Cahiers de Hoummous — “Cooks without Borders,” hummus insight bordering on wisdom

Cooks without Borders is a blog worth examining, if only for this one post:

Ottolenghi meets Zahav: Introducing the ultimate hummus recipe

She is asking the right questions of the right people.

And, she has also found two key secrets that MidLaw readers have seen before: (i) use canned chickpeas when you need to, and, when you do, (ii) you need to cook’em just a bit.

Cooks without Borders ihummusday-1431534933s a very good blog, even though it goes far afield from hummus. But, as good as that blog is, there is little or no commentary there about mid-size law firms, or about Tarboro or Edgecombe County, or about  North Carolina lawyers — and, there is nothing about the virtues of Guilford College, lifelong learning, or the liberal arts.

So, I’m not exactly sure why you’d read it. You need that stuff to go with your hummus.

Maybe you’d read it for the food commentary. Anyway, she’s got the hummus nuances about right.

MidLaw chauvinism

A photo by Charlie Harutaka.

Photo by Charlie Harutaka.

Occasionally MidLaw has been characterized as diagnosing the obsolescence of mid-size firms. Sometimes we’re even said to be predicting the demise of mid-size firms. So I was glad that Kathryn Whitaker titled her JD Supra interview with me as “The Case for the Mid-Sized Law Firm.”

Of course, from time to time MidLaw does seek to understand the changes around us. And, from time to time it adverts to those who predict the end of the practice of law as we know it. Sometimes, MidLaw countenances those who proclaim the end of law firms altogether. But withal — MidLaw is solid – firm – in the conviction that mid-sized firms will be the last to go.

Kathryn quotes me as saying

A mid-sized firm is the best place on the planet to be a lawyer. The key is direct engagement with clients and colleagues.

Well, that’s what happens with oral interviews. You get all wound up and then you say something that you can’t take back. So, I am staked out. But, at least I believe what I said. No pivot here.

[In an earlier post, MidLaw proposed to republish Kathryn’s  JD Supra interview in this space, but I have come to the conclusion that the thing is just too long to put here, especially when it’s already been published over there. So, here’s another link instead.]

The main thing is: We will be the last to go!

Henceforth please understand: when MidLaw acknowledges the challenges that beset us, I am  simply setting the stage for us once more to demonstrate our resilience – to flex our agility. Remember, it was MidLaw who said these five years past, “Mid-Sized Firms Are the Only Hope for the Future of the Legal Profession,” and, later, more modestly, “I like MidLaw’s chances.”

More on the rise of robots, lawyers advised to get some emotions

robot2Here’s another article predicting that robots and artificial intelligence are getting ready to replace lawyers. Japanese scholar Hiroshi Ishiguro is the principal source.

Two highlights from this piece:

  • Robots are 5 to 10 years away from being able to do what lawyers do. “It’s easy to write a computer program for a lawyer.”
  • People trust robots more than lawyers. They are more comfortable talking to robots.

People simply like robots better than they do lawyers. And the clear implication is that robots have better ethics than lawyers do. It’s not only lawyers. Ishiguro says that in the future “about half of comedians are going to be robots.” (About half?)

Lawyers are advised to develop capacities for creativity, human connections, and emotion. Emotion, connection, creativity.

Or, get a hammer.

And, see Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and of course, Richard and Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions, How Technology Will Transform the Work of Experts.

I hope law schools and bar associations are looking at the implications of these issues for those just entering the profession.Ten years from now is when it will really start to matter.

The Case for the Mid-Sized Law Firm

Gen IVWhen MidLaw was interviewed by Lawyers Weekly, it was written questions, written answers. NC Lawyers Weekly Interview, Part I; and Part II

Just recently, Kathryn Whitaker for JD Supra Business Advisor also interviewed MidLaw. This time with oral questions, oral answers: The Case for the Mid-Sized Law Firm. Oral questions and answers are not exactly like having your deposition taken, but …

Here’s another thing. With oral questions and answers, there’s a (perhaps regrettable) tendency for the witness to speak at greater length. (Unlike a deposition, there’s nobody sitting next to you telling you to shut up.) So, with JD Supra‘s assent, MidLaw will set out JD Supra‘s piece in two parts in the near future.

