Modernism is out of date in terms of today’s law department design

A fad in the mid-20th century for rational design by an omniscient planner, as evidenced by Le Corbusier’s view that “a house is a machine for living in” and the elaborately laid-out but sterile cities of Canberra and Brasilia, went under the term “modernism.” Modernists would view a law department mechanically: organized and understood as a purely technical and economic means to a productive end, the rationally planned manufacture of good legal counsel efficiently and inexpensively. This thumbnail of modernism comes from John Kay, Obliquity: why our goals are best achieved indirectly (Profile Books 2010) at 4, 25, but I translated it to my single-minded interest.

Re-engineering, the now defunct notion of starting from scratch and building a logical, airtight system, has modernist overtones. Let’s reconfigure processes (and ignore people and culture). A law department that places too much stock in benchmarks and quantifiable performance objectives might fall prey to the unbalanced fixations of modernism (See my post of Dec. 26, 2010: Robert McNamara and over-reliance on quantification.).

I don’t think modernism serves as a useful framework to understand and improve how law departments operate (See my post Oct. 12, 2010: metaphors as a way of thinking.).

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