A new blog on Philadelphia's rapidly changing legal scene

Abraham Lincoln is reported once to have said that “a lawyer’s advice and time are his stock in trade.”

What can one say about this? A decade ago, honest Abe’s remark would have been the epitome of the blindingly obvious.

 Yet today, not so much.

 He is clearly a man who lived in an era before there were alternative billing arrangements.

Today marks the start of an Inquirer blog on legal issues in the Philadelphia region and beyond. Our aim is to focus unerringly on the economics of the industry and on lawyering as a both a business and a profession, and that will mean of necessity that we will be tracking the slow but inexorable shift of firms from hourly rates to a fee for service model.

 With all due deference to Abraham Lincoln

That and the many other business machinations taking place in the legal world will be our focus as the industry shakes off the aftermath of the 2008 financial market collapse.

 For the law is a huge economic engine in Philadelphia, indeed in the nation. Two big firms in Philadelphia alone have annual revenues that are near or slightly above $1 billion, several others are not far behind and there are even more with revenues of between $300 and $600 million.

 There are easily upwards of 12,000 lawyers in Philadelphia, most of them in Center City. Nationally, some one million people are employed in law firms, court houses or as lawyers for government.

So our focus will be more on what happens in the high rise offices than in the courts. The aim is to write knowledgeably about the most vibrant practice areas and the lawyers in them. The style will be slightly more accessible and personal than that in the daily newspaper, our basic platform.

 There will be large doses of commentary and analysis, and we hope, very little in the way of opinion mongering. There will be links to other sites that we think focus on our issues in an interesting way.

 Someone once described the content of a daily newspaper as the first draft of history.

 Think of this as the first draft of the first draft.

My colleague, Drew Singer, a second year law student at the University of Pittsburgh, and an aspiring journalist, will be sharing writing and reporting duties. He is an expert on social media and brings skill sets and interests that will surely deepen our coverage.

What is most compelling about the law for journalists is its great variety. More than a decade of reporting in Washington, D.C. on the White House, Capitol Hill, national security and politics gave me what was in retrospect a merely one dimensional picture of the profession.

 Every lawyer, it seemed, was employed zealously defending some politician or bureaucrat in trouble; interactions were usually testy.

But, when they are not defending someone in trouble, lawyers often are eager to explain what they do and since they are in the language business many of them do it well. They often have wonderful stories to tell.

There are the deal makers, the transactions guys, and women, the white collar defense types, the plaintiffs bar and the enviros.

 There are the sports and entertainment lawyers (wow, what a blast), the politically involved, the litigators, the activists, the public interest bar and the law firm advocates who focus on pro bono work.

 This blog will be a place where we will tell their stories.

One of the Inquirer’s great strengths, more appreciated now in this era of dwindling journalism resources, is the time and energy still devoted to deeply reported investigative articles that advance public knowledge on issues of critical importance to the civic life of this region.

  As a series of stories published in the Inquirer in 2008 about consolidated multi district litigation against the government of Saudi Arabia for supporting terrorism amply showed, these pieces sometimes hinge on huge, and unresolved legal questions.

 In that lawsuit, filed by the Center City law firm Cozen O’Connor, the question is when U.S. citizens can sue foreign governments that have been implicated in acts of terrorism.

This blog will be a site where these issues will be engaged in a spirit of free ranging inquiry and honest debate. Civility will be the rule.

And may the best argument win.