Category Archives: Liberal arts

Greensboro’s greatest citizen of the 20th Century?

randall-jGot to be Randall Jarrell, right?

Here’s proof. There’s this podcast from London, “Backlisted, a podcast giving new life to old books.” It’s these two Brits with a guest talking (fortnightly) about books. (Awfully good talkers. Listening to them talk is like watching real athletes play pick-up basketball. You might get in the game but you could never keep up.)

Anyway, in September the sixth show was about The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell,  author, poet, critic, UNC-G professor and collaborator with illustrator Maurice Sendak. The extravagance of their appreciation for Jarrell made me wonder why we hear his name so little in Greensboro. Maybe we should have a statue of him to go with the O’Henry one. (O’Henry born here, left; Jarrell came here, stayed.) The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.

Name somebody else from Greensboro (from NC) they’re talking about in London.

If not him, who?

jarrellshowimage

More on the rise of robots, lawyers advised to get some emotions

robot2Here’s another article predicting that robots and artificial intelligence are getting ready to replace lawyers. Japanese scholar Hiroshi Ishiguro is the principal source.

Two highlights from this piece:

  • Robots are 5 to 10 years away from being able to do what lawyers do. “It’s easy to write a computer program for a lawyer.”
  • People trust robots more than lawyers. They are more comfortable talking to robots.

People simply like robots better than they do lawyers. And the clear implication is that robots have better ethics than lawyers do. It’s not only lawyers. Ishiguro says that in the future “about half of comedians are going to be robots.” (About half?)

Lawyers are advised to develop capacities for creativity, human connections, and emotion. Emotion, connection, creativity.

Or, get a hammer.

And, see Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and of course, Richard and Daniel Susskind, The Future of the Professions, How Technology Will Transform the Work of Experts.

I hope law schools and bar associations are looking at the implications of these issues for those just entering the profession.Ten years from now is when it will really start to matter.

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.

 

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.”

 

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The discipline of listening

Three baby scops owls

“To see the way forward you have to listen deeply. You have to listen to people you don’t want to hear from, and you have to hear what you don’t want to know.”

Jane Fernandes, President of Guilford College.

“The discipline of listening deeply — which is central to the disciplines of self-awareness, reflection, trustworthiness, expanded consciousness, fearless engagement and leadership — is so crucial to transformation.”

Charlotte Roberts & Martha Summerville, Guilford College trustees and authors of the recent article at strategy + business, “The Mindful Board” as well as a forthcoming book of the same name.

The people who know how to listen are the ones most worth listening to.

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”.

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

 

 

What the horse-and-mule business shows to lawyers, robots and others preparing for an uncertain future

ECWinslow

Last week, John Markoff at the New York Times published a note calling attention to recent studies which conclude that technology will not replace lawyers so much as create new kinds of the work for them to do. “The End of Lawyers? Not So Fast” He points to a paper written by UNC Law professor Dana Remus and Frank Levy at MIT, “Can Robots Be Lawyers?“.

Well, let me tell you: my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father were in the horse-and-mule business from the 19th Century forward. It was a good business and they did well. Then tractors came.

By the Mid-Twentieth Century, the horse-and-mule business was done. My family has been on the run from technology ever since. So my crowd knows a thing or two about competing with machines.

Now, here I am in the 21st Century weighing the possibility that robots may take most of the jobs that were left after the tractors came. I am being told not to worry. And, I have an attitude about that.

A rush of recent books and article has proclaimed a coming era of technology-provided abundance. Maybe, nobody will need to work. But that initial rush quickly subsided into a flow of worry — about whether there will be jobs for people to do. This will be with us, we are told – in twenty years’ time or less, they say.

Things are in flux. In the future, either the work we do will be gone, or it will will be changed. Either way, it will be different. How do we prepare for that?

Here is what the horse-and-mule bid’ness showed me.

First, the less work there is for people to do in an abundant future, the more need there will be for real educations. It will take a real education to know how to thrive in a time when jobs are not needed any more. That will require: “men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

And, second, the same also looks true if jobs are still around, but the work is different from what it is now. We must be able to cope with that change. And the best way (maybe the only way) to prepare for change , is to have a real education.

A “real education” is what Jane Fernandes at Guilford College calls a “practical liberal arts” education.

 

Ross’s Goose sojourns at Guilford College

Ross's Goose among the Canadiens @ Guilford College

Ross’s Goose among the Canadians @ Guilford College

A Ross’s Goose has appeared at Guilford College. It has taken to hanging out with the usual crowd of interloping Canada Geese.

He is not supposed to be there. Ross’s Geese usually go to California or Mexico this time of year.

This one may have heard about Guilford’s unusual — practical liberal arts — field biology curriculum; or there may be some Quaker thing working here. Fabled Guilford ornithologist Lynn Mosley is on the case.

Guilford and Greensboro seem to be greeting the event with more aplomb than similarly situated Mainiacs .

Anyway, this visit is rare, surely auspicious. And, I’ve got to say, I like the cut of the little fellow’s jib.

Sir Thomas More and the mid size law firm

HThomas-Moree was the great lawyer of the English common law. He stood at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of what came next. A lawyer who was canonized.

Thomas More’s 1998 biographer, Peter Ackroyd, says that

For most of his life, More was a lawyer and a public administrator; he was not a visionary or a scholarly humanist. … [H]e believed that experience in the practical business of the world led to prudent deliberation and good judgement [sic].

“Experience in the practical business of the world leads to prudent deliberation and good judgment.”

Experience, deliberation, judgment. That is the core franchise of the mid size law firm. It is the promise that mid size firms make to beginning lawyers; and the product they deliver to clients.

The same thing is at the core of “the practical liberal arts,” which President Jane Fernandes is defining at Guilford College. Practical experience married with structured study of tradition and learning.