Monthly Archives: December 2016

Guilford College president charged with possessing subversive literature, house for sale

nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-16Circulating anti-slavery literature was a crime punishable by imprisonment and a whipping in North Carolina in the years just before the Civil War and The Impending Crisis by Hinton Rowan Helper was the very definition of such literature.

Nereus Mendenhall, the Superintendent (president) of New Garden Friends School (which became Guilford College) and himself an abolitionist, owned multiple copies of The Impending Crisis which he made freely available to others. So Greensboro authorities determined to seize his books and put him in jail. They sent out a posse for that purpose.

But Mendenhall’s brother Cyrus, a Greensboro lawyer, businessman and the Treasurer of the North Carolina Railroad, had learned of the plan and sent word to his brother. More to the point, he also sent word to his to his sister-in-law, Orianna Mendenhall. Upon receiving the news, Nereus sat stolidly in his chair and refused to take any action. He continued reading. No so, Orianna. When she saw what Nereus was doing, she gathered up the books and threw them into the fire. Arrest averted. (Go Orianna!)

nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-21
nereus_mendenhall_the_oaks-19Mendenhall’s home and Orianna’s fire were on a farm known as The Oaks between Greensboro and High Point out on what is now NC Highway 68. The house where Mendenhall received his brother’s message and the room in which his books were burned are now for sale by Preservation North Carolina. The house was built in 1830 and is an architecturally significant example of a Quaker Plan house. If not sold, it will likely be destroyed.

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Cahiers de Hoummous: Garnish your hummus with a sprig of holly

holly-days-market-kfeanl-clipartMore than any other, the question MidLaw gets is “What is your recipe for hummus?”

It’s not, “Based on your experience and success, what is your advice about the management of midsize law firms?”  It’s never, “As a prominent and distinguished North Carolina lawyer, what are your views on the state of things?” (As needed, we can supply other questions that MidLaw consistently does not receive.) No.

Always, it is  “What is your recipe for making hummus?”

And MidLaw has always sought to show that great hummus is a path, not a destination — and the path best traveled is the MidLaw Way.

But this is Christmas. So, MidLaw brings (below) these simple gifts from the path (i) origins of the MidLaw Way and a recipe, (ii) the conundrum: dried vs. canned, (iii) techniques of the masters, and (iv) MidLaw Mind.

Origins of the MidLaw Way and a recipe

MidLaw’s entry upon hummus questing had its beginnings in a simple discovery. Canned chickpeas are perfectly fine for making your own hummus, but microwave them for 5 or 6 minutes before you process them. Posting this insight caught the attention of the local newspaper, which published a recipe for MidLaw’s “Straight Ahead Hummus.” Start with that.

The canned vs. dried conundrum

From those early days, the journey proceeded.

Almost immediately, the conundrum arose: canned chickpeas will do, but what of the dried ones? MidLaw leaped to the challenge. It took up the nuances of preparing dried chickpeas and forthrightly concluded:

Here’s where I am. You start with your dried product. You soak overnight with baking soda. You boil your beans for an hour [or two]. … And, you know what? The hummus from the dried beans is better than canned. It ought to be.

Or – you can start with canned chickpeas that you microwave – and you’ve got hummus in 15 minutes. And that is perfectly good hummus, too.

Techniques of the masters

The journey has continued. Bit by bit, the wisdom of masters has been sought. Their techniques have been gathered and compiled. MidLaw’s observations are proffered with them:

  • Soak dried chickpeas in water for 8 to 12 hours with baking soda (say, a teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of chickpeas). Never put salt in there. Salt toughens the skins, and you are trying to soften and ultimately remove the skins, not toughen them.
  • Cook (bring to boil, then simmer) soaked chickpeas in new water with a new baking soda treatment. Cook them for a long time (at least an hour, but even more). Keep them immersed in water. It may not be possible to overcook them. No one knows for sure. What you want to get is really soft chickpeas, falling apart, with the skins separating out.
  • To the extent that you can, remove the skins (remove the skins, that is, if your vision is the creamiest hummus, but bring MidLaw Mind). Maybe the best way to remove the skins is to sift the cooked (then cooled) chickpeas through your fingers.
  • Err on the side of too much tahini.
  • Err on the side of too much olive oil.
  • Err on the side of either too much or too little lemon juice. You must find your own way here.
  • Get enough salt. Add more if you need it.
  • Conventional recipes counsel blending olive oil directly into the chickpeas. But SolomonovMaureen Abood and many another in Israel and Palestine advocate withholding the olive oil until the end, then drizzling it (very liberally) on top of the processed chickpeas and tahini just before serving. Some do both.
  • When you add water, add cold water (ice-cold water, Solomonov says, with the water to be added into a running food processor a teaspoon at the time; Maureen Abood agrees).
  • Solomonov may be unique for advising that garlic, lemon juice and salt should be combined in a food processor separately. He advises using more garlic than others (4 cloves) but adding the cloves while still unpeeled. Purée coarsely, he says, then allow that mixture to sit for 10 minutes while the garlic “mellows.” Finally, strain the mixture through a sieve into a separate bowl, seeking to remove the solids. Tahini is combined with that in a food processor, and after that, ice water. Finally, the chickpeas are added in.
  • And then, run the processor a long time. 4 minutes? You decide.

