£1 million per year salary – do lawyers have any duties apart from making as much money as possible?
The headline from the Evening Standard at the end of last week was fairly dramatic: ‘City Lawyers in £1 million pay bonanza form takeover deals‘. Apparently record numbers of City lawyers from the top 11 eleven firms are now earning average annual pay in excess of this amount on the back of servicing a surge of London based takeover deals.
Sounds great. Except that for most of Britain’s companies these sorts of numbers put lawyers totally beyond reach. Of the UK’s 5.4 million companies, all but 6,000 are SME’s, for whom the idea of employing a lawyer earning £1 million per year is laughable. Since SME’s make up 99.9 percent of the UK’s companies, employ nearly two thirds of its employees and generate nearly half its revenues you could be forgiven for thinking that lawyers pointing themselves at the remaining 0.1 percent of UK companies are delivering limited utility, however much they earn.
Here at LawBite we are Democratising the Law for SME’s. We provide them with expert, regulated lawyers at 50 percent or less of the average cost of a traditional firm – and far less than this percentage compared with the giddy hourly rates that generate a £1 million salary. We do this by using our technology platform and software tools to cut costs and save time, whilst still working with a human touch. We want the service to be a commercial success, but we also want it to do some good.
Nor are we alone in providing a big hand to small companies. As I saw that headline on the Evening Standard I was standing outside Parliament waiting to attend a Reception at the House of Lords for ‘National Mentoring Day‘ for which LawBite is a partner. Throughout the country expert mentors give up their time, energy and expertise to protect and grow their SME clients. Like LawBite, they seek to prevent the nightmares so that SME’s can fulfil their dreams.
Mentors of course also go well beyond the boundaries of business. This is value-delivery of a different kind. Mentors support prisoners re-adjusting to society, troubled school kids and military personnel invalided out of the army. The theme is the same though – it’s about professional experts putting themselves out to help those more vulnerable than themselves. We may do that at LawBite, but is there any duty on those City Lawyers earning £1 million a year in salary to do the same? Or is it ok for lawyers simply to fill their boots with as much cash as the market place will allow?
Of course the work that City lawyers do is complicated and time consuming, and no doubt of great value to City clients. Such lawyers, like all the rest of us, do have a Code of Conduct, which provides exhaustive rules to protect their clients and govern the process of delivering law. But this is not the same as any kind of obligation to help the wider public. There is no equivalent of a modern Hippocratic Oath for lawyers.
So, maybe there are no constraints on lawyers earning vast salaries on the back of mega corporate transactions. Except this one. The SRA Handbook provides for 10 Principles which lawyers regulated by the SRA must follow. The sixth of these states that lawyers must: “behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in you and the provision of legal services”. There is no doubt that cynicism abounds in relation to the legal profession and its motives. As a generalisation, Lawyers are perceived to be over-priced and in it for themselves. The Legal Services Board survey of attitudes to lawyers from 2015 showed for example that only 13 percent of SME’s viewed lawyers as cost effective. The more lawyers there are earning £1 million+ salaries, the more cynicism there will be about lawyers and the less they can be said to be upholding Rule 6 of the Ten Principles, and maintaining public trust’ in the provision of legal services…..reports of massive salaries like this for lawyers leave a nasty taste in the mouth for consumers at large. Food for thought for the top 11 City firms…?