Bitter Sweet

It has been a month since my last post. Time seems to be on the run of late. I have been traveling a lot, mostly in Europe, where access to the internet is not always as ubiquitous as here in the US. I am home now and I have looked through all my email. It amazes me just how much email we get that we don’t want and how little of what we hope to see in our box is there. The modern world with all its technology is in the end powered by the same source as was the quill and the carrier pigeon, us. Humans have not changed much. Fresh from walking among the great achievements of the past centuries put in perspective the motivations for greatness, goodness and of course evil and harm are equally alive in us no matter what the “form” or “shape” the modern times cloak them in.

One email I received was from a person who I worked closely with years ago. Our communication consists of a few emails now and again and dinner when I am in her town, once or twice a year. I’d like to share the email:

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Degraded Times

Several conversations and commentaries put the phrase “degraded times” in my head. I by nature tend to hope for the best, think that people don’t put their feet on the floor in the morning to do harm or a bad job. I also tend to believe that 99% of all people know what is right and wrong. I qualify my statement of belief because I am not blind to actions and words that prove my tendency wrong.

A person I have worked with in my past, with whom I keep in touch, has an eye out for a new job from time to time. I saw a post on the ALA national web site which I forward to her. It was for a senior position in a well known, yet smaller law firm than her current international firm. This is a position for which she is extremely well qualified for by experience, character, and temperament. I will now post her reply to me:

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Check The Pedigree

“Check the pedigree” is a phrase I am often heard to say, but I have learned that it means different things to different people. I have been on both sides of the table, buying for and selling to legal services organizations. I can, with confidence, say that one of the first questions asked by legal service organizations is: “who else is…” Meaning that they want to know if any other “pedigree” organizations are using the service or product. Checking the pedigree is even more important than the actual qualities of the product itself, because often the discussion ends with the lack of pedigree. As a consequence, you will notice that products marketed to law firms often contain, in their marketing, long lists of “clients” who have already purchased the product or service. You will notice, too, that law firms often will market themselves with list of “clients” that use their services and products. It really is a cult of pedigree and, in my opinion, it has been taken too far.

Having said the cult of pedigree has gone too far, I am compelled to say that there are benefits to “checking the pedigree”, because pedigree shows a line of descent, a record of progression. What pedigree is not useful for is as a measure of success or realized benefits. And when I say “check the pedigree”, what legal professionals often hear is: read the list of “clients” – instead of what I said, “check” the pedigree, emphasis on the “check”. Why do legal professionals have a bias to the pedigree and not the checking?

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Business… Money…Wealth… Control

In the last week I have had more conversations about money then I have about business. These conversations all started out veiled in business issues but they quickly manifested the true topic, money. Money is certainly bound up in the goals of business, but I find it also is the least understood. I am astonished by the numbers of young lawyers (and old for that matter) who have no clue how to read a financial statement, let alone understand what they mean. I am a pattern seeker. I feel most comfortable when I see patterns because that means there is a process at work. What is the process at work to allow so many men and woman to not “understand” the concepts and laws of money?

Teaching a person to read financial statements is like granting a driver’s license, does not mean they know how to drive. It just means they are at the beginning of learning. I don’t understand those who say they desire “money”, yet they don’t take the time to even establish a working “friendship” with the subject of their desire. Money, in our culture, is one of the most neglected subjects, yet so many have a desire to achieve it. We learn to play golf, tennis, pool, bowl, (insert your hobbies here) and we are proud of our achievements in these areas, but when it comes to money, we are mum.

I often have to explain that money is not wealth. You can have substantial amounts of money and not be wealthy. Yet people speak of wealth creation as if it is a magic number on a balance sheet. Millionaires go bankrupt all the time. A lawyer millionaire is not exempt either. In fact, I wonder how many attorneys actually achieve the “control over their money" that is the true definition of wealth.

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Truth, Justice, Verdict

When thinking about our court system, the adversarial system, I can’t help but think about it as theater. The roles are set and the stage of the court house plays its part too. If a critic were to sum up the story of our play, the best might say it is a dramatic story of the quest for a verdict. From the prologue through the final curtain, it is not about truth or justice. In other systems where the judge plays the role of investigator and the process is more administrative than theatrical, I think the humanity is lost. I value the public performance of our system even though I know that both sides are looking to present only “their truth”, and even though I know that any human system will fail to meet its burden when the test of that burden is justice served. Although it’s not the most “marketable” reality of our court rooms, the pursuit of a verdict, is the reality.

There is a famous quote that one of the qualities of a good actor is knowing when to get off the stage. I have been thinking that one of the marks of a good attorney, in our system, is to know where the role begins and ends. While I do think the pursuit of a verdict through our court system is the best in the world (I say that fully aware of its shortcomings), I am equally comfortable to say that the “role” of an attorney, outside that scripted by the case, is to be a seeker and defender of truth and justice.

The very nature of government and laws is to create boundaries. The balance of these restrictions is the balance created among free people to achieve a productive society in spite of the excesses of human nature. I trust in the balance created by our system to ordain and empower gatekeepers. I believe attorneys are cast in this role by our legal system. I also think that the educational system which creates our society’s attorneys and those who support them have forgotten that the “role” of an attorney on stage is different from the “role” of an attorney off stage.

