As a (thankfully now semi-retired) solicitor of another generation, I was completely taken aback by the publication of James Caan’s comments. The headline - in the magazine - is: ‘Dragons’ Den star: It’s about the money.’ Is it?
Mr Caan is quoted as saying: ‘Too many law firms… think profitability is "a dirty word".’ Later he says that he had encountered a profession dogged by the partnership structure and reluctant to prioritise making money. I think that if you were to do a straw poll of young lawyers (particularly those working in the City and other central London firms) you would find that the culture described by Mr Caan is not one they would recognise.
My own experience of talking to younger people in the profession is that many of them are totally stressed out by excessive workloads and the need to comply with management dictates (often from accountants, and often coming across as bullying) demanding compliance with unrealistic chargeable hours and profit targets.
Perhaps more importantly, are we losing sight of what professionalism is about? I have nothing against business and the profit motive, but I was brought up to believe that a profession is different (not better or worse) from a business. Maybe this is a generational thing but I have always believed that the primary objective of a professional practitioner was to look after the client. If we are now going to accept that the primary objective is to make money then the professional relationship ceases to be anything special and the interests of the client become secondary. Would Mr Caan want to put his own affairs in the hands of firms whose first priority is to maximise profit?
As indicated above, I now work from home as an independent consultant and thank goodness I have the time to give the clients the attention they deserve – I would hate to be starting my career in the law in an environment shaped by Mr Caan’s views.
Raymond Cooper, Ashford, Kent