EARLY RETURNS

No, the title of this post doesn’t refer to Tuesday’s primary election results in a handful of states, although they confirm what I’ve thought for a while. Voters are anti-incumbent, not just anti-Democratic or anti-Obama. That’s one reason Rand Paul trounced Mitch McConnell’s guy in Kentucky. But this is not a space for ideological diatribe or political spin.

Rather, today’s caption refers to personal referenda of sorts.

First, the Belly’s audience is growing.

The American Lawyer is now running some of my posts. On May 10, Am Law Daily published “The MBA Mentality Rethinks Itself?” (http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2010/05/harper1.html)  I’m grateful to editors willing to air a controversial voice.

Second — and speaking of controversy — my new legal thriller, The Partnership, (http://www.amazon.com/Partnership-Novel-Steven-J-Harper/dp/0984369104/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1273000077&sr=1-1), is selling well and generating strong reactions.

Big firm attorneys have offered these responses:

“Great read…It’s a very fair and accurate representation of large law firms. This is how we operate.”

“I enjoyed reading your novel — and was reminded how things changed over the years…and hardly for the better.”

“Great stuff…highly enjoyable.”

In contrast, non-lawyers have said:

“Now I have a more informed concept of ‘billable hours.’ Wow!” 

“Your book has disturbed me. Greatly. Do lawyers really behave this way?”

Quite a juxtaposition, isn’t it? Lay persons become shocked and outraged at attorney attitudes that most lawyers themselves take for granted.

“How can we change people, so they look at things differently — without a myopic view that maximizes short-term profits at the expense of other things that matter?” the last commentator asked.

Here’s what I told him:

1. You can’t. The trends that trouble you are too imbedded; the resulting financial rewards flowing to the few are too great. Perhaps more significantly, the things that disturb you most — including undue reliance on misguided short-term metrics — aren’t unique to the legal profession. Big firm lawyers use billings, billable hours, leverage ratios, and profits per equity partner. Ask journalists, doctors, college professors, and others to describe the metrics by which they’re held accountable. Then ask them if they regard themselves as members of a profession or participants in a business enterprise.

2. Sometimes you can hold up a mirror to a person who then doesn’t like the image that appears. A book can try to do that, but it’s hard to dislodge internal rationalizations that justify a lifetime of unfortunate behavior.

3. Real hope resides with the next generation. Our kids and grandchildren will have to decide that they want things to be different. That’s what we baby boomers did, only to discover that different didn’t always mean better.

Unfortunately, without mentors and models of success that can compete with the MBA-mentality of misguided metrics now dominating too many big law firms and other once-noble professions, our progeny face a daunting task.

Now you understand the twin thoughts appearing immediately following The Partnership‘s inside title page:

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant” and “Forewarned is forearmed.”

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