Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Supreme Court Long List

The Alliance for Justice has developed brief background reports on the most likely Supreme Court nominees, which are available on their Supreme Court Watch web page.  Here are direct links to the fact sheets for the women on that list:

Jennifer Granholm

Elena Kagan

Pamela S. Karlan

Martha Minow

Janet Napolitano

Leah Ward Sears

Elizabeth Warren

Ann Claire Williams

Diane Wood

Wow, what a list.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Haiku #16

I wish they could write
Tax law in only three lines--
But that would be dull.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Be Kind to Lawyers Day

NATIONAL BE KIND TO LAWYERS DAY apparently was established by Steve Hughes as an annual holiday celebrated on the second Tuesday in April (this year, that's today!).  He chose the date because it is strategically sandwiched between April Fool's Day and Tax Day April 15th.  Take a look at his website for more details.

I don't know any lawyers who actually noticed that it is National Be Kind to Lawyers Day today, and aside from the usual appreciation I get from my clients, nobody in my world seemed to notice.  Not that I was looking for any acknowledgement, merely having the privilege of helping others is generally all I expect in the way of recognition.  That and regular payments.

Seriously, though, I did have an interesting conversation with a friend and client last week as we flew home together from meetings.  Two closely-related questions came up, as they often do in conversations with friends:  why did you choose to be a lawyer, and how can you stand it?

My answer is that I chose law because it is a helping profession, and I like to help people.  I enjoy tackling complicated problems, studying and deciphering complex rules, and giving clients the comfort or strategy they need to solve a new and tough problem or achieve a goal that seems impossible. 

But that's also exactly what's so awful about being a lawyer.  The problems are often very difficult, the rules sometimes don't make sense, or they do make sense but make the client very unhappy, and yet the client wants you to fix his or her problem.  And some of the predicaments that people find themselves in can't be fixed by anyone, lawyer or otherwise.  Yet we lawyers zealously take on their problems, sometimes under impossible time constraints.  We spend our days figuring out ways to deal with accidents, failed businesses, dysfunctional families, feuding business partners, callous banks, frightened neighbors, emotionally imbalanced employees, neurotic employers, incompetent contractors, cheating spouses, embezzling employees, lazy management, greedy landlords, tyrannical government employees, and so on. 

A lawyer who hopes to maintain any sanity has to keep an emotional distance from the client's problems.  At the end of the day,we sign off and go home to family, friends, and hobbies, leaving the client's problems behind.  And perhaps that's why clients end up being unhappy so often:  although we lawyers take on the enormous burden of problem solving for others, in the end it's the client's problem, not the lawyer's.  Perhaps we are so disliked, because the clients want so much more than we can possibly give.

In any event, if you think of it between now and the second Tuesday of April in 2011, let your lawyer know that at least once in a while, you do appreciate her work. 


Friday, April 9, 2010

Morale for the Peeps

Last week on April Fool's Day my firm's chief morale officer (CMO), who also happens to be its youngest associate, brought six chicks into the office and left them on a partner's desk.  Just about the entire firm enjoyed the newest additions to the family, and then promptly agreed that I should take the six babies home.  Which is fine, except now I feel enormous pressure to keep the little buggers safe from the foxes in my neighborhood who usually eat my chickens.

We also had a naming contest, and despite the fact that most of the proposed names related to menu items, the six chicks now have cute names, though they don't usually come when called.  Each of the winners of the naming contest were awarded a package of Peeps as the prize. 

To further extend the wonderful firm morale building exercise, I'm thinking about installing my webcam so everyone at the firm can watch the chicks grow up, perhaps setting up their own facebook page or twitter account....  fortunately, I have no responsibility for firm productivity so there's no limit to the creative ways this little exercise can be used to increase the firm's happiness score.

In any event, for more fun with Peeps, check out the ABA Peeps in Law Diorama and vote for your favorite.  My vote is for Supeep Court 2010.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Friends and Clients

Sara Holtz  writes in her April edition of Focus on Rainmaking about the fact that many of her clients have friends who'd be good sources of business, but asking for that business can be uncomfortable. She includes helpful thoughts on how to get into the right mindset for approaching a friend who needs a lawyer. She's also included some scripts that might help some lawyers to cross that divide, from friend to legal counsel.  If you aren't already on her mailing list sign up at her website, she regularly distributes great articles about rainmaking.

Another way to learn how to ask for business from friends is to shadow a seasoned mentor at some networking events. If you are lucky enough to know someone who has a strong client base, see if it's possible to attend an event. Then make it your goal to simply watch and listen closely to how a seasoned lawyer connects with friends and acquaintances in a casual environment. Award dinners and lunches and other sorts of celebratory events are a good venue for this sort of tutoring. Next time your firm buys a table at some event like that, attend and watch closely how other lawyers approach their network of friends and colleagues. Chances are you'll see some calculated business building conversations, though they may be very brief and indirect.

But I do want to offer one other caveat. It really is possible to ruin a friendship by taking on legal work that you shouldn't be doing. Much of the art of building a practice is in knowing when to say no. Lawyers are far better off referring a friend's work to someone they know can definitely handle the work at the right price and in the right time frame for the friend. When that happens, the friend will be grateful for the lead, and the other lawyer to whom you've referred the work will be as well. When there is any doubt in your mind about the suitability of the work for you, then take a pass. Your friendship will be stronger for it.