Thursday, December 30, 2010

Monday, December 27, 2010


So, this morning I was riding BART to work and enjoying the relative serenity of a holiday commute, when some moron jammed the doors to one of the cars by forcing it open as it began to close when he (ok, maybe it was a she but I doubt it) forced the door open.  By knocking the door off its track the scofflaw damaged the car so it was taken out of service at the next station, we all had to get off and board the next train, with about a 20 minute delay in our travel time.  This really annoyed me.  It happens from time to time, and causes a huge inconvenience to the entire San Francisco Bay Area commuting public.

As I sat there I thought about ways to discourage such behavior.  I've been riding BART as a regular commuter for some 25 years now, and apparently the brilliant minds managing the transit system have yet to figure out how to deal with it.  Here's my suggestion.  Someone needs to design a mechanism, kind of like a pepper spray device, that will spray a neon pink, nontoxic, biodegradable, washable substance in an arc over the doors to a train, which is discharged only when the doors are blocked by a boarding passenger, in a gentle spray that would cover the entry area so as to mark the scofflaw for everyone on said damaged car.  The mechanism needs to be small, inexpensive, easily attached to the transit cars, and easily refilled.  I am sure there is an engineer out there who will do this, to the applause of the commuting public everywhere.  I will call these inventions Public Humiliation Devices, or PhD's for convenience. 

See, the problem is that when people exist in a relatively anonymous environment, without real accountability, they believe they can behave outside the rules and norms of acceptable social behavior.  Unless society imposes immediate personal feedback for bad behavior, the behavior doesn't change.  I hope that the person who caused the huge inconvenience for hundreds of people commuting to San Francisco learned his/her lesson this morning.  But even if he/she did, the educational effect of the delayed commute time was not communicated to the rest of society.  I suspect that publicly distributed photos of a person sprayed with neon pink dye would be exponentially effective as a deterrent if splashed across the web following each event. 

This chain of thought readily connected with my work today sending out year-end bills, where some other rule scofflaws had failed to submit their time sheets so the time had to be written off.  It's unbelievably frustrating to find time entries for client work long after the client has been billed for the relevant time period.  I've never understood the rationale given by lawyers who aren't capable of submitting time sheets daily.  There's just no excuse, and the message I read into any lawyer's late time entry, from senior partner to junior associate to paralegal, is that the tardy person just doesn’t give a !@#$.  So fine, when you're time shows up late on one of my clients, I'm not going to bill it.  Go ahead and pretend you've actually worked that time, you and I both know that it's not worked time that can be factored into a fair fee for the client.

If I could design a PhD that could work to label time sheet scofflaws, I would.  Unfortunately, there's really no effective way to spray neon pink dye on lawyers that won't get me into trouble.  Public humiliation in some other form might work, though.  Perhaps a publicly posted "worst time sheet offender" list might work.  I'll have to check with my firm's COO to see if I can get that implemented.  If anyone else has a good idea, I'd love to hear it.

My editors today gently suggested that my first draft of this post conveyed more anger than humor, which I thought a nice reflection on my intent.  In the grand scheme of things, I'd like you all to be more amused by the image of lawyers sprayed with pink dye than the image of my scowling face as I review paperwork.  Whatever.  Turn in your damn time sheets.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Self Assessment

One of my favorite leadership coaches, Peggy Klaus, has a great article this month: Smarter New Year’s Resolution: Look Back Before Moving Forward.  So with her prompting I realize I now have to go back and read my 2010 resolutions and evaluate how I've done before I can make any resolutions for 2011.  It looks like I'm at about 50% so far, and have only 15 days left in this year to move up to a more respectable grade.  Guess I better get busy.  

It's tough, though, to critically assess oneself.  Since peer assessments are rare in the legal profession, it's pretty tough for most of us to get any sort of thoughtful feedback about our professional strengths and weaknesses.  I think that it's really hard for self-reflective lawyers who have an awareness that they really do have some weaknesses to be objective  (yes, there are a few lawyers who admit to such, though only a few).  Most of us fall back to our own comfort zones, not only in our day to day behavior, but also in how we assess ourselves.   This is where a good professional coach can become a great resource.  Another good source of feedback can be found in a trusted peer group.  Personally, I've found better (that is, more insightful and honest) feedback from other professionals who aren't lawyers. 

Last year my professional resolutions seemed to be mostly focused on client and practice development.  Given how much I've struggled this past year with balancing work and play, I know that I need to assess my ability to get more done in less time, rather than trying to assess my skills that are focused on getting more work to do.  In the past, I've managed my own anxiety about getting things done by resorting to one of my favorite tasks, writing lists and assigning myself tasks.  But I've also gotten some insightful feedback this past year about being too focused on planning and controlling agendas, so perhaps this fall back approach isn't the best way to manage.  I'm thinking one of my resolutions should be to spend less energy trying to control and manage time, and more energy on just getting the work done, and living and working in the moment.

