Monthly Archives: April 2016

Tarboro-grown lawyer now prominent NC leader, delivering access to justice

And now it’s time for a word from our sponsor.

Our sponsor (indirectly anyway) is the North Carolina legal system.

Unhappily, it has come upon some hard times in recent years.


As recently noted, our economy and society have become extraordinarily more complex as compared with the days when tobacco was king and music had a back beat you could not lose. In today’s more complex world, vastly more people need legal services than ever before. And many fewer can afford lawyers than before.

This falls most heavily on the poor, of whom North Carolina has many. Twenty-three percent of North Carolinians cannot afford lawyers when they need’em. Eighty percent of the legal needs of poor people are not met.

That’s bad news. The results clog the courts system, burden the State and slow our economy.

The good news is that a Tarboro native and lawyer is at the forefront of bringing legal services to people who can’t afford them. She is a leader at the State and national levels — and she is widely recognized for her exceptional abilities and good works.

Celia Pistolis, formerly of Baker Street.

In her role as Director of Advocacy at Legal Aid of North Carolina, Celia supervises one of the largest staffs of lawyers in the State and manages what is surely the largest network of law offices. In her role as chair of the North Carolina Equal Justice Alliance, Celia also leads the principal association of all the major providers of legal services to poor people in North Carolina.

Celia was honored in 2012 by UNC Law School, which granted her a Distinguished Alumni Award, putting her in company with some of the most accomplished lawyers in North Carolina and beyond. The North Carolina Bar Association awarded her the Outstanding Legal Services Attorney Award as far back as 2002. And the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation selected her to receive a special sabbatical award in 2011 in recognition of her service.

Celia is an important leader doing badly needed work. She is in the middle of a distinguished career. A great Tarboro lawyer.

So, MidLaw’s sponsor, the North Carolina legal system, has great needs and Tarboro-born-and-raised lawyer Celia Pistolis is a key leader in meeting those needs. She is getting results.  In 2012, the total impact of legal aid in North Carolina was $48,775,276.

There’s a lot more to be done. Federal and state funding have steadily been cut. Private resources are needed. It’d be a good thing to give Celia’s organization a few bucks.

MidLaw among the Bedouin

DSC_0141When MidLaw was fed from a bottle, his parents got him a goat — a kid, for a pet. MidLaw and the goat were fed together.

I remember that goat with fondness. Don’t really remember the bottle-feeding.

Several weeks ago as the Westtown School group visited the Bedouin camp, I was reminded of my goat. The Bedouin keep goats and sheep for their living. Due to political restrictions on their movements, their herds are shrunk. The stock is ragged.

Wanting to make a connection, I asked the translator to let the sheikh know that my family once had goats. Didn’t mention the bottle thing. The sheikh (pictured with others below) sized me up. His reply: “How many goats did you have?”

It was a short conversation.Bedouin 2016IsraelPalestine - 420 of 776-L

Job description for the midlaw managing partner

He was writing about something else altogether, and suddenly, there it was. Somehow, he had written the best job description I know for the managing partner of a traditional, mid-size business law firm in the 21st Century. He said,

Organizations are complex systems, in which cause-and-effect is nonlinear, path-dependent (history matters), and often unknowable in prospect. Deciding what to do (or not do), and how and when to do (or not do) “it,” is a matter of judgment and experience, as managers try to accomplish short-term objectives while keeping their longer run options open.

David K. Hurst, Why Business Books Still Speak Volumesstrategy+business, S+B Blogs (November 17, 2015).

RabJust now, law firm management starts from that place (that is, from the place of nonlinear, path-dependent unknowability). The same may also be true for other kinds of organizations (maybe all of them, as the author says), but just now it is more true of law firms than almost anybody else. Indeed, to the extent that this proposition is not true of a law or legal process organization, then – to that extent – I say it is not a law firm. Instead, it is probably best characterized as a “legal services organization.”

Firms in which cause-and-effect is linear and for which management outcomes are predictable, likely are process managers, and likely to be replaced one day by machines. Members of those firms are likely not seasoned and rounded “attorneys and counselors.”