If you want to see the whole thing, right now, in JD Supra‘s stylish format, go to JD Supra right here.

Cahiers de Hoummous — notice of temporary supply imbalance affecting hummus & tomatoes markets

NOTICE: Current conditions in marketplace may require prompt action

MidLaw has observed a temporary supply imbalance in the market for fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes in farmers markets across relevant regions. Arbitrage opportunities may obtain.

Accordingly, MidLaw is led to reprise the following item which was originally posted at MidLaw & Divers Items on July 2017, 2013. Readers should gauge their responses based upon their own assessments of market conditions in their particular regions.


BLTSeasonal recipe — hummus and tomatoes

Prepare hummus.

Then, obtain fresh, local, vine-ripened tomatoes. Tomatoes grown in Edgecombe County, North Carolina tend to be best for this purpose. But Guilford County tomatoes are very good.

Wash tomatoes. Slice them according to your usual practice. This will yield a number of tomato-shaped slices or coins. Further slice them into halves or quarters, depending on size. Salt and pepper to taste. You may wish to anoint the tomatoes lightly with oil, vinegar or both. This is optional. (If you elect this option, you might want to add the oil and vinegar first, then salt and pepper.)

Serve halved or quartered tomato slices either in the dish with your hummus or on a separate plate.               

Take a moment to appreciate natives of the Andes for first cultivating tomatoes; peoples of the eastern and southern Mediterranean for chic peas and sesame paste; and eastern and northern Mediterranean peoples for the olive oil. Good people.

Note: This seasonal suggestion has been found to work well as an accompaniment to eggs, and also with mayonnaise, bread, bacon, and lettuce.

The worm at the core of law firm management

Blake2Writing for Bloomberg Law, Aric Press gives an account of a presentation made by Albert Bollard from McKinsey about the nature of “expert organizations” like law firms.

There’s a worm at the core of law firms. “Expert work,” Bollard says, “is misaligned with customer value.”

Clients want “higher levels of service, delivered faster and more responsively, in a rapidly evolving landscape.” But, expert practitioners value expertise, autonomy, and independence, which they understand as the foundation of their ethics and the core of their identity as advocates and advisors.

In traditional law firms,

  • expertise is “valued for its own sake, rather than for contributing to customer value;”
  • knowledge is not “codified or shareable”, but is transmitted by apprenticeship;
  • individual practitioners own their separate engagements, and they are not oriented to improve “the way their organizations perform tasks;” and
  • there is no “end-to-end ownership” of the client’s experience, and limited ability to create and enforce “standard ways of working.”

Independence and autonomy foster counselors and empower advocates; but not managers and processors — and not efficiency.

It’s the rare law firm of any size that functions for very long as an integrated, cohesive, centrally directed team. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind. And cat-like independence impedes efficiency. It breeds misalignment between lawyer and client. It feeds the worm.

Commercial and institutional clients are themselves, managers and processors. They want service, fast and efficient. Don’t talk to them about autonomy. Don’t try to get them to care about expertise for its own sake.

The worm is a core challenge for lawyers. The misalignment between professional values and commercial values generates tension. Expertise and independence are GOOD. Efficiency and responsiveness are GOOD. If managed well, the tension between them can be creative.  

Easily and obviously, mid-size law firms are the practice setting best suited for aligning values, for keeping clients close and fostering creativity.


Hard Scrabble

SCRABBLEL4AS0Y1OT2The champion of French-language Scrabble can’t speak French.

My gut is screaming at me that this says something important about the future of traditional law firms.


Cahiers de Hoummous: hummus wars re-kindled in provocative WUNC article

Is hummus a casus belli, or the path to peace?hummus large

This is old territory for MidLaw.

