Sunday, May 31, 2009

Supreme Court Justice Quotes

Corrected Sept 20, 2010

This week has been the week for quotes taken out of context, so I thought instead of selecting just one quote from a prominent woman, I'd list interesting quotes from current Supreme Court Justices. All of them are, of course, taken out of the context in which they were made:

"I will say something—and I don't think I'm a confused speaker—and it isn't until somebody else says it that everyone will focus on the point." Justice Ginsburg

"Anyone who has ever sat on a bench with other judges knows that judges are supposed to influence each other, and they do. One may see something the others did not see, and then they all take another look." Justice Souter.

"This is not the Old Testament, I emphasize, but St. Paul.... [T]he core of his message is that government—however you want to limit that concept—derives its moral authority from God.... Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral.... I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal." Justice Scalia

"This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree." Justice Thomas

"The suspect's age (15) does not seem determinative, since teenage males are the most prone to commit violent crimes." Justice Alito

"I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by my 'liberal' colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed." Chief Justice William Rehnquist

"I knew Earl Warren very well, on a somewhat professional basis. Professional, as in I was a nine-year-old page boy and he was the Governor. We knew his children and played in the Governor's Mansion and so forth. I have a letter I've given to the Supreme Court Historical Society, in which he wrote and said, "You're going to go very far in government." I'm very proud of the fact that I knew well someone who later became the Chief Justice of the United States" and a second quote: "Decades ago there was an old boy network. And like most old boy networks it worked rather well. . . The bar defended its judges. The bar was unified. It was run by the old boy network." Justice Kennedy

"There are loads of countries that have nice written constitutions like ours. But there aren't loads of countries where they're followed. And the reason that they're followed here is not simply because of the judges. It's because of the Civil War. It's because after 80 years of segregation you had a decision of Brown v Board that said people will be treated equally. And then many years before that became real, and gradually over time, 270 million people have learned roughly the importance of following that constitution and following that law. It's complicated. It's called habit. It's called respect for the constitution, and it's called respect for the institution of the judiciary. And that grows slowly. People have to be educated and they have to stick to it. If people lose that respect, an awful lot is lost." Justice Breyer

"It is confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law." Justice Stevens


Thursday, May 28, 2009

EMail Etiquette for Newbies

Did you read about the hapless associate who gave his opinion using "Reply to All?" It is unclear whether his mistake was in hitting "Reply to All" when he meant "Reply," or whether he meant to "Reply to All" but that was a mistake. I've long thought the "Reply to All" feature of Outlook is one of its most pernicious jokes: it must be intended to be a trap for the unwary, the unwise, or the inebriated. Occasionally useful, but is it worth the risk?

Actually, email itself has become as much of a hindrance to effective communications as it is a help. Many younger lawyers seem to use it as a method for avoiding an actual phone conversation with a client, which would be much more effective, but also is more difficult. Indiscriminate use of "Reply to all" increases the "bacon" in everyone's email box, and makes it all the more difficult to find the important messages. Although email etiquette policies are probably way down on the list of important management and leadership lists in law firms, some simple rules would make lawyers and law firms much more effective.

So here is my first draft of an email etiquette primer for all the new summer associates arriving at law firms across the country, and all of the more seasoned lawyers who haven't yet learned these lessons the hard way:

* Consider a phone call first. Many lawyers, especially the newest ones, seem to have phone phobia: an irrational fear of talking to actual clients. Get over it. Call, and if the person doesn't answer, make yourself available at any and all hours for a phone (or better yet, live) conversation.

* Modify your Outlook to make it harder to "Reply to All". One tool that I know about is the Sperry Reply-to-All-Monitor. You can also just move the "reply to all" button to an inconvenient spot on your tool bar, so you'll have to hunt for it in order to send. Maybe while searching for it you'll reconsider your list of recipients.

* Never Reply to All on a calendaring request, unless the list is only three people. Let the moderator collate the responses and set the meeting. The other twenty people on the list really don't want to know how busy you are, they just want the moderator to find the twenty minutes in the next twenty days when all twenty people are not otherwise occupied. Don't clutter up twenty inboxes with your schedule. Nineteen of the recipients don’t care; they just want to know when the call is scheduled.

* Always indicate a relevant description in the subject line that is sufficient for a search engine to find the message. Subject lines that read "Please see attached" or, worse, empty subject lines, make it impossible for you or the recipient to use computing power to locate your message later. Unless that is your goal, you CAN do better.

* When sending a message to someone who doesn't know you, indicate why in the first line. Otherwise your message runs a high risk of being deleted as spam quicker than you can say, well, spam. Many people screen their messages by using the autopreview feature, which shows the first few lines of the message. If the reader can't tell in those first few lines why it is important, there is a good chance it will be deleted, or left for later review. Save them the annoyance of seeing junk and disclaimers in the first few lines.

* Follow up important emails with a phone call or message. The corollary, though, is also true: if the email is not important, DO NOT also leave a phone message. Nothing is worse than double bacon. You'll have to use your judgment here, to determine how critical the email is.

