For many years working in the realm of law firms I have been described as a Non – a non lawyer. It is a rather strange predicament to define yourself and your skills based on what you are not, rather than what you are. I remember when my husband first graduated from university and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, he took a series of jobs to try things out only to come to the conclusion a year later that he learned what he didn’t want to do. So he went back to school, twice, in pursuit of being a something. I on the other hand, graduated from grad school and shortly thereafter started on my almost two decade journey of being a Non.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas. Apparently that even includes self-deluding opinions. Yesterday, a friend pointed me toward an article in Texas Law Book entitled Get Wall Street Out of the Practice of Law. (Subscription Required) In this opinion piece, the author, a former Big Law partner and current Legal Communications Advisor, offers her own opinion on the Texas Bar Opinion No. 642. Opinion 642 is the one that says that “Texas Law Firms” (Is that any firm with an office in Texas? Firms with offices only in Texas? Or, firms with headquarters in Texas?) cannot have non-attorney staff with the title of Officer or Principal. So, in other words, no CMO, CTO, CIO, CDO, COO, or CXO unless, they also happen to have a JD. WTF?
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may recall my own opinion of Opinion 642. As is my habit, I responded to the short-sighted and misguided ramblings of the Texas Bar with ridicule – in verse no less – which frankly took way more time than I should have ever devoted to such nonsense. And yet, here I am again writing about it. But I could not leave this one alone.
I’m just going to pull a few of my favorite quotes.
“…non-lawyers actually do control Big Law and the Big Titles are the proof.”
Yes, we’re starting off slow, but I’ve never even heard of a BigLaw firm where the C-level officers have anything close to the power, standing, or pay of their corporate counterparts. Still, hang in there with me, it gets worse. I promise.
“…ever since the non-legal managers gained power starting in the mid-to late-1990s, the hourly rates for lawyers have skyrocketed to the point that even the biggest corporate clients feel the pain.“
Setting aside the issue of how much power “non-legal” managers actually have in law firms; correlation does not equal causation. That’s science and statistics 101. Maybe they should teach that in law school along side the business classes that don’t exist. Also, I hate to be petty, but doesn’t the term “non-legal” imply illegal? My guess: an editor complained about using the non-word “non-lawyer” 8 times in a thousand word post so they changed 3 of them to the non-synonym “non-legal”. It was probably the same editor who used the term “Wall Street” in a title for an article that doesn’t mention Wall Street in any way and that has nothing at all to do with investment banking, stock markets, or a street in lower Manhattan. But that is pure speculation on my part, I could be non-right.
“…the hourly rates have to pay for the Big Titles of the ever-increasing non-lawyer management ranks. As a result, every lawyer needs to bill more hours at a higher rate each year for the firm to look profitable in the year-over-year metrics that the non-legal managers live by. They have trained the lawyers to live by them too.”
Here’s where we start to pick up steam. Those poor lawyers SLAVING away to pay for the gigantic titles of all of the non-lawyers they are forced to hire. How much do titles cost anyway? Truth is those “big titles” are often given in lieu of big salaries or bonuses.
“…I know most [Lawyers] are decent, hardworking, ethical people. But I also know that too many of them have become slaves to a system where managers focused on accounting and profits-per-partner metrics control the livelihood of the lawyers whom they are supposed to support. “
Admit it! You thought I was being overly dramatic using the term “slaving” above, didn’t you? No. She actually says it. Lawyers are “slaves to a system where [presumably non-attorney] managers [who are] focused on [those crazy nonsensical things like] accounting and profits-per-partner metrics control the [much much larger] livelihood of the lawyers whom they are supposed to support.”
So, is she saying that focusing on accounting and increasing profits-per-partner are not supportive of the poor little attorneys who are just trying to make a living?
I can almost – almost – believe that the Texas Bar is legitimately concerned about intelligent and well-qualified people running law firms in a way that makes their membership look bad. That would at least explain, if not justify, their ridiculous Opinion 642. But I am truly baffled as to how anyone could honestly believe that this opinion is intended to hold the line on skyrocketing legal costs. Thankfully, I have an easy way to test that hypothesis.
If Opinion 642 stands, and firms change the titles of their “non-legal” Officers in Texas, we’ll check back in a year and see just how much the average billing rates of Texas attorneys have come down.
See, science baby! Stuff I learned outside of law school. Sometimes it really does come in handy.