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Patchwork-quilt management ideas for general counsel allow no blanket generalizations

Johan Åhr’s article about Primo Levi in the J. of the Historical Soc., Vol. 9, June 2009 at 161, discusses historicism and broad statements. Historicism is “a theory that events are determined or influenced by conditions and inherent processes beyond the control of humans.” Marxism, for example, espouses a dialectic of class struggle that transcends trifling humans.

Levi opposed historicism and its grand pronouncements of what drives change. He focused on smaller observations. “Imagining himself a flâneur and ragpicker, he saw meaning, essences, in fragments – catching colorful but transient hints of society’s dialectical intricacy … in the windows and topography of commercial Paris.” His contemporaries, Michael Polanyi and Karl Popper, also loathed reductionism; they favored actual specifics.

I too belong in the anti-historicist camp and believe both that people make a difference and that transcendent themes are over-stated (See my post of May 5, 2008: “I am a freebooter”.). Like Balzac with his 90 novels on the human condition; like writers of feuilleton in Parisian newspapers, or like Emily Dickinson’s lapidary poems, my blog posts accumulate wisdom in small points and trust that the larger picture will emerge. As a bricoleur, my guiding principle is to write practically at all levels about “what might help in-house counsel out there as they manage themselves and the legal function.” Even small topics have significance (See my post of Aug. 10, 2007: even tiny or minor topics invoke significant considerations.).

Suspicion fills me when I hear about immense diachronic forces that shape how legal departments operate, the dubious likes of “economic development,” “cultural values,” “globalization,” “professionalization,” “generational differences,” “technology,” or “the environment.” Post modernist leanings hold me back from broad statements (See my post of Sept. 22, 2008: post-modernism and law department management.).

I dislike grand generalizations, vacuities such as “Today’s general counsel are taking on more strategic roles.” Headline writers love those sound bytes, journalists crave magisterial quotes, consultants succumb to offering them, but sweeping assertions should be swept aside.

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