This year's Lawyer 200 report promises to cover a larger amount of data about the top 200 UK law firms in greater depth than ever before. The most recent taster focuses on ratios of fee-earners to non-fee-earners. The comments on the summary piece give a good flavour of some reasonable concerns about the raw data, which might be alleviated somewhat by the longer piece extracted below.

But neither of these articles really grapples with a question that Melanie Farquharson alludes to in her Passle post. As legal practice and the business of law shifts from a lawyer-led model to one that engages a diverse range of professionals, can we really be sure that we know what we mean by 'fee-earner' (and by extension, that awful term 'non-fee-earner')?

Some firms may continue to consider only their qualified lawyers as fee-earners. Increasingly, though, income is being generated directly by a range of professionals -- paralegals, matter managers, and so on. It may also be generated indirectly by other key professionals, such as product or service managers, sales teams, process mappers. Even those (like the secretarial community mentioned in The Lawyer), whose work appears to be purely infrastructural (and thereby capable of being outsourced) can help to improve income generation by working in novel ways.

In reality, everybody in a law firm has the capability to contribute to client service delivery. Each firm will set its own balance between internal and outsourced services, between client-facing personnel and wider support. It seems backward-looking to focus on a single ratio to represent some kind of efficiency equation.