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Philosophical views on our ability to express and organize law department management

This blog aspires to bring more understanding to the art of legal department management. To that end, I have tried to define relevant terms, sketch applicable concepts, and organize the 4,900 posts in ways useful to general counsel. The hill is steep, however, and I have wondered often whether the summit is attainable – something near comprehensive insight into how to run an effective corporate legal team.

A cluster of insights into this challenge comes from George A. Reisch, How the Cold War Transformed the Philosophy of Science (Cambridge Univ. Press 2005) at 28-30. Reisch summarizes views advocated by Otto Neurath, a 20th century philosopher of science. Neurath’s views feel correct to me, in truth profound and useful, so I summarize them very lightly and apply them to the managerial world of general counsel.

Platonic essence versus meaning holism. “Words and sentences gain meaning in virtue of connections to other words and sentences.” Our language does not draw on some extra-linguistic real world for meaning. No Platonic essence of a word or term exists; rather, language is socially constructed and words depend on other words for context. We can’t nail down in the abstract the meaning of a managerial idea expressed in words. None of the concepts central to general counsel regarding management clear, irrefragable, and precise (See my post of Feb. 1, 2009: ten most important concepts of management for GCs; and April 5, 2009: ten next most important concepts.).

Pluralism versus absolutism. “Absolutists believe that concepts, statements, and scientific theories have singular, exhaustively specifiable meanings.” Pluralists disagree and in light of meaning holism believe that a word or statement has plural and ambiguous meanings, depending on who says them and which meanings and semantic threads they have in mind. What we read and hear about law departments will always float in a sea of meanings and interpretations. “Value,” to cite but one vogue and vague concern, represents a blurred mishmash of notions.

Empiricism versus systematization. “The same areas of science could be systematized in substantively different ways that, for example, connected to or incorporated concepts from other parts of science and had, as a result, different practical strengths.” Additionally, no systematization can ever be comprehensive. The categories in which I place posts make up a semblance of a system, but many other organizing schemes could encompass law department management (See my post of June 23, 2009: time to rethink my categories.). But even if some framework appears to cover the waterfront, pieces will still wander offshore and inland.

Neat structure versus encyclopedism. Neurath disagreed that there would ever be a unified science that was a comprehensive, systematic, and hierarchical ordering. No single foundation exists which ties together all the sciences. Instead he advocated an encyclopedia as the better model. Such an assemblage of explanations and inter-connections will evolve and change; no one will prove a final, definitive, deductive, and true statement of science. If my blogging has shown anything, it is that inductive, emergent realizations are the best general counsel can hope for (See my post of Dec. 5, 2007: the emergent, inductive path I follow.).

Decisionism versus pseudo-rationalism. Neurath did not believe that reason (rationality) can “analyze any problematic situation, determine and rank outcomes, and so relieve us of our decision-making responsibilities.” Instead, he insisted, we must live with pluralistic ambiguity in our language and must continue to make ongoing and unending choices about where and how to connect and unify what we know. Often no formula for reasoning avails general counsel; they have to make decisions as best they can about how to run their department.

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