Don't know what bacon is? It is spam that you ask for. I don't know who coined the word, but I like it.


Photo courtesy of

Monday, May 25, 2009

Women in the Military

Recognizing that today is Memorial Day, I'd like to focus on our women in the military. The women who are called to military service in the United States are an awesome lot. Their courage and determination to serve the country should be honored in a special way.

Not only do they choose a life of service at great personal risk, they do so in a male-dominated environment that struggles to value, include and listen to their contributions, in large part solely because of gender. Women in the military seem to be making progress on that front, based on press reports of policy change.

Many links to military women in history can be found at the Women and Military page of Distinguished Women of Past and Present. A moving memorial to women veterans of the US armed forces can be found at Captain Barbara A. Wilson, USAF (Ret). site, Military Women Veterans.

Many thanks to all of them.


Thursday, May 21, 2009


Well I missed my usual Wednesday post thanks to the inept scheduling and maintenance abilities of one of the world's best airlines. I actually wasn't terribly annoyed by the wait, since I had a seat and was not one of the unlucky 30 passengers who had already checked in, only to find that the airline decided to put us on a plane with fewer seats than the route routinely takes. In any event, you can imagine the gnashing of teeth, the glares, the annoyance at finding out that there were simply no seats from DC to the west coast for the rest of the week…

But those of us who had seats then had the pleasure of watching the maintenance crew decide to replace the windshield on the smaller craft. Okaaaay, the airline doesn't know how to schedule, and their maintenance seems a bit, well, unplanned. But let's climb aboard.

I do enjoy the people watching opportunities these events provide. I sat near the gate attendants and listened as they explained over and over to a variety of characters that there just weren't any seats. It was actually quite amusing. Hours later, when we were finally on the plane, it was fascinating to see how nearly everyone on the flight was gracious, friendly, and resigned to the situation. Very few jerks made it on to the flight, at least none were at the back of the bus where I was. So it made me wonder whether the airline was already using an advance version of Sim3 to simulate how passengers with different personalities were likely to react to the inconvenience and stress occasioned by their casual approach to their customers' transportation needs. The ones likely, based on their profile, to react badly were simply denied a seat. It would be kind of nice if they did, in fact, profile prospective passengers for bad attitudes and routinely left the nasty ones behind.

In any event, if you haven't already seen Sims3, check out the videos. Sims3 is another delightful offering from Electronic Arts. Years ago we played with one of their first, SimAnt, which was great because at the time we were continually invaded by actual ant colonies in the summer time. Somehow even the real ants seemed cute when we could watch SimAnts on the computer screen and have some effect on the colony's behavior with a few key strokes. Later, we played a bit with SimTower, and I was afraid for a while that one of my sons would become a real estate developer, but then he kept going bankrupt because he didn't install enough elevators so the little people on the screen turned red and moved out.

So as I've played around with the Sims3 demo I've become intrigued with the possibilities that simulated personalities offer. Set to launch on June 2, this Sim game

"will inspire you with endless creative possibilities and amuse you with unexpected moments of surprise and mischief! Create over a million unique Sims and control their lives. Customize everything from their appearances, to their personalities and even the home of their dreams. Then, send your Sims out to explore new locations around town and to meet other Sims in the neighborhood."

You can "control your Sims’ Destinies!"

Watch them "face short- and long-term challenges and reap the rewards."

They will "pursue random opportunities to get fast cash, get ahead, get even, and more."

You can "choose whether or not to fulfill your Sims’ destinies by making their wishes come true. Will your Sims be thieves, rock stars, world leaders? You decide!"

Apparently everything can be customized. The site talks about creating rock stars, soccer moms, and wealthy businessmen: "The choices are yours and you can change the neighborhood into whatever you want it to be."

So here's my plan, and it may keep me from blogging quite so much so forgive me if I'm absent. I'm going to build a SimLaw firm. I'll create SimLawyers having all the typical characters one might find in a midsize law firm, and then I'll throw in a new lawyer every once in a while with a new set of personality traits, and see what happens. I'll send them to court with SimJudges and SimLawClerks. I'll give them SimSecretaries.

So if you have ideas for characters, let me know. Although I don't think that I have any shortage of material to work with. I'll let you know how long my "SimLawFirm" lasts before it explodes.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Haiku #5

Need New Perspective?
Fly above the Sierras
Snow melts into Spring

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mothers Day!

Many years ago, when my second son was about 6, on a cold November Saturday the TV provided background noise while I cleaned the kitchen or some such, and a Martha Stewart episode caught my attention. She was decorating a gingerbread house for the holidays. My son and I cuddled on the couch (he was very cuddly for a few years) and watched Martha collect fresh organic eggs from her free range White Polish hens, mix up the gingerbread dough, and then with the assistance of a contractor, she constructed an enormous gingerbread mansion. My son was quiet, motionless, and utterly absorbed for the entire 30 minute episode. When the mansion was finished, he let out a deep sigh, and whispered under his breath, "I wish I had a mommy like that."