MidLaw Way

But always, the path has been The MidLaw Way and the guide has been MidLaw Mind.

  • Stop. Breathe
  • Roll your own. Let it breathe.
  • Consume radically — with no preconceptions. Submit to no external standard of taste, flavor or texture. Give no way to any dip from any container off any shelf.
  • It’s got to be yours.

Yuletide hummus

In the spirit of the season, garnish your hummus with a sprig of holly. The dark green leaf, the bright red berry: they rest so well on a rich bed of beige.

But do not eat that holly. Remember: holly is toxic and can cause death to small animals and little children.

Merry Christmas to all!

Holiday special: low rates for legal research and document review if you act now!

Xmas still life - red balls, tinsel with blurred red Christmas lights bokeh background

Holiday prices on selected services. Order now!

Did MidLaw recently say that “non-lawyer competitors are thriving based on the proposition that much that law firms do is not the practice of law”?

Well, you can get holiday pricing with that.

MidLaw received an email message that same day (subject: “Christmas Blast”) from somebody in India who offered an “end of the year special.” Special low rates, good only until December 31, for

  • Legal research
  • Summarizing medical records, depositions and trial transcripts
  • Indexing, proofreading & cite-checking of legal documents
  • Preparing case chronologies
  • Review of legal documents
  • Preparation of discovery requests & responses
  • Contract review and abstraction
  • Drafting of summons & complaints
  • Doing redactions, and applying bate-stamps on legal documents
  • Data entry, form fill-ups, template based drafting
  • Making entries on accounting systems.

I am serious. This offer came from a firm that is “not a law firm and neither provides legal advice nor practices law.”

Cut-rate legal research and document review. But you must act now!

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.

Law firms are surrounded. We must circle the wagons. But around what?

165hThe Financial Times recently published a very good, short article about legal technology: “Artificial intelligence disrupting the business of law.” It drives home the point that law firms are surrounded by new technologies, by alternative providers, by accounting firms providing legal services, and more. Big Law is under attack and it is beginning to fight back by investing in big technology.

MidLaw can never do that. Mid-size firms must look to third party providers to bring technology solutions.

But that’s fine. It frees mid-size firms to focus on their particular competencies, their core clients, and their home markets.

What does a mid-size firm do uniquely well? What is its focus? Get clear about that. There is a different answer for every firm. Context matters. Identity matters. Competence matters. Ethos matters.

The counter-intuitive next step after finding focus is to go beyond it. After you know who you are, the next step is to ask what goes with that? How do you grow it? What else can you be? What other services are natural expansions of core competencies?

And here is a key: growth beyond core competencies may not be limited to services that require a law license. The definition of the “practice of law” has limited relevance to the growth of a law practice. Do not allow the fact that you are a law firm delude you into the belief that you are limited to delivering legal services. Non-lawyer competitors are thriving based on the proposition that much that law firms do is not the practice of law.

Context matters:

  • who are you?
  • what are you good at?
  • what are you uniquely good at?
  • who are your clients?
  • what services can you provide to them, whether the practice of law or not?
  • what markets do you reach, can you reach?

The definition of the phrase “law firm” is shifting, shaking, and shrinking. Potential clients don’t see law firms as alternatives that all do about the same thing. And they don’t much care what the legal definition of  “the practice of law” may be.

Cahiers de Hoummous: the onset of winter

pumpkin_spice_grandeThey speak to me at Christmas time of pumpkin hummus.

It is the get of the multi-culture. Some at this season reprise even the beet fallacy.

Look it up. There is no plural of hummus.

Hummus is of chickpeas.

Rightly, we contest dried versus canned chickpeas. And then we conclude that either can do. And avidly, we pour into our food processors other pulses, other beans, and other vegetables to mash them up. But those are not hummus. They are dips and pastes and sauces. That must find their own names.

