Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Gladness and Joy

Faithful readers will have noticed that my posting rate has declined a bit, and there are many reasons for that but hopefully now that the days are getting shorter and there are fewer distractions, I'll find more time to contemplate leadership and lawyers.  I also have to admit I've been enjoying more than a few happy distractions lately, now that the money pit/construction project from hell/dream house is finished.  It's amazing how much energy a project like that sucks up.  Now that we've been moved in for almost two months I'm finding that rather than spending frustrating weeks on end with nothing to do but watch contractors make progress at a snail's pace, I can actually do something each day to make the home environment happier.  And that brings me great satisfaction and more than a little joy.

That train of thought reminded me of some of the best advice I ever got from a mentor about the most important quality in leadership--to remember to lead from a place of gladness.  As we all know, laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.  That holds true for every form of leadership.  People want to be around happy people, not those that emote negativity.  Two people can approach a problem with the same idea for effecting a solution, but if team effort is required, people will follow the cheerful and avoid the depressing.  That is human nature.

It's taken me a while to learn to distinguish the truly cheerful leaders around me who subtly influence change, from those who lead by other means.  It's not always easy in the legal profession (or any other, I suspect, though I don't have personal experience anywhere else) to avoid being sucked into negative, argumentative, fault finding leadership styles.  Sometimes the negative style seems more effective, and perhaps in some environments it is.  But in terms of developing a network of colleagues and influencing that network in a positive way, I appreciate my cheerful mentor's advice: the best approach  is one that centers itself in gladness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Value of a Great Secretary

As long as we're thinking about thanking the people who are important to our work lives, let's take a moment to thank the ones who can make a bad day work out fine, or sabotage a great day:  let's hear it for secretaries (or, to be more politically correct, administrative assistants.)

Although it certainly helps to have a whole team of people to run a law firm, when it comes right down to the day to day labor of getting the work out the door, it's the great secretaries who are worth their weight in gold.  Who else would think it's an interesting challenge to decipher the scribbles in the margin of a letter and translate them perfectly into a three sentence paragraph?  Who else knows the names and addresses of all 100 clients?  Who else remembers and corrects the appropriate spelling for John, Johan and Jon; Alexsis, Alexis and Alex (all women)?  Who else knows whether the cryptic note on my calendar is an appointment for chiropractic for me, or the horse, and appropriately reports my location to the partners who are looking for me?

I've been extremely lucky to have a very talented, committed, patient, reliable, and careful assistant for more than a decade.  Not only does Mary know everything that is necessary to get quality work out the door on time, she also has the patience of a saint dealing with someone who, well, definitely is not.  I know she's always trying to make the day go better, and she's often protecting me from my own bad habits.  Also, she has a wicked green thumb, and is generous enough to apply it to keep me well-supplied with gorgeous plants in my office.

Many thanks, Mary.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Women Chief Justices

Here's a neat event:  The Golden Gate University School of Law Second Annual Chief Justice Ronald M. George Lecture this year is a panel presentation by sitting and former women Chief Justices.  The panelists are Chief Justice Christine Durham (Utah), Justice Dana Fabe (Alaska), Chief Justice Janice Holder (Tennessee), Chief Justice Barbara Madsen (Washington) and Hon. Leah Ward Sears (Georgia).  It's on October 12, 2010, at the PG&E Auditorium in San Francisco.  Tickets can be purchased online here.

Mark your calendar.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Haiku #21

Deer season ends.  Next
Headhunters target lawyers
Now hunting big bucks.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Superhero Bill Coblentz

I first posted this on August 9, 2010, and I am sad to report that yesterday Bill passed to a better place.  He is greatly missed and deeply mourned by all who loved him.   

It's no big insight to comment on the role that mentors play in the personal success and professional achievement of young lawyers, men and women alike. And I don't know whether there's any real insight in telling people to thank their mentors, but that's what I'm going to do today.

I spent yet another wonderful lunch hour today (ok, it was an hour and a half for you billable hour police) with one of the most important mentors in my professional career, Bill Coblentz. He's a hero to hundreds, if not thousands, of lawyers and business people, and I'm just a bit player in his firm. I doubt that I have anything particularly unique to say about Bill. More than anything, I want to thank him, in as public a way as I can, for his encouragement and his generosity of spirit over the past 16 years.

