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Editorial: The Stories We (and Numbers) Tell

Editorial: The Stories We (and Numbers) Tell

Issue 10.9
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The CEE by the Numbers special issues – like the one we just launched last week – have always been close to my heart. Between our former editor David and I, he was always the writer. Some people just have a way with words. Others – words no have. I always found soothing serenity in numbers instead. But, just like words, numbers can tell a lot of stories. And each time we suffer in front of massive Excel sheets at 2 a.m. putting together the CEE by the Numbers reports, I find myself comparing the stories we are told with those that the numbers tell us.

For example, in this very issue, lawyers in Turkiye talk about the increased competition they face in the country, in part driven by the increase in the number of spin-offs in the market. In contrast, the 2023 CEE by the Numbers report highlighted there are 35 fewer ranked firms in the country today than in 2021. Sure, that is still an increase of 20 compared to 2019 but the trend in the last couple of years seems to be of a decreasing pool of competitors, not an increasing one. Of course, the pure numbers don’t automatically invalidate the positions of our market commentators. Spin-offs might take a while to get ranked (sometimes years, as some might frustratingly know) but they do compete for work from the moment they open their doors – many times on price, which was the main pain point for the lawyers we spoke with.

But there are tensions between other stories – in the versions told by firms and the versions numbers tell of those firms – that are less easy to solve. There is a firm – we’ll call it “Law Firm X” – that actually has a dedicated menu item on its main homepage menu showcasing its dedication to women in law. The menu item jumped at me since it was from a firm in a market that has traditionally had one of the worst records in terms of female participation in the legal services sector in CEE – and, surely enough, that proved to be the case this year as well. “I can’t blame them for their entire market,” I thought to myself. “Maybe they’re a beacon of progressive efforts in their country to remedy the gap, so let’s have a closer look.”

Law Firm X’s dedicated page states that “around 50% are female lawyers.” In reality, it is 37%, down from 41% in 2019. While it admits the next step is to ensure an “increase [in] the proportion of female partners,” it places an emphasis on “equal opportunities at all career levels.” That is a story hardly backed up by numbers. To begin with, 9.08% of partners being women hardly illustrates equal opportunities. But, even if we are to be generous and say that number is almost double compared to 2019 when it was 4.76%, that only represents one additional female partner – bringing it to a grand total of two. The worst part, contrasting their story to that of their numbers, is that on the same page they also showcase a 2023 women-in-law-focused award. I have a sense their story won in the jurors’ eyes.

But because I am more a person of numbers than of words, here are a few numbers I find hope in. Doing a cursory search on our platform, in 2021, “greenwashing” risks were highlighted three times by lawyers in CEE. In 2022, that number jumped to 15. In 2023, we’re at 15 at the beginning of October already. I can only hope this increase in awareness will lead to the stories we all tell being better aligned with those told by pure numbers.

This article was originally published in Issue 10.9 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.

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