I recently watched Exile on Main St. , about the making of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 album. It’s fascinating to see the creative process at work—wine, marijuana, Jack Daniels, heroin, three-in-the-morning jam sessions—all in the basement of a villa on the French Riviera.
It’s not quite like that here at The American Lawyer. But I liked seeing the Stones create something out of nothing. And it was inspiring to watch their relentless, if illicitly fueled, work ethic as they perfected their fledgling tracks. The documentary got me thinking about where ideas—musical or intellectual—come from and how they go from a thought to a finished product. The three features in our March issue are a good place to start.
The idea for our cover story about law firm pensions came from senior international correspondent Michael D. Goldhaber. Last summer, Michael was reporting a piece for our global issue (“Empire Builders,” October 2011). For that story he talked to an Am Law 50 managing partner who believed that many firms deliberately understate their pension costs when they calculate their profitability. Michael sent me an e-mail saying, “A good feature [on this] would shed a lot of light.” I asked Julie Triedman if she wanted to take a look. A senior writer, Julie has written at length about law firm finances and the auto industry (“Road Trip,” April 2010) and she jumped into the story. Julie contacted 70 people by phone or e-mail, including 20 managing partners and six or seven pension experts. She liked the topic because “the auto industry got rid of pensions that were based on service.” But for law firms, pensions—in many cases, very lucrative pensions—are still a way of life (“A Heavy Burden”).
Our other features were conceived the old-fashioned way: through diligent daily reporting. A former colleague on The Litigation Daily proposed writing a profile of Leo Strine, chancellor of the Delaware Chancery Court. When this reporter couldn’t do it, I mentioned the idea to senior writer Susan Beck. She had followed Strine’s rulings in her work as an editor and columnist for The Litigation Daily, and dove in (“Tell Us How You Really Feel, Leo”).
Litigation Daily senior reporter Nate Raymond has reported extensively on the myriad suits brought by the monoline insurers against the banks that sold allegedly fraudulent mortgage-backed securities. Nate thought that, collectively, the insurers had an interesting story to tell (“The Avengers”).
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In other news, The American Lawyer was nominated for five Jesse H. Neal Business Journalism Awards this spring: for profiles written by Goldhaber and chief European correspondent Chris Johnson; for best issue of the year (May 2011); for best range of work by a single writer, senior reporter Amy Kolz; and for best e-newsletter, The Asian Lawyer. ALM’s editor in chief, Aric Press, will also be receiving the 2012 Crain Award at the Neal ceremony in March. Crain winners are honored for their outstanding contributions to editorial excellence. Congratulations to the American Lawyer team, and to Aric for this well-deserved honor.