Deborah M. Gordon, associate professor at Stanford, has authored an improbable best seller entitled “Ants at Work: How an Insect Society is Organized.” The book examines the daily and yearly behavior of harvester ant colonies in the Arizona desert. Gordon provides insights on the nature of ants, as well as on the methods scientists use to study and draw conclusions from their subjects. The book has drawn praise from the scientific community and has proved popular with lay audiences, earning a spot as an alternate selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

The legal profession owes a debt of gratitude to Gordon. Applying her insights to the study of attorneys (as I have done) yields startling results. I have discovered that attorneys bear an uncanny resemblance, both in social structure and labor division, to ants. Interaction between colonies, or “firms,” of attorneys also resembles interaction between ant colonies. The similarities suggest that attorneys have much to learn from ants. In studying these tiny creatures, we hold up a mirror to ourselves. Gordon found that ants working outside the nest fall into three general categories: patrollers, foragers and midden workers. The patrollers range outside the nest, searching and marking areas to be traveled later by the foragers. The foragers follow the trails blazed by the patrollers, gathering seeds and other foodstuffs which they carry back to the nest. The midden workers stick close to the nest, performing maintenance work. These classifications roughly fit the three traditional categories of attorneys: “finders,” “minders” and “grinders.”

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