a blawg reviewed by Regan Morris at Lawcrossing
Bruce MacEwen is the host of Adam Smith, Esq., a legal blog focused on the economics of law firms. LawCrossing speaks with MacEwen about his life in the "blogosphere" and his dream to be part of a world where law firms are managed like major companies.
Bruce MacEwen started his Adam Smith blog—which can be found at www.bmacewen.com/blog—at the start of 2004. As he is an attorney, businessman, and consultant, MacEwen's passion lies in the business of law, and he holds the belief that big firms need to hire more professional managers. He felt there was a gap in the so-called blogosphere. While there were many legal blogs, there were none focused on the business and management of law firms.
MacEwen, 47, started a dot-com company during the technology boom to connect Am Law 100 firms with Fortune 1000 companies. While his company didn't survive the NASDAQ crash of 2000, MacEwen's faith and interest in technology did.
"I was interested in blogging in general because I thought it was a fascinating new technology platform," he said. "But I wasn't at all sure that I'd like it, and there's always the dangerous reality that you might not have anything to say. So I started in stealth mode. I only told my wife."
It turns out MacEwen did have something to say. He went public a few months later, by emailing his site around to other legal bloggers. Now, MacEwen gets about 30,000 readers per month.
MacEwen, who lives in Manhattan, said the blog has opened up many professional doors for him and made him a more critical thinker and reader. Instead of skimming a legal article, he now focuses more intently, always thinking of the blog and if he could add something for his readers. MacEwen's ultimate goal is to work as an executive director of an Am Law 100 firm. When not writing his blog, he works as a business and legal consultant.
"The blog has been shockingly successful in terms of getting my name out," he said. "But it's really just part of trying to establish a reputation for somebody who thinks long and hard about these things."
MacEwen has plenty of strong opinions, which is key to writing a good blog, or at least one people want to read. MacEwen thinks big law firms too often promote great attorneys with little management experience instead of hiring managers. Great attorneys often do not make great managers, he said.
The 100 biggest American firms should be run more like similarly sized corporations, MacEwen said. Many of the Am Law 100 firms are $500-million companies. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom does more than $1 billion in business a year.
"If you compare how they're managed to a similarly sized corporation, it's almost a shocking gap. So what I'm really passionate about is bringing more professional management to law firms," he said. "Lawyers tend to think that they can do everything. Typically, the people who rise to the top in a law firm partnership rise to the top because they're incredibly good at serving their clients and they're very good judges of human nature, but it doesn't mean that they think about management issues."
MacEwen started his career as an associate in several (now-defunct) New York firms before moving to Wall Street, where he specialized in securities law. He spent 10 years with Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter, where his interest in business increased. He earned 98 percent of an M.B.A. at night through New York University (the remaining 2 percent is the result of an unfinished dysfunctional group project).
MacEwen also has strong opinions about a sacred cow in the legal profession: the billable hour. It may be good for the firm, but not necessarily for the client. MacEwen thinks law firms will move away from the billable hour kicking and screaming.
"Sophisticated clients really are beginning to demand that law firms price their services based on value received as opposed to what the billable hour represents, which in my mind as an econ major is the cost of production," he said. "And the clients have not yet tightened the screws enough on this issue. The firms won't change it; the clients will be required to change it."
MacEwen, a marathon runner and opera lover, said he never had a 20-year goal to become executive director of a law firm, but that all of his experiences converged into his passion for law and business, which is why he enjoys writing the blog so much. Because he is an expert in securities law, it took him a few years to discover that his real passion was management, not practicing law.
"If you haven't found what you're passionate about, you better keep looking," he said. "Because if you're operating at 90 percent because you're lacking passion, I promise you there's somebody down the hall operating at 120 percent because they're in the zone. And I hate to tell you, they're going to win."
MacEwen dedicated his blog to Adam Smith because he was an intellectual hero.
"He's obviously the Godfather of capitalism. He published The Wealth of Nations in the remarkably fitting year of 1776, and it's a book that if you re-read it today—which I have recently—it holds up brilliantly," he said.
MacEwen said he updates the blog when he feels he has something important to say or report, not necessarily every day (although he does often update the site daily). The blog has resulted in numerous professional contacts, and MacEwen is now collaborating with a professor at Indiana University Law School on a course on the business of law firms, one of the few such courses in the nation.
MacEwen said the legal-blogging world is a very generous and helpful group—more than a dozen legal bloggers recently met in New York. He said he hopes he sees more attorney bloggers in the future.
"Lawyers are articulate, opinionated people who can typically express themselves fairly well, particularly if they're not writing in a technical context," he said. "I think the intersection of the blogosphere and the legal landscape is a marriage made in heaven. Lawyers sell knowledge, and blogs are all about knowledge."