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Turning the tables

Turning the tables

Shane Barber, the managing partner of law firm Truman Hoyle, questions the proliferation of quantitative legal league tables.

ONE of the dangers of middle age is succumbing to sentimentality. One of its privileges though is acquiring a perspective which isn’t generally afforded to us in our younger years.

It is a time of adjustment where we leave behind the conventionally measured path started as infants and change our contribution from the accumulation of money, status and possessions to leading and serving our firms, our families, our profession and our community.  In light of this newly gained perspective, many of us refocus our personal lives onto qualitative measures rather than quantitative ones.

European studies indicate that the age of 44 is typically the age when, for those who don’t get that a “transition” is required, we are at our most depressed and disillusioned with the old way of looking at life.

Which brings me to my point.  Perhaps it is time for us to address the proliferation of quantitative league tables for the legal profession and apply these new life principles to our profession as well.  How is it that the information typically seen in these tables contributes to the well being of our lawyers, addresses the needs of our clients, or adds to the development of the profession?

Having been in house counsel for a corporate client for a significant period of time, it was always a sensitive issue that our shareholders’ cash and risk was being flaunted as a trophy by professional advisers in such a garish manner.  I certainly did not choose to use a firm on the basis of those statistics.

As an individual, there is also nothing particularly useful that comes from knowing what my fellow practitioners earn, what the revenues of their practices are or what the accumulated value of their clients’ transactions may happen to be.  They are not measures which apply to our service to the community, the profession or the courts nor are they measures which add to our personal levels of happiness.  If my clients spend more on transactions in a year than those of the next firm or I earn more income than partners in another, or vice versa, that information is as useless to me as it ultimately is to everyone else.

I am interested though in understanding and supporting real innovation in our profession, whether that be in the manner in which we go about dealing with a transaction or dispute, or how we structure our profession generally.

As lawyers, we have or should have a real interest in the great work being done by the Large Law Firm Group in building a workable national profession.  Our profession is all the better for the leadership given by some of the high profile mid tier firms which contribute enormously to pro bono and policy work.  The innovations being made, and frankly the risks being taken, by some of the smaller  urban and rural firms in pricing legal work or building work forces from those who may be disaffected with conventional law firm life, is something that is worthy of more attention.  Let’s discuss, encourage, reward and award those things.

I am all in favour of the many industries which have developed to serve our profession in the last 20 years or so.  As stewards of our profession, let us encourage those who provide services to us, whether they be newspapers and magazines, legal recruiters, legal directories, management consultants or CLE providers, to play a crucial role in building the utility of our profession by supporting qualitative measures and innovation and not quantitative ones.

Shane Barber is the Managing Partner of communications and technology law firm Truman Hoyle and is President of the Communications and Media Law Association.  He is formerly in-house counsel to the Optus Group.

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