Monthly Archives: July 2016

Hard Scrabble

SCRABBLEL4AS0Y1OT2The champion of French-language Scrabble can’t speak French.

My gut is screaming at me that this says something important about the future of traditional law firms.


Cahiers de Hoummous: hummus wars re-kindled in provocative WUNC article

Is hummus a casus belli, or the path to peace?hummus large

This is old territory for MidLaw.

As MidLaw has patiently outlined, there is great potential for contention between Arabs and Jews about who owns hummus and whose is best. There is no shortage of those who would take up the cudgels. But there has also been a movement towards peace and reconciliation.

At this delicate moment, WUNC, the public radio station, has stepped in with a provocative article demarking differences and provoking antagonists.

MidLaw is a longtime witness and sometime casualty of North Carolina’s divisive and destructive BBQ wars (also regularly roiled by WUNC coverage), And MidLaw has constantly counseled hummus peoples that war is not the answer. For those who are drawn to bean dips, MidLaw’s message is: roll your own with MidLaw Mind. Do not be seduced by external measures of quality or value — and certainly, do not be drawn into backward-looking controversies over who started it all. The debates that matter are: How much lemon juice? When is the olive oil added? What’s this about not peeling the garlic? And, of course, whether it’s OK to use canned chickpeas, and whether and how long to microwave canned peas? And MidLaw can respect each person’s answer.

If however, you cannot resist wading into the controversy, recall MidLaw’s early observation that, although there are surely those who disagree, many signs suggest that hummus may have originated in Greensboro about fifteen years ago. And, remember also that when MidLaw made a recent hummus trip to the Levant, the best hummus in the region was found to be precisely on the boundary, on the Green Line, between the West Bank and Israel.

War is not the answer.

[A MidLaw Dip in the direction of Bill Ross and Mack Sperling who were quick off the mark calling attention to the WUNC piece.]

The nature of the law firm – it’s about the client

pellicansLawyers are going now for 10 years contemplating The End of Lawyers? and how legal services organizations might be configured in the future. New taxonomies have emerged: Big Law, Mid Law, Alternative Services Providers, legal process managers, and more.

The thinking of economist Robert Coase has been rediscovered. Coase wrote The Nature of the Firm. Firms are needed, he said, only where performing functions within an enterprise costs less than outsourcing.

And so lawyers have taken Coase for guidance in how to build law firms. They ask themselves what advantages are won by taking functions in-house (specialty practices, IT, etc.) and what functions should be outsourced. “Full service law firms” are a challenged model. Is it better to be a one-stop organization, possibly with multiple offices; or a niche-oriented, highly networked shop?

But, wait.  Are law firms asking the right question?

The driving question is not so much how law firms should be configured. It is how will clients configure themselves? Can businesses obtain legal services better in-house or outside? If they go outside, are they better served by law firms or alternatives?

For law firms, the truly strategic question is not whether they need an ERISA capability, or a healthcare practice. It is what services will clients do for themselves? And, when clients choose to go outside, what can a law firm do better and cheaper than alternative providers? These are questions that are answered quite differently, depending on the size, location and practice competencies of different law firms.

The concept that legal services are best delivered from a stand-alone professional services partnership – in order to assure independence, competence and objectivity – has modest appeal for clients who have concluded that they can obtain the same services more efficiently elsewhere.

What can traditional law firms do best by these measures?

It’s about the client’s economics, not the law firm’s.


Semicentennial visit to Spain — Visigoths seen dancing on the beach

spJUMPIMG_0474Upon departing Spain recently, it occurred to me that I first visited there 50 years ago. Semicentennial.

The contrasts are easy to name.  Spain now is bright, colorful, spirited. It is notably prosperous compared with a half-century ago, although at this moment it is still in some stage of a bad recession.

It’s not any longer about old ladies wearing black. I saw 75 women dancing (not particularly well) on a shore, and 20 more vaulting on boots fitted with bouncing soles.

On the beaches, there are libraries. Lending libraries on the beaches.

Like 50 years ago and before, every mountain town still seems to offer some unique dish, or drink, or method of preparing pork. Every seaside village has some unique species of sea creature that they eat (or, at least, serve).

Spaniards are Iberians, Greeks, Romans, Celts, Jews, Moors, Visigoths, thoroughly mixed. You can’t say that America invented immigration, or that immigration is some new thing.

I saw a sign on a public building on Spain’s East Coast that says, “Refugees Welcome.”



Book for the (summer) times

BrunoSynchronicity cannot be ignored.

Just before the British voted to exit the European Union, Bruno, Chief of Police, A Novel of the French Countryside, by Martin Walker, was persuasively recommended to me (by a prominent and celebrated librarian, I mean). Just after the vote, I took Bruno in hand on a visit to Spain.

Many Spanish just now are a bit abraded by what they feel is a certain cultural and economic amour propre in the British — a sort of aggrandizement. In Bruno, Martin Walker writes of the Perigord and observes that Frenchmen in the rural South West feel something of the same thing. Walker adds that in South West France there is also a mildly simmering resentment of Paris and Brussels’ EU agricultural regulations as they restrict centuries-old local practices. And he stirs in the tensions in a small village as it assimilates North African Arabs into rural French community life.

Walker sets this as the context for – what else? – a murder mystery, which he spices with truculent right wing politicians railing against Muslims (now 8% of France’s population).

It’s a fine story, set in a fine region, told with a due appreciation for cuisine, wines, cooking. Key to the resolution of it all is a subtle, diplomatic French chief of police bent on preserving community instead of pulling it apart. Either the chief of police or the author has a quiet but powerful sense of humor. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whose it is.

Nice to see a leader coping with change and differences who values an open, evolving community. A book for the times.

Terra Milles

terra MThank goodness I was asked to introduce my friends Terry and Joe Graedon (the Peoples’ Pharmacy) who were speaking to a Greensboro civic club last month; and thank goodness I heard them say that eggs, oils, fat (including reasonable amounts of saturated fats) and dietary cholesterol are BACK. They are no longer bad for you; they are mostly good for you; and they may not even make you gain weight. All things in moderation, of course.

Thank goodness I had heard that by the time I arrived at Terra Milles. Terra Milles is little more than a kitchen that sits on a dock fifteen feet or so from the Mediterranean Sea in El Grao at Castellón de La Plana, Spain. Around the kitchen on the dock, tables and chairs are gathered under an open shelter. At Terra Milles they prepare and serve whatever the boats have just brought in. The only fresher seafood is what the fishermen eat before the boat gets back to shore.






Sepia (cuttlefish)


Sardines with a green sauce. Cuttlefish sauteed in olive oil. Fideuà with aioli. Tomatoes, olives and onions

terra M tomates

Tomatoes, olives, onions

Oh, and beer.

Fidueà is a new discovery. Essentially, it’s paella but made with small curly noodles (vermicelli) instead of rice, cooked in fish broth with bits of many sea creatures. With aioli. Spectacular.

Look, I was going to eat all that stuff anyway. And drink it. But I’m so glad I heard Joe and Terry say that almost all of it was not so bad for you (had I only exercised moderation). There is a Balm in Gilead.

Globalization, boundaries, lawyers

BoundariesShould they have left? Should they have stayed? Should we build a wall around ours?

Technology, communications, transportation, the ability to operate at scale, the force of populations — irresistible forces. Globalization is upon us.

There will always be boundaries. Boundaries will always be crossed.

Commerce is inevitable. Ain’t no wall high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough.

Boundaries are terrains of uncertainty; they are where complexity grows.  That makes them hunting grounds for lawyers. Someone must make things predictable.

Mid-size firms have new tools for the harvest.