Published on:

Tension between dispassionate dissections of management and our deeper needs for popular memory or beliefs

A review in the NY Rev. of Books, Jan. 13, 2011 at 40, contrasts critical history and popular memory. Critical historians debunk common but mistaken images of what happened. George Washington never cut down the cherry tree; Soujourner Truth didn’t ask “A‘n’t I a woman?” and Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration was not really very original.

This blogger approaches law department management somewhat like critical historians look at the past. The goal is to understand management empirically, level-headedly, almost clinically instead of simply recycling myths, wannabe’s, and notions based on someone selling something. Popular images of what works for law department operations, heavily colored by ideologies and subjective impressions, ought to give way to reality, quantification, and a more scientific understanding.

Popular impressions, however, flourish, even if they are wrong. Simple, self-serving generalizations spread powerful roots. We want to believe that some words have talismanic powers, that “out there” lie “best practices,” that technology will transform the legal industry, that good old common management sense by just plain GCs does fine, thank you. For psychological reasons, the collective memories of general counsel, journalists, and consultants – there are no historians of law departments – stand strongly despite critical contextualism that tells it like it is.

Perhaps “critical history is all head and no heart.” We cherish illusions of managerial efficacy somewhat like we savor awe before the immensity and grandeur of space. Humans need both science and faith.