternative payment methods to the traditional billable hour as corporations and other clients are less able to afford the hourly fees.

The Washington Post reports that firms are using flat fees or contingency fees, which is when a firm and its client agree on a price and the firm picks up the difference if it ends up costing more.

A survey of 200 of the country’s biggest firms found 92 percent of firm leaders had used flat fees at least once and 82 percent had used contingency fees, according to The Post.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the billable hour is by no means dead among the richest of the rich. The Journal reports that the most expensive lawyers are charging even more per hour, with the top 25 percent of hourly billers charging 4.9 percent more compared to 2010. The average rate is $873 per hour.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, the lowest billers are only charging a 1.3 percent more than last year at an average rate of $204 an hour.