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I Live In The World I Create

Cold rainy days are wonderful because they slow everything down. The more we fight to keep our plans, meet our schedule; rainy days will push us back. Stillness is a force for inspiration when we spend our time accepting it and accepting its gifts in our lives. Poets, painters, and artist through the ages all give voice to the inspiration brought in the gift of being still, listening in the quiet.

It’s 4:30 in the morning now… the rain is hitting the window. The sun will rise and the day I had planned has been taken from me and replaced with a gift. Albert Einstein wrote, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The quiet eloquence of inspiration can’t be heard when our thinking, the same thinking that caused the problem, crowds out our genius. We cannot hear the need to change our awareness. The nature of the delivery of legal services in our society too often disconnects us from inspiration, from the reflected light of our spirit. The gift of reflection allows for our thoughts, passions and visions to reconnect and re-harmonize with the spirit.

Those of you who read the blog will have noticed that my posts have been sporadic of late. The noise of my professional life disconnected me from my passion, my spirit and my vision. Things became important to me that really are not important to my passion.

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There Is Profit In Simplicity

The complexity of our modern society presses on us from all sides. The degree and speed we adapt, almost daily, is amazing. I know it’s taken for granted but to me it needs to be said... it is amazing. I am reminded of just how simple things were, oh say 10 yrs ago, when I have to navigate between my “reality” of today and the “reality” of my Mom’s today.

Have you tried to buy a phone that is just a phone lately? My Mom needs a new wall phone for the kitchen. It’s not like I am looking to replace an avocado green rotary phone. I just need a hang on the wall phone, period. I find myself searching, really searching hard for good quality “simple” products. Products like a phone that is just a phone, no caller ID, voice mail or programmable buttons; an oven that just bakes, broils and cleans (don’t want to be too simple...). Truly the list goes on and on of “simple” products that I need to keep my Mom’s today functioning. I don’t mean to sound like Mom is stuck in the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s or hell even in the 80’s. She is just stuck in the late 90’s and for all the complexity we have digested in our live over these short years, Mom is down for the count. She needs a bridge between the two todays.

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Step Up

Law firm operations are not mechanically complicated. It really breaks down into a series of steps, which when the organization gets larger, turn into departments. The workflow through these steps or departments are really the same across the spectrum of organizations. A docket or calendar or records or library or accounting professional can move from organization to organization with only the need to learn “cultural differences” and, in some cases, technology differences. The fundamental steps of the workflow are for the most part consistent with the same expected outcome.

Although these steps are well systematized, they do require constant decision making and the best decisions are made through the eyes of experience. Too often organizations hire based upon a preset salary range instead of on the experience level. I often suggest that the money not spent buying experience will be spent on the “manager” that inexperience will force to be hired. Organization needs to have a plan to “transfer” knowledge. It is a mistake to get boxed in by individual employees who solely possess critical path knowledge. I see that some organizations view the “manager” as the vehicle to transfer knowledge. While this is one way to go, I often suggest that the better vehicle is to empower the people in the critical path, not manage them. This means spending money on their salaries and tools over those of a secondary layer. This empowerment leads to a healthy widespread incentive to obtain knowledge by creating a hunger for it. This replaces the top down feeding.

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Contemplate Purely on the Idea Itself

Does it seem to you like there are a lot of people who have ideas and then almost immediately, with a clear vision of the goal, run for that finish line? Has it become a bad thing to sit and contemplate, not the mechanics of the execution, but the idea itself? Not contemplate on how much the idea can earn or what success it may bring to its proponents, but purely the idea. I suggest there needs to be a step, more like a long pause, when we contemplate purely on an idea itself and not on the goal. Setting goals are the first steps of execution. Goals can provide the stick by which we can measure progress and, crudely, people. But what is the measure by which the foundational idea is measured?

Ideas, great and small have all been supported or victimized by the execution. But what of ideas which are ill conceived? Can they be sustained through time by execution to meet the presented goals and thereby be accepted no matter how ill conceived?

How about the “idea” of burying the opposition in paper to hide the one document that has meaning, or the “idea” of hiring experts from the far corners of the country to make it too hard too or expensive for the other side to get a fair chance? These “ideas” meet the goal and are even, unfortunately, accepted as an attorney’s duty to “do whatever it takes” to further the client’s need. (“Whatever it takes”, I use that statement because it is the mantra of far too many attorneys and those who support attorneys in their work. I wrote about it in "Tail Wagging The Dog".) Contemplating these ideas, and purely these ideas, leads me unavoidably to see the harm they deliver to the proponents, the opposition, justice, and our society.

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Is it human nature to hear and speak extremes? It would not be a noteworthy question except it is so common. Equally common is that extremes obscure the overall meaning of what people are actually saying to each other. The Catch-22 is that even when what is actually being said is not couched in extreme terms, a person may interpret it as an extreme when hearing it. It is such a waste of time and energy, yet it is common. Why is this so common?

Extremes in anger or other emotional communications I can understand, and am as guilty as most. It feels natural to spar in this way. It tends to be a steam valve in the human condition, although it rarely ends in a common point of view being adopted. Is there a benefit in using extreme terms in other forms of communication? If we exaggerate the hearing and give voice to it back, does it make the point more correct?

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