I Tweeted this on Sunday.
I’ve started to look at value statements of law firms. — don’t ask. And then I think, “OK, do they mirror the values of the clients you act for — where disclosed?” I’ve this unerring sense that I might find a few gaps.
— Julian Summerhayes Ⓥ (@JuSummerhayes) May 5, 2019
Simple: law firms need to mirror their values with the clients they serve. Sadly, I don’t think they do. If my experience is anything to go by, values are never considered as part of the file opening process, let alone the continuing retainer. (One side point: if you act for the world’s biggest polluters or destroyers of biodiversity, what does that say about you and your fellow partners? Don’t forget, qua solicitors at least, you don’t have to act for every client with a pulse!)
Hang on a minute, Jules, weren’t you part of the profession, once? Yes. I was in private practice, and I feel such a hypocrite now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t speak my truth; namely, if law firms don’t start walking a more ethical path qua the environment, species loss and wellbeing, then in time — hopefully sooner rather than later — they will become, well, err…irrlevant.
Nah they won’t. They’ll carry on with business as usual until they’re regulated to conform or their clients insist on radical change.
I’m almost reluctant to say this, but I will anyway: lawyers have sold themselves down the river on the altar of greed. Yikes. There goes my career. Ah, don’t worry, I didn’t have one anyway. And I don’t need to garner favour with the sector anymore. I’m free of it save to the extent that as an In-house lawyer I need to apply my legal training to my employer’s advantage.
But seriously folks, whether you’ve got your hand on the tiller or a support role, ask yourself this simple question:
What does your firm stand for?
And if your answer is only to serve the profit pot of the partners, then you’re, err…I’m very reluctant to use the word but you’re (I chickened out) toast. Not now, perhaps, but over the long term: your clients will want only to deal with firms that have their best interests at heart and not the partners, who dress things up under the thin veil of respectability.
Look at it a different way. If you speak to your lawyers why they went into practice, you’ll get a very different meme to the profit motive. Most will express a higher purpose. I don’t mean in the sense of working for nothing but they came into practice to do something purposeful with their qualification. Sure, they wanted to be paid a reasonable sum but they sure as hell didn’t go into practice to become a glorified salesperson. But a few years in, all that vim and vigour for making their dent in the Universe is dumped.
“Show me the money.”
What does this say about the profession?
Again, speak to your clients. Not in the gaze of another networking event but person to person. And they will tell you that they love you (not always) and the quality of your work but they hate — no, I mean they hate! — the law firm BS that they’ve to deal with.
Hey, but then again if you’re earning a six or seven figure salary you’ll think me an idiot and my suggestion to marry soul with role of your lawyers (which drives, ultimately, your values) preposterous.
I don’t care.
I’m not selling my services to change your thinking. Truthfully, I’m not selling anything save perhaps an invitation for you to wake up to what’s really going on.
But then again, when someone asks you what keeps you awake at night, you need to consider if another court deadline, client pitch, client retention strategy or advancing the good-ship PEP for the next 12 months is all there is to life.
Blessings and deep bows.