Tag Archives: lawyers

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

A different discussion ensues.

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A note of concern about pending proposals to cut funding for major NC legal institutions

MidLaw has learned with concern that the General Assembly is considering cutting the North Carolina State Bar’s revenues to a fraction of their current level and also reducing the appropriation for the UNC Law School dramatically.

MidLaw believes these proposals would be harmful, not only to two key legal institutions but, in the long run, also to the administration of justice in North Carolina and to our economy generally.

If North Carolina is to succeed in national and global economic competition – which is what we must do to create jobs here – then North Carolina’s businesses and its justice system must be served by well-prepared lawyers operating in an effective system. Commerce will not come right if our justice system is not up to par.

The legal profession and broader legal industry are currently undergoing dramatic changes. These include the rise of national and global law firms, competition from Internet and off-shore services providers, and disruptive new technologies. Potentially all of these may be good things, but North Carolina must keep up no matter how things go. We must provide a credible local justice system to support a growing economy. This requires well-trained lawyers, a highly functioning oversight agency, and well-resourced courts and processes.

Proposals to cut State Bar revenues and take funds away from the Law School risk long-term damage to our ability to compete and build North Carolina’s economy.

ABA studies the future; Axiom opens an office: hires lawyers in Charlotte

cat-in-tieThe American Bar Association recently released its Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States. Not long afterward, the ABA House of Delegates refused to approve outside investment in law firms. The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services contemplates state-by-state examinations of the issue, to be followed by local decisions state by state.

Last week, Axiom, a provider of “legal solutions” and “leader in the business of law,” announced opening an office in Charlotte.

Axiom is not a law firm. It is a business. It employs lawyers. It delivers legal services. It is an “alternative to the traditional law firm” — “more flexible, elastic, and commercially-minded”.

Axiom has begun hiring lawyers for Charlotte. It is hiring “elite talent that wants to practice in the Axiom mode.” And “looking at every practice area.

So, there’s them that studies and them that does.

 

Video interview with NC Chief Justice on future of legal services

future-legal-services-hero_jpg_imagep_980x179-2-png-imagep-980x179North Carolina Chief Justice Mark Martin represented the judiciary on the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services whose report was published earlier this year, and so Chief Justice Martin was interviewed recently by Ralph Baxter, Chairman of Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute, who asked the Chief  (i) about broadening the scope of those who can participate in delivery of legal services (that is, who beyond licensed lawyers can provide legal services?); and (ii) about opening the door for non-lawyer investment in the business of legal services (can law firms issue stock?). Chief Justice Martin described the process by which such changes could come.

New proposals can come either through the ABA or directly at the state level. The ABA’s House of Delegates has already refused to approve outside investment in law firms. Even so, the Commission recommends that the states continue to consider the issue.

“So [non-lawyer investment in law firms is] one of those things that might happen,” Ralph Baxter observed to the Chief Justice in the video interview. The Chief’s response, a nonverbal chuckle, is the very model of making a noise without making a comment. Judicial and judicious. Worth the price of the (free) video.

 

An Eastern planter and a Piedmont abolitionist — William Horn Battle hanging out with Richard Mendenhall – Wait! What?

richard_mendenhall_older

Richard Mendenhall

William Horn Battle

William Horn Battle

OK – now I am fascinated.

In Memories of an Old-Time Tar Heel, Kemp Plummer Battle recalls a trip that he and his father, William Horn Battle, made to Asheville in the summer of 1848. Kemp was sixteen years old. On the way, they stopped at Jamestown where they spent an evening with Richard Mendenhall, “an old acquaintance of my father.”

Here is part of Kemp Battle’s account:

Near Greensborough we met an old acquaintance of my father, a refined and educated Quaker named Richard Mendenhall. On parting, he said courteously, “Come and see me, Kemp, and I will entertain thee for thy father’s sake until I know thee and can entertain thee for thy own.” I afterwards found this was a quotation from Swift’s Tale of a Tub.

