The Leader Column

As you may have read in last week's leader, I am moving on from The Lawyer and the legal market to go and work for aid agency Cafod.
I have loved my time at your favourite legal magazine, but despite many lunches with many lawyers there are a few questions that did not get answered. I leave them with you for quiet contemplation and riotous debate.
Why is it that the legal market is still not seen as an asset to our country and economy? You are genuinely world leaders, yet seldom recognised as such. While UK law firms have been cutting a swath across Europe, few outside the market have paid much attention. Lawyer-bashing has at times seemed to have been Blair's planned replacement for fox-hunting, with all types of lawyers bunched together with ambulance chasers and “the bloke who messed up our housemove” – just as you tend to bunch all types of journalists together as scumbags.
And why is it so difficult to do pro bono work? Every year, The Lawyer sends out its pro bono survey, but last year only 37 firms of the top 100 replied (and well done to them), from which we drew our own conclusions. No one's asking you City boys to give up the yachts, but surely you can give something back. If your specialism in securitisations is not much in demand at your local law centre, offer mentoring support to your local school or give the youth centre a new lick of paint. But your legal skills are what marks you out from the crowd, so offer those first. And by the way, clients like it too.
Why is a profitable firm and a happy workforce seen as mutually exclusive? A lawyer who expects to be home for the six o'clock news is clearly deluded, but often the best lawyer does not need to stay all night. Why not just ask the client whether it is imperative that the work should be completed that night? And partners, stop patrolling your corridors late at night to check who's still there and just get a life.
Of course to do this, you are going to have to work out some way of accessing the worth of a lawyer other than looking at the timesheets. Most employers can tell whether an employee is any good without the use of timesheets, so try it. Try using fixed fees more – your client will prefer to work that way because no one likes that sort of surprise. Then you can take the pressure off associates to just bill as much as possible and allow them to work more efficiently.
And finally, when at networking dos, why is it that the only canapé that looks appetising never reaches you?
fiona.callister@thelawyer.com