‘We are living in a material world,’ as a great sage once said. Of course the Queen of Pop may have been referring to her own penchant for wealthy men, but the words could equally apply to the buzz surrounding law firms’ financials.
But while the world is quick to determine the desirability of firms based on what’s in their wallets today, there are more meaningful ways of judging a long-term proposition.
For example, an increase in revenue may demonstrate more business for the year, but could mask loss-leading work as margins have been slashed.
While a drop in profits might signal less cash in the bank, it can also disguise clever strategic investments, such as opening offices in new markets or starting efficiency-saving IT projects.
Co-operative Legal Services’ profits of £26,000 for its first year as an alternative business structure were met with derision by many - but how many start-ups make money in the first few years while getting their feet off the ground?
And although the profit per equity partner drop of 9%, to £1m, at Clifford Chance might appear 'disappointing' to managing partners – to the rest of the world it sounds very healthy indeed.
Just glancing at the direction the figures are pointing can often provide a small, and much less interesting part of the bigger picture.
Of course results provide an important bellwether for the profession and the wider economy, as my colleague Eduardo Reyes has pointed out. Not to mention what they mean for trainee retention rates.
But taken out of a longer-term context, the relentless fascination with balance sheets becomes an exercise in superficiality.
Much like using cold hard cash as the only metric in determining Mr Right (sorry Madonna).
Kathleen Hall is a Gazette reporter