jusummerhayes (jusummerhayes) wrote,

Law was never about law (shame)

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”—Charles Darwin

But of course, you don’t need me to tell you that law, or at least my version of legal practice, was never about the practice of law.

I know what you’re thinking (how many times have I said that -- of course, I haven’t a clue what’s going on inside your head):

“Don’t be an idiot Summerhayes. What the hell else is it about?”

You tell me.

It sure ain’t about the depth of knowledge -- Counsel is so much better -- or being an expert. No, it’s all about making money, great gobs and gobs of it.

Now, on one level, you might ask what’s wrong with that. If you look at other professions, they too are well rewarded; but not, save perhaps medicine, to the same degree, and neither do they appear, at least to an ill-informed outsider, to subsume everything to the God of money.

But this post is not a lament -- in a sense I couldn’t give a fig your motivation -- but rather a confession by someone who’s been at the coalface that I wish it were otherwise.

Why? (Yes, why at all?)

Well, for the simple reason that so much of the practice of law, from recording time, to the structural elements of a partnership, to the way staff are rewarded, is wrapped up with the money imperative.

It may be naive of me to think otherwise, but I remain convinced that if the sine qua non was not money but perhaps a greater ideal (see The Children’s Fire talk by Mac Macartney) that so many of the ills that trouble the profession would be resolved.

To be clear. If there was a more democratic way of sharing the spoils then people wouldn’t feel so devalued.

Ever the optimist, I know that the winds of change will, in time, engage the partners and boards of firms to an extent that currently remains off topic. If you want my opinion on where things will end up before we get to 2020, what you’ll see is not just an acknowledgement that partners either need to take less out of the business or invest more but more profoundly a way to reconnect with the genesis of them entering the profession (I don’t believe that the majority did so to earn lots of money). I could be wrong and the good ship profit may continue to push forward, but there will come a point where the market will not bear the hourly rate charges and firms will understand the imperative of connecting value with outcomes. At that stage they will, I’ve no doubt, reflect on everything they bring to the table, and, in turn, it may mean they accept a lower rate of financial return in exchange for a higher rate of emotional labour (not stress!).

Yes, I know this sounds hopelessly romantic, but, even if I’m wrong, if firms and partners don’t seriously question why they are in the game, then the big Boys and Girls will swallow them whole. If they don’t then your clients will.

My advice. Consider the Why of your practice, and you may just find that you make the leap from profit centre to life centre. That’s right. You may just find a purpose that speaks to your heart, and not your head.

One final point.

You need to seriously consider what's enough?

If you need to shine a light on this then I highly recommend you read Jack Bogle’s book, Enough. Apart from being brilliantly written, it may make you question more than just legal practice.


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