David McMahon wrote an article published in Inside Counsel, Litigation: Using Billing Surveys to Determine "Reasonable" Rates, about hourly rates for attorneys and how they can be evaluated to determine whether they are reasonable or not.
According to McMahon's article, a reasonable rate is generally “prevailing market rate for attorneys providing comparable services.” But there are also a number of tools that one can use to evaluate the reasonableness of billing rates such as using billing rate surveys and comparing billing rates charged by attorneys providing similar services in the same geographical location.
When using billing surveys, inside counsel considering hiring attorneys from the outside should look at that person's background and profile on their firm's website, taking note of the attorney’s date of bar admission, number of years of practice and specialties. That information can then be compared to rates in legal surveys that show what attorneys with a similar background and experience charge.
Often, it also makes sense to look at the general rates for a state, and compare those rates to another state as well, McMahon said. The analysis may also include the specialty rates listed in the billing survey for partners specializing in a field such as intellectual property.
By using numerous the resources available, it is possible to review the billing rates of individual lawyers in a particular matter and determine what a reasonable billing rate may be,” McMahon added. “In addition, in-house counsel should factor in the backgrounds of individual lawyers and the nature of the work performed before assigning the lawyer an adjusted billing rate that is appropriate based on the nature of her practice and the length of experience in comparison to lawyers providing similar services.”