Anything else is the theft of a word that is the property of the chickpea. Chickpeas, garbanzo beans, ceci nuts, sometimes also known as Egyptian peas, Bengal grams, and Kabuli chana: they own hummus.

You may flavor your hummus as you will. After all, you are not choosing a plastic cup on a supermarket shelf. This is MidLaw. You are rolling your own. Radical self-determination is the essence of MidLaw Mind.

So, roasted red peppers are fine. A soupcon of vinegar from time to time perhaps. Frankly, pumpkin spice sounds a bit effete, but OK. For flavor. That’s up to you.

But do not take a simple and sturdy word that has stood for millennia. It does not belong to you. “Hummus” comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas.” It does not mean pumpkins.

Pumpkus?

CHRISTMAS NOTE: The single question that MidLaw receives most often is, “What is your recipe for hummus?” Longtime MidLaw readers know that hummus culture is a journey, not a destination. Lifelong learning is at the core of MidLaw Mind. Revelation is continuing. Still, in recognition of the season and feeling the onset of winter, MidLaw will bring back key hummus-recipe-and-tips links for an upcoming holiday special. You must return to MidLaw for the holidays.

MidLaw lagniappe: an end-of-the-year tax tip for those selling assets

brooks-stairWe interrupt our normal programming to bring to readers a bulletin from the tax lawyers at Brooks Pierce.

Persons who are considering sales of companies or other assets before the end of 2016 should pause to consider the possibility that there may be a significant federal income tax reduction next year. Maybe that reduction will occur; maybe not. Maybe it will be retroactive to the beginning of 2017; maybe not. Maybe it will not become effective until a future year.

So, maybe you should close your deal this month (December), or maybe you should wait until next month (January). There may be multiple issues to weigh.

Maybe you should talk with your tax advisor about it.

Blockchain for dummies: more transformation, more change

duck-chainBlockchain is coming. It will radically transform commerce. And the economy. And the practice of law. It’s another one of those things.

So what is blockchain? What is it going to change?

Start with this: blockchain is not a technology that blocks chains (of data). Instead, it assembles blocks (of data) into chains. Start there.

Blockchain is also called “distributed ledger technology.” In effect, it promises an internet-accessible registry system. Data is recorded electronically. And, instead of having one central official “place” where it resides, the data is “distributed” among all participants or potential users. Participants “agree” electronically about the validity of relevant information.

The resulting “distributed ledger” is analogous to land registration, such as that authorized in North Carolina, only it is digital and it goes much further. All the components of ownership, or an agreement, or a transaction, including enforcement, can be linked, block by block, into an inalterable, decentralized, automated digital chain — a ledger — that is Internet accessible.

  1. There is no need for a government or other central registry to record anything because the distributed ledger does that, making the data universally accessible among participants. And the technology can make recorded data unchangeable.
  2. There is no limit to what kinds of ownership or value or transactions can be recorded in a blockchain because the parties themselves make those choices electronically and the technology accommodates the data.
  3. In effect, the technology enables a universally accessible decentralized registry whose validity cannot be forged, and whose terms cannot be altered. And it can be made  “smart,” which is to say, capable of executing agreed actions with certainty.

This has the potential for “radical transformation” of commerce. Ownership, agreements, and transactions can be digitized. The processes of authentication, verification, validation, recording title, and executing transfers upon counter-performance, can be blocked, chained and automated.

Currently, functions such as these are heavily dependent on assurances from lawyers: opinions and certifications.

But with the technology that is coming, lawyers will no longer be needed for those functions. Blockchains will provide them. Lawyers will be replaced by 1’s and 0’s.

Blockchains though will recast the role of lawyers.

North Carolina lawyer Nina Kilbride says that while lawyers will no longer be administrators of commerce; they will become instead its engineers. (That began this summer, she says.)  The future role of lawyers, she says, is not to administer and validate processes, but to design the digital processes (blockchain structures) best suited to automate particular commercial objectives.

Good places to start to understand this are

North Carolina appears to be right at the center of blockchain’s emergence, with Nina Kilbride and Monax, the Raleigh company she’s associated with. At least, that’s the evidence of the recent North Carolina Bar Association program on the subject (“What Lawyers Should Know about Blockchain Today”).

This has the feel of that moment in 1839 when Caswell County’s Stephen Slade awoke from his slumber and discovered the process for flue-curing tobacco.

People get ready, there’s a chain a-coming.