Author Archives: Midlaw

I am the past Managing Partner at Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey & Leonard, a law firm with 95 attorneys in offices in Greensboro, Raleigh and Wilmington, North Carolina. I also have roles at Guilford College, Westtown School, the NC IOLTA Plan, the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, The Greensboro Public Library Foundation and the NC Bar Association and Legal Aid of NC. For many years a resident of Greensboro, I am a native of Tarboro and Edgecombe County. I have a taste for and interest in hummus, which is extensively exercised in this blog.

Veterans Administration in NC — doing good healthcare — thank you

VA Kernersville Healthcare Center

Once more for veterans within the service area of the Veterans Administration Kernersville Healthcare Center: that is one superb facility over there and the healthcare it dispenses is superb.

They have focused on providing high-quality service, using technology well, and employing good, well-motivated people to do the work. And they have figured that thing out. They deliver.

They know how to serve large numbers of people efficiently, expeditiously and well.

In the past MidLaw became accustomed to hearing grim stories about the VA. No more. That place and those people are great!

So, this is your Veterans Day message. MidLaw appreciates what the VA has done for veterans in central NC.

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Two words lawyers hate most: “mandatory” and “retirement”

Observations made in the field over the course of decades confirm that the two words most abhorrent to the greatest number of practicing lawyers are “mandatory” and “retirement.” (The former is virtually universally despised.)

Recent surveys report that 73% of lawyers in the United States plan to “die at their desks.” Seventy-seven percent (nearly 78%) of law firms have no retirement policies.

Is there is a law firm management problem here? If you die at your desk, were you doing your best work just before?

After age about 60, some issues become statistically significant for everybody:

  • stamina
  • mental fluidity
  • dementia
  • disability
  • mortality.

For most people the statistics are not alarming. But 9% of people between ages 65 and 74 will encounter some form of disability. It gets worse later.

So, lawyers thinking about their lives and careers must face INELUCTABLE facts. At some point, you will not be able to do some things as well as you did when you were younger. Deal with it.

And, while individual lawyers in good health may find a 9% chance of disability a reasonable chance to take, their firms don’t have the same luxury. Sixty percent of law firm partners are older than 55. In that context, a 9% dysfunction is a strategic issue. How many partners does a firm have in the 65&up zone? Multiply by 9%. Adjust for 75&up.

What are the implications of this? Dying at your desk is problematic. “Mandatory” and “retirement” are not getting the job done. Problems are growing as Baby Boomers burgeon into their “maturity”. Strategic problems.

Some thoughts about this anon.

Hair for sale

018BFBFC-323B-4B49-AEFD-7D667CDCB50ETake heed of unnatural-seeming hair.

When Robert Louis Stevenson died, his business-minded Scottish nanny quietly began selling hair which she claimed to have cut from the writer’s head forty years earlier. The believers, the seekers, the pursuers bought enough of it to stuff a sofa.

Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrott, A Novel.

More Edgecombe-connected talent going big time: Ben Fountain’s new book getting global attention/approval:

This has been worked out here before. Ben Fountain is not actually from Edgecombe County but his people are. Some of them back to the 18th Century. His father was from the Edgecombe side of Rocky Mount; his grandfather from Leggett. (Compare him to Magic Johnson in this respect.)

He’s also said to be the best writer from Texas since Larry McMurty and Cormac Mcarthy; author of the 8th best novel of the 21st Century; and a “genius.” (Joe Smith says, “I don’t know about ‘8th best in the century”, but it is a good book.”)

So it is well for Edgecombe to claim him.

Last week, the New York Times published a favorable review of his latest book. The Times’ review is written by Amanda Carpenter, a former staff member for Senators Jim DeMint and Ted Cruz. And, so did the Washington Post in a review by Robert Kaiser.

The book is Beautiful Country Burn Again.

Two weeks ago, Bill Moyers said, “this is the boldest, bravest and most bracing book about politics that I have read this year,” and published a long interview in which Fountain talks briefly about his Edgecombe County forbears, before plunging forward to today and “the sad, psychotic, and vengeful in the national life producing a strange mutation, a creature comprised of degenerate political logic.”

Carpenter credits Fountain with saying that “the rich and powerful peddle a mirage of the American dream for everyone else to lust after rather than doing anything to help them achieve it.”

Fountain says, “our most successful politicians have all become fantasy novelists.” Carpenter says, “no wonder Fountain is sending such a flare shot. They’re invading his turf.”

Tarboro, Edgecombe: sources of talent & positive models at Guilford College and in wider world

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was at Guilford College yesterday. The Guilford College Bryan Series brought him to town.

Guilford’s great alumnus, M.L. Carr, came back from Boston to join Abdul-Jabbar and talk with him about the legendary rivalry between Abdul-Jabbar’s Los Angeles Lakers and Carr’s Boston Celtics, and also about the many social values and achievements of the two. Great models for Guilford students.

In conversations and in a public presentation Abdul-Jabbar lifted up Tarboro several times.

