I’m at the ALI’s Annual Meeting – my first since joining the organization. If you are here, I hope you’ll find me and say hello – and indeed I’ve already seen some familiar faces in this enormous crowd. Three loosely connected thoughts on the ALI:
- Justice Stevens gave a lunchtime speech. His topic was nominally how Bush v. Gore might encourage the ALI’s election law restatement to employ equal protection arguments against political gerrymandering. (He’s still fired up about the case, and in apparently fantastic health.) I think, however, he was really trying to express frustration with the Court’s politicization, and warning about what would happen to the Section 5 case that is coming down the pike in short order. He entirely ducked a question about the Affordable Care Act, and was applauded by the crowd for his tact in doing so.
- I admit to feeling daunted by the (herculean) process of producing Restatements and Principles. The public part of the process, where the room as a whole debates the merits of drafts multiple times over many years, is fascinating to watch. How such a process can survive the modern era, shrinking attention spans, and the politicization of some of these projects, seems like a challenge for the organization to deal with going forward.
- There was some discussion of the break-up of ALI-ABA, which I confess to previously not knowing much about. One hypothesis I gathered from an attendee was that ALI-ABA as a joint venture faced increasing competition from for-profit CLE firms, which have turned the business of continuing legal education upside-down by heavily discounting the cost of CLE through selling advertising and delivering the material online. Thus, like most modern media firms, the “product” of for-profit CLE is increasingly your eyeballs watching a computer screen (sold to third parties), not the content itself. These developments undermined ALI-ABA’s business model of selling high quality CLE at real locations, and thus required innovation in the relationship. Maybe that’s the story, and if so it shows how technological disruption can affect the law in unexpected ways.
I’m looking forward to getting to know the organization in the years to come. The attendees are obviously quite impressive, and their seriousness of purpose is inspiring.