Are Titles Important?

The reason I ask is because I am on the fence. Titles do allow for “classification” and that allows for a quick assessment based upon expected criteria. A CPA vs. bookkeeper for example: both are important, but not interchangeable. So based on the criteria of the title, certification, we can assess if we are speaking to the best person for our need. In law firms, the title of partner vs. the title of associate communicates what? What are the “expected criteria” by which the public should assess which is best for their need? Both have taken a regulatory exam to receive a license to provide services to the public. “Partner” has an element of more experience than an Associate. But if three attorneys open a law firm one week after passing the bar they would use the title of partner and no one would question it. So the “experience” element the public expects for one who has the title of Partner is not always present. Some firms don’t use the title partner; they use the title shareholder. The “expected criteria” for a shareholder is the holding of shares. That does not say much about the individual practicing law.

If titles are important what makes them important? How important is the title “partner” and to whom? How important should it be? Is it important because it is “sold” as important or because it has inherent importance?

I like the concept of titles because in theory the title should be descriptive of what it titles and thereby be of assistance to the decision-making process. In practice, titles don’t seem to be up to the task. I do know that the title of partner has an economic value to the person so labeled. This is true if they want to move firms and it is true when the public seeks out legal services. But is the public adding value to the title because they have “bought the pitch”? Is there really value to the public? There is also the question of whether “experience” translates into “better” for each situation? Does the number of years one has under their belt translate into “experience” with the consumer’s issue?

There seem to be too many “subjective” criteria for the title of Partner or Associate to be of value to the consumer. But my sense is that the consumer does not always understand this reality. The question of who “owns” what is the least valuable criteria to the consumer, yet it is seem the criteria of least resistance set by the law firm structure. In following this red herring, the public may be paying higher fees all for the “title”, which may or may not embody the “expected criteria” they assumed would exist.

In sports we have the player’s stats to tell us about the quality of their performance. Since law titles are subjective, is there a way to add objective statistics to the pitch? Should we just declare all lawyers partners and move past titles to something more “real” to allow consumers to engage the right person with the right skills?

I like that: every attorney is a partner in the delivery of legal services in our society. Now that is a title, with a real meaning, that I can support without reservation.