Monthly Archives: July 2015

Tarboro ranked 6th best place in North Carolina for 2015 in MidLaw Rankings

Community House

RoadSnacks ranked Tarboro the third worst place in North Carolina last week. It’s “the real pits,” they said. My friend, John Graham wasted no time calling attention to that.

No one should be surprised. At least this year’s rank is better than last year’s. But MidLaw was surprised because MidLaw made a site visit two weeks ago. It was legwork for the MidLaw Rankings and also to see Jim Hussey. Things were in good shape then.

People were in good spirits. The place looks pretty good. (Much better than the photo RoadSnacks published.)

But RoadSnack rankings focus on computer things, numbers. And they even read those wrong. For example, they counted low real estate prices as a bad things. Really? The up-side of low real estate prices is that there are extraordinary opportunities to buy property in Tarboro right now. I’m thinking that should boost it onto the “Great Places” list; certainly not land it among the “Worst Places.” Few places in North Carolina can boast the equal of Tarboro’s historic district.

Also: food is virtually charging out of the ground down there. Sweet corn from northwest Edgecombe County is the best in world this year. Edgecombe tomatoes are in the top 10. And, although final results are not yet in, Edgecombe melons always qualify for honorable mention or better, worldwide. (MidLaw must report however, in the interests of objective reportage based on experience from some time back, that the best melons in the world – which must be eaten to be believed – are from Afghanistan.)

In recent weeks the announcement of a new venture has come: beer. A brewery in downtown Tarboro. It will complement On the Square, Tarboro’s celebrated high cuisine restaurant. Beer is not new to Tarboro. People have been drinking it there for some time and sometimes in prodigious quantities. But a brewery? That will be new.

And, even as tobacco seems on a steady decline in Edgecombe, sweet potatoes are on the rise. If sweet potatoes rise, can chickpeas be far behind?

MidLaw has considered these and other factors in light of that ignominious RoadSnack ranking. Upon reflection, MidLaw is prepared to announce its own ranking.

In the future, when public references are made to the RoadSnack ranking, please point out that Tarboro is listed in the MidLaw Rankings for the same period as “6th Best” in the State.

[Note: MidLaw’s rankings for other places in the state have not yet been assigned. However, the likelihood that Tarboro’s ranking might be lowered as other rankings are assigned is considered to be quite remote.]

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On organizing law firms around professional values

pellicansCompetence, autonomy and connectedness.

These factors were recently correlated with a sense of well-being and life satisfaction among lawyers. They far exceed money, status or prestige.

In plain terms, lawyers who feel a sense of competence, a sense of autonomy and a sense of connection with others are the contented ones. These factors, the study also found, are less often experienced in large law firms than they are in public service jobs. But note well: the satisfaction achieved in public service is not said to come from the greater nobility of the work, or from reflection on a life well spent. Rather, it’s because public service lawyers are more likely than big firm lawyers to experience a sense of personal competence and autonomy and meaningful connections with others.

Surely, achieving those modest conditions are within the grasp of virtually anyone with a law license – big firm or small, private or public. It’s not about the job; it’s a matter of how the practice environment is structured.

In fact, it might be argued that law practice, certainly “classical law practice,” is the natural home of competence, autonomy and connectedness. Those factors align remarkably closely with the traditional culture of the legal profession. And, now-days the emerging culture of all knowledge work, not just legal work, (think Google) seems to be aspiring to the same principles.

Traditional legal ethics. The heart of legal ethics has always been in the lawyer’s duties of competence, independence and loyalty. It’s not much of a stretch to see competence-autonomy-connectedness as equivalent to those ancient ethical precepts. This is where lawyers began.

Maybe in some ways, large, leveraged and departmentalized law firms have moved away from this core. Large organizations inevitably limit autonomy and may dilute personal connections with clients and colleagues, and they concentrate individuals on narrower and narrower circles of competence. Even so, few law firms, large or small, do not claim competence (they call it excellence), some form of autonomy, and professional connections (collegiality) among the foundations of their culture.

birds-group-photography-cropKnowledge workers.  Even as lawyers may have moved away some from this original core, organizations of knowledge workers are moving rapidly toward cultures that prize flat or non-hierarchical structures,  a sense of community and, of course, excellence.

My best guess is that business organizations of the future will look more and more like what law practice might have looked like in the 19th Century. (OK. Please allow a bit of latitude here, but you get the point.)

Technology. Technology is abetting this. The thrust of 21st Century technology is to “commoditize” knowledge, to equalize the capabilities of small organizations with larger ones, and to create new capabilities for networking and for social connections – in every instance promoting individual competence, autonomy and community.

Millennials. Is it a cause or is it an effect? In 2013, Millennials made up a third of the population of the United States. They constitute a majority of the work force.  And, they are often characterized by attributes that line up with these same factors. Legal employers are commonly admonished to provide work cultures that meet Millennials’ expectations of professional development and recognition of individual achievements, while anticipating their independence from institutions coupled nonetheless with a desire to work as part of a community or team broader than themselves.

So, it’s simple enough. The pillars of professional satisfaction are competence, autonomy, and connectedness. Traditionally, these values have been at the exact center of the professional lives of American lawyers. And now American business culture generally is creating new forms of organizations founded on these same things.

