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20 February 2014
Research for The Lawyer’s annual ranking of the top 100 European law firms finally came to an end last week as the last few questionnaire responses trickled in from firms around the Continent and, as ever, the exercise brought with it a fair amount of frustration.
A comfortable majority, now used to the odd Anglo-Saxon concept of transparency, were happy enough to send details on their headcount and financial results. And a sizeable number were sensible enough to realise that disclosing how many staff and partners they might employ is not exactly controversial, and were happy to accept the turnover estimates put to them by Tulkinghorn’s hard-working colleagues.
But then there were the outliers - those firms that, despite employing hundreds of people and being among the largest in their jurisdictions, remain wedded to the idea that a law firm is a partnership and what goes on in that partnership is nobody else’s business, and as a result declined to provide even their headcount.
This would be a reasonable argument save for the fact that most of them list all partners, at the very least, online.
Some, such as Danish firm Bruun & Hjejle, list everyone, including catering staff, on their website. We’re not sure why it’s relevant to anyone that the firm’s chef was born in 1978, but the amount of information the firm already provides is at odds to the helpfulness of its PR and management team when it comes to completing a two-page questionnaire.
Tulkinghorn cannot help but feel there’s an odd sort of conflict in play here; law firms everywhere have to be seen as sophisticated businesses serving sophisticated clients, but unlike their clients, some will not present themselves for any sort of public scrutiny.
It’s all very well declaring you’ve had an excellent year, but without giving any figures to back up the statement, how can it be trusted?
A strange case of diary err…
Tulkinghorn doesn’t like being given the runaround, especially in an airless office during a heatwave when all his colleagues are at the pub.
But last week he felt like a hapless bluebottle forced to buzz back and forth between the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and One Crown Office Row (1COR).
Chasing a story about Stephen Miller QC appearing before a BSB tribunal for allegedly cracking a ’sick joke’ at an inquest - an allegation of which he was unanimously cleared - all the hack wanted to do was confirm which chambers he was from.
A simple request you might think, but this is how the saga – that quickly descended into farce - played out:
Tulkinghorn’s hack to 1COR: “Can you confirm your barrister Stephen Miller QC is up before a BSB tribunal?”
1COR: “Definitely not our Stephen Miller.”
Hack: “Confirmed registered to 1COR.”
1COR: “It’s not him. We’ve checked his diary.”
Hack: “Well, can I speak to him to double-check?”
1COR: “He’s not here, but it’s definitely not him.”
Hack: “It definitely is him.”
1COR: “Err yes, it must be him. It’s something nobody here at chambers knew about. It wasn’t in his diary.”
And the moral of the story: if you’re a lawyer potentially in a spot of bother, don’t put it in your diary and you might just get away with it.
Your obedient servant
Speechly Bircham’s Robert Bond is crazy about compliance. How does Tulkinghorn know this? Because, at a recent star-studded legal event (yes, we mean The Lawyer’s Strategy Summit in Lisbon last month) Bond was spotted wearing a badge that pronounced: “I’m crazy about compliance.”
A dead giveaway.