July 2007


How frequently do we complain?  We all do so a lot.  Sometimes we complain about things in the presence of our clients because they also are our friends.  And because we are lawyers, are complaints are spiced-up and witty.  Next time, maybe not so fast.

I received an email today from my brother-in-law, a retired Naval officer, which has given me pause to think further about complaining.  Here is the story relayed in his email.

The Setup
         Luke AFB is west of Phoenix and is rapidly being surrounded by
civilization that complains about the noise from the base and its planes,
forgetting that it was there long before they were. Apparently, an
individual who lives somewhere near Luke AFB wrote the local paper
complaining about a group of F-16s that disturbed his/her day at the mall.

The complaint:

         "Question of the day for Luke Air Force Base: Whom do we thank for
the morning air show? Last Wednesday, at precisely 9:11 a.m., a tight
formation of four F-16 jets made a low pass over Arrowhead Mall, continuing
west over Bell Road at approximately 500 feet. Imagine our good fortune! Do
the Tom Cruise-wannabes feel we need this wake-up call, or were they trying
to impress the cashiers at Mervyns early bird special? Any response would be
appreciated."

Here is the response:
         Regarding "A wake-up call from Luke’s jets" (Letters, Thursday): On
June 15, at precisely 9:12 a.m., a perfectly timed four-ship flyby of F-16s
from the 63rd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base flew over the grave of
Capt. Jeremy Fresques.

         Capt. Fresques was an Air Force officer who was previously stationed
at Luke Air Force Base and was killed in Iraq on May 30, Memorial Day. At 9
a.m. on June 15, his family and friends gathered at Sunland Memorial Park in
Sun City to mourn the loss of a husband, son and friend.

         Based on the letter writer’s recount of the flyby, and because of
the jet noise, I’m sure you didn’t hear the 21-gun salute, the playing of
taps, or my words to the widow and parents of Capt. Fresques as I gave them
their son’s flag on behalf of the President of the United States and all
those veterans and servicemen and women who understand the sacrifices they
have endured. A four-ship flyby is a display of respect the Air Force pays
to those who give their lives in defense of freedom. We are professional
aviators and take our jobs seriously, and on June 15 what the letter writer
witnessed was four officers lining up to pay their ultimate respects.

         The letter writer asks, "Whom do we thank for the morning air show?"
The 56th Fighter Wing will call for you, and forward your thanks to the
widow and parents of Capt. Fresques, and thank them for you, for it was in
their honor that my pilots flew the most honorable formation of their lives.

         Lt. Col. Scott Pleus
         CO 63rd Fighter Squadron
         Luke AFB

The moral of the story is obvious.  As for me, I hope that before I next complain about something about which I know less than all of the story, I remember the picture of the missing man formation and how utterly small the person who wrote the witty complaint must have felt when he read the response.

I am proud to be amongst such distinguished company in the TechnoLawyer eBook, BlawgWorld 2007.  Here’s the story:

TechnoLawyer eBook Makes Legal Publishing History with Smart
Navigation System and Online Distribution via Seventy-Eight Legal Blogs

Helps lawyers find blogs and helps law firms get answers to their most pressing problems

New York, NY (July 30, 2007) — TechnoLawyer, the popular online network for lawyers and law office administrators, today launched BlawgWorld 2007 with TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide, a free eBook with a proprietary design that will turn heads in the legal publishing world. 

BlawgWorld 2007 features a remarkable collection of essays from the legal blogosphere and the 2007 TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide offers a new way for law firms to find answers to management and technology questions.

BlawgWorld 2007 enables lawyers to find legal blogs of interest fast. More than 120,000 blogs launch every day, many of them in the legal sector. Lawyers clearly do not have the time to read every legal blog (blawg). But many blawgs contain excellent content pertaining to their practice of law.

The first edition of BlawgWorld, released in November 2005, was downloaded more than 45,000 times. The second edition is expected to have an even larger audience because of its wider distribution. “BlawgWorld 2006 was excellent so I’m looking forward to reading the 2007 edition,” said Joshua Stein, a partner at Latham &  Watkins.

Fifty percent larger than its predecessor, BlawgWorld 2007 contains thought-provoking essays from 77 of the most influential blawgs. Handpicked by each respective blogger, the essays provide a window into their blawgs, making it easy for lawyers to figure out which ones merit their personal ongoing attention.

“We’re fans of any vehicle that exposes legal blogs to a new audience,” said David Lat, editor of Above The Law, which quickly has become one of the most popular blawgs since launching in 2006. “BlawgWorld is especially appealing thanks to its viral distribution.”