While Mr. Mendenhall did not keep a hotel, he was willing to furnish meals to travelers at his house in Jamestown (pronounced “Jimston”). My father and I had dinner with him. Some friends had told me that he was fond of testing their knowledge of history. I determined to put a bluff on him. He began by asking me what was a giaour, the title of one of Byron’s poems. I happened to know that it was a name given by the Turks to disbelievers in Islamism. I answered his question and at once plied him with counter historical questions so fast that he refrained from catechising me further.

A nice story. Old-time Tar Heels, indeed. You can visit the Mendenhall home in Jamestown today and see where they were.

But how did William Horn Battle come to be acquainted with Richard Mendenhall? They were an unlikely pair.

William Horn Battle was born and raised in Battleboro (then) in Edgecombe County, a town founded by his grandfather. His family were farmers and slaveholders and founders of one of the oldest cotton mills in the state, which operated with slave labor. Battle himself was a lawyer, banker, judge and North Carolina Supreme Court Justice. He is acknowledged as the founder of the UNC Law School. Conservative at his core, William Horn Battle was the very embodiment of the antebellum establishment. He prominently opposed licensing women to practice law.  Son, Kemp, among other roles, was president of the Chatham Railroad Company, Treasurer of the State, and president of the University of North Carolina.

Richard Mendenhall was born and raised in Jamestown in Guilford County, a town founded by his father and named for his grandfather who settled it. Mendenhall operated what is now preserved as the Mendenhall Plantation. He was a tanner, merchant, and educator. He was also an abolitionist and a founder and president of the Manumission Society of North Carolina. He led in transporting African Americans to Liberia and Haiti. He is said to have been a principal in the Underground Railroad. His younger brother, George C. Mendenhall, was a prominent lawyer, legislator, and UNC trustee. George was a large slaveholder, who formed companies of slaves that operated variously as builders, caterers, farm laborers, etc. Under Richard’s influence, George and his wife transported their slaves to freedom in the Midwest, thereby stimulating celebrated litigation. As a lawyer, George defended abolitionists and free blacks. Richard Mendenhall’s sons were a lawyer, bankers, investors in cotton mills, and leaders in building the North Carolina Railroad.  His son, Nereus Mendenhall, served as president and kept Guilford College open through the Civil War and afterward. Guilford College, when led by Mendenhall, has been characterized  as an “island of moderation, surrounded by a sea of fundamentalism.”

Both the Battles and the Mendenhalls were Whigs and unionists. But, when war came the Battles were ardent supporters of the Confederacy. The Mendenhalls, Quakers, stood aside from the war. Some were imprisoned and abused for refusing to fight. Nereus Mendenhall interceded with Jefferson Davis to arrange legal protections for Quakers and other pacifists.

So William Horn Battle and Richard Mendenhall seem unlikely dinner companions. An eastern planter and a Piedmont abolitionist. Each might rather have regarded the other as a Carolina giaour, than as a dinner-table discussant of literature and history. (Sixteen-year-old Kemp Battle later became professor of history at UNC.)

MidLaw’s theory is that Battle and Mendenhall may have become acquainted in Raleigh, perhaps in connection with Richard’s service in the General Assembly (if he did serve, as MidLaw believes he did).

Or, it may have been that William Horn Battle and Richard Mendenhall were simply a pair of civil, cultivated people, North Carolina leaders, from different backgrounds and with different points of view in what was becoming an increasingly divided society. Old-time Tar Heels.

Window into NC lawyers in the 19th Century, Kemp P. Battle’s memories

Kemp Plummer Battle

Kemp Plummer Battle

At the second-hand bookstore in the Raleigh-Durham airport the other day, I came across a copy of Memories of an Old-Time Tar Heel, the compendium of Kemp Plummer Battle’s memories and anecdotes. Himself a lawyer (also a railroad president, university president, Edgecombe County farmer, and more), so were his father, William Horn Battle, and others in his family.

So Battle’s memories include many a lawyer story. Those stories are windows into the North Carolina Bar in the mid-nineteenth century. Below is a good one that shows lawyers and also Battle’s densely-packed style.