Many of us who grew up under his wing thought his willingness to throw us into the deep end invited death by drowning, and that he must have enjoyed seeing the shock and fear in our eyes as we went forth with whatever legal task he alone in the firm thought we were capable of. But isn't that the way the deep end works? It's supposed to be deep water, otherwise one doesn’t bother learning to swim.

I also thought his amazing ability to remember names and connections must be some sort of trick. For years I thought he must have known a clever mnemonic or some sort of parlor game that makes it easy to remember names and relationships. It became clear as the years went by that his supernatural ability is his deep personal interest in people; it's not a trick, it's a gift.

Bill loves to help people solve their problems, and his ability to inspire confidence among his clients taught me the importance of taking on the client's challenge as if it were my own. All successful lawyers know how to research, write and analyze legal issues. The supernatural ones, like Bill, also have the ability to care deeply and to inspire confidence: because of that heartfelt personal concern, the problem will be handled in the best interests of the client.

Thanks Bill, for teaching me everything that is important in being a lawyer.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I am Linked IN

Regular readers know I'm a fan of using so-called social networks for professional networking.  I've used LinkedIn for some time, and two recent huge successes have made me a cheerleader, again.  I admit I went through a bit of a dry spell where I did little other than accept connection requests from other people hopping on the bandwagon--in fact I think for the first six months of this year I hardly visited the LinkedIn site.  But in the last several weeks the power of connections helped two important clients in really meaningful ways, and I'm hard-pressed to think of any other way I could have been helpful to my clients in the required time frame, had I not had the electronic networking capability of LinkedIn at my disposal.

In the first situation, about three weeks ago a client called with a fairly desperate request--a complicated, multi-party development effort spearheaded by a European nonprofit several years ago had hit a serious roadblock when one of the corporate partners merged with an international firm and the key contact disappeared.  My client needed to reach someone at the surviving parent company to try to get the project back on track, before the whole project imploded, which would have been embarrassing to the government of the African nation involved, the nonprofit, a global political consortium, and of course the corporate partner.  The client had tried everything to get the attention of the parent, to no avail after many months of effort.

I had no contacts with the parent company, and after a few false starts with contacts that came readily to mind, it occurred to me as a last resort to try LinkedIn.  Amazingly, a key employee of a current client, with whom I had worked a little over the years, had a close connection to an employee of the corporate parent whose job title was right on target.  Within a few days, after only a little phone tag (the key contact was on vacation) I was able to connect the client to a person high enough in the company to actually make some headway.

In the second case, on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend (a notoriously difficult week to reach ANYONE, as all sane folks are either on vacation, or, alternatively, completely unavailable as they rush around with back to school parenting duties), a client was desperately seeking a lawyer in a midwestern city to protect a family of three small children who were in an extremely precarious situation because of parental substance abuse problems.  I started with the usual:  any law firm connections through my firm's nationwide partnerships?  Nada.  Any suggestions from my undergrad and law school networks?  Nope.  Then a quick search on LinkedIn, focusing on the target city and legal aid for minors, led me indirectly (through another client contact) to a professor at a law school in the key city, who had a strong interest with a related specialty.  So on Friday morning right before Labor Day, that professor actually called me back, in large part I think because of the connection through a mutual professional colleague, and by noon on Friday I had a phone number for an excellent lawyer in the right city for my client.  She reached the lawyer that afternoon, and all though I can't say that the children lived happily ever after, I know that at least for the weekend, the kids and the client were helped in a very meaningful way.

If you haven't seriously worked on developing a marketing savvy page on LinkedIn, and also developed a list of quality connections, you really should.  Your clients will be enormously grateful one day when you use that network to help them out.

So, yes, I am a fan.  It's important to take note of the reason LinkedIn worked for me--I have a pretty extensive network in my field, including lawyers and nonlawyers, nearly all of whom know my work and my practice area well.  When I reached out for that personal introduction that makes a huge difference in whether a stranger is willing to take the time it requires to send another person in the right direction, in both of these cases my contact jumped right on the task and made the introduction in glowing terms to the person who really could help my client.

My clients were enormously appreciative and thought my ability to solve their problems stemmed from my brilliant abilities as a lawyer--but that's really not what made the day for them.  It's nothing about me or my capability as a lawyer, it's about the quality of my network.  So many of the people I know and connect with professionally have the same passion for the nonprofit sector as I do, and they want to help, if given the chance.  Thanks to the technology of the LinkedIn network, I was able to connect with people who wanted to help me and help my clients.  That's pretty amazing.