So – as law firms find themselves being reshaped by technology, by non-lawyer service providers, by the expanding role of legal departments, and by limited-service law firms, a key to recruiting and retaining talent will be to create future firms in which professionals can build their careers around competence (professional development centered in meaningful experience), autonomy (participation in a non-hierarchical business organization) and connectedness (collegiality, shared values, and close connections to clients).

Achieving this in law firms that handle larger, complex matters is harder than it looks, but it is imminently doable.

Core lawyer function not special knowledge, but managing hard problems – Mauboussin: a thinker about that

migrating canada geese

Farnum Street recently called attention to Michael Mauboussin‘s observation that the capability of IT-enabled networks, which can harness the wisdom of crowds, reduces the scope for experts to add value.

A much narrower but related point has been made here at MidLaw in the context of law firms. The growing ability of smaller firms to network with each other and harness combined wisdom, diminishes the advantage of larger firms. Much of the value that large firms bring can be replicated by networking; and technology is rapidly enabling better networking. This does not eliminate the need for law firms, but it reduces the need for so many large firms, and it affirms the growing opportunity of mid-sized firms.

Mauboussin extends this thinking beyond the observation that problem-solving is no longer something that must always be handed over to subject matter experts. He suggests methodologies for solving problems, including solving problems with networks that include experts.

This is important learning for lawyers. Subject matter expertise is not what’s at the core of lawyering. Problem-solving is. Lawyers are not so much possessors of key knowledge as they are professionals who know how to confront and manage hard problems. Mauboussin provides useful thinking about how to think about thinking about these problems.

Knowing when and how to hand things off to subject matter experts and then how to use what you get from them, is an important part of solving problems. As computering advances, this kind of competence will be a larger part of lawyering.

Sitting here listening to Thelonious Monk

I am sitting here listening to Thelonious Monk as I have done oftentimes before. Monk TIME cover

Except now I know that his mother’s people were from Conetoe. And his mother was from the Edgecombe County side of Rocky Mount. Monk was, too. (For our international readers, these are North Carolina references whose significance is not readily explained but is profound. The difference between the Edgecombe side and the Nash side, for instance.)

This means that Billy Thigpen’s grandfather and Rowland Bullock’s grandfather, for sure, knew Thelonious Monk’s grandfather. My grandfather probably knew him. It means that my other grandfather and his brothers probably knew Monk’s people in Rocky Mount (knew who they were).

What does this mean?

Without doubt, Thelonious Monk is the only Edgecombe County native who was ever on the cover of Time Magazine. He was a genius. I do not have the words for his music. (Try this.)

Is Conetoe in that music? Edgecombe County? Billy Thigpen’s grandfather?

The Trouble with Lawyers — new book identifies the challenges, suggests responses

Rhode bookThere’s a new book, another book, about the trouble with lawyers. It’s called The Trouble with Lawyers.

The National Law Journal has published a short interview with the the author, Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode. In that interview, Professor Rhode makes two points that have been made here before.

NLJ: What is the biggest challenge that the American bar is facing today?

Rhode: I think it’s a shameful irony that the nation with one of the world’s highest concentration of lawyers does such a poor job of making their services available to those who need help most. Over four-fifths of the legal needs of poor individuals are not being met. And that’s a problem with enormous social costs.

NLJ: Are law schools part of the problem or part of the solution?

Rhode: I think the one-size-fits-all model we currently have fails to address the diversity in what lawyers do. It just makes no sense to train in the same way someone who’s going to be doing divorces in a small town and the person who’s going to be doing financial mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street. We need to recognize the diversity in legal tasks and to have corresponding diversity in legal education. The book argues for having one-year, two-year and three-year degrees.

Deborah Rhode is a Stanford law professor, said to be the nation’s most frequently cited scholar on legal ethics. She’s a past president of the Association of American Law Schools.

If nothing else, it’s instructive to see which issues are rising to the top: the two identified above and others also addressed in the book.

The MidLaw Diet: hydration – a midsummer’s quaere

three-monkeys-pot-of-water-spigot-faucetI was at Costco. They are selling water down there. At a discount. Water. What is that about?

If you are buying water, do you want the cheap stuff?

Do you want premium water?

Quaere.

Stay hydrated, my friends. It’s the MidLaw Way.

The Benefit of Going to Law and the lawyer’s fee

oysterdisputePoor Richard’s wisdom on The Benefit of Going to Law was cited recently by Peggy Britt at The Ipsa Group. (The Ipsa Group is a North Carolina attorney placement group whose placements “speak for themselves.”)

THE BENEFIT OF GOING TO LAW

by: Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Two beggars traveling along,
One blind, the other lame.
Pick’d up an oyster on the way,
To which they both laid claim:
The matter rose so high, that they
Resolv’d to go to law,
As often richer fools have done,
Who quarrel for a straw.
A lawyer took it straight in hand,
Who knew his business was
To mind nor one nor t’other side,
But make the best o’ the cause,
As always in the law’s the case;
So he his judgment gave,
And lawyer-like he thus resolv’d
What each of them should have;
Blind plaintif, lame defendant, share
The friendly laws impartial care,
A shell for him, a shell for thee,
The middle is the lawyer’s fee.

The issue is timely. Timeless, mayhap.