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Fee-Earner/Fee-Burner Divide Widens at McCague Borlack

I’m in Saskatoon today so this is a short blog – but an important one nonetheless.

Today’s Toronto Star [1] breaks the story of Toronto law firm, McCague Borlack (which recently entered into a two-year alliance with British firm DAC Beachcroft which may eventually lead to a merger) and its attempt to stop what name partner Howard Borlack claims is abuse by some clerical or secretarial staff at his firm. The Star quotes Borlack “Some people were abusing the system….We had people taking two to three hours for lunch and we had no way of knowing. . . . Some people were complaining.”

In response to these complaints, the firm is instituting a new security system that, according to The Star, “will require staff (except lawyers who spend much of their time with clients) to clock in and out of the office with a finger swipe.”

Notice that this security system applies only to staff – not to lawyers. Nice.

Last year, Stephen Mayson made some strong comments in Legal Futures [2] on the way that some law firms create a distinction between fee-earners and support staff. He called such a distinction “horrendous”, “insulting” and a barrier to recruiting the best people.

Louise Restell on the Quality Solicitors blog [3] picked up on this saying:

I have no idea whether this superiority complex comes from their legal training or whether it’s just that people with a strong sense of their own importance become lawyers, but it manifests itself in that objectionable habit of calling every non-lawyer in a firm ‘support staff’. So nefarious is this practice I have even seen the ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide referred to as ‘fee earner’ and ‘fee burner [4]’. A nice way of making your staff feel valued and motivated.

They are both correct.

Ham-fisted decisions like the McCague Borlack security system tar the entire profession.

And lawyers wonder why the general public sees us as arrogant and unlikeable.