While it contains high-profile blawgs, BlawgWorld 2007 also includes some niche practice area blawgs including Tom Lamb’s Drug Injury Watch, a blawg that keeps the Food and Drug Administration and pharmaceutical companies on their toes. “BlawgWorld is a blogger’s best friend so I was happy to participate again,” noted Lamb.

In the 2007 TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide, a sponsored resource, law firms will find 185 real-life Problems and corresponding Solutions. Written from the point of view of a law firm, each Problem/Solution consists of a question and detailed answer as well as a button that links to a Web page with more information. The 77 participating vendors had to comply with strict guidelines, such as the prohibition of superlatives, designed to emphasize information over marketing lingo.

For example, Bluebeam Software of Pasadena, California contributed two Problems (How Can I Apply Bates Stamps to PDF Files? How Can I Redact PDF Files?). “Thanks to Google, today’s consumers prefer advertising that genuinely helps them. The Problem/Solution Guide fits this new paradigm,” said Richard Lee, President and CEO of Bluebeam Software.

BlawgWorld 2007 and the 2007 TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide both reside in the same PDF file. From any of the eBook’s 345 pages, readers can find anything in just three clicks thanks to the smart navigation system.

“Although the navigation system seems intuitive, developing it involved a lot of hard work and rough drafts,” said editor Sara Skiff. “We believe it’s a first of its kind and provides a better experience than the bookmarks found in other eBooks.”

BlawgWorld 2007 with TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide is both free and freely distributed. Today, TechnoLawyer and the 77 blawgs featured in the eBook each will provide a download link to their respective readers. No registration is required for the download. Those who download a copy will be encouraged to become distributors themselves.

“We believe the launch of this eBook could make history, at least on the legal Web,” said TechnoLawyer publisher Neil J. Squillante. “It’s unusual for a publisher to allow others to distribute its publication much less 77 different blawgs all on the same day. It’s historic and will certainly be fun to witness.”

For more information about and a free copy of BlawgWorld 2007 with TechnoLawyer Problem/Solution Guide visit www.blawgworld.com.

Or better yet, simply click here.

http://dvdenthusiast.net/wp-content/uploads/2006/12/WindowsLiveWriter/1212TVDVDDeals_E369/gomerpyle%5B1%5D1.jpgI received the July 2007 issue of Litigation News from the ABA today.  The lead article reported on a 2006 survey conducted by the Association Of Corporate Counsel (incidentally, no longer known as the American Corporate Counsel Association, as it is referred to in the article), and then discussed a Section of Litigation program from the recent annual meeting which discussed the results of the ACC survey. 

The program’s written materials contained a list of top ten rules for dealing with outside counsel.  The Number 1 rule:  "Do not countenance surprises!  Neither accept them from outside counsel nor be the reason for them happening to your client." 

We have heard this cardinal rule so many times that it is hard to understand why any lawyer would breach it.  Certainly, fear of communicating bad news plays a role, but the news is going to be communicated at some point.  Why compound the problem?  Likewise, the notion that "I can fix it before they find out" probably is in play some of the time.  But who can point to situations where the client hasn’t ultimately found out, only to be angry that you tried to pull a fast one. 

Trust is the cornerstone of a meaningful relationship between inside and outside counsel.  Communication–and following Rule No. 1–is the essence of trust.

Great article in the July/August issue of Law Practice magazine.  A former in-house counsel reveals the "Rainmakers I Have Fallen For …"  Barbara D’Amico is the former General Counsel of J.P. Morgan Chase’s Retail Financial Services Businesses.  The article eventually will be on-line here (probably in September).

Without further lead-in, here are the skills common to great rainmakers (from a buyer’s perspective):

1.  Great rainmakers have energy.
2.   Great rainmakers are outwardly focused.  The six words that create an immediate connection are "what can I do for you?"
3.  Great rainmakers are on message and add value before they get business.  The key message here:  "the gift of information before you get paid …"
4.  Great rainmakers are disciplined and efficient. 

The combination of these factors produces a winning combination.    Hmmm, focusing on the the client’s needs.  What a concept!

Mistakes.  Everyone hates them, but everyone makes them.  The thing that separates great client service from lawyers looking for new clients is how you deal with them.  Some time ago, I provided a prescription for dealing with mistakes in my post, After The Mistake.  Noted blogger Jim Calloway picked up on my post here, which was special for me given Jim’s stature in the blogging community. 

