How much should companies pay for work from first-year associates?

The war against lawyers has begun.  Well, more specifically, its a fight against over-priced legal services.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

More than 20% of the 366 in-house legal departments that responded are refusing to pay for the work of first- or second-year attorneys, in at least some matters.

Many corporate counsels are arguing that they should not have to pay $300 per hour to have a newly-minted lawyer learn how an asset purchase agreement works.  This was less of a problem in the past when the rates for junior attorneys was low and competing resources sparse.  But with the "businessification" of the legal industry over the past couple of decades, hourly rates for associates have skyrocketed along with ballooning salaries (and increased per-partner profits), as the Internet and mobile technologies have empowered corporate counsel to find pragmatic alternatives.

At the same time, companies are spending more than ever on outside counsel for their legal services, even as the economy struggles to recover.  In this article from the ABA Journal, corporate counsel are seeing legal bills rise.  What's even worse:

The dramatic increase in attorney fees and other litigation costs came despite reports of a decline in litigation last year from the same group of respondents.

That is why many are taking a practical approach and looking for alternative fee arrangements and more sensible billing.  And some law firms are hearing the call (including my firm).  However, a system that has been entrenched in our society for generations is not going down easily.  As noted in the WSJ article, the chairman of K&L Gates LLP, a law firm with over 1900 attorneys around the world, says that corporate counsel are blowing this out of proportion and should resist the urge to change:

“It’s a bargain made throughout the generations that has served democracy and capitalism well.”

Yeah, good luck with that.