Odds and Ends

July 11, 2014

Ms. J has been away at a work meeting in Atlanta. PART-YYY!!! Actually, I hosted the firm poker tournament last night. No pics … despite the camera sitting out! Pizza, roast pig, potatoes, cole slaw, etc. Good food and company, and the evening ended early:  two were at the table until about 10:15, by which time—I was knocked out at about 9:00—the house was back in order and all was well.

We had 13 players, ranging from one of my partners who, in his mid-60s, had never played a poker hand in his life, to our winner, who plays Vegas tournaments regularly. Still, everyone seemed to have an enjoyable time. All in, I doubt whether dinner cost more than $200, or about $15 per person.

I mention the event and the cost because, for a few hours and almost no money, our firm “bought” morale that we’ll ride on for days. And the morale cumulates, building on other morale-boosters and a hard-working but friendly environment.

Oh, and for 57 years we’ve been committed to a philosophy of sharing. Law firms fail for many reasons but an extraordinarily common one relates directly or indirectly to fighting about money. People come for money, people leave about money, and disagreements occur frequently. Not at my firm, however!

I’m not a management expert, at all, but I read a good bit on the subject. I don’t want to diminish the scholarship, for it is real and valuable. And, certainly, a good business model, talented, hard-working employees, and a touch of luck, matters greatly. That all said, my five years, six months, and 11 days at my current firm have taught me well that engaging with the people with whom you work, and sharing, make lots of other stuff pretty irrelevant.

Now, as it happens, engaging with people and sharing don’t just happen. Engaging with people requires interest and effort. It means, for example, having a poker tournament and giving up an evening once a year. (Not tough duty, but not something everyone will do.) But it also means talking with people about non-work stuff, knowing their children’s names, and caring about them and their lives.

Sharing, on the other hand, depends on a long-view perspective that if we build up others, we’ll have a bigger pie. (We were having a discussion at dinner last night, before we started playing, about pro basketball players, their insanely larger compensation packages, and the fact that many care so greatly about how much they make in relation to others. Amazing!) Not where I work. Not. Ever.

At our shop we’re blessed with a leader who engages with everyone because people interest him, and because their concerns matter to him. And, as for that long-view perspective and sharing, I’m sure I’d hear something pithy about how being 86 gives you many opportunities to look back on the long view. B-S, or course, for plenty of people get old without ever having shared much. (The same old man says, from time to time—especially in the context of donations—that “shrouds have no pockets.”

In conclusion, just call me lucky!

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I happened on Reading Hobby Lobby in Context by Linda Greenhouse in the July 10 New York Times. Ms. Greenhouse used to be the New York Times Supreme Court writer; now, she writes op-eds about the Court and the law. I’ve read plenty about Hobby Lobby, and have offered a few thoughts of my own. That aside, I think Ms. Greenhouse has the clearest head about the case from a legal perspective. Her views reflect the challenge for anyone lacking a commitment to living in a Christian theocracy, but her analysis misses nothing.

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Judge Richard Posner sits on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

He’s an extraordinary man. Very smart, prolific—he has written 30+ books, and many more popular and scholarly articles, most while sitting as a federal judge—and willing to question anything. So when the July issue of the ABA Journal (the American’s Bar Association’s monthly magazine) arrived and I saw a cover tagline for “Posner Speaks” I held on to the magazine.

The article is an interview, in which Joel Cohen questions Judge Posner. Mr. Cohen has written Blindfold Off:  Judges on How They Decide, and Judge Posner wrote the foreword.

Now, I don’t compare myself in any way with Judge Posner, but we do both write, so the question “… do you write to influence how society thinks” interested me. The answer?

No, not really. I enjoy writing. It’s sort of obsessive, I guess. If people read it, fine. But I’m not particularly interested in changing things. I don’t see the things I write as influential, but maybe it has some impact on the way people think.

Modest, for sure, and false it may be, as Judge Posner does pretty clearly acknowledge, later in the interview, that he does care about changing much. Regardless, on a much, much smaller platform, you now know why I write!

2 Responses to Odds and Ends

  • Mark,

    Hold dearly to what you have in your firm. I am familiar with many law firms in Arizona as well as many CPA firms in Arizona and beyond and I agree that a culture of sharing and building something bigger and better for the whole rather than the individual is not a common occurrence. Once dollars come into play, most firm partners turn myopic and focus on their share of the pie. Enjoy the ride and continue planting the seeds to ensure your firm will continue in the same fashion for many years to come.

    Gary

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