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Relevant to what’s happening today.


This post is about three empirically based theories of national decline.  It’s written as a freestanding essay.  Some readers may want to know, however, 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)

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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)


Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome lawyer and legal technologist Marc Lauritsen as a regular contributor.

For most people working in the legal industry, including many regular LE readers, I suspect that legal technology feels new and potentially disruptive.  But alas, as I have learned the hard way, that feeling is not very reliable.   I met Marc Lauritsen several years ago at a conference at Chicago-Kent organized by Ron Staudt (a law professor who helped launched LexisNexis’s lucrative legal research business), where I began to take in some of the war stories of the early days of law and technology.  Thirty years before the venture capitalists became interested in legal technology as a sector, a small cadre of brilliant and inventive lawyers were learning enough about technology to begin to solve some significant problems in law office practice management and experiment with ways to use technology to improve access to justice.  Others in this group include Richard Granat and Glenn Rawdon.
Continue Reading Introducing regular contributor Marc Lauritsen (300)


Northwestern Law is doing something different.


The Northwestern Pritzker School of Law invites applications for three full-time faculty positions in its Master of Science in Law program, with an expected start date of July 1, 2022. Candidates will be considered for appointment on the law school’s lecturer track (Lecturer or Senior Lecturer); these positions are not tenure-eligible.

The Master of Science in Law (MSL) is an innovative legal master’s degree offered by the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. This program is geared specifically towards STEM professionals who are interested in topics at the intersection of law, regulation, business, and policy. The residential full-time program began in 2014; the online part-time format was added in 2017. The MSL program has a diverse student body, with both domestic and international students, and students of different ages, levels of work experience, backgrounds, race and ethnicity, and career goals. There are currently over 200 students enrolled and the program has over 400 alumni. Graduates of the MSL work in a variety of industries, including consulting, finance, pharma, biotech, engineering, healthcare, and law (including intellectual property, legal operations, and others); some go on to further study in medicine, business, law, and other fields.
Continue Reading Unique opportunity for teaching the next generation of legal professionals (293)


Improving the legal system requires state supreme courts to fully accept their role as regulators.


For the sake of this post, let’s assume the following statement is true:  Once every 100 years or so, the jurists who preside over the highest courts in the land are obligated to evaluate the functioning of the legal system and, if necessary, make structural changes that will improve access, efficiency, and justice for the citizens they serve.

Two interrelated challenges follow.  First, how do the jurists decide if structural changes are necessary?  Second, how do the jurists find the time and acquire the expertise to carry out such a large and complex project?
Continue Reading State supreme courts and the challenges of PeopleLaw (287)

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The legal profession appears to be on autopilot.


This post is for legal market analysts who are looking for updated and reliable data on the current legal services market. Collectively, its eight graphics reveal several themes that ought to give us pause, as we (the legal profession) may not have unlimited runaway to focus on strategies related to income and profit.

Most of the underlying data come from the Economic Census, which is a detailed ongoing survey of US businesses conducted every five years (years ending in 2 and 7) by the US Census Bureau.  Because of the size and scope of the data collection effort (it’s a census, not a sampling), it takes the full five-year cycle to complete the analysis and release the findings. The final—and in my view, the most interesting—installments were published last fall.
Continue Reading Eight updated graphics on the US legal services market (285)


In this week’s special New Year Kickoff Post (282), Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome guest contributor Jeff Carr, a recently retired Fortune 500 general counsel who has, over the years, served as informal mentor and coach to countless legal innovators.

Jeff’s influence is evidenced by the large number of LE posts that reference his ideas, experience, encouragement, and leadership skills.  See, e.g., Post 226 (discussing his business and finance module for IFLP); Post 210 (Jason Barnwell acknowledging Carr’s pioneering work in legal department management); Post 190 (discussing Carr’s diagnosis of law’s leadership gap and fundamental incentives problem); Post 112 (discussing Carr’s Leader-Manager-Operator framework); Post 078 (Carr discussing positive experience with IFLP intern); Post 056 (discussing Carr’s “hot-wash” practice and its influence in leadership course at IU Law); Post 052 (Jae Um’s discussing Carr’s “massive passive resistance,” or MPR, change management challenge);  Post 008 (citing Carr ACES model in context of diffusion theory).
Continue Reading Guest contributor Jeff Carr (281)