I was reminded of this when reading the words of Lord Justice Gross, as reported in Legal Futures (link here), I quote:
"I am anxious to ensure that a conflict between shareholder value or business interest on the one hand and professional ethics should always be resolved in favour of the latter – and the point is worth making because the pressures to the contrary can arise in subtle form through small, imperceptible steps..."I appreciate his concerns. In another part of his speech, he says:
“Money is in short supply; that is a reality. There are many priorities and supplicants for public funds. That too is understood. However, reducing cost – in the sense of tightening the legal aid budget – must, over time, impact on the willingness of the best and brightest to practise at the publicly funded Bar. What will this do to the quality of our justice system over time, in areas such as crime and family?”This seems to be axiomatically true. It does, however, also smack a little of wanting it all. The Bar - the Justice system - should be well funded, firms and sets should be careful in cutting costs and outside investors should not have influence over the firms they invest in.
That doesn't sound quite right to me. Why would an investor provide a large slice of capital to a firm but have no control over its direction? Why shouldn't firms cut costs sensibly? Perhaps most importantly - why should external investors in a law firm have any lower ethical standard than the lawyers who currently invest (in one way or another) in the firm? It is possible, surely, that an additional external oversight might actually work to keep some firms on the straight and narrow.
We can't have it all. In times of economic difficulty, criminal justice will be asked to cut costs. Law firms and chambers should work to ensure that their systems are as efficient as possible and so make the best use of the money available. Firms should look to external investment expertise - and accept the requirements placed on them by the investors in terms of reporting and control systems. Who knows, we might end up in an ethically, as well as financially, stronger position...