Hence began my allegiance to Martha, which was a bit tested for a while but over the years I've always considered her a role model for domesticity. In fact I've been following her lately on Twitter, though I'm a bit discouraged as I don't get the personal attention I expected now that she has more than 500,000 followers. I've also had some sporadic success with a backyard chicken and egg operation following her lead, although the successes for me are always followed with a rather depressing end for the chickens. When my new house is finished I hope to return to my organic poultry hobby. But I digress.

Anyway, to the mommy lawyers out there, chin up. Apparently there is a new bedtime book published by Know Magazine: My Mommy is a Lawyer. It is tough to get a copy (I've been waiting for mine for a month--BIG backlog of demand!), but hopefully it is useful in trying to explain why being in "meetings" or "court" or "depositions" keeps you from erecting gingerbread villages, driving on field trips, cutting out triangles to enrich the kindergarten geometry curriculum, or being home in time to read a bed time story. Not as engaging as, say, Where the Wild Things Are, but at least it will put Darling to sleep, rather than getting her riled up.

On the other hand, if you really want to look into the organic free range poultry thing, so as to show Darling that you are a Real Mom, be sure to rent, borrow or buy Mad City Chicks. There's a preview on YouTube

Not quite as entertaining as I recall Martha's mesmerizing gingerbread mansion special, but inspirational in its own way.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Call for Nominations: Top 100 Lawyer Twits

Today I spent an hour sitting in the waiting room at the optometrist's office (14 year old daughter getting her dream fulfilled—contact lenses). After I flipped through all the apps on my blackberry, Outlook, gmail, Twitter, WSJ and NYT, there really was nothing else to do but thumb through pop magazines. Lo and behold, this week seems to be National List Week: Time's 100 Most Influential People and People's 100 Most Beautiful People were both right there on the table. And yesterday I got my annual mailing inviting me to advertise in the upcoming edition of the local lawyer rag listing the "best" lawyers in the City. And the "best" places to work lists were just published this past week. So I spent the remaining 55 minutes in the waiting room sketching out this post. Yes, I sometime write my first draft on my blackberry with my thumbs (hence, the typos.) But I digress. The point today is listmaking.

I have to say I've never believed any of the best places to work lists, nor do I give much credence to best lawyers lists (unless I happen to be listed, in which case I know it's a silly list but am pleased to see my name in print anyway). As for lists of beautiful people, that list only includes folks who make a living being beautiful so they're really not fair lists, and actually the only eye candy I'm really interested in is the equine sort (don't be silly with your thoughts there, guys). I do admit, though, that the most amusing list was Joel Stein's personal list—had to LOL at his #27.

So, what is this fascination with lists? Clearly, it sells magazines. Americans apparently love to read other people's lists. We care about these things because we want to know what other folks think is important. We want a short cut, an easy avenue to finding out whom to follow, whose ideas matter, whose opinions merit respect.

There's one list I could really use some help with: a list of the best lawyer Twitter feeds. Finding and following lawyers who comment on legal topics, trends and tips is not so easy. There are some handy tools being developed (see, eg., the Legal Tweeters group on LinkedIn, Twibes, or Tweetdeck) but it is tedious and time consuming to go through the people who've already found those tools and sort through them to find the ones worth following. I have a list of about ten top lawyer twitter feeds, but would like to have more, from a broader cross section of the legal community than the small number I've been able to cull through since I started Twittering in January.

So, consider this a call for nominations for my first annual list of Top 100 Lawyer Twits. Send your nominations to, comment on this post, or Twitter it if you know I follow you. Be sure to indicate why each nominee should be considered for the Top 100. I'll publish the list at the end of May.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Token Women

Oddly, the moment I read the headlines reporting that Justice Souter was retiring from the Supreme Court and the tandem articles about "opportunities rising for women" in the highest judicial and legal roles in the country, I had mixed feelings. Yes, it's gratifying that there are more women in leadership positions in the law, and the caliber of the overachieving, brilliant women who are being considered is awesome.

But there still remains the strong feeling among many of us that while there is always a seat at the table for a token woman, real parity is decades, if not millenia away. A scramble at leadership levels to ensure that there is always at least one woman on the high court was a fine idea thirty years ago, when women were by and large left out of the profession. A token seat, however is no longer an acceptable goal.

I won't repeat the statistics on women in leadership positions in law firms and the judiciary, there are many fine websites that do that (and many are in the sidebar on this site). I will however, sound a call for parity. There are enough talented, briliant, confirm-able (is that a word?) women lawyers in this country of both parties and in the moderate middle to fill the next five vacancies on the Supreme Court. One approach would be to propose only women for every vacancy until at least half the Justices are women. For hundreds of years, only men were considered; could we try considering only women for the next twenty? Seems fair to me.

In any event, now is a good time to remember our Heroes, Role Models and Mentors. Is yours on the list?