Monthly Archives: July 2013

Seasonal recipe — hummus and tomatoes

Prepare hummus.

Then, obtain fresh, local, vine-ripened tomatoes. Tomatoes grown in Edgecombe County, North Carolina tend to be best for this purpose.

Wash tomatoes. Slice them according to your usual practice. This will yield a number of tomato-shaped slices or coins. Further slice them into halves or quarters, depending on size. Salt and pepper to taste. You may wish to anoint the tomatoes lightly with oil, vinegar or both. This is optional. (If you elect this option, you might want to add the oil and vinegar first, then salt and pepper.)

Serve halved or quartered tomato slices either in the dish with your hummus, or on a separate plate.               

Take a moment to appreciate natives of the Andes for first cultivating tomatoes; peoples of the eastern and southern Mediterranean for chic peas and sesame paste; and eastern and northern Mediterranean peoples for the olive oil. Good people.

Note: This seasonal suggestion has been found to work well as an accompaniment to eggs, and also with mayonnaise, bread, bacon and lettuce.

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Story of a North Carolina lawyer who’s losing his job — a “troubled psychic entrepreneur”

The Shining Rock Grand by William Winslow. The story of

The book, movie to follow

The book, movie to follow

A lawyer who’s losing his job. A keeker who’s losing his mind. A courtier who’s lost his colony. Kay Pettaway is a troubled psychic entrepreneur who just wants to find a wife and take his remote-view company public before he cycles back into rehab. But his clients have other priorities-the war on drugs, mineral rights on the coastal plain, a 500-year-old conspiracy-and aren’t reluctant to subvert Kay’s gifts for their own deadly ends. In a story that accelerates from the board rooms of Charlotte, to the mountains of the Blue Ridge, to the wild Outer Banks, we trace his path across North Carolina, a singular of the South, where enduring histories, landscapes and languages face down a bewitching aesthetic and technological future.

Amazon reviewer says: “Tarheel Tolstoy.”

The Last Days of Big Law

Everybody talking about “The Last Days of Big Law.”

“Brother Exum” – First NC Woman to Open Her Own Law Practice, First Woman Legislator in South

Tabitha Ann Holton was North Carolina’s first woman lawyer.  Lillian Exum Clement (later, Stafford) was the first woman to open her own law practice. And, she was the first woman legislator in the South.

Lillian Exum Clement

Lillian Exum Clement

After reading law in Asheville while working in the Buncombe County Sheriff’s office, Clement was licensed in 1917 at age 23. She built a good criminal practice under the gender-neutral name “L. Exum Clement”.  A local judge dubbed her “Brother Exum,” and that stuck.

Clement was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1920, at a time when she herself could not vote. (The 19th Amendment was ratified the next year, in 1921). She was the first woman elected to the North Carolina General Assembly and the first woman legislator in the South. Upon her election, she told the Raleigh News and Observer, “I am by nature a very timid woman and very conservative too, but I am firm in my convictions. I want to blaze a trail for other women. I know that years from now there will be many other women in politics, but you have to start a thing.”

Legislation that she introduced

  • guaranteed secret ballots,
  • shortened divorce procedures for abandoned wives,
  • provided for testing dairy cattle and dairies for tuberculins (the “Pure Milk Bill”),
  • provided for yellow caution lights (between red and green) on traffic signals,
  • prohibited railroads from hiring illiterates to be firemen, brakemen or flagmen,
  • authorized sterilizing mentally incompetent persons, and
  • provided for the State to take over an Asheville home for unwed, pregnant teenaged girls.

While speaking to a hostile crowd in Asheville in support of the home for unwed mothers, Clement was pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables and called a Jezebel for aiding sinful girls. Clement promptly rejoined that she preferred eggs and vegetables to stones, as was the fate of women in biblical times, and she continued, “It is not for you or I to condemn or cast the first stone, but rather [for us] to render aid to the unfortunate so they may go their way and sin no more.” This is said to have calmed the crowd and prepared the way for enactment of the legislation. (On another occasion, an irate Asheville voter punched her in the face and broke her nose.)

