Following up on their own post a month ago, the dynamic defense duo at Drug & Device Law posted:

A couple of weeks ago, Herrmann noted in passing that, although many big firms now sponsor blogs, none of the ten firms with the highest profits per partner (that much-despised, but oft-cited metric) do. …

Many folks contacted us, on or off-line, to suggest why lawyers at the most profitable firms don’t blog.

Those ten most profitable large corporate firms — Wachtell, Quinn Emanuel, Boies Schiller, Sullivan & Cromwell, Paul Weiss, Cravath, Simpson Thacher, Cleary, and Schulte Roth — "have no apparent affiliation with any blogs at all."

D&D Law summarize the opinions offered to them as:

1. Lawyers at the most profitable firms are stupid.

2. Lawyers at the most profitable firms are too busy.

3. Lawyers at those firms won’t stoop to blog.

4. Lawyers at those firms don’t want to give away their product for free.

5. Lawyers at those firms lack the necessary skill set.

6. Lawyers at those firms believe that blogging is unlikely to yield a decent return on investment.

A little more detail at their site; sadly, they keep their conclusions to themselves. Maybe next time. Legal Blog Watch links to a few other arguments on the subject.

Let me take a page from another arena: content publishers. There’s been a big hoopla in the blogosphere lately over Malcolm Gladwell’s highly critical review in The New Yorker of Free, the new book by Wired Magazine’s editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, whose blog ("The Long Tail") is here. If you’re interested in that debate, Anderson’s response is here, Seth Godin’s take is here ("Malcolm is wrong"), and Clay Shirky’s ruminations on the inevitable end of the newspaper is here.

More useful for our purposes is Michael Nielsen’s thoughtful examination of the scientific publishing industry, in which he argues that "even smart and good organizations can fail in the face of disruptive change, and that there are common underlying structural reasons why that’s the case:"

[S]ome of the forces preventing change are strongest in the best run organizations. The reason is that those organizations are large, complex structures, and to survive and prosper they must contain a sort of organizational immune system dedicated to preserving that structure. If they didn’t have such an immune system, they’d fall apart in the ordinary course of events. Most of the time the immune system is a good thing, a way of preserving what’s good about an organization, and at the same time allowing healthy gradual change. But when an organization needs catastrophic gut-wrenching change to stay alive, the immune system becomes a liability.

Elite law firms’ hostility to the concept of "blogging" is a function of those law firms’ highly effective immune systems. The most profitable firms on those lists earned their way to the top by building effective, reputable practices that can command top fees for unique talent and experience. They are diversified, in demand, and have remained at the top of the field through multiple changes in leadership and in the marketplace. They have proven themselves.

Consequently, elite corporate law firms have built over time strong organizational immune systems, systems that, for example, quite literally reject foreign bodies from entering by way of resistance to lateral partners.

Mention blogging, social media, or the like and watch the immune system kick in. Why waste time messing with success? AmLawDaily picked up the phone, called the firms, and got exactly that answer:

[W]e put out calls to managing partners and spokesman at nine of the ten firms (we excluded Kirkland & Ellis, because, as Beck and Herrmann note, a Kirkland associate played a role in creating the popular Sports Law Blog) to ask them about their stance on blogging. The conversations we had centered on a general theme: The firms just don’t see the point. They are already successful, so they don’t feel the need to market themselves or prove their grasp of a particular subject matter in the limited spare time they have. 

We’ll let Jonathan Schiller of Boies, Schiller & Flexner sum it up: "I think the lawyers here are just too busy," he says. "I’m too old to blog. I’d rather play golf if I have a bit of free time."

The real question is not why big firms don’t "blog;" the answer is "because they don’t want to blog." The immune system rejects blogging, much as it rejects changes to alternative fee arrangements and compensation structures.

The real question is if elite corporate law firms should blog and the answer is yes.

How do I presume to know that? Because, as the AmLawDaily further points out, most elite firms effectively blog and have blogged for some time:

We wonder, though, whether there is much difference between blogging and putting out so-called client memos and (often) displaying those memos on a firm’s Web site. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, for instance, has about as austere a Web site as exists online anymore, and thus seems perhaps the least likely candidate in the Am Law 100 to produce an opinionated or less formal blog. But the firm regularly releases memos that are quite opinionated, including one in the fall that implored the SEC to reinstate the Uptick Rule to limit short-selling. That could just as easily have appeared on any high-brow economic law blog. (A firm spokeswoman and name partner David Katz did not respond to our messages seeking comment.)

You can read many of these Wachtell memos, along with memos from heavyweights at Cravath, Sullivan Cromwell, Latham Watkins, Gibson Dunn, et al, at The Harvard Law School Corporate Governance Forum, which refers to itself as a "blog." Skim down the list of "guest contributors" (not "guest bloggers") on the left side of the "Forum’s" website — might as well be a Wall Street Christmas party.

But they don’t call it "blogging." They call it "updates" and "newsletters" and "forums" and "panels" and "discussions." 

The wording doesn’t matter. They’re out there every day showing off their expertise for free. Welcome to blogging, you blogging bloggers.

One more issue before we go. As Nielsen also noted:

The problem is that your newspaper has an organizational architecture which is, to use the physicists’ phrase, a local optimum. Relatively small changes to that architecture – like firing your photographers – don’t make your situation better, they make it worse. … Unfortunately for you, there’s no way you can get to that new optimum without attempting passage through a deep and unfriendly valley. The incremental actions needed to get there would be hell on the newspaper. [Ed by MSK – more on this concept’s application to business here]

Thus, the real real question is if this blogging or crypto-blogging is the major shift itself or merely a small experiment as part of a much larger "disruption" in the legal industry comprised of, inter alia, blogging, social media, transparency, alternative fee agreements, telecommuting, virtual workers, outsourcing, and collaborative / cooperative practice?

Put another way, are elite corporate law firms sitting in a "local optimum" that works now but keeps them from getting to where they want to be in the future? Elite firms are certainly considering the possibility, hence finding their "client memos," for free, alongside competitors’ free "client memos," on a law school blog. They’re also upending the structure of their compensation and associate training, even if clients don’t believe them.

We may have to wait and see what the answer is. As described in Clay Shirky’s piece linked above, in which he summarizes the turbulent transition following Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press as "chaotic:"

When the Bible was translated into local languages some people saw it as an educational boon, others as the work of the devil. Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same sort of response. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust?

Only in retrospect were experiments undertaken during the wrenching transition to print revealed to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume. What seemed like a minor change—take a book and shrink it—was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can be neither mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.