Monthly Archives: September 2014

The Middle Way — the shining path of mid-size law firms

Above the Law and The People’s Therapist recently compared working as a young lawyer in a BigLaw firm to eating a bucket of cockroaches.middle-path

I’ve never worked for a big law firm, but I have eaten cockroaches. (Ft. Benning, Ga., 1969.) Taking the comparison as apt and applying my own experience, I can say that the cardinal attribute of working for a big law firm must be the thrashing of the little legs on your tongue.

The People’s Therapist grants that some may like this:

They like the money, and the status that comes with working around the clock for billionaires. A certain type of dorky, detail-driven, competitive personality thrives in the corridors (and tiny, colorless offices) of biglaw.

However, for most of us, working in biglaw appears to resemble eating cockroaches …. Why would we then eat a bucket of cockroaches? … The money.

Enter George Mason professor Michael Krauss, writing for Forbes. He warns that money is no reason to go to law school. That model is broken

Law school tuition is higher than ever, yet incomes are stagnant and perhaps dropping. Law school loans, guaranteed by Uncle Sam and not dischargeable by bankruptcy, help you pay for tuition, but every increase in the generosity of federal largesses is yet another incentive for universities to capture rents by increasing tuition further.

But most law students will not catch the “brass ring” of high paying jobs at big law firms.

And those that do catch the ring will be in for a life that is “usually exhausting and often boring, if not soul-destroying.”

Professor Krauss says, if your objective with law school is to make a lot of money, you probably won’t, and if you do, then you will destroy your very soul (while dining on cockroaches). The right reasons to go to law school, he says, are if your interests are either (i) the pursuit of Justice, or (ii) helping people who need and can’t afford legal help, or (iii) “soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes.”

Those are good reasons to go to law school. But the economic model may be no better, even if the work is. If your objectives are to do justice or to serve the disadvantaged, you need to know that the pay will not be good. Legislatures are reducing government funding for legal aid programs even as the demand grows. The primary response of the organized Bar is to seek new sources of funding (donations, surcharges on various dues and fees, enhanced pro bono programs). But friends, the gap will never be closed this way. It just won’t.


Soberly attempting to understand and solve the incredibly difficult, and incredibly interesting intellectual problems that underlie so many of today’s legal disputes.

That’s a great reason to go to law school — and that is what mid-size firms do every day. And the scale of the work is such that young lawyers engage directly in the problem solving – not just the detail-driving. And, however precariously, the economic model for mid-size law firms still works.

I feel a little guilty about this when I hear about the soul-destroying and the cockroach-munching – and I feel especially guilty when I hear about the unmet legal needs of good people in an increasingly complex society – and the dedicated, debt-burdened lawyers who work to help those people.

And, I acknowledge that the supply of jobs for new graduates in mid-size firms is limited. It’s very hard to get in.

There’s no time here or room for proofs that the model is still working, or to detail the risks of the mid-size model (there are many) – I offer only the bald conclusion: the quality of professional life endures and the economic model still works for mid-size firms where the values are right and strategic choices are careful.

“The Middle Way.”

The problem with all-star lawyers

Nicole Crawford Advisor to employers

Nicole Crawford
Adviser to employers

Brooks Pierce partner and in-demand legal adviser to employers, Nicole Crawford has given an interview to WFDD radio in which she explains the EEOC’s new pregnancy guidelines — what they mean for employers and for pregnant employees — clearly, succinctly, evenhandedly — and so remarkably fluently.

How are we going to keep her down on the farm, now that she has tasted show business?

FIRE — the Spirit is alive at Guilford College

sm-Hobbs_091814Look, when I said I was on fire at Guilford College’s Convocation , this is NOT what I was talking about.

But the spirit of Mary Hobbs never rests at Guilford College.


The Dried Bean Conundrum

CHICKPEASI got interested in hummus in the first place because Cook’s Illustrated announced that canned chickpeas are just as good as dried ones if you microwave the peas for a few minutes before you machine them into hummus. I admired the sheer audacity of the thing: a more-processed food declared to be just as good as a less-processed product. Could it be?

Cook’s Illustrated has more or less confirmed its bold conclusion since then – although conceding a slim advantage to dried chickpeas at the boundary where peas cross over from those that are creamy to those that are “mushy.” Anyway, I read Cook’s Illustrated as holding to its position: canned chickpeas, if microwaved, are equivalent to the dried – and they are quick.