The task of the manager of a law firm is to understand the path upon which the firm is dependent; to find the opportunities that path has created in the present; and, to identify new domains of uncertainty, ambiguity and complexity, toward which to boldly go. Yes, keeping options open.

More grandly, the same writer says, “we all need narratives.”

Data is not the same as knowledge; information is not, in and of itself, insight. As humans, we need narrative “centers of gravity” to make sense of our experience.

* * *

Although the advent of big data calls for a good deal of calculation, it also demands more judgment — “big” judgment, which will require more and better-disciplined analogies to help us synthesize our experiences and grasp their meaning.

Such is the nature of strategic planning for non-linear, path-dependent professional services organizations. The process is sometimes described as “herding cats.”



The most liberal art

Masada Israel-2013-Aerial_21-Masada

Masada overlooking Dead Sea

Lifelong learning is the ultimate liberal art. It is the single skill or attribute that is most important for a school or college to impart to its students.

The truth never changes. But our understanding of it must change continually. If not, we are dead or dying.

Where lifelong learning can’t be imparted, it should be thrust upon.

And, that is what happened to MidLaw on that recent trip with 18 members of the senior class at Westtown School to Israel and Palestine.

It was not a trip. It was a master class in “You aren’t 18 years old anymore.”

Hike the Snake Path to Masada before dawn to see sunrise over the Dead Sea? At age 70?

Is that lifelong learning, or the lack of it?

öéìåí àåéø ùì îöãä, ìéã éí äîìç.

Snake Path visible at left



Cahiers de Hoummous: The Return of MidLaw from the Levant

Version 2MidLaw is back. Back from the Middle East. Israel and Palestine.

MidLaw traveled with a group of 18 students and 5 teachers from Westtown School. We came from China, Korea, Nigeria, Kenya, England and many parts of the United States. (MidLaw’s hummus studies proceeded parallel to the students’ work.)

We visited a broad range of communities, groups, families and a settlement in Israel and Palestine. Our meals were served “family style.” During the first week, we were served hummus at literally every meal (but one). Hummus at breakfast, lunch and dinner. After the first week, the pattern was the same. ALWAYS, we had hummus at breakfast.

And so, MidLaw has eaten hummus at

  • hotels and restaurants
  • the home of an Israeli businessman and military officer (where I learned that he is CEO of the largest supplier of chickpea seeds in the region)
  • the home of a Palestinian author, religious leader and peace activist
  • a kibbutz
  • a Palestinian refugee camp
  • a Palestinian family farm
  • a Bedouin encampment
  • a Druze village
  • an Israeli youth hostel
  • a Christian guest house in Bethlehem
  • The Friends School in Ramallah (in the company of the leader of Palestine’s largest telecommunications company).

In East Jerusalem, we had hummus from famed hummus bar Abu Shukri. In Jaffa, to MidLaw’s dismay we were not able to get to Abu Hassan, although we had hummus at another place nearby.

In Nazareth, we had a meal that was presented as typical of what Jesus would commonly have eaten. Turns out Jesus was a big fan of hummus.

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At the center of Barta’a

The best hummus for MidLaw’s money was at a café in the center of the village of Barta’a. Uniquely, Barta’a sits directly on “the Green Line.” The Green Line is the line drawn on maps to demark Israeli territory at the end of the 1948 War. At Barta’a, the map was misread. What looked on the map like a river, was in fact a drainage ditch – and so, the Green Line was drawn right through the middle of the village, down the ditch. That created a bizarrely split village, with different laws and different taxes depending on what side of the ditch you’re on.

Anyway, there’s a café in Barta’a that sits just on the Palestinian side of the ditch. The hummus there is fantastic.

Lunch at Barta'a

Lunch at Barta’a

So, MidLaw has seen a lot of hummus. And eaten it all with enthusiasm. Three times a day. And after careful study, MidLaw has concluded that the hummus in the Levant is fully the equal of MidLaw hummus. I mean it! It’s very good.

Still, the Lesson of the Levant is that the key to great hummus is roll your own – with MidLaw Mind.

YOU are Abu Shukri.