Abdul-Jabbar’s mother was from Wadesboro. Carr himself is from Wallace. At different points, Abdul-Jabbar remarked with interest on how many players with North Carolina connections were connected with the Los Angeles Lakers while he played there. 

He consistently mentioned Tarboro prominently among those connections. Magic Johnson’s mother came from Tarboro and Johnson still has family there. Apparently, Magic made Tarboro well-known to Abdul-Jabbar and among their Lakers teammates.

Abdul-Jabbar’s achievements and his commitment to social justice are quite amazing and a bit inspiring. Carr is right there with him (although Carr may not have authored quite as many books as Abdul-Jabbar has). The two of them, together with Magic Johnson, bring highly principled, positively oriented, upbeat role models to Guilford students.

How great to hear Abdul-Jabbar lifting up Tarboro in his conversations and presentations at Guilford College and at the Coliseum.

This thing of remarkable people coming out of Tarboro and Edgecombe is nothing new. It’s where they come from.

Renovating in the groves of academe

The Greensboro News and Record has a good article about it: Guilford College is on theGuilford College 1 move.

A game-changing new curriculum is on the way. “The Guilford Edge” – coming next year – will be a major innovation in higher education and for Guilford. It puts the focus on the student, re-imagines the college experience, and connects immediately to the world that students will graduate into. But that’s next year.

The Orangerie

Right now, Guilford is reshaping the campus – the buildings and grounds – to hold the new program. 

Maybe the most dramatic uplifts are the Nancy-and-Dennis-Quaintance-inspired restoration of dormitories and living spaces, the creation of a dynamic new Student Quad, the Orangerie, and upgrades to the athletics facilities. But those flashy projects overlook what feel like unique and most amazing reinventions of the arts facilities at the Hege-Cox complex, with exhilarating expansions of Guilford’s traditionally very strong arts department. There’s a new sculpture studio, a new ceramics studio, new galleries, and new, state-of-the-art classrooms. Arts students can hardly argue (as some do in other places) that sports are prioritized over arts at Guilford.

Guilford hege-cox_addition-sculpture

One of the new studios behind Hege-Cox

Excitement is palpable among the sculptors. The new spaces and new equipment and other facilities are fostering impressive, contemporary student work and the student locker room calls to mind the locker rooms over at Ragan-Brown Fieldhouse, except with artworks in progress in the lockers instead of “seasoned” sports gear.

What’s more impressive is to learn what happens in the new classrooms, where students and professors integrate arts, social sciences, physical sciences, and traditional liberal arts into reimagined learning – and connect the learned skills of sculptors with real-world, contemporary issues and problem-solving. The sculpture professor over there is on fire with the ways that learning sculpture translates into practical, meaningful work across a broad spectrum of industries after college.

MidLaw would never argue that sculpture is not a great preparation for 21st Century law practice.

To the contrary.

Not your traditional groves of academe. Not only art for art’s sake.

Night descends

In recent weeks I have learned that eggs are good for you. Eat them. Coffee is good for you. Drink it.

Drinking alcohol is bad for you. Even one drink. Orange juice is not great for you. And there is news about small-dose aspirin.

Myers-Briggs is not grounded in science. I like people after all. Who knew?

Has this news come too late?

I am a knight without armor in a savage land.

MidLaw among the mortals

I am back from Quebec where I was invited to present again my topic from last year in Vienna, “The Aging of the Professions and How to Stop It.”

Again, I brought my message of aging, disability, and death.

By some accounts, 25% of the legal profession is 65 years old and older.

And I bring this further insight: the older you get, the more you depreciate. If you are 60, it’s time to start counting.

Yes, I know.  Actuarially, your life expectancy actually begins to lengthen modestly after a certain point on the principle that, if you survive for long enough, then that implies that you will continue to survive modestly longer than what the projection might have been earlier.

But (in the end) life expectancy is really death expectancy, and it never goes away.

Of course, this insight, that the older you get, the more likely you will experience the depredations of age, has major implications for individual professionals (“Old Lawyers Not Fade Away“). But in Quebec and Vienna, my point was that there are different implications for the management of professional firms that demand separate attention from the implications for individuals.

More than that: BigLaw has options — mandatory retirement, client succession, senior status — that may not be open to MidLaw. And, increasingly, small firms and solo practices have options to sell that are not open to mid-sized firms.

So, the issue of aging in mid-sized law firms demands separate, different management. The issue is strategic and the solutions are not as simple as the terms “mandatory” and “retirement” may imply.

A different discussion ensues.

Edgecombe County! – The view from 1891

Not long ago, MidLaw called attention to Joyner Library’s Digital Collections at East Carolina University. They collect and publish papers, photographs, maps, and other materials centered on northeastern North Carolina. There’s a trove of Tarboro and Edgecombe County materials there.

Partly in response to MidLaw’s post, a resident of Greensboro and descendant of Edgecombe’s Bridgers and Battle families came forward with a “motherlode” (her word, and she’s right) of documents. They include President Andrew Johnson’s hand-executed presidential pardon of Tarboro’s John L. Bridgers,  who commanded Fort Macon and earlier had commanded the Edgecombe Guards at the Battle of Bethel when Edgecombe’s Henry Wyatt was killed, becoming the first Confederate soldier killed in the Civil War.

