Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Lawyers Weekly Interview, Part II: details never before revealed about life & career of MidLaw scrivener

149HThe last post before this one set out the first part of the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s article and interview with MidLaw’s scrivener. Heath Hamacher wrote the Lawyers Weekly piece, and edited the interview “for length and clarity.” Below is Part II, the rest of the interview, which mostly addresses personal biographical details.

LW:   Tell me a little about your upbringing and how you came to get into the practice of law.

MIDLAW:   I was born and raised in Tarboro and Edgecombe County, North Carolina, which I later learned is the center of the universe. My father was in the horse-and-mule business until that played out and his work subsided into farming. What I learned about farming caused me to develop an interest in other ways of earning a living.

I got onto the path that led me to law practice late one evening many years ago when, in the course of a gentlemen’s card game, one of the players remarked that anyone who signed up to take the law boards the next day would be released from duty and provided with transportation to either Long Binh or Saigon where the tests would be administered.

I signed up for a day off, and one thing led to another.

 

LW:   Tell me about your practice area and exactly what you do as an attorney.

MIDLAW:   I started in a very general business law practice, focused mainly on litigation; then I followed opportunities that led to me becoming the general counsel of the North Carolina Savings and Loan League and later the North Carolina Bankers Association, and to representing financial services companies.

The time came about 15 years ago when my partners, Jim Williams and Dan McGinn, came and asked me to consider becoming the managing partner of our firm. I thought about that and agreed to do it if the partners approved, but on two conditions; namely: (i) that I could not both serve clients and also be managing partner at the same time, and (ii) that I would not be required ever to fill out a time sheet again. (I was bluffing about the second one, but it worked.)

At midnight this past December 31, Reid Phillips became our managing partner and now I am sort of rebuilding what I do. Something will come up.

 

LW:   Where did the idea of doing a blog come from? Its subject matter is pretty eclectic. Do you just write whatever’s on your mind?

MIDLAW:   Before there were blogs, I wrote a regular series of posts for the North Carolina Bankers Association’s website; before that, I wrote legal memoranda which the S&L League published. I started doing the blog because I wanted to understand what blogs are and how they might be used by law firms. Something I published on the blog (about hummus) got written up in the Greensboro newspaper, and all of a sudden I was in the blog business.

The blog is focused on a few topics: (i) mid-size law firms and law practice management; (ii) 19th Century NC lawyers (mostly from Edgecombe and Guilford Counties) and some things about Tarboro generally; (iii) legal services delivery (I am on the IOLTA board); (iv) the importance of liberal arts education; and (v) something we call the MidLaw Diet, which is about hummus mostly.

I certainly do not write about whatever is on my mind. I might get sued.

 

LW:   Tell me about your family. Are you married? To whom? How long? How many children and their ages.

MIDLAW:   I am well and truly married to Sally Patton Winslow, as I have been ever since 1980. We are the parents of Margaret Winslow who is 32 years old and lives in Greensboro, where she is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Elon Law School; and of Ted Winslow who is 27 years old and who teaches languages and literature and lives in Castellón de la Plana, Spain.

 

LW:   What do you do when you manage to find some free time? Any hobbies besides blogging?

MIDLAW:   We have this great place in the woods in southwest Virginia, where I engage in sedentary pursuits and limited physical activities, and where I like to go whenever I can. Also, I am very involved as a trustee of a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania (Westtown School) and of Guilford College in Greensboro. Hobbies might include reading or something. Maybe cooking.

NC Lawyers Weekly interview of MidLaw scrivener, Part I

MidLaw’s mild mannered scrivener was interviewed by the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly last week. This was in the broader context of the recent announcement that scrivener is stepping down as managing partner of the venerable Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, after 15 years in that role.Rabbit

The interview was in the vein of, “Over the course of your long career, Elder Winslow, you must have seen many changes in the practice of law. Is that not so?”

And that set the tone for the responses.

Heath Hamacher fashioned a fine article out of his questions and my answers. It’s in the current issue of Lawyers Weekly. Sort of an old-guy-speaks piece.

MidLaw is setting out the original questions and answers. in two installments. The questions below address changes in the legal profession. A later installment will be biographical ones.

LW:   What problems exist today that did not exist when you began practicing law?

