Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Why do smart people stick to outmoded ideas? Why do creative scientists or business people lose their ingenuity when it comes to their own business models? Pondering these questions, a reader pointed me to this classic essay in the National Geographic Adventure Blog.
In the essay, best-selling author Laurence Gonzales discusses epic failures [like] The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) [and NASA]. ... The final report on Columbia's crash noted that "[e]xternal criticism and doubt" only "reinforced the will to ‘impose the party line vision on the environment, not to reconsider it.'" NASA's executives, in other words, responded with perfect groupness: Bonded by their past success, they rejected any criticisms with hostility.
Legal education, unfortunately, shows all of the signs of groupness. How many times have you heard a law professor say: "We've been using the case method for more than a century. You can't argue with a hundred years of success!" How often have you heard administrators and faculty revel in the excellence of their schools and programs? How often does your law school, as described internally, sound like the "perfect place"? How often do you hear faculty attacking the "naive" suggestions of practitioners, students, alumni, and other outsiders?
It's important to be proud of our accomplishments; but it's vital to avoid groupness. During the last year, I've seen many welcome signs of law schools waking to the need for serious change. But I've also seen signs of resistance, of increased chest thumping and declarations of excellence. As we welcome the new year, let's embrace the lesson that A&P never learned: After a hundred years, times change.