Monday, September 17, 2018
I am still basking in the warm glow of having hosted a number of my fellow Business Law Prof Blog editors in Knoxville last week for our second annual "Connecting the Threads" event. What a great day we had on Friday. I could listen to these folks talk about business law until the cows come home (so to speak--no actual cows here!).
As BLPB readers may recall, the title of my paper for the 2018 "Connecting the Threads II" symposium is Lawyering for Social Enterprise. I am sure that I will blog more on that topic in this space later--when my paper from the symposium has been published--but I want to offer here the three paragraphs of conclusion to the handout I prepared for the continuing legal education materials for the program, which focus on the need of judgment, discretion, and even wisdom.
Advising entrepreneurs, founders, promoters, and directors of social enterprises can be both satisfying and frustrating. The satisfaction most often comes from helping these businesses achieve financial success while also serving the public good. The frustration comes from the difficulty of the task in providing the necessary counsel—both in selecting the optimal legal form for the firm and in advising management as the business operates over time. These legal advisory contexts involving social enterprises are richly textured and immerse legal counsel in multi-level decision-making that impacts both internal and external business constituencies. The overall advisory environment implicates, among other things, hortatory text in the Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct providing that “[a] lawyer should strive to attain the highest level of skill, to improve the law and the legal profession and to exemplify the legal profession's ideals of public service.” In lawyering for social enterprise, the legal advisor’s skill and public service responsibilities interact meaningfully.
Said another way, the complex decision-making involved in lawyering for social enterprise presents obvious challenges for business venturers and their legal counsel that involve not only baseline professional responsibility matters of competence (comprising doctrinal knowledge and solid, rational legal analysis), diligence (by offering patient and perceptive insights in helping the client to choose from among available alternatives), and communication (with the goal of ensuring informed client decision-making), but also the exercise of appropriate discretion and professionalism that require the savvy built from doctrinal, theoretical, and practical experience and leadership capabilities. As Professor Jeff Lipshaw has written in his intriguing and engaging book Beyond Legal Reasoning: A Critique of Pure Lawyering, “I am firmly convinced that great lawyers . . . bring something more than keen analytical skills to the table. They bring some kind of wisdom—a metaphorical creativity—that transcends disciplinary boundaries, both within the law and without.” That brand of wisdom is especially important in the kinds of questions that arise in lawyering for social enterprise.
Accordingly, as lawyers representing social enterprises, we need to develop knowledge of a complex set of laws and well-practiced, contextual legal reasoning skills. But that, while necessary, is insufficient to the task. We also must impose judgment borne of a deep understanding of the nature of social enterprise and of our clients and their representatives working in that space. Only then can we fulfill our professional promise as legal advisors: to provide clients with both “an informed understanding of . . . legal rights and obligations” and an explanation of “their practical implications.”
(footnotes omitted; hypertext links added).
Agree? Disagree? Can we help students (and inexperienced members of the bar) develop complex decision-making rubrics that incorporate judgment and wisdom? Can we teach judgment, wisdom, and the like to law students? Forever the optimist, I have an intuition that we can.
And with that thought in mind, I close with a picture of a UT Law student who gives me that hope. He commented on my draft paper at the symposium on Friday. He has been in my classroom for two semesters now (taking Advanced Business Associations, Corporate Finance, and Mergers & Acquisitions). He spoke about why limited liability companies may be a better legal option for organizing social enterprise firms than corporations. Proud moment for him and for me. He aced it.