Given the importance of dealing with mistakes, I read with great interest Charles Green‘s post, Apologies, Forgiving and Forgiveness, in his Trust Matters blog.  Charles obviously is the real deal, so his writing is worthy of your attention.  He picks up on an article by Martha Beck, Always Apologize, Always Explain, in Oprah magazine.  Green’s post picks up on an important issue–the expectation of forgiveness that frequently accompanies an apology, and how that expectation actually undermines the apology.  He writes:

It’s instructive that the ninth step of the Twelve Step program literature (you know, the one that pops up in Seinfeld and other sitcoms—the one about making amends), also doesn’t allude to forgiveness. In fact, none of the 12 steps do.

I think this is because Beck, and the 12-Step program, recognize that life is a messy business. To forgive, one has to have a very clean heart in the first place.  And we—I’ll be clean here and just say I—rarely do.

If I’m in a rush to forgive people, I most likely am still judging them for some harm they did to me.  If I’m consternated about being forgiven, well, that’s all about me; and apologies don’t come from a good place if they’re all about me.

Apologies should not be tainted by forgiving, or by seeking forgiveness.  Those have their place, but it’s elsewhere. 

A good apology tries to set aright something that you set awry by impinging on another’s will.  It’s only appropriate that the apology itself refrain from further imposition of will. Hence the separation from forgiving or forgiveness.

Thinking about this has made me wonder about whether law firms ever really discuss handling mistakes or, better yet, provide training to their lawyers.  Mistakes are such a taboo topic that most firms seem to operate on the premise that they only happen to other firms.  Yet every day we read about one firm or another being sued on account of matters that certainly appear like ones that could have been worked out.  Time to rethink the issue.

Tonight I was driving home.  It was too late for Marketplace (see this post), so I was listening to 848, original programming from Chicago Public Radio.  The restaurant Tru is one of Chicago’s finest, and was just voted as having the best service of any restaurant in the country.  Because I am one of those crazies who believe that law firms can learn from non-law businesses, I was all ears.  You can listen to the full program here

Here are some of the notes I made as I re-listened to the program:

1.    Service is about a "sense of style, a certain friendliness."  But it must appear effortless.
2.   Great service doesn’t just happen–you must plan.
3.   Once you have an idea, you can’t just "do it."  Like every other skill, you must practice, practice, practice.
4.   Great service is about anticipating each guest’s needs.  One size does not fit all. 
5.   You must be "hyper-aware" of the service you are providing and how your guest perceives it.
6.   Paying attention to the smallest detail is critical.
7.   Success only serves to increase expectations, which you must continue to exceed.

These look like good lessons to me.  But what do I know?

(If you listen to the broadcast, you’ll understand the significance of the photo.  But let me just say two words–sausage king.)

My friend, Phil Harris from Jenner & Block, has authored an article, Confronting Race, that every lawyer in America should read.  Twice.  And leaders in major law firms should read it three times.  The article appears in the July 2007 issue of Chicago Lawyer (not related to American Lawyer; not available online).

The article begins with this thesis:

    "Most of us understand that disturbing attitudes about race and equality continue to plague our profession.  Statistics demonstrate the seriousness of the problem.  According to the Chicago Lawyer‘s annual surveys, in 1992 only 0.9% of the partners in large firms were black.  In the 2007 survey, that number had risen to only 1.8%.

Something is very wrong, and as leaders in our firms and good citizens, we need to address the problem in a direct, open, and honest way.  The disturbing attitudes and behavior we see in our law firms are exacerbated by the discomfort that we feel when discussing race.

                * * *
The problem is not that a hegemonic ideology of anti-racism discourages honest conversation about race.  Rather, it is a refusal by most members of the legal community to recognize that our practices, language, and institutional structures maintain and perpetuate racial boundaries.  We are not necessarily any worse than other professions in this regard.  But we can, and must, do better."

    While written by a Chicago attorney, a partner in a Chicago law firm, using statistics about partners in Chicago, the article is not about Chicago.  The issue is a national one, perhaps even a global one given a recent statistic I saw about the number of minority partners in top UK firms.  The issues Phil discusses transcend geography.  I believe they also transcend our profession, but that discussion is for another day, another forum.

Phil discusses the efforts many firms have made–making financial contributions to organizations that promote diversity; funding scholarships for minority law students; retaining diversity consultants; using creative approaches to identify and recruit black and other minority law students; and for some, discussing diversity with their clients.  Still, that 1.8% figure is rather stark, and while acknowledging the value of these steps, the article indicts our profession for maintaining "deeply embedded attitudes and behaviors" that result in two steps back for every two steps forward.

