IN AN EFFORT to unveil the highest billing partners and lawyers in some of Australia’s top firms in recent weeks, Lawyers Weekly found managing partners and HR departments to be cagey, all but one refusing to disclose this information.
The key to success at Freehills is not pegged to individual or financial performance, but performance as part of a high performance team, Lawyers Weekly was told. “Singling out and focusing on the ‘highest billers’ puts a focus on what we believe are the wrong measures of success. For these reasons we choose not to disclose who our top fee earners are,” Freehills said.
While also refusing to reveal its top billers, Henry Davis York managing partner, Stephen Purcell, offered a justification for the unwillingness of firms to gloat about their partners and lawyers in this way. “If I said X, Y and Z were the best fee earners in the firm, I guarantee you within 24 hours of publishing the article, they will be approached.”
This, Purcell said, is the question most firms would be most reluctant to answer. “It’s a dangerous question, if you think about how competitive the market is,” he said. He argued that with the problem of retention being so significant for so many firms, “one way to [remedy this] is to pinch good partners from other firms”.
But Freehills’ chief managing partner, Gavin Bell, rejected this theory. He said that law firms know who the strong performers are in competing firms, but that this is not just based on billing. Rather, the best quality is also about ability, clients and excellence. “It’s not just about how much they bill.”
Blake Dawson Waldron managing partner, John Atkin, said the firm does not “emphasise personal fee earners or personal outcomes”, but focuses on its ethos of what it calls “team BDW”.
He argued that the unwillingness of firms to reveal this information is not because it is competitively sensitive information, but rather because it is irrelevant information. “And one of the things I’ve really been working hard on at Blakes over the past three years is getting people focused on team outcomes rather than individual outcomes,” he said.
“It’s absolutely critical. So I am not going to give you an answer to [that question], that is the answer,” Atkin said.
Raj Lawyers managing partner, Niren Raj, was happy to name the firm’s top three fee earners, who were Justin Ratanatray, Deren Hassan and Ravi Nagpal.
By Kate Gibbs, Shaun Drummond, Kellie Harpley