As MidLaw has patiently outlined, there is great potential for contention between Arabs and Jews about who owns hummus and whose is best. There is no shortage of those who would take up the cudgels. But there has also been a movement towards peace and reconciliation.

At this delicate moment, WUNC, the public radio station, has stepped in with a provocative article demarking differences and provoking antagonists.

MidLaw is a longtime witness and sometime casualty of North Carolina’s divisive and destructive BBQ wars (also regularly roiled by WUNC coverage), And MidLaw has constantly counseled hummus peoples that war is not the answer. For those who are drawn to bean dips, MidLaw’s message is: roll your own with MidLaw Mind. Do not be seduced by external measures of quality or value — and certainly, do not be drawn into backward-looking controversies over who started it all. The debates that matter are: How much lemon juice? When is the olive oil added? What’s this about not peeling the garlic? And, of course, whether it’s OK to use canned chickpeas, and whether and how long to microwave canned peas? And MidLaw can respect each person’s answer.

If however, you cannot resist wading into the controversy, recall MidLaw’s early observation that, although there are surely those who disagree, many signs suggest that hummus may have originated in Greensboro about fifteen years ago. And, remember also that when MidLaw made a recent hummus trip to the Levant, the best hummus in the region was found to be precisely on the boundary, on the Green Line, between the West Bank and Israel.

War is not the answer.

[A MidLaw Dip in the direction of Bill Ross and Mack Sperling who were quick off the mark calling attention to the WUNC piece.]

The nature of the law firm – it’s about the client

pellicansLawyers are going now for 10 years contemplating The End of Lawyers? and how legal services organizations might be configured in the future. New taxonomies have emerged: Big Law, Mid Law, Alternative Services Providers, legal process managers, and more.

The thinking of economist Robert Coase has been rediscovered. Coase wrote The Nature of the Firm. Firms are needed, he said, only where performing functions within an enterprise costs less than outsourcing.

And so lawyers have taken Coase for guidance in how to build law firms. They ask themselves what advantages are won by taking functions in-house (specialty practices, IT, etc.) and what functions should be outsourced. “Full service law firms” are a challenged model. Is it better to be a one-stop organization, possibly with multiple offices; or a niche-oriented, highly networked shop?

But, wait.  Are law firms asking the right question?

The driving question is not so much how law firms should be configured. It is how will clients configure themselves? Can businesses obtain legal services better in-house or outside? If they go outside, are they better served by law firms or alternatives?

For law firms, the truly strategic question is not whether they need an ERISA capability, or a healthcare practice. It is what services will clients do for themselves? And, when clients choose to go outside, what can a law firm do better and cheaper than alternative providers? These are questions that are answered quite differently, depending on the size, location and practice competencies of different law firms.

The concept that legal services are best delivered from a stand-alone professional services partnership – in order to assure independence, competence and objectivity – has modest appeal for clients who have concluded that they can obtain the same services more efficiently elsewhere.

What can traditional law firms do best by these measures?

It’s about the client’s economics, not the law firm’s.


Semicentennial visit to Spain — Visigoths seen dancing on the beach

spJUMPIMG_0474Upon departing Spain recently, it occurred to me that I first visited there 50 years ago. Semicentennial.

The contrasts are easy to name.  Spain now is bright, colorful, spirited. It is notably prosperous compared with a half-century ago, although at this moment it is still in some stage of a bad recession.

It’s not any longer about old ladies wearing black. I saw 75 women dancing (not particularly well) on a shore, and 20 more vaulting on boots fitted with bouncing soles.

On the beaches, there are libraries. Lending libraries on the beaches.

Like 50 years ago and before, every mountain town still seems to offer some unique dish, or drink, or method of preparing pork. Every seaside village has some unique species of sea creature that they eat (or, at least, serve).

Spaniards are Iberians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Jews, Moors, Visigoths, thoroughly mixed. You can’t say that America invented immigration, or that immigration is some new thing.

I saw a sign on a public building on Spain’s East Coast that says, “Refugees Welcome.”