“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)

Norma Rae (1979), 20th Century Fox.  Photo from The Hollywood Archives, Alamy.

Higher profits come at a cost.  Be careful what you wish for.


As a multiple-decade veteran of Big Law, I vividly remember the many debates about whether practicing law was a profession or a business.  I was often leading these discussions as the firm-wide managing partner of operations of a global law firm.  How could a firm with over 1,000 lawyers, over $1 billion in revenue, and over 20 offices be anything but a business?

In an attempt to gain the latest insights on strategy, finance, human resources, outsourcing, and IT, I eagerly read every issue of Harvard Business Review.  I remember years ago having to overcome the partners’ resistance to being paid only by direct deposit and to increasing the partner-to-secretary ratio beyond 1-to-1.  Now that I am gone from Big Law and managing a law-school legal clinic where I am still practicing law (but with startups and other micro businesses), I frequently question whether being so focused on productivity and efficiency in my former life was worth the price.  Perhaps giving up a few ticks in profits per partner (PPP) would have made my firm a better place.

In this Labor Day essay, I’ll offer some second thoughts on the business of law,
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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.  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.
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[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
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The longest-standing democracy in the world looks and feels bitterly divided.  An immigrant offers some reasons to keep hope alive for the American experiment.

On Friday, June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

If law is the primary domain of lawyers, then it follows that the arcane complexities of constitutional law should remain the exclusive domain of exceptional legal scholars.  Many voices in the legal community – some ably and in good faith – will share their hard-earned expertise to provide technical commentary on those complexities and the jurisprudence that led us here.

I am not a lawyer, and I have no scholarly pretensions to invite debate on issues of constitutional doctrine.  Nor do I write this post with any wish or expectation to change minds about abortion.  Instead, I wish to address how the rule of law shapes American life, and I ask the legal profession to reflect on how the work of lawyers and judges affects the daily realities of your fellow citizens.
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For what it’s worth …


My original plan was to go quietly and fade into obscurity from the legal industry at the end of May 2022. Instead, I chose to follow Bill’s advice (he is full of good advice). Bill suggested I write an article about why I’m choosing to retire from legal. Here you have it, along with some parting words of encouragement I’d like to share with you.

I’m following the values of my heart and mind …

If you read my “16 Lessons” post from last summer, you know I’ve been on a journey as a digital nomad.

Last year, I relinquished most of my possessions to travel the world as a single mom, working and schooling remotely as we went. In that article, I promised to end my nomadic lifestyle “whenever I fall in love with a person and/or a place.” Post 247 (under Lesson 15).  In 2021, I experienced life in seven countries. I truly liked every place I explored for different reasons, though I would be hard-pressed to pick any one of those places to put down roots. However, I did fall in love with a man and that love has metaphorically grounded me (we still travel!). He is the partner with whom I believe I can build an interesting, joyful, and successful life.
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