Berkshire Hathaway’s Munger speaking to lawyers, law firms

munger-modal-ebookgraphic-210x210Charlie Munger, the celebrated vice-chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, has gotten the status of guru, especially among writers about investing.

Many do not recall that he is a lawyer and founded one of the most admirable American law firms, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; or that he was persuaded to quit practicing law by Warren Buffet. Munger says quitting was one of the best things he did. Aspects of law practice such as measuring out your life in time sheets, did not suit him. Munger has thought and spoken well about the profession —from both perspectivews – as lawyer and as quit-lawyer .

Shane Parrish at Farnum Street, an exceptionally good blog, is a leader among Munger admirers. He recently called attention to the commencement address Munger gave at USC Law School in 2007. Parrish says the speech contains so many of Munger’s core ideas that it represents “Munger’s Operating System” for life.

Maybe so. That address is a string of jewels about career development for lawyers and regarding law firm management.

Here are four nuggets lifted from there. There are more at Parrish’s piece; and more yet in the address itself. But, start with these.

Lifelong learning

[Y]ou’re hooked for lifetime learning, and without lifetime learning you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you’re going to learn after you leave here…if civilization can progress only when it invents the method of invention, you can progress only when you learn the method of learning

Reliability

If you’re unreliable it doesn’t matter what your virtues are, you’re going to crater immediately. So doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct. You want to avoid sloth and unreliability.

Work that excites you

Another thing that I found is an intense interest of the subject is indispensable if you are really going to excel. I could force myself to be fairly good in a lot of things, but I couldn’t be really good in anything where I didn’t have an intense interest. So to some extent, you’re going to have to follow me. If at all feasible you want to drift into doing something in which you really have a natural interest

Trust

The last idea that I want to give you as you go out into a profession that frequently puts a lot of procedure and a lot of precautions and a lot of mumbo jumbo into what it does, this is not the highest form which civilization can reach. The highest form which civilization can reach is a seamless web of deserved trust. Not much procedure, just totally reliable people correctly trusting one another. That’s the way an operating room works at the Mayo Clinic.

If a bunch of lawyers were to introduce a lot of process, the patients would all die. So never forget when you’re a lawyer that you may be rewarded for selling this stuff but you don’t have to buy it. In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has 47 pages, my suggestion is do not enter.

That last one is the key to operating a law firm. True law firms are professional associations whose members share professional values out of which grow a kind of trust that cannot be achieved by policies, rules or procedures.

Trust among law partners creates real law firms. The rest are “legal services organizations”.

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