After serving one term in the legislature, Clement, who had since married, chose not to run for re-election. She died in 1925 at age 31.

What Makes Your Work Satisfying?

Dan Ariely’s recent TED Talk, “What Makes Us Feel Good about Our Work” is for law firms, too.

Breaking work down into separate steps and assigning a different worker to perform each step – repetitively – increases productivity … of pins and things. It’s an idea that worked very well for manufacturers in the 19th Century (subject to the occasional labor riot).

But, Ariely and others say, it’s not such a good idea for 21st Century knowledge work.  For knowledge work, productivity depends on the quality of the attention you  give to your work – and the connection you feel with it.                                                   Good-work-aint-cheap

When knowledge workers feel that their work has meaning, they are more productive. And a sense of meaning Ariely says, arises from connecting with your work. Connections are forged by investing effort and making contributions to the whole work. External recognition (a pat on the back) enhances connection and meaning.

Ariely has devised experiments (people building things with Legos and what-not) that appear to confirm this (“nice little Lego house you built there”).

The implications here for familiar laments about lawyers consigned to document review or due diligence are obvious, right?  Work assignments should give workers (well, let’s say “professionals”) the sense that their personal efforts make a difference in the outcomes.

Creation, challenge, ownership, identity and pride in the work, are all factors that enhance positive connections with work. For team projects, I’d add: give people the sense that they are important parts of the entire project; keep them engaged at that level; and recognize their contributions.

It’s not hard to see how these ideas might be integrated into structuring lawyer work assignments.

The Ultimate Secret of Success for Professional Services Firms

Steven Harper published The Lawyer Bubble  and has gotten lots of attention. And, Weil Gotshal announced layoffs based on its conclusion that the market for high-end legal services has changed permanently.                                                             Ancient_Secrets_219640_350

During this same “Big Law Spring,” Charles Ellis’ book, What It Takes, appeared. Its subtitle is “Seven Secrets of Success from the World’s Greatest Professional Services Firms.” Ellis looks at a preeminent law firm, a business consulting firm, an investment firm, a medical clinic, an investment banking firm and an accounting firm.

Well, it turns out that the seven “secrets” he discloses were not secret at all; and What It Takes is not prescriptive in the style of In Search of Excellence and Good to Great. But, like those books, What It Takes looks at iconic firms and tells stories, some well-known and some not-so-well-known, that generally illustrate the seven secrets.

The iconic firms are

  • McKinsey & Company
  • Cravath, Swaine & Moore
  • Capital Group
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Arthur Andersen & Co.

The seven secrets are

  1. Mission: an inspiring purpose
  2. Culture: shared values
  3. Recruiting: the best people
  4. Developing people: professional and personal learning
  5. Client focus: clients first
  6. Innovation: reinvention in the face of change
  7. Leadership.

No news here. These “secrets” may be nearer the Ten Commandments than the Secret Wisdom of the Kabbalah. But Ellis’s actual stories,  sounding canonic themes, are a kind of  professional-services bible stories. Some of the stories are compelling, some not.  All are worth reading.

Near the end of the book, an ultimate principle emerges. It is broader than Harper’s indictment of Big Law and looks beyond immediate crises of supply and demand.  Every professional services firm, Ellis shows, must strike a balance between professional values and  business priorities (money).

When money comes to have greater weight than professional values, decline sets in. Overvaluing lucre contaminates mission and infects everything else.

When the dominant value is money, small choices and large are colored accordingly. In the short run, money, which is tangible, immediate and measurable, almost always seems more compelling than professional values. Exceptions to principles almost always seem manageable. But in the end, when professionals come to measure and value each other in other in terms of money –  firms come apart.

Ellis’s penultimate statement:

When the salience of professional excellence is challenged by commercialism, the “realistic” business arguments are easily made and documented, while fidelity to professional values is abstract and based on a faith that disbelievers often cannot – or say they cannot – understand.

My own firm is not ungreat. And the hardest thing we do is strike the balance between business needs and professional values.

It’s a balance.