The WSJ today came out with an item on the mirage of law firms' hourly rates.

The author posits that clients often ask for dollars-off the firms' rack rates — a carry-over, she suggests, from the Great Recession. She also notes that bet-the-company cases and must-do deals still draw clients to the best legal talent and therefore the lawyers least willing to cut rates.

Let Blawgletter suggest a better way to look at paying for legal work. The hourly rate represents an imperfect proxy for value. How can you figure out how imperfect? If your lawyer will offer to represent you either on a straight hourly basis or under an arrangement that gives her a chance to earn a premium on her hourly rates, hire her. Because she has just shown you that she is worth the hourly charge.

You may also want to think about what you get for paying by the hour. You mainly get, in our view, more practical ability to control what the lawyers do. Under a contingent and hybrid arrangements, you know your lawyer has plenty of incentive not to waste effort and resources, and as a result you tend to give him a freer rein. You may also find yourself nit-picking bills less often.

All this assumes you trust your lawyer and that your lawyer deserves your trust. That in our experience is the most important thing of all. It may even be priceless.