Last Friday I found myself knee-deep in small talk, nibbling a duck pancake and playing “Spot the Chief Justice”.
French CJ couldn’t help but extend this theme to include his personal bugbear – the taxonomy of the legal profession, specifically the trend towards specialist (or “quarantined”) lawyers and court lists that fail to acknowledge the overlap between different areas of the law.
Public interest concerns aside, specialisation, he claims, will rot a lawyer’s mind.
It’s obviously been a while since His Honour has spent consecutive weeks sorting documents into chronological order and affixing itty-bitty stickers to their corners if it is subject-matter specialisation that keeps him awake at night.
I also wonder if HH would move this concern a few notches down his list of Worrisome Things if he was to spend a few days at the Firm.
You see, the Firm is comprised of various specialist groups.
In theory, new files that come into the Firm are hand-balled to the group that specialises in that area – statements of claim to Litigation, regulatory advices to Government, leases to Property, one big happy family, etc. etc.
In practice, the adopted nomenclature is as flimsy as a first-timer’s Brownlow dress.
Why? Because no partner is going to “feed” another’s group voluntarily.
He would much prefer his junior litigators stumble their way through a lease assignment so he can record the billings, rather than refer the file down the hall to someone who can half read a plan.
In my student politics days, the biggest rift on campus was not between the ALP and the Young Liberals but the two socialist parties.
At the Firm, the enemy is not the firm over the road but the group down the hall.
Why? It’s all about “budget”, those randomly generated numbers that fuel the Firm’s Sisyphean circle of life.
The partners have monthly meetings where the groups’ “performances” against these numbers are compared.
Hell knows no fury like the day a crestfallen partner returns from such a meeting. Staplers fly and paralegals wail.
I’m not quite sure why it matters so much if another group measured better against its arbitrary benchmark than yours.
It is not as though the partners take home less money at the end of the day if one group works on a matter rather than another.
Do they lose their stationery rights? Are there canings? Or is it just a case of battered street cred as they float past each other in the carpark at nightfall?
So Chief Justice French can rest easy.
I’ll be hole-punching documents on a veritable fruitbowl of legal topics for some time yet…