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Monday, August 12, 2019

Getting to Know Peter Lederer

UnknownOne of the benefits of publishing or blogging is the chance to connect with fascinating people. One of those, in my case, is Peter Lederer (pictured, left), who is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Law, and one of the founding members (along with Michele DeStefano) of LawWithoutWalls.

From Peter's bio at Miami, here are the bare bones:

He served many years as a partner of Baker & McKenzie, the global law firm, having joined the firm as its 17th partner. After seven years in Zurich, where he opened the Firm’s office, he returned to New York, serving as the Senior Partner of that office until 1994. He also served for many years as a member of the Firm’s top global management bodies. For some 25 years Peter served as general counsel to the electric utility owned insurance company, Nuclear Electric Insurance Limited. He also acted as counsel for the establishment of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, the international accounting firm, then serving as its general counsel from 1989 to 1994.

Being the 17th partner at Baker & McKenzie ought to tell you something, but that short description belies the richness of his life journey, involving modern world history, an iconic figure in legal academia, the explosion of the global legal profession, and a mind that doesn't rest just because the body is aging.  

He introduced himself to me a couple years ago by way of a couple emails, mentioning a couple people we knew in common. The first note expressed a certain frustration with academic book pricing. In his words, "I have the temerity to ask: how does your new book wind up on Amazon with a sticker price of $118.33? With even the ephemeral Kindle version nearly $50?  I may have to spring for it.  One of the reviews suggested parallels to some of Karl Llewellyn's thinking; I was his research assistant ages ago, and that's a sure hooker." Then later asked who had turned me on to Llewellyn, as Peter "had worked for him for a couple of years when he was doing The Common Law Tradition, and that was certainly one of the shaping experiences of my life."

I did answer the question about pricing* but at some point the arithmetic dawned on me.

I replied: "Unless you are 100 years old, you must have been at Chicago in the last few years of his life?  My publication date for The Common Law Tradition is 1960, which if you graduated then would make you 19 years old than me and I am 64.  83?  If so, my hat is off to you - I aspire to keep at it in the same way."

Turns out the estimate was off by five years, because Peter was then 88, now 89, born in Austria, and fled with his parents to the US in 1938, just after the Anschluss, and a year before my grandparents (with my five year old mother and one year old aunt) left Frankfurt, Germany for the same destination.  

And we shared some experience and outlook regarding business lawyering, particularly when it crossed borders. From the oral history he co-authored with John Flood in the Fordham Law Review, Becoming a Cosmopolitan Lawyer:

The lawyer-client relationship is replete with uncertainty because of the nature of legal work, and managing that uncertainty is part of the lawyer’s skill set. In this respect, a lawyer is not just a legal technician applying knowledge to problem areas; the lawyer assumes the role of trusted advisor. This role is the hardest to describe in terms of discrete skills, as it requires not just legal proficiency, but also the traits that [Charles] Fried highlighted, such as empathy, the ability to listen, and a cultural sensitivity to others.
Part of our argument is that a cosmopolitan lawyer is also a trusted advisor and that the two are intertwined by necessity, for one cannot exist without the other. The reason for this interconnectedness is that globalization increases risk and uncertainty, which is, in part, a function of the scale of business as it grows, both domestically and internationally. The global professional service provider—accountant, consultant, lawyer—must ameliorate this risk and give succor. This role is crucial to the smooth functioning of business.

Michael Madison tells me that he has interviewed Peter for an upcoming segment of The Future Law Podcast.  Keep an ear out for it!

*The answer on pricing, I think, has a lot to do with price inelasticity for library buyers and exploiting the downward sloping demand curve to avoid deadweight loss.  In any event, you can now get the book in paperback from the publisher or on Amazon for under $50.

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw on August 12, 2019 at 10:06 AM in Deliberation and voices, Lipshaw | Permalink

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