When LawNews caught up with senior partner Arthur Young three years ago in his office at Chapman Tripp, the then 84-year-old wasn’t thinking of retirement.
He enjoyed the private client work, including family trusts and succession planning, that formed the basis of his practice, with some of these clients being with him for 40 years. And he was in the mood for reminiscing about his early days in the law.
Back then, Young says, when he had his first job as a law clerk, the sale of a corner dairy or grocery store was regarded as a major commercial transaction. Not only was there no internet but no photocopiers or biros either and fax machines were a thing of the future. Young wrote with a fountain pen; his secretary took dictation and worked on a manual typewriter. Firms were small and there were few women in the profession.
Today, as Young kicks off his retirement with a three-month break near Avignon in the south of France, he says he won’t be giving up work altogether. There is ongoing business with trusteeships and family directorate work, but he will be scaling back in a major way. A priority is to whittle a few shots off his golf handicap.
On the future of the legal profession, Young says it has undergone dramatic change in the past 20 years and he believes it will become even more diverse to reflect the increasing diversity in society.
“I think one of the challenges for the profession is to keep up with the needs of legal education so people can keep themselves current,” he says. “I think there’s a challenge there, there are the precedent systems to help …. but I don’t think [that is] sufficient.”
One thing Young would like to see changed is the mandatory retirement age (70) for judges. “With the lengthening spans of life and with the continuing improvements in healthcare, and probably fiscal and wider wellbeing, 70 is too early for a hard-and-fast rule,” he says.
“But it depends on the context. It’s not the sort of thing one can generalise about. It varies and there are the challenges, if one doesn’t have a review date, [around] how to go about it. Who is to initiate it? And if there is to be change, a failure to initiate can create other problems.
“I’d probably be an advocate for milestone review dates and a process for that, rather than absolute hard-and-fast rules to keep a level of flexibility.” He says Chapman Tripp doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age for partners.
As Young noted three years ago, access to justice remains a major problem. It has been a concern the whole 65+ years he has been in practice, he says, though it might have become more acute, particularly in the court system.
There is still a place for big law firms despite the inroads being made by the legal businesses of the Big Four accounting firms. While the threat might increase, Young says the Big Four face challenges.
While the accountants might have the advantage of cross-referrals inside their firms, “some established law firms have been going for well over 100 years and to be able to replicate or seriously challenge that – or seriously challenge major elements of that – is not a five-minute task. It probably takes generations”, he says.
Ironically, that same week, US website law.com reported that despite claims by the Big Four that they didn’t want to compete with traditional law firms, EY is (yet again) considering spinning off its global audit businesses to dodge some of the regulatory scrutiny audit businesses attract and to avoid conflicts of interest (the Big Four cannot provide legal services to businesses they audit).
When asked about his favourite type of client, Young said he’d always gravitated towards people rather than corporate balance sheets.
“Corporates, of course, are run by people and increasingly I’ve found that less personal …. A lot of the client connections are individuals or business families and virtually all of them of very long standing. So, one does, over time, favour that kind of client. The next generations might have been landed with me but then get used to me and seem to want to continue to talk to me.”
Young has sat on some public company boards (“not deep, not major”) but says he prefers private companies and family businesses where the dynamics and governance requirements are different.
His advice for young lawyers? Keep reading, especially judgments, and resist the temptation to specialise too early. “Young lawyers should have as broad an experience as can be achieved.” ■