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We simplify and humanize key ideas that are very complex and abstract

An author in Historically Speaking, Vol. 8, May/June 2007 at 10, admonishes us not to overly simplify complicated terms such as “religion” and “science.” “[T]hose who like to speak of the relations between science and religion need to be reminded how easily, how misleadingly, these become singularized, hypostatized terms, concealing a diversity of social practices among the sciences (plural) and the major faith traditions (plural)” (emphasis added).

The same admonition applies in the field of law department operations. Journalists, consultants, article-writers and speakers too easily lump together the unruly, irregular, and highly diverse practices of legal departments (plural). All the time they singularize the profusion of law departments. “Law departments are under intense cost pressures,” whereas actually some general counsel don’t know the meaning of budget while others lose their jobs over excessive costs.

Beyond that, most of us treat complicated social concepts, such as a “law department,” as if they were tangible and animate – we hypostatize the term: “Under intense cost pressure, law departments have countered with outside counsel guidelines.” The concept of an internal legal function becomes a golem. A complicated concept becomes corporeal.

Law-department management has much complexity yet at the same time it has patterns and conclusions. We need to balance our recognition of how complex are our ideas that deal with law departments against the countervailing need to discern patterns and trends. We need to disaggregate and analyze big concepts and comfortable labels, but we also need unification and theorizing (See my post of July 10, 2007 about our propensity to reach conclusions.).

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