Monday, May 28, 2007

Thoughts on Law, Complexity, and Change While Walking Around Ann Arbor on Memorial Day

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Our peripatetic summer of moving around continues.  I hauled a carload of stuff up to Michigan, acted once again as secretary to the annual meeting of our homeowners' association, and then came down to Annarbor Ann Arbor to meet my son and attend last night's forgettable game between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indians (digression:  Matt asked, and I cannot answer, how the Cleveland Indians' logo survives in this day and age.  He asked:  "What if the team were the New York Jews and the logo was an anti-semitic caricature?")

While Matt studied today, I took a long walk around my alma mater, thinking about the changes since the last of my three residential stays here eight years ago (once as student; once as young married; once as grown-up).  Construction is everywhere:  a new dormitory (North Quad on the site of what used to be the Frieze Building - appropriately named if you were walking there from the other side of campus for an eight a.m. class in mid-winter) and a refurbished and expanded one (Mosher-Jordan); reconstruction of the Mott Childrens' Hospital; major additions to the art and archaeology museums; completely new business school and public health school buildings.  The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy is finished, as is the recently improvement to the old part of the law school building along State Street (and I understand there is to be a major addition with new faculty offices soon - Bruce Frier showed me the drawing a couple years ago).   The Nichols Arboretum has been spruced up, with significant reclamation of the river bank of the Huron River.  Something was going on in front of the undergraduate library (in the older version of which I spent three hours ogling for every hour of studying). There is an entire life sciences complex across the street from my freshman dorm (Alice Lloyd) where, as I recall, there were a power plant and facilities services.  All of this with Michigan's economy significantly sucking wind, as I was reminded over and over again this weekend.

But, I suppose as it should be, the institution is so large that even with all this change, it still seems incremental in comparison, and the place is still fundamentally the one I remember from over thirty years ago.  (And student living is still as squalid as I remember it.)

Looking at the contractors' signs - many of them clients from when I practiced around here - I wondered how much dispute resolution and litigation would arise out of the work.  Here's an empirical question:  however you want to define major construction, what percentage of projects require arbitration or litigation at their conclusion?  My visceral reaction is that it is an overwhelming majority, and what that says to me is that the so-called complete contract really is a flight of the economic imagination.  Whatever we can put in language is just too simple a model for the mind-bending complexity of a major project.

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