Photo of Bill Henderson


Digital transformation was largely a buzzword until I saw what David accomplished during the pandemic.


For this week’s feature post (342), Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome guest contributor David Freeman, a renowned business development consultant who has trained and coached well over 10,000 lawyers in over 200 law firms worldwide.

I have known David for several years.  After reconnecting this summer, David walked me through some of the key features of his Lawyer Bookbuilder® online course.  Much to my delight, it was a fully productized version of 30 years of David’s best-in-class business development training condensed down to 4+ hours of video content, excluding exercises, homework, quizzes, worksheets, and many other downloadable practice aids.

Although David’s course is worthy of promotion, it’s equally noteworthy how a seasoned consultant who graduated from law school in the 1980s successfully engineered his own digital transformation.  Prior to the pandemic, David Freeman was the legal profession’s most successful “bespoke” BD consultant.  Now, two years later, he has a fully polished online course that arguably delivers better, more cost-effective results than David Freeman live.  How, exactly, did this happen?
Continue Reading Guest contributor David Freeman (341)


Yale has a different decision set than other law schools.


Yale Law School’s $1.2 billion share of the Yale University endowment provides approximately $63 million in operating funds, which translates into $106,000 per student, though this amount appears to be headed up due to the 40.2% increase in Yale’s endowment in 2021. See “Yale endowment earns 40.2% investment return in fiscal 2021,” Yale News, Oct 14, 2021; Evan Gorelick, “Yale’s endowment, explained,” Yale Daily News, Oct 22, 2022 (discussing Yale endowment’s 5.25% target payout and policy of smoothing returns over multiple years).

To be clear, these are the funds available before Yale Law collects its first dollar of tuition.  Nonetheless, as the top-ranked law school in the US News rankings for more than 30 years, Yale has a superabundance of highly credentialed students who would be willing to pay or borrow the current cost of attendance. For the 2021-22 admission cycle, Yale admitted only 5.6% of applicants; of those admitted, 81% enrolled, making Yale the most selective and elite law school in the nation. See YLS, “Statistical Profile of the Class of 2025.”
Continue Reading The dollars and math behind Yale Law’s withdrawn from USN rankings (340)


“Firms outside the Premier and Championship leagues are playing a different sport.” Thus, the winning strategies are different.


Jae Um, in her bracketing exercise for The American Lawyer magazine, arrays the 2022 AmLaw 100 based on the structure of the English football league system. At the top are 22 firms in the Premier League. Next is the Championship League, with 23 firms focused intently on getting promoted to Premier.  The third group is “Everybody Else,” which includes all the corporate law firms playing in lower-tier leagues.

Yet, as Jae Um pointed out during her visit to my Law Firms class, “it’s a mistake to extend the soccer metaphor to all 300 US/UK law firms that are doing significant amounts of corporate legal work.”  Jae explains that Premier and Championship League firms have some combination of practice areas (type, quality, depth), sector focus, and geographic footprint that enable them to attract price-insensitive work from the world’s largest and wealthiest clients. See Part II (332) (discussing market power of these firms).

Jae continues, “The 250+ firms outside the Premier and Championship leagues are playing a different sport.”
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, Part III: Innovation at “Everybody Else” firms (335)


Stable, transparent, not very complicated, reasonably profitable, and often quite collegial. It also has flaws.


As noted in Part I (330) of this “learning about law firms” series, it’s taken nearly two decades in the trenches, including many years doing applied work with law firms, for a very confusing and counterintuitive insight to come into focus:  Most large firms are not “firms” in the sense of conventional business theory.  Instead, they are a confederation of individual partners building and running leveraged practices in various complementary and adjacent legal specialties.

In today’s essay (Part II), I’ll add a second counterintuitive insight:  For the most part, lawyers pay little or no financial price for organizing themselves as a confederation rather than a firm.  Even in the event of spectacular collapse, as was the case with Dewey, Brobeck, Heller, Howrey, Thelen, and many other large firms, see ALM Staff, “30 Years of Law Firm Collapses: An Annotated Timeline,” Law.com, Oct 29, 2019, there’s always a large cadre of competitor firms looking to give the partners (and their fee-generating practices) a new home.  In most cases, what provides financial security and certainty to an equity partner is seldom the quality of firm-level strategy, or the ability of firm leadership to execute, but instead the health and vitality of their own practice.

This is what distinguishes law firms from conventional businesses. Like Legos blocks, individual law practices can be removed from one law firm and snapped onto another. 
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, Part II: Why confederation is our default model (332)


“Some things are clearer from a distance.”


20 years ago, I didn’t know very much about law firms, though I was curious and knew law firms were important, at least to students attending law school.  Thus, why not dig into the primary vehicle for a successful and rewarding legal career?

That was my reasoning back in the fall of 2004 when I first taught a course called “The Law Firm as a Business Organization (B573).”  As a junior professor, it was an early win for my career. Foremost, the students gave it strong reviews, which enabled me to teach it again in 2006.  Second, it put me in direct contact with practicing lawyers, as I invited them to class to bring color to the assigned readings. Third, it launched some novel and original research that earned me tenure and opened doors to do challenging applied work in the legal innovation space, including Lawyer Metrics, the Institute for the Future of Law Practice (IFLP), and Legal Evolution.

Now, for the first time in 16 years, I am teaching the Law Firms course, prompting much reflection.  See 2022 Syllabus.  What’s changed more—the law firm market or my perspective?  It’s a close call.
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, 20 years in (330)


Relevant to what’s happening today.