I think I'll schedule my analysis of this little conundrum for sometime in the week after Christmas.  Then in January I'll write my resolutions and post them so I can be held accountable.  There, I feel better already:  I've given myself an agenda for next week, and an assignment to write a list.  That, I can do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Haiku #24

long thought a poet
the most romantic of all
instead, just silly?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Unconscious Gender Bias Panel

Please Join Ellen and a Panel of Distinguished Women in Law for a Program Presented by the
Federal Bar Council

Time5:45 - 7:45 p.m.
LocationDaniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse, Room 850, 500 Pearl Street, New York, NY

Program Description
This program will explore unconscious gender bias in the legal profession and how it affects women at every level, from the way work is assigned to business development opportunities.  The esteemed group of panelists will also discuss strategies to combat such unconscious bias while attempting to avoid negative perceptions of women.  The panel will be held from 5:45 to 7:15 p.m., followed by a reception to network and discuss the issues raised during the panel.  

The Honorable Delissa A. Ridgway, U.S. Court of International Trade
Former Member, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession
Co-Chair, ABA Section of Litigation Task Force on Implicit Bias


Vivia Chen, Esq.
Chief Blogger, The Careerist
Senior Reporter, The American Lawyer
Patricia K. Gillette, Esq.
Partner, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP
Member, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession
Founder, Opt-In Project

Roberta D. Liebenberg, Esq.
Partner, Fine, Kaplan and Black, R.P.C.
Chair, ABA Commission on Women in the Profession

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., CMC
Founding Principal, Lawyers Life Coach LLC

Program Coordinators
Brooke E. Cucinella, Esq., O'Melveny & Myers LLP
Elizabeth A. Fitzwater, Esq., Arkin Kaplan Rice LLP
Jerri E. Shick, Esq., O'Melveny & Myers LLP
Jennifer J. Sosa, Esq., Milberg LLP

Federal Bar Council Program Committee Chair
David B. Pitofsky, Esq., Goodwin Procter LLP

Registration Information
All attendees must register online.  

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gift Giving Trials and Tribulations

I've never been very good at gift giving. This year I'm going to write about personal gift giving because I don't have any different thoughts than I posted last year about client appreciation gifts.  If you don't really care to know about my gifting history then go ahead, move on to your next favorite blog.

One reason I'm so bad at giving gifts is that I don't know the objects of my gifting all that well.  To be successful at this one needs to be extremely perceptive and attentive to the other person.  This is just very hard to do with anyone other than oneself.  My kids, for example, are a bit of a challenge because I never really know who they are at any given point in time.  I know who they were a few years ago, last month, and even yesterday.  But I've learned over the last 26 years, that no matter how well I knew them 10 minutes ago, I have no idea who they are right now, let alone who they will be two weeks in the future on the actual day the gift is to be delivered.  By then they will have changed 100 times and what I thought was a perfect gift will be completely outdated and inappropriate by Christmas Day.

Another reason: I hate shopping.  I have absolutely no desire to mosey around a store or--god-forbid--a shopping center, "browsing."  What the heck is browsing anyway?  One either does a task (that is, purchases stuff) or one doesn't.  There is just no point in looking around somewhat aimlessly for inspiration among all the schlock for sale that is someone else's idea of a needed thing.  Besides, the time spent on browsing has a cost attached--the opportunity cost of billing that hour.  So the fully-amortized cost of each gift includes the time spent shopping for it.  And at more than $500 per hour of browsing time, the cost of gifts for the entire family gets pretty pricey.

For the past 5 years or so I've harnessed the power of the internet to dramatically cut the cost of acquiring the gifts.  I thought I was being frugal, creative and efficient by finding one thing that would speak to the community of interest held by all my family members.  What could be better than buying everyone a gingerbread house kit?  All I had to do was input their addresses and hit the search key on a glossy, catchy website several times, key in the credit card info once, and voila, instant holiday cheer to all.

Except I knew even then that the approach was pretty lame.  It sort of works if the goal is to check the box "Sent gifts to the family."  But it's not going to bring about world peace, or even family peace.  And even as charitable as I like to think I am, the idea of giving family members "gifts" in the form of a gift to a charity makes sense only through some pretty twisted logic.  Yes, it's good for the charity and the planet of course, but is it really a gift to the person on your list?

My husband and I have worked out a different sort of arrangement for gifting each other.  One year he gave me a Makita (we still have it).  I've only used the thing once or twice because he's afraid I'll break it, or break some part of myself. Sometimes I'm allowed to bring it to him so he can do some essential task like rebuilding the house.  Another year he gave me an asphalt driveway.  This year I'm pretty sure that he's giving me lathe parts so that he has the tools to rebuild another antique dirt bike.

Over the years I've given him a yak/cashmere sweater made by my clients in Tibet, olive oil from another client's biodynamic farm, steaks from another's grass fed beef operation.  You see the basic trend here.  This year I'm looking for a client that breeds small dogs, preferably

a papillon, because I am just really sure that what he really wants is a puppy for Christmas.  Just like I want another tool.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How to Tips for Holiday Parties

Ahh, the office holiday party.  I love the holiday season, I always have, and I like parties.  So naturally I like the holiday office party, too.  But they do come with challenges.  Last year I posted some videos about how to behave at the office party.  This year I'll expand with a video on how to avoid the crazies, which is definitely a hot topic for this time of year.  Watch this video for some ideas about how to get away from the office pervert, detach yourself from a clinger, what to do about the office jokester, and other useful tips.  It's particularly useful for young lawyers attending their first few office parties, but it may also be useful for some with a little more gray hair--if you sense some of these exit strategies being applied to you, it might be a signal that you've become someone others are trying to avoid.  Just a thought.