lukegilman.com : The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at www.lukegilman.com

Economics of Law Firm Associates

Marginal Revolution tipped me off to a really interesting paper – When Knowledge is an Asset: Explaining the Organizational Structure of Large Law Firms (.pdf, save as). Here’s the abstract -

We study the economics of employment relationships through theoretical and empirical analysis of an unusual set of firms, large law firms. Our point of departure is the “property rights” approach that emphasizes the centrality of ownership’s legal rights to control important, non-human assets of the enterprise. From this perspective, large law firms are an interesting and potentially important object of study because the most valuable assets of these firms take the form of knowledge – particularly knowledge of the needs and interests of clients. We argue that the two most distinctive organizational features of large law firms, the use of “up or out” promotion contests and the practice of having winners become residual claimants in the firm, emerge naturally in this setting. In addition to explaining otherwise anomalous features of the up-or-out partnership system, this paper suggests a general framework for analyzing organizations where assets reside in the brains of employees.

Barely Legal: The Blog

Barely Legal Blog is by far the most widely read and discussed law student blog among my section. Russ and Mike, both law students in the upper mid-west, were hilariously insightful observers of the peculiarities of law student life. Both have graduated and judging from the last few posts, they appear to be moving on in their lives, so it is with sadness that I present some of my favorite posts of their recent reign.

People You Meet in Law School

The IM Conversations

And finally….

Foot in Mouth Disease Strikes Again

There are a lot of other great posts, but this list was getting kind of long.

America’s Back Asswards Immigration Policy, Exhibit A

My general impression of America’s current immigration policy is that it’s somewhere between xenophobic sadism and Kafkaesque incompetence. Both of these instincts were confirmed by this WSJ article – A Disabled Son Imperils Family’s Immigration Hope ($), which follows the path of Zandro Souza, an immigrant from Brazil who went from dishwasher to upscale chef on Martha’s Vineyard. Appying for permanent residency, immigration officials apparently told that they would readily approve Souza and his wife, but were worried that their son might become a “public charge” in the event something should happen to them.

The Souzas’ 11-year-old son, Igor, is blind and developmentally delayed. His condition requires countless doctor visits, frequent runs to the emergency room and more than $1,000 a month in medication. Mr. Souza says he has paid almost all of Igor’s medical bills — about $20,000 annually — out of pocket, without insurance or help from government programs. He feared accepting aid would jeopardize his family’s attempt to gain permanent U.S. residency.

According to Mr. Souza, the immigration official told him that if Mr. Souza and his wife died, their son could become a “public charge.” Although the family tried to prove that Igor would be cared for if his parents passed away, the U.S. government earlier this year denied green cards to the couple and their son and placed them in deportation proceedings.

The moral argument is pretty obvious, in that it’s obviously reprehensible to all but the most senile bigot. However, this case also illustrates the economic argument for not taking such a short-sighted view of immigration. Richard Florida’s The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent lays it out in detail, building on his earlier book Rise of the Creative Class. Listen to Florida discuss his work at the 2004 PopTech Conference. Though we tend to think of immigrants as the ‘tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ some are better thought of as free agents. These are immigrants who on net are worth more to the society they join that what they cost, sometimes quite a bit more. Consider the potential impact of Albert Einstein staying in Austria through WWII (not to mention Oppenheimer, Fermi, Szilárd, Teller, and Wigner; see Manhattan Project). The notion of the American Dream is built on the concept that the United States is the place to go for immigrants with initiative and ambition. Or at least it was.

Reading over the Break

Part of my winter break re-socialization process is to catch up on some blessedly non-legal related reading.

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    Blind Side, Michael Lewis – Lewis takes a relatively obscure position in football, left tackle, and traces it’s evolution from just another lineman to one of the most highly paid if still almost invisible skill positions on the field. At the same time he follows the path of Michael Oher, a runaway in one of Memphis’ worst neighborhoods whose physical prowess takes him to a private Christian prep school and on to fame as starting left tackle as Ole Miss. It’s fantastic. I think I’m going to have to try to fit Moneyball in as well, especially since it’s the inspiration for MoneyLaw.

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    Judge Sewall’s Apology, Richard Francis – Francis explores the Salem Witch Trials through the lens of Samuel Sewall, one of the presiding judges of the witch trials who would later walk into Boston’s South Church, recant the guilty verdicts and pray for forgiveness. Francis explores the episode as a catalyst in a shift in thought an ideology in early America and our understanding of good and evil. Excellent. OK, it’s sort of legal related. He was a judge. Note to self – there are some evidentiary issues with invisible spectral phenomena.

Do you have a fixed or growth mindset?

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Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck’s recent book Mindset splits people into two groups – fixed and growth mindsets – and explores the ramifications on their choices and performance. Assess the following statement – Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t really change. You can learn new things but you can’t change how smart you are. Agree or disagree? If you agree, Dweck says you have a fixed mindset, you see intelligence and personality as fixed traits and your most basic motivators are proving yourself, not making mistakes, avoiding the appearance of failure. If you disagree, you have a growth mindset, view intelligence and personality as things you can cultivate and develop. You enjoy even challenges at which you’re likely to fail because you see that failure as an opportunity to stretch and grow.

Moira Gunn interviewed Dweck on the subject of her book on TechNation, syndicated through the ITConversations Podcast.

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Moira Gunn’s Tech Nation ~ Conversation with Carol Dweck (.mp3)

I think most law students will recognize both mindsets at work in their section. At the end of CivPro, Ragazzo told us about the radical shift professors notice after grades have been posted and warned us against falling into that trap. Overnight confidence evaporates in some and burgeons in others. Students who couldn’t shut up in the fall suddenly have nothing to say in the spring. In many respects it’s inevitable. It’s the most intelligent and motivated group most of us have ever been a part of. Being graded along a strict curve guarantees that most of us will be getting worse grades than we’re used to.

According to Dweck, those with growth mindsets thrive in this kind of environment, embracing the challenge and using specific failures as signals to guide them to successful behavior. The fixed mindset perceives any individual failure as a direct threat to their sense of self. The fixed mindset doesn’t believe he or she can get any smarter that he or she is already; growth isn’t a possibility. The fixed mindset focuses on avoiding or rationalizing away failure, losing sight of themselves for the sake of their egos. Dweck doesn’t just condemn fixed mindsets to a life of navel-gazing mediocrity, of course, the book is geared towards recognizing that mindset, the costs associated with it and then combating it.

Consider the kind of choice my section will soon be facing. Do we take a tough course and learn a lot or take an easier course we think we’d do better in? Or for the same course, do we take the tough, smart professor and get ‘hammered’ (sorry) or take an easier grader?

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