This post is about three empirically based theories of national decline.  It’s written as a freestanding essay.  However, some readers may want to know that it’s also Part II of a two-part project to help me better understand the root causes of the United States’ growing social and political instability.

Part I (312) explored the Gilded Age, which is the closest parallel to the present.  In addition, I wrote a shorter bridge essay (319) that provides some useful historical information on the U.S. tax code and takes a critical look at the narrative, embedded in the legal profession’s code of ethics, that lawyers have special roles and responsibilities in the preservation of constitutional democracy and the rule of law.

As noted in Part I and the bridge, I am using these essays to “build a sturdier, more informed, and more realistic intellectual frame — i.e., something that can be fully squared with the present day.” This is a difficult topic that requires a lot of work. Yet, in our present environment, and speaking only for myself, I’ve concluded that it would be unethical, immoral, and decadent to focus on other “more practical” projects.  Further, I suspect a subset of readers shares my sense of alarm.  Hence, I’m sharing my work.
Continue Reading Three empirically based theories of national decline (book review) (321)

[click on to enlarge]

Apolitical technicians working in an ahistorical profession.  What are the odds of a happy ending?


The graphic above summarizes the U.S. top marginal income tax rate from 1913 (the year the 16th Amendment was ratified by the states) to 2021.  One clear takeaway is that for the vast bulk of the 20th century, the wealthy paid much higher taxes.

As the graphic suggests, however, that changed with the election of Ronald Reagan, whose inaugural address launched an ideological revolution with a simple and memorable message: “government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”  Reagan Inaugural Address (Jan 21, 1981). Thus, with the public’s consent, top marginal tax rates were slashed throughout the 1980s.  At the 1988 Republican Convention, George H.W. Bush (Reagan’s VP) spoke the words, “read my lips: no new taxes,” which helped him defeat Michael Dukakis in the general election. See Lily Rothman, “The Story Behind George H.W. Bush’s Famous ‘Read My Lips, No New Taxes’ Promise,” Time, Dec 1, 2018.  Yet, the political mood of the late 1980s was also strongly anti-deficit. In 1990, when Congress enacted pay-as-you-go rules for federal budgeting, Bush, who was saddled with a massive Saving & Loan bailout, agreed to increase the top marginal rate from 28% to 31% — an act that arguably ended his political career.  See Howard Gleckman, “Reading President Bush’s Lips,” Tax Policy Center, Dec 5, 2018.

Since the early 1990s, much of the electorate has enjoyed the political stability and relative economic prosperity of the “End of History” era, which is a reference to Francis Fukuyama’s famous 1989 essay and 1992 book
Continue Reading The end of the “End of History” era (319)


Our last two feature essays, Posts 312 and 314, reflect a sharp departure from usual Legal Evolution content, primarily because of the seriousness of events in the broader world.

The Legal Evolution readership is composed of innovators and early adopters. Thus, we spend a significant portion of our lives trying to improve the status quo — to make it more efficient, humane, data-driven, and diverse.  Yet, if you take the time to wade into Posts 312 and 314, you’ll see that Jae Um and I have concluded that the status quo has more foundational problems that we can no longer ignore.

In Post 312, I explore the topic of Gilded Age lawyers to better understand the present, which is marked by similar levels of economic inequality and political populism. History shows that these forces have the power to rip apart a representative democracy.
Continue Reading Too foundational to ignore (313)

The main residence of Veraton, Paul Cravath’s country estate, circa 1907. Source: “Veraton,” Old Long Island, Oct. 31, 2011.

Creating a baseline to measure the wealth, and building turmoil, of the current Gilded Age.


It is hard to imagine a more stark and tangible manifestation of the original Gilded Age than the large estates built along the Long Island Sound in the region that would later become known as the Gold Coast.  Yet, you may be surprised that such opulence was not limited to robber barons or captains of industry.  In fact, some of the very best real estate was owned by their lawyers.

Above is a photo of the main residence of Paul Cravath’s Veraton estate, which was built in 1905.  Shortly after completion, the lavish property was profiled in Town & Country magazine, which noted that Veraton “consists of over 600 acres of lawn, gardens, woodland, farmlands and paddocks. … The residence and outlying buildings are so placed that every advantage of beauty and utility has been obtained.”  See “One of Long Island’s Stateliest Homes,” Town & Country (Nov. 30, 1907) at 12.
Continue Reading The original Gilded Age lawyers (312)


For this week’s feature post (305), Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome guest contributor Patrick J. McKenna, renowned lecturer, strategist, and advisor to law firms.  Patrick is the author of several books on the challenges of firm leadership, including the classic First Among Equals: How To Manage A Group of Professionals (2002) with David Maister, and most recently Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant (2022).  In addition, his decades of experience led to his being the subject of a Harvard Law School Case Study entitled Innovations In Legal Consulting (2011).  Up until the advent of Covid, Patrick co-led a one-day masterclass, First 100 Days for The New Firm Leader, which graduated over 80 leaders from AmLaw 100, 200, accounting and consulting firms hailing from four countries.

Theory and data are profoundly powerful tools.  Patrick certainly agrees.  But what happens if the available theories and data are insufficient to adequately explain one’s environment?  Well, your best bet is experience in whatever form you can find it.
Continue Reading Guest contributor Patrick McKenna (304)