If there were a historical look back at law department management, here are four perspectives

A stimulating review of two books about the history of science gave Nicholas Jardine, an emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, an opportunity to summarize four high-level perspectives on scientific efforts. His review is in the Times Lit. Supp., Dec. 16, 2011 at 3-4. My application of those perspectives to management of law departments borders on presumptuous but the ideas are perhaps provocative.

The dominant narrative to date has been that a few far-sighted, rational, and progressive general counsel devised groundbreaking management tools. The “great GC” version of Whiggish progress has been unquestioned. Until, that is, someone were to take a “social constructivists” look at management beliefs “as the products not of disinterested inquiry, but of pursuit of social interests.” Law departments and their scope, responsibilities and operation result more from the finances and power of companies or the connivances of politicians and regulators than the studied breakthroughs of heroic senior managers in law departments.

A third and very different perspective privileges neither rational nor social factors in figuring out why law departments operate as they do and have changed over time. The “actor network” view advocated notably by Bruno Latour would investigate law departments and their agents – employees, law firms, business executives, judges, perhaps journalists and consultants – as the forces for change. Finally, in a fourth turn from the history of science, Jardine writes about “decentring” and its emphasis, were it to study law departments, on such lesser players as direct reports to the general counsel, heads of operation, paralegals, and hidden lawyers within companies (See my post of March 9, 2009: survey estimated the percentage of hidden lawyers.).

Readers with a pragmatic streak may have abandoned this post by now, but it is important, instructive, and even inspirational to step back, become aware of and think about what we take for granted and what other viewpoints might enlighten us.

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