|MICHAEL A. FITTS|
Dean and Bernard G. Segal
Professor of Law
Last December I attended a valuable conference which all of our alumni would have found illuminating. Forty law firm partners, legal academics, general counsels and an economist gathered to discuss the weighty topic of legal innovation. But, in a sense, we were really talking about the future of the legal profession and our changing economics.
At the time, we had not seen the full fury of the downturn, and how hard it would hit our society and the legal profession. Since then, we’ve seen major law firms shuttered, including the historic Wolf- Block firm in Philadelphia, home to more than 50 alumni. We’ve seen other firms postpone associate hiring and cut back their summer programs. And unfortunately, we’ve seen deeper layoffs than we are accustomed to. All of these developments are testing our assumptions about the legal profession.
So where do we go from here? We attempt to answer that question in this issue, which takes a multipronged look at the government’s initial response to the economic crisis, the difficult choices involved in regulating the financial system, and the way forward for the practice of law.
Specifically, we tell the tale of the effort to stabilize banks through the eyes of two members of the Bush administration, Robert Hoyt, L’89, G’89, general counsel in the Treasury Department, and Heath Tarbert, L’01, GRL ’02. Bob was intimately involved in trying to thaw the frozen credit markets. Heath, fresh from a Supreme Court clerkship and serving as associate counsel to the President, was assigned the portfolio for economic policy. He soon found himself working on a draft of the TARP legislation. They confirm that we came awfully close to an economic meltdown from which it would have been hard to recover.
We also asked a number of our faculty members and Alan Beller, L’76, former director of the Corporation Finance division at the SEC, what should be done to regulate the markets, banks and other financial institutions. All of these experts may offer different prescriptions, but they seem to agree on one thing: Don’t act precipitously. Take the time to find out, and then correct, what went wrong.
To complete the package, we turn to Steve Burbank a co-organizer of the legal innovations conference; Larry Fox, C’65, L’68; Eric Friedman, L’89; and Bob Mundheim, former dean of Penn Law School and of counsel to Shearman & Sterling, for their take on new operating models for law firms. Step one: run them more like a business.
Of course, legendary Philadelphia lawyer Richard A. Sprague, L’53, does not need such advice. He remains impervious to the ups and downs of the economic cycle. At age 83, he’s still going strong. Dick Sprague continues to inspire respect and fear, in a textbook career as a successful litigator. In a fascinating feature, we go inside the mind of Dick Sprague, the man F. Lee Bailey ranks among the greatest courtroom lawyers in America.
As you read the issue, please remember: We are always happy to hear from our alumni, and to help them in these troubled times.