If misery loves company, Washington lawyers moaning about pinched incomes can take solace in a recent nationwide survey of law firms that suggests things are tough all over.

Partners' earnings increased only 6.7 percent last year, bringing the average up to $90,000 but failing to keep pace with inflation, according to a study of 530 firms by the Pennsylvania-based consulting firm of Altman & Weil. Associates' salaries increased 7.5 percent for an average earning of $35,200, the study said.

On top of that, the survey says that the average number of hours billed by lawyers to their clients remained unchanged at 1,566 for partners--or a 32-hour work week, assuming a partner-style, month-long vacation. Associates continued to work longer hours, churning out an average of 1,723 billable hours a year, the survey said.

Fees, meanwhile, were reported "moderately higher" than last year, with lawyers with four and five years' experience in the Northeast charging an average of $74 an hour this year, $3 more than last year.

Nationwide, the survey said, lawyers brought in an average of $121,618--but 40.5 percent of that, or $49,250, was eaten up in expenses, such as nearly $20,000 per lawyer for support staff (the largest expense), $3,000 for equipment and $3,700 for paralegal assistance.

The consulting firm cautioned that the earnings figure may be top-heavy because of the number of large firms (and presumably big-money lawyers) who were included in the sample. The survey says that the average income for firms with two to six lawyers was reported at $54,209, compared to the overall average of $72,368.