Hands down, MidLaw’s favorite document from the motherlode is a 40-page pamphlet published in 1891, entitled Edgecombe County! North Carolina. Her People and Resources. The Foremost Agricultural Section of the State

It’s a unique and vivid picture of Edgecombe County in 1890 – in words and graphic sketches. And it evidences both how Edgecombe understood its past (“Cotton is no longer King!”) and also its robustly optimistic vision for the future (“The county offers every opportunity … and all that is needed is some men among us who have not cotton in their eyes, first, last and all the time.”)

It is spoken in the voice of an unabashed booster, seeking to attract people and investment to the County at the moment when Edgecombe was just beginning a major new emphasis on tobacco.

Tarboro is destined to be a great center for the sale and manufacture of tobacco. … How many of us thought, a little more than a year ago, what an easy mastery the bright leaf would have over King cotton?

At the time the pamphlet was published, the population of the County was 26,179. Only 7,956 of those were white. The pamphlet is breathtakingly racist and incidentally sexist as well:

It is well known that negro labor is unsuited to the cultivation of tobacco. It is a crop for white labor and small farms.

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What we want is increased white population to cultivate the tobacco crops in Edgecombe. 

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We cannot speak of the society of our section without bringing conspicuously into view our women … . They are the most refined and intelligent, and possess all the attributes of body and mind that are essential for them to adorn the highest society of the land. 

So, if African Americans and women are pushed to the side, then the pamphlet actually speaks for only about 4,000 people (about half the white people) in a county of 26,000.

But the claims it makes for Tarboro and Edgecombe – as an agricultural, manufacturing and railroad center – are exuberant. Local resources are confidently said to be without peer in the State:

  • The hotel accommodations cannot be surpassed in the State. (There is a page-sized sketch of “Hotel Farrar, Tarboro – Cost $40,000.”)
  • Four railroads run to or through the town.
  • The town has just completed the handsomest city hall in the State.
  • Edgecombe doesn’t owe a dollar; has better school-houses than any county in the State; and pays three times more per child for education than is the average for the State.
  • President Battle, of the State University, say[s] that there is a greater number of college-bred farmers in Edgecombe than in any other county in the State.
  • The most striking and notable characteristic of the people of this county is the very high degree of intelligence and culture prevailing among our farmers.
  • There is more culture among her people, as little crime and disorder, and more comforts and refinement in her homes than can be found elsewhere in North Carolina.
  • It is a land lying midway between the bleak North and the hot languid South, where peace and plenty bless all with their smiles.
  • There is no section of the country in which the seasons are more equally distributed than in Edgecombe.
  • Tarboro is as cosmopolitan as any town in the South.
  • Edgecombe’s citizens are the most enlightened, law-abiding, liberty-loving, congenial and courteous.
  • No more cultured, able and impressive ministers are to be found anywhere. Regular church attendance is very large.

Some twenty pages adumbrate Edgecombe’s unique agricultural potential. Beyond cotton, tobacco and peanuts (“no section is superior to this for growing peanuts”), the range of vegetables, fruits, ornamental plants, crops, timber, dairy and livestock that can succeed in the County takes twenty pages and more to describe – from 50-pound watermelons to turnips, rutabagas, asparagus, all fruits, the tea plant of China, trailing arbutus, yellow jasmine, burdock, and the finest thoroughbred horses bred in North Carolina. “You stir the earth, nature does the rest.” Opportunities in manufacturing, transportation, and finance go from here.

Judge H.C. Bourne, who had come to Tarboro from Mississippi found that

The people of Edgecombe are unsurpassed for their energy, pluck and perseverance. They are hospitable and liberal, broad in their views and enterprising – requisites that always command success.

No doubt, salt is needed with this dish. Not a pinch, but a boxful.

Still – despite all the moral and social short-sightedness – and the pall of knowing that a hundred years of Jim Crow lie ahead – Edgecombe County, and all its towns and villages (which are described) are pictured as rising, hopeful and enterprising places. Leading farmers are cited by name.

The hyperbole itself is a gushing resource.

This is a great little artifact: parochial, chauvinist, historical, nostalgic. And it’s hard to resist the conclusion that, with all its (undisclosed) faults, Edgecombe County is a pretty cool place –  where the citizens are uncommonly “intelligent and hospitable”, the “plants please the eye and make glad the heart”, and the people “only die from old age”.

Quaker witches, a continuing problem

Not long ago I ran across this account of William Penn’s decision at Pennsylvania’s “one and only witchcraft trial”:

After a Quaker jury had found the woman innocent, Penn asked her “Art thou a witch? Hast thou ridden through the air on a broomstick?” To her affirmative reply, Penn answered that she had a perfect right to ride on a broomstick, that he knew of no law whatever against it, and ordered her discharged.

I worry about the friendly skies in our high tech future.  A mess of Quaker witches and drones running into each other.

Heads up, friends.