DANNY GILBERT, managing partner of Gilbert + Tobin, has urged law students to use their abilities, not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the community, the nation and humanity.
While law firms must operate as businesses that does not mean lawyers should focus solely on profitability, Gilbert told a graduating class at the UNSW in his occasional address earlier this month.
“Today, legal practices have no choice but to be managed as successful businesses. Although some may find that lamentable, like any business, lawyers and law firms have no choice but to be concerned with generating profits. It might be though that there is too much talk about money. In modern practices, attracting work and practice management are more concerned with the bottom line than anything else. Many law firms are now incorporated and some are listing on the stock exchange. We will see more of this here in Australia and I am confident that it will happen in the UK as well.
“I don’t apologise for any of this. But on the other hand, nor do I agree with some commentators who assert that lawyers in large corporate law firms have abandoned, or must necessarily abandon, the best traditions of true professionalism.”
Gilbert told the graduating students that “altruism, a commitment to the service of others, a commitment to critical dialogue and advocacy and a commitment to the strengthening of civil society will enlarge and transform you, both personally and professionally”. He said that lawyers in firms can and should do more for the community, by supporting legal centres, participating in discussions about public law and human rights and supporting universities that undertake work on these issues, doing pro bono work and standing up for the rule of law.
“True professionalism calls for much more than the pursuit of self-interest. I firmly believe that whatever commercial pressures there are, with character and vigilance the best of what constitute true professionalism can prevail,” Gilbert said.
He also warned against demeaning and dismissing voices of conscience and dissent, saying respect which might encourage participation in public debate is often absent. He said that the “rock-solid foundations of the democratic process, of the rule of law, of free and open speech, of religious tolerance, of civil liberties and the institutions that underpin western societies are more fragile” than he thought them to be.
“Many of today’s political pronouncements and decisions are informed at best by utilitarianism and at worst, by political populism. As a result, policies and decisions are often markedly different from what they might have been, had the debate and the resultant decisions been more influenced by open discussion and informed conscience.”