Thematic pairs that sum up the deepest tensions of law department management

“Thematic pairs” is the term introduced in Michael Shermer, Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown (Time Books 2005) at 258, to describe five deep themes that appear ubiquitously in the hundreds of articles and essays written by the polymath paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould. Each of the thematic pairs present opposing ideas, such as theory-data or contingency-necessity.

What might be the opposing thematic pairs articulated by this blog? My first attempt is broad and brief, but I hope to return to these in more detail.

  1. Legal risk control as opposed to business profit. All general counsel are caught in these cross-hairs. Pursuit of either reduces the likelihood of the other.

  2. Check-and-balance role of a law department as opposed to enabling clients. Is legal a control function or an empowering function.

  3. Cost of legal services (or productivity) as compared to quality. The balance must be continually restruck between output and insight.

  4. People concerns against systems emphasis. This tension runs deep; what is the right synthesis of talent and tools.

  5. Specialization as opposed to generalization. Do we dive deep in a few areas of law or spread ourselves, Jack or Jill of all trades, across the breadth of legal issues.

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