Lawyers Are Like Meerkats And Naked Vole Rats, Claims Ex-Freshfields Managing Partner

Thought that corporate law was all about the survival of the fittest and the drive to make money?

Well, you’re wrong, says Hugh Crisp, the ex-Freshfields boss who’s now teaching business, law and management skills at Oxford Said Business School.

Instead, Crisp – who has been working with Oxford University zoologists to apply principles of behavioural ecology to the corporate world – reckons big law firms are made to tick by the sort of principles of collaboration and group spirit typically exhibited by meerkats and naked vole rats.

Looking at the recent big law success stories/car crashes, maybe Crisp has a point. Halliwells and Dewey & LeBoeuf collapsed amid greed and a breakdown of collegiate spirit, while magic circle firms like Crisp’s former employer Freshfields and the cult-like Slaughter and May do seem to have a certain binding Masonic culture.

What’s most interesting about all this, though, believes (£) the FT‘s Gillian Tett, is the fact that an ex-partner at a fusty old City law firm is showing willingness to draw on ideas from other “silos” to better understand his own industry. Such “silo-busting” is, according to Tett, part of a “much bigger trend” to which the legal profession has, as usual, arrived rather late.

Next week: Lord Neuberger on how parkour can spur the judiciary to write clearer judgments.