When Steven Brill was a student at Yale Law School he noticed that all firms made the same claims to prospective hires about their ‘unique’ and first-rate practices, offices, technology, and cultures. Brill thought, “They all can’t possibly be the same.” This germ of an idea—“hey someone should shine a light on law firms” —grew into The American Lawyer (and its progeny, including, to some extent, Vault).
In 2009, David Lat is arguably the closest analogue to the early- 1980s Brill. On the ABA Journal’s “Legal Rebels” site, Lat interviews Brill and it’s pretty riveting stuff.
Brill recalls a conversation with Lloyd Cutlerthat took place in 1976. In trying to dissuade Brill from reporting that Wilmer Cutler & Pickering had been dropped by a client, Cutler argued that a.) Nobody could possibly care about such a story, and b.) Such a report would somehow violate the code of professional responsibility and/or the attorney/client privilege. The past really is a foreign country. Once upon a time, Brill relates, “there was a culture in this country—and it was a good culture—that maintained that lawyers should not be tagged with their clients. This culture allows, for example, a lawyer to defend a client caught up in a communist witch hunt, without the lawyer being considered a communist.” However, this culture went too far when firms developed an expectation of total anonymity.
Probably the highlight of the interview was this exchange:
Brill: Ten years ago, publishers decided en masse to commit suicide by giving away everything for free. Your business model (i.e. that of Above the Law) is not going to work long-term—and it shouldn’t—because you’re not putting it to a market test to see if anyone thinks it’s worth anything.”
Lat: “Well, I don’t know if that’s completely true—you need to have enough traffic to monetize the advertising…”
Brill: “You’re never going to monetize the advertising.”
And then he goes on to explain why not. Watch the video here.
-posted by brian
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