In my view, Phil breaks new ground when he says that the discussion he proposes must be premised on agreement that the end must result in black lawyers "exercising the same intellectual, cultural and institutional clout as their white peers."  In the preceding paragraph, I suggest that the article is in some respects an "indictment" of the profession.  I don’t think Phil would necessarily agree with my use of that word–its not a terribly constructive word and his goal is a constructive one.  But the profession must be candid with itself–black lawyers, by and large, are not viewed as intellectually equal to white lawyers.  The evidence?  The article is filled with it.  For example, minority lawyers are expected to be rainmakers: there are virtually none in the ranks of the service partners at most firms.  Why?  Only the "smart" non-rainmakers get to stay as service partners.  I won’t try to characterize all of the evidence that appears in the article, but I hope that many of us will be honest enough to accept the real possibility of our shortcomings.

The real issue is what do we do about it?  I hope the candid discussion Phil seeks happens:  if it does, some meaningful progress might result.  But the progress will require big firm leaders in particular to admit some painful truths.  What with all the focus these days on profits per partner, the leadership necessary to move forward on this issue seems to be in short supply.  My be is the article will be met with stultifying silence.

This issue is a critical one.  The Chicago Lawyer is a publication of limited circulation and limited geographic interest.  But since the issue is one of universal importance, please take the time to help circulate the article to law firm leaders, friends, and anyone else who might broaden the number of people who read this outstanding article.  Thanks.

One of the really fun things about being in the world of blogs is happening on an old post.  And its even more fun when that post is just as vibrant today as when it first appeared.  I just had that experience.  Michelle Golden writes Golden Practices.  Michelle is one of my favorites, and I happened on her post, What Innovation Really Looks Like.  Michelle makes this point, as true today as when she first wrote it in 2005:

What I really want to get at is that most of us who work in and consult within the professions do bang our heads against the wall at times (no offense to any of my beloved clients…) because of the high level of complacency that exists for "good enough" or, in the case of some firms, "almost good."

Michelle then picks up on a great post by the legendary Seth Godin, from Seth’s Blog, Understanding Local Max.   Local Max looks like this:
and is described by Seth Godin this way:

    "Everyone starts at that dot at the bottom left corner. You’re not succeeding because you haven’t started yet.

Then you try something. If it works, you end up at point A.

A is where you see results as the direct output of a strategy and hard work. A is the job you got after investing in an MBA. A is the sales you got after running an ad.

Of course, being a success-oriented capitalist, that’s not enough. So you do more. You push and hone and optimize until you end up at the Local Max. The Local Max is where your efforts really pay off.

So you try harder. And you end up at point B. Point B is a bummer. Point B is backwards. Point B is where the outcome of more effort against your strategy doesn’t return better results. So you retreat. You go back to your Local Max.

And that is where most people stay. Most people get stuck at the Local Max because changing strategy in any direction (this is really a 3D chart, but I’ve smushed it to make it easier) leads to poorer results."

The key, however, is to break out from Local Max.  The breakout looks like this:

and is described like this:

Local Max isn’t actually that great when you realize that Big Max is not particularly far away.

The problem is that to get to Big Max, you need to go through step C, which is a horrible and scary place to be.

….

If your market is changing, this idea is even more important to understand. That’s because changing markets are always surfacing new Big Max points, and the only way to get to them is to go through the pain (yes, it’s painful) of point C.

You can’t reinvent yourself and your organization until you deal with the fear of point C, and that’s hard to do without talking about it. I think the benefit of the Local Max curve is that it makes it easy for you and your team to have the conversation.

The Big Max theory makes sense to me.  I believe that most of us sell ourselves short.  We have more within us but we hold back, perhaps from fear of failure, perhaps from fear of greatness.  Or maybe both.  But I am not sure I believe that we "have to" go through Point C.  The painful experience of Point C may well be a liberating experience that results in some moving to Big Max.  But why must one experience it.  If you know you are destined to experience pain without change, can you not bypass experiencing it?  Can you not learn from other’s mistakes?  Seth Godin has move on from this issue, but I would love to find out whether be believes pain must be actually felt.  In her post, Michelle Golden had this to say:

"Big Max" is the innovation you bring to your clients. AND your firm.

Innovative firms strategize on how to get through C and on to Big Max."

I wonder if by "get through" she meant  "experience Point C" or "navigate around it."  I’ll have to ask her.