Monday, April 21, 2008

After the Georgetown Symposium

The symposium was an outstanding success, and Mitt Regan and Jeff Bauman, the organizers, were terrific. Over 120 people turned up, with delegates and attendees from the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, Germany and more.

The mixture of academics and practitioners gelled superbly. Both learned from each other and there was a serious attempt to communicate without jargon and condescension.

What was absolutely clear during our time together was that the nature of law practice and the law firm has fundamentally changed in the last 10 years. Time after time, senior partners were saying that technical skills were no longer sufficient; they wanted to see more emphasis on right-brain activities in their lawyers. Empathy with clients and their needs was the buzzword.

There had been enormous consolidation in the practice of law. The top AmLaw 50 was now responsible for 25% of global legal revenues. And this was predicted to continue. Everpresent and continuing change for the legal profession. Roll on Tesco Law and Goldman Sachs Skadden (but watch out for Gen Y: they may not be that keen.)

The size of the organizations was raising new and profound risk management concerns which were leading to stricter intra-organizational regulation than is typically seen in national regulators. Global businesses have to be able to protect themselves from within as well as outwith.

All in all, Clementi and the Australian changes were perceived as opportunities rather than threats, but there are still 50 state courts and bars to convince as well as various federal agencies. The Americans will have to catch up fast.

More can be found at Adam Smith Esq, ideoblog and Conglomerate.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Future of the Global Law Firm




APRIL 17-18, 2008

This symposium will bring together scholars from a range of disciplines, legal practitioners, regulators, and consultants and experts on professional service firms to discuss a variety of forces that are likely to shape the global market for law firm services in the years to come. Participants from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia will explore issues such as the financial, organizational, and cultural dynamics of law firms; management strategies and business models in the global legal services market; law firm access to various sources of capital; and the impact of market forces on professional ethics, values, and identity. Analysis of these issues will be informed in particular by discussion of legislation in the United Kingdom authorizing nonlawyer equity investment in law firms, and of the emergence of the publicly traded law firm in Australia. The goal of the symposium will be for scholars and practitioners to engage in a dialogue that illuminates the challenges that lie ahead for law firms that aim to operate and compete on the global stage.

There is no fee to attend the symposium, but we ask that you register beforehand. For information and registration, please contact Satrice Rigsby at 202-662-9890 or

I shall be presenting my paper on "Future Directions in the UK Legal Profession: Life After the Legal Services Act 2007"


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Peter and Me: Long Term Interviewing

During my stay here in Miami I started a new research project. It's based on a man called Peter Lederer. Peter is a Visiting Practitioner at the Law School and he is also a member of the Visiting Committee of the school. His association with the school goes back to the days of Soia Mentschikoff's decanal period.

Peter was also the sixteenth partner, or thereabouts, hired at a fledgling law firm in Chicago, Baker & McKenzie. His practice has spanned the second half of the 20th century and beyond. For me he personified the globalization of law and lawyers. My idea was to tell the story of the emergence of globalization through his life story. (I have written about Baker & McKenzie in relation to other law firms--paper downloadable here.)

Peter agreed to this venture and we began a series of interviews that are still in progress. Thus far we have recorded about 15 hours. Fortunately, Peter is blessed with near total recall and wonderful descriptive powers. His career has taken him all over the world, helped build a pre-eminent global law firm, and brought him a range of interesting cases.

I am used to interviewing lawyers because I have been doing throughout most of my academic career. But those interviews are very different from what Peter and I have been doing. My usual style of interview last for around one, two or three hours in the lawyer's office, and done with a particular purpose in mind. I might be writing about solicitor-advocates or the globalization of the secondary distressed debt market.

With Peter it's not like that at all. It is an open-ended process that has no automatic closing. Moreover, in a short interview one needs to establish a minimum of trust but not much more, and there is also the implicit knowledge that we will have nothing to do with each other after the interview.

Because we are talking about Peter's life, career, law firm, and cases and more, the interaction between interviewer and interviewed becomes critically important. You have to like each other. You must respect each other. And you must both be prepared to take risks with each other. All of this takes time, and commitment. Peter and I would meet two or three times a week and the psychodynamics of our interaction would evolve. The longer we talked, the easier it became. There was no competition but instead as much cooperation as we could muster. The process, as much as one might want to fix it initially, eventually takes on a life course of its own.

The talk was varied. At times we would focus on particular details; at others we would be talking global context. The interview, because it's not fixed by "normal" time constraints, had a flexibility not usually encountered. A sense of play enters as we explore the different dimensions of our subject(s). We were not forced into a particular format of linearity or topic-based narrative. We could switch around as points and topics caught our imagination.

We could also go back since we were not committed solely to that particular occasion. There was time in between interviews for the conversation to percolate and stimulate new questions and identify gaps.

I'm now having the interviews transcribed so I can review them and analyze them, which in itself will raise new questions that we will have to tackle. There is no predictable closure to this process.

I am enjoying this immensely. It is new to me and I would like to do more of this type of interviewing. It is a luxury to indulge in this but it is so valuable in what emerges. It takes a commitment of time, of course, but most importantly, it commands a commitment to empathetic understanding (even Versterhen as Weber called it) that allows selves to interact in new and imaginative ways.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Workshop on Law Practice in the European Union and the United States

On Friday, April 4, 2008, the School of Law, University of Miami, in cooperation with the Miami-Florida European Center of Excellence is holding a workshop. Details can be downloaded here.

There are two speakers:

  • John Flood, University of Westminster, United Kingdom; Visiting Professor, University of Miami, "Will there be fallout from Clementi? The global repercussions for the legal profession after the Legal Services Act 2007"
  • Ramon Mullerat, KPMG Abogados/University of Barcelona Law School, “Different approaches of civil law and the common law lawyers in Europe and the United States, regarding litigation and arbitration”

Comments will be made by Robert Rosen, University of Miami School of Law, and the workshop will be chaired by Caroline Bradley, University of Miami School of Law.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Who's the Lawyer, Who's the Client?

In one of those delicious quirks of fate, one of the first sociolegal scholars to write about the lawyer-client relationship found himself in the position of disgruntled client.

Douglas E. Rosenthal wrote a classic text in 1974 titled, Lawyer and Client: Who's in Charge? Rosenthal counterposes two models of lawyering, the traditional and the participatory. The former is where the lawyer takes control of the relationship and determines the outcome despite the client's desires. In the latter the client is engaged in the decisionmaking and is active in ensuring the outcome fits with the client's wants.

In a study of personal injury claims, Rosenthal shows that lawyers are rather more content with the traditional model than the participatory one. Because of the prevalence of the contingent fee in this kind of work, it works to lawyers' benefit to accelerate the case to settlement rather than wait for full trial or a later settlement. The lawyer manages the claim so that no conflict with the client is apparent. Moreover, even though active clients usually get better results, most clients are unable to cope. They are overwhelmed by the lawyer's reasoning and guile.

Rosenthal has just completed a two and a half year battle with his former law firm, Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal (no relation), over his compensation. He claimed $8.2 million for his role in representing the families in the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie and for origination credit in representing Sun Microsystems against Microsoft. (Sonnenschein earned $17m for Lockerbie and $20m for Sun.)

The jury, however, awarded him only a million dollars for his efforts. And, to make matters worse, it also gave $300,000 to Sonnenschein for Rosenthal's interference with clients when he left the firm.

Last word from Rosenthal who said he is just relieved the trial is over. “It’s much harder being a client than being a lawyer.”