John Flood: What Do Lawyers Do?

John Flood has published a revised version of his book on a Chicago law firm, called Tischmann and Weinstock for the purposes of the book: What Do Lawyers Do? An ethnography of a corporate law firm. You can get the Kindle version, and the paper versions are due shortly.

John Flood has a website and a weblog called John Flood’s Random Academic Thoughts, where there is a post with more information on the book.

I have often wondered what lawyers do myself – the book is about business lawyers rather than litigators, whose role is easier to understand. Just as people who come straight from translation studies can’t usually translate, new lawyers can’t usually act as lawyers, so I never found it out, although the firm in the book sounds very similar to the Jewish law firm where I did my articles in London, down to the arrangement of the offices. The text is rather dry on the surface, a summary of analysis, but amusing between the lines.

The main activity of lawyers is talking on the telephone with persons other than Tischmann lawyers (31.1%). If we add talking with other Tischmann lawyers by telephone the percentage rises to 23.5 percent. The second largest activity is talking face to face with other Tischmann lawyers (12%). Talking with Tischmann lawyers and others takes up 18.1 percent of lawyers’ billable time. If we sum time spent at meetings outside the office (2.6%), office meetings (0.7%), telephoning and talking face to face, we find lawyers spend 53.9 percent of their chargeable time talking. Writing, however, takes up only 20.8 percent (16.3% – drafting; 4.5% – revising). … Research is an activity mainly carried out by associates.

All the office staff are considered.

All the support staff had to log in and out during the day. If they were late, their salaries were docked. Because they perceived their salaries already low, many secretaries left after having their salaries reduced. Much of the office gossip turned on how much of a “bastard” the office manager was, and who was about to suffer his wrath next. Some of the secretaries were aggrieved at how they were treated by the office manager. They felt he conveniently forgot the many occasions when they came in during weekends to help their attorneys, when he decided to dock their pay for some infraction.

I’m looking forward to reading the rest. I think I first read John Flood on barristers’ clerks, a mysterious species – here’s a blog post on them.

3 thoughts on “John Flood: What Do Lawyers Do?

  1. Thanks for those John Flood links. What Do Lawyers Do will not explain why law is a stepping stone to local and national politics in so many countries like the US, the UK, France, Spain, Canada, Australia, India etc.

    Maybe a way with and twisting of words (‘high standard of debate’), rather than administrative skills and knowledge of foreign policy and economics, is a factor that influences, impresses and in some cases has fooled the public.

    Why the ethos of a(corporate etc.)law firm and Chambers that may traditionally be short on human relations and management skills seems to be a given and an ideal for high political office or distinction, I find a mystery.

    Also the label of Barristers’ clerks ‘as a breed’ is a bit dated. (Great books he wrote about them 30 years ago). To avoid the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks exams, outsiders are going straight into new Chambers in E&W, not as Senior Clerks but as ‘Practice Managers’.

  2. Yes. Me, too. The blog is very detailed in places. The blogger – interviewed by a cockney Barristers’ Clerk for his first clerking job – is obviously working at the family and legally un/aided criminal end of the spectrum.

    At the other end of the spectrum, Chancery Chambers, even outside of the Inns of Court in London, generally do not have Barristers’ Clerks who speak with a Cockney or Thames Estuary accent.

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