Talent Wants To Be Free Symposium: Lending Support to Lawmakers and Raising Questions for Open Government Efforts

Like my fellow symposium participants, I loved Orly’s book. As Catharine Fisk noted, Orly’s stories and lessons, informed by literature, experiments, and more, captivated me. Beside teaching me much, more importantly, it will educate policymakers. Talent Wants to Be Free serves as a slam-dunk rebuttal to those who say that legal scholarship lacks value in the real world. Orly’s book is a must read for state legislators interested in encouraging innovation in their backyards. Some lawmakers have proposed bills to limit or eliminate non-compete agreements as contrary to public policy. As Orly’s book demonstrates, good for them and for all of us. Orly’s book provides powerful arguments for the adoption of those laws and for other states to pay attention. And it sounds like an upcoming Restatement will recommend rules that would send judges in the opposite direction–towards less mobility, not more. They too need to read Orly’s original research and powerful arguments.

The book raised an interesting disconnect about our understanding of the mobility of talent. On the one hand, the media is all abuzz about companies that find talent for employers who presumably could move from their current jobs. As a recent New York Times piece discussed, analytics firms crunch data to search for and assess specialized talent in particular fields. Remarkable Hire scores a candidate’s talents by looking at how others rate her online contributions. Talent Bin and Gild create lists of potential hires based on online data. According to the Times, big-name companies like Facebook, Wal-Mart, and Amazon use these technologies to find and recruit job candidates. These stories don’t take into account the barriers that Orly’s book discusses: strictly interpreted non-compete agreements and their functional equivalents such as the inevitable disclosure of trade secrets concept. These analytics firm are likely to identify fabulous talent who cannot realistically move or at least may not be worth the money to buy them out of their non-competes. Of course, California companies like Facebook can gorge on Big Data about talent all they want–California lawmakers have banned non-competes.

A concern that came to mind is whether Government 2.0 efforts are worth it for employees. What if employees spend their free time innovating for government and it turns out that they shared some skill that their employer can claim ownership over or worse sue the employee for spilling trade secrets. Reading Orly’s book raised concerns about the practical problems and perils raised by lending one’s time to government hack-a-thons and the like. I don’t have any concrete answers to these problems except to tell lawmakers and employers to listen to Orly’s recommendations.

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