But then I encountered this:

I only buy dry beans, as they are healthier and more nutritionally dense than canned beans. These beans are cute and they make great hummus. The garbanzo beans will expand to over 2X the size after you soak them in water overnight. Great healthy product at an affordable price.

How can you stand against that? Cute?

That comment was part of a review of garbanzo beans marketed by the bag on the Internet. (A review of a bag of beans!) This led me to Nourished Kitchen, a food website with its own hummus learning, where they make “sprouted hummus” from “identity preserved beans.” (On your cell phone, you can track the growing conditions, seed date, harvest date, even the varietal, of your garbanzos – and see a Google map of the field where your beans first saw light.)

And so, bit by bit, I have been drawn into the world of dried chickpeas.

There is much to know. The marketer of those bags of beans gives these basic instructions:

1 Cup of Dried Palouse Brand Garbanzo Beans = 2.5 Cups Prepared

– Soak 1 cup of beans overnight in 4 cups of water

– Boil the beans for 1 hour

The directions on its bags decree “DO NOT add salt to water.” Salt makes’em tougher.

All this soaking and boiling and the microwaving. First, it’s about hydrating the beans (pulses, we call them by now), then it’s about breaking down something in the beans that keeps them from being “creamy.” Baking soda addresses the same thing. (The alkali in the soda weakens the pectin bonds in the beans).

So, I have taken to adding a teaspoon or so of baking soda to the overnight soak.

Here’s where I am. You start with your dried product. You soak overnight with baking soda. You boil your beans for an hour. Then you are ready to start with your hummus. And, you know what? The hummus from the dried beans is better than canned. It ought to be.

Or – you can start with canned chickpeas that you microwave – and you’ve got hummus in 15 minutes. And that is good hummus, too. But you can’t see a picture of where your beans grew up and they may not be cute.

Rockstar English teachers

english111Two vie to be top writing consultants to lawyers. They are Bryan Garner, the style-and-usage manualist and legal lexicographer; and Gary Kinder, the creator of editing software that makes your writing clear and concise. English teachers run wild. Law firms pay them lots to teach lawyers to write right.

Both publish blogs about writing – mostly about usage. Garner’s is LawProse.  Kinder’s is WordRake – Write to the Point.

Both are very good. Rock-star English teachers is what they are though. Grammarians who work very hard not to be boring.

“Who” or “whom”? They tell which. (Don’t get them started on “which.”)

Garner hooked me recently, boring down on “whoever” and “whomever”. The rule is what you’d expect.

What caught me was the possessive of whoever. There are three possibilities: “whosever”, “whoever’s,” “whomever’s”.  Bryan wrote it up, so go read him.  In short, “whosever” is formally correct, but “whoever’s” is winning the battle colloquially. Many dictionaries don’t even include “whosever.” “Whomever’s” is always wrong.

The possessive of whoever.

I’m on fire but don’t put me out, just let me burn

FireI saw something last week that almost literally and certainly figuratively set me on fire. It was Guilford College’s Convocation.

The president, Jane Fernandes made a stirring address. It was high minded – about values. And it was well done. Fully the equivalent of what I heard when I started college in 1964. The Guilford College Choir led the singing of the alma mater.

What was new to me though was the rest. Students and faculty convened at a small college. The faculty and upperclasses inviting new students to research – to research and learn about what turns them on.

Professor Melanie Lee-Brown lit the fire. She was up there literally setting things on fire and flinging them into the air. (I am assured that what she was doing complied somehow with the fire code.) Real research is for everyone, students and faculty. Faculty will be there to help every student, one-on-one. Every one. Students are not required, but invited to do this.

Older students were showing what they did last year: Science (things were smoking), music (things were smokin’), history (Raphael and Pope Leo X). A really good jazz group, the Blue Roots Jazz Band, doing research and featuring a graduate of the famous Westtown School.

New students were invited by the community they were joining to follow their passions – and join everybody else who’s already doing that.

They were not told, “We will convey to you what you must know.” They were encouraged to go after it for themselves and assured that the faculty will help. It was personal.

Very cool. Sign me up. Let me burn.