Judge Thomas Ruffin, the younger, had probably the ability of his father. In his younger days, he was not a hard student of legal principles, although he gave his whole mind to the trial of his cases. Indeed, so eager was he for victory that there were accusations of sharp practice. But I personally had no evidence of this. On the contrary, when thrown intimately with him for a day or two once, I was struck by his high-toned principles. I remarked to one of the best of men, his law partner Judge Dillard, “Ruffin is a lawyer who can be relied on for utter fairness.” Dillard smilingly said, “He is a rascal like the rest of us.” He meant only that in the hot excitement of trials he might take positions which non-lawyers might think not strictly fair. But it should be remembered that lawyers giving their minds to the cause of their clients, studying mainly the arguments for their side, necessarily become biased. It is impossible for them to act as impartial judges. This is illustrated by what Judge James C. MacRae told me about a trial over which he presided. A certain lawyer made a speech advocating a construction of the law which did not meet the judge’s approval and he said, “Surely you do not claim that to the be the law?” “Well, Judge, I can’t say that I do, but I did not know how it would strike your Honor.”

Come to think of it, this practice may have survived the 19th Century.

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.

The worm at the core of law firm management

Blake2Writing for Bloomberg Law, Aric Press gives an account of a presentation made by Albert Bollard from McKinsey about the nature of “expert organizations” like law firms.

There’s a worm at the core of law firms. “Expert work,” Bollard says, “is misaligned with customer value.”

Clients want “higher levels of service, delivered faster and more responsively, in a rapidly evolving landscape.” But, expert practitioners value expertise, autonomy, and independence, which they understand as the foundation of their ethics and the core of their identity as advocates and advisors.

In traditional law firms,

  • expertise is “valued for its own sake, rather than for contributing to customer value;”
  • knowledge is not “codified or shareable”, but is transmitted by apprenticeship;
  • individual practitioners own their separate engagements, and they are not oriented to improve “the way their organizations perform tasks;” and
  • there is no “end-to-end ownership” of the client’s experience, and limited ability to create and enforce “standard ways of working.”

Independence and autonomy foster counselors and empower advocates; but not managers and processors — and not efficiency.

It’s the rare law firm of any size that functions for very long as an integrated, cohesive, centrally directed team. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind. And cat-like independence impedes efficiency. It breeds misalignment between lawyer and client. It feeds the worm.

Commercial and institutional clients are themselves, managers and processors. They want service, fast and efficient. Don’t talk to them about autonomy. Don’t try to get them to care about expertise for its own sake.

The worm is a core challenge for lawyers. The misalignment between professional values and commercial values generates tension. Expertise and independence are GOOD. Efficiency and responsiveness are GOOD. If managed well, the tension between them can be creative.  

Easily and obviously, mid-size law firms are the practice setting best suited for aligning values, for keeping clients close and fostering creativity.

 

Let your body talk (a reflection on professional communications)

roosterAttorney at Work reports that

Studies show that 55 percent of your communication is body language, while 38 percent is pacing and tonality of voice. That leaves a mere 7 percent for words.

MidLaw suggests that attorneys consider first making a full display of tail feathers accompanied by a bit of strutting back and forth, then crowing.

Attorney at Work has a different approach.

The professions, including the legal profession — the future of them?

SusskindThe professions are not immutable. They are an artefact that we have built to meet a particular set of needs in a print-based industrial society.

The Future of the Professions, How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts, Richard Susskind & Daniel Susskind, page 3.

And so, where should we professionals pitch our tent for the future?

The Susskinds take aim not just at lawyers, but also at doctors, professors, architects, accountants, business consultants, appraisers, preachers. The future of the professions, they say, is not in giving clients access to knowledge — not even in giving advice and judgment — respecting data, information, tradition, precedents. All of that has its roots in the once-but-not-future print-based society.

Professionals: middlemen between clients and knowledge? In greatest demand when information is hard to get at.

As technology advances, professionals are coming in line (like other middlemen before them) for fundamental changes in their roles. The information technologies are, if nothing else, making knowledge and advice more and more easily accessible. Eliminating the middleman.

New professionals, be wary of settling into career niches that are too narrowly focused on purveying knowledge.