MIDLAW:   Since I began practicing law, American society and the world economy have grown and expanded and become exponentially more complex. At this moment, we are in a time of huge social and economic change. All that growth and complexity and change depend critically on the law and legal system evolving to match it. Needs for legal services have grown wildly.

Our system for delivery of legal services has not kept pace.  North Carolina’s court system is underfunded. People with average to low wealth have limited access to legal services. And, our traditional system of “full service” law firms in the partnership form, responds very imperfectly to the needs before us.

LW:   What will it take to fix these problems?

MIDLAW:   We need to reinvent our system for delivering legal services, which we are well along the way to doing. We are behind the curve, but we are catching up.

New institutions, alternative services providers and new practice settings are developing almost daily. And, many organizations now have sophisticated legal departments that have evolved into really impressive contexts for professional practice.

At the core of this, we need to rethink law firms in fundamental ways – both to ensure that firms respond better to clients’ needs, and also to be sure that law firms continue to be fun and fulfilling settings for practitioners. And some firms are going there.

North Carolina probably needs to reinvent the courts system from top to bottom. Anyway, the courts need more resources.

Low wealth people must get better access to legal services. Our society is so complex. The most mundane aspects of life are bound by laws and rules. But as many as half our citizens can’t afford the expense of untangling legal snarls when they occur, or planning to avoid them. I think this is going to require radical new ways of delivering legal services. And, again, more money.

LW:   What is your biggest concern right now regarding the practice of law and what needs to be improved?

MIDLAW:   My biggest concern right now is the plight of new lawyers. So many new graduates don’t find jobs. Whether they get jobs or not, our traditional systems for bringing new lawyers into the practice and enculturating them into the community of lawyers, aren’t working the way they used to. The profession is segmenting. Lawyers have less and less in common, and less basis for trusting each other. That is clogging the system, and it makes the practice of law less gratifying for lawyers.

LW:   The practice of law has clearly changed since you began practicing. Have you seen positive changes? If so, what are they?

MIDLAW:   In your earlier questions, you asked me about problems so I gave you problems. But please understand: I believe that positive changes abound. Our law firm had a planning retreat last weekend; and our partner, Jim Williams, who is far, far older than I am, said the same thing. He said, “Now is the best time there has ever been to practice law.” He is absolutely right.

Let me list some positive changes (there are so many):

  1. The bar is much more sophisticated than in the past, and are therefore able to be of immediate assistance to clients who need top-notch, sophisticated solutions.
  2. Access to the law and legal resources for lawyers is improved infinitely. Virtually all lawyers have access to virtually all the law virtually all the time – much of it at vastly reduced expense.
  3. Resources for continuing education and professional improvement have gone from essentially none (I remember the NC Bar Association’s first CLE courses), to constant and limitless. That has made a big difference in the quality of the law practice.
  4. All of the alternative dispute resolution processes – mediation, arbitration, etc. – have been great improvements over what we did before, settling on the courthouse steps, etc.
  5. Non-legal resources for lawyers have come into being. Lawyers may have been among the last professions to regularly access to things like self-improvement and quality-of-life resources and training; psychological, wellness and substance abuse counselling and help; and life transition services.
  6. Our tools of the trade are miracles: word processing, scanning, emailing and cell phones. Once, there was carbon paper and whiteout. Once, law firms in New York would charter airplanes to deliver papers to us to get them filed on time.
  7. We are in a time when the world needs lawyers more than ever before. What we do matters.
  8. Millennials sound to me like they may have values and attributes that suit them better to be lawyers than any generation since the 19th Century.

LW:   You said that North Carolina is one of the finest places in the world and needs well-educated lawyers to lead and make it the best. Tell me about that.

MIDLAW:   North Carolina has always been a tapestry of small towns with distinctive, vibrant and interesting local cultures. Local people lead and define their local communities. Lawyers are key contributors to the infrastructure of communities. They are well educated critical thinkers; their training is values-based; and they are uniquely able to articulate community mores. Of course, lawyers are critical to commerce and to the system of justice; and lawyers are connectors. The good ones are peacemakers.

[To be continued in a future post. Return next week to MidLaw & Divers Items, to learn fascinating details of the scrivener’s personal life elicited by Lawyers Weekly reporter Heath Hamacher. Or, as Lawyers Weekly may prefer, get the current issue of that organ to see the entire interview, “edited for length and clarity”.]