When Jeremy and I began our careers in the early 1990’s there were basically two types of lawyers – litigators and commercial lawyers. One group went to court. The other, as a rule, did not.
The generation of lawyers before ours did not recognise that distinction – if you were a lawyer you would have a crack at everything from drafting wills and doing conveyancing, to handling child custody disputes and defending criminals.
By the 1980’s a clear split had emerged between the court lawyers and non-litigators.
These days the profession has become much more specialised – family law, criminal, commercial property, construction, banking, competition, tax and environmental law are all distinct. In larger countries and firms the specialist areas are even narrower – when I worked at Clifford Chance in London there was a department that was dedicated to financing aircraft leases, and another that solely dealt with mergers and acquisitions for private equity funds. The Australian law firm I worked in had lawyers solely dedicated to advising on stamp duty (and how to avoid paying it).
What does this mean for businesses? Chances are you are going to need more than one lawyer to meet all of your legal needs. One of the skills of a good lawyer is knowing when, how and who to engage for that specialist advice. The other value that your lawyer can add is to make the process as efficient as possible (saving you time and money). The same way that a good builder will manage a renovation project to make sure that the subcontractor plumber/electrician/painter only turns up at the right point in the job (and when the preparatory work has been completed by other trades).
So, don’t be alarmed when your lawyer recommends that you consult another lawyer for advice – you wouldn’t expect an orthopaedic surgeon to deliver your baby – neither would you ask an employment lawyer to give you tax advice.