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Archive for May, 2014

Lawfirm hospitality gone awry

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IMG_5061It’s getting harder and harder to tell law firms from gourmet restaurants and upscale function halls.

But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in the day, you were lucky to find a pitcher of stale tap water (no ice) on the conference room table and a couple of semi-clean drinking glasses (the ones with the flutes on the side) to hand to the chief engineer of RCA or the factory foreman of United Shoe Machinery. If the meeting was important, you had the lunch counter at the Woolworth 5 and 10-cent store across the street send over some coffee and hot water for tea. Eight hours in a stuffy conference room, the senior partner smoking a cigar, and a lot of progress on that summary judgment brief. Lunch? Two hours at the city club, two Martinis, and back to work. That was the high life.

Times have changed. For the better.

Somewhere between 1980 and 1990, firm cultures took a turn to the genteel side. Face it. When it came to good taste and the warm-fuzzy, the old-time machismo had gotten in the way for decades. It was time for a revolution. So the passive aggressive approach to entertaining outsiders and insiders was dumped.

The shift came on subtly. It had to. Even small changes meant upheaval. The traditionalists were shocked when canned drinks, napkins, plates, and a tasteful small plate of cookies appeared quietly on the credenza (ginger snaps). Soon the old guard Woolworth lunch counter lost out to the upstart Au Bon Pain.

Funny, the old goats stopped grumbling and started eating. With a vengeance. Gluttony ruled.

Muffins appeared, then bigger cookies. Humongous cookies the size of a plate. Soon the fare included small lunches to lay on over the mid-morning snacks. Croissants filled with chicken salad glop (curried). Pita pockets with humus. Focaccia. Pizza. Then serious entrées. Desserts. Hor d’oevres. Feasts fit for kings.

Heavy, calorie-laden, fatty, high-energy food was everywhere. There was so much energy ingested that phlegmatic folks were bouncing down the halls and off the walls. Every so often a salad or piece of fruit would turn up somewhere. By mistake. “Please, let’s not let that happen again.”

The food spilled out of the conference rooms into the lunch rooms, the reception areas, the hallways, the individual offices. Every space, every occasion, every person was caught in the frenzy.

Space planners were called in. No self-respecting law firm could occupy an overpriced space that didn’t have a kitchen, a dining room, serving accoutrements in the conference rooms, discrete places to dump your trash that looked a lot like file drawers. Hospitality staff was hired. The big puzzle about a meeting was not who would be there or the topic at hand. No, it was: “What’s on the menu? And which hash house is catering?” Internal rump sessions and meetings with clients all were scheduled around the food service. The fare was chosen meticulously. Grazing was the sport of the day.

Excess food was given away. Thrown away. Spirited back to one’s office or carrel. Sneaked into the fridge as if it were your own. Left there to go stale. And smell.

Not content with the public offerings, people brought their own food to the office. Lunch rooms were fitted out with refrigerators, microwave ovens, toasters.

Zagat squeezed a new section into their restaurant listings: Great American Law Firms. And the American Lawyer pushed the 50 highest profit firms to the back page in favor of glamorous snapshots of the best food served in a law firm, properly primped by the best food makeup artists on Madison Avenue.

But I knew for sure that the focus on culinary delights had gone haywire when firms changed their marketing styles to suit:

“Meathead, Carrotfinger, and Lard. Corporate Law. And the Best Pulled Pork East of Beaumont.”

What’s next? Hot cloths at the reception desk? Turkish towels in the hot tub room? And Tai Chi lessons at 9 AM in the solarium?

Just my two cents.

Written by thinker

May 16th, 2014 at 8:54 am

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Skateboards Forever

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Have you heard? There is a much ballyhooed war that big-law-firm-America facilities managers are waging against pollution, big carbon footprints, and plain old-school unsustainable eco-hostile un-green attorney behavior.

As in the online game Nuke the Commies, each combatant has picked a weapon of choice for the conflict. The options are limited. Some are tantalizing, like water-free urinals that save something north of two quarts of clear water a flush. Others are boring, like cardboard tea cups that biodegrade in your hand, if you don’t swig your chamomile in a New-York minute. When it comes to saving the planet, every silly little bit helps. I guess.

I’m not in this battle, but if I were, my armaments would be a commuter rail pass and a skateboard. I’ve got a rail pass—a 32-year stack of them sits on the bureau at home.

I don’t have a skateboard. Not yet. But there’s a slick one on eBay that I can BuyNow for $29.00 plus shipping. It’s a great deal. If you don’t mind the cartoon on the rear kick tail depicting Newt Gingrich in swim trunks sporting a “Bill Clinton rules” tattoo on his chest.

Here’s the thing about skateboards: they don’t need gasoline. Really. Just some energetic footwork. You step off the 7:46 inbound train, throw the board onto the track 8 platform. Shazam! A mile and a half in 15 minutes. A quick stop for a non-eco-friendly tomato latte with whipped yogurt and a marischino cherry. And you’re there. At the office. You’re relaxed. Thoroughly exercised. One pound lighter. $22.43 richer. And you got an up-close look at the new paint job on Larry’s Latte food truck down the side alley off Main Street.

Public transportation, folks. It’s the next great frontier. Buses. Subways. Rail. Bicycles. Feet. Talk about preserving the eco-system. Undepleting the ozone. Saving the whales. This is it, man (person—sorry).

Facilities managers can talk themselves breathless about low wattage light bulbs. Automatic light switches that leave you in the dark if you fall asleep working on a ridiculously broad patent claim for a new killer app. Hot water dispensers that don’t heat. Energy-saving photocopiers that take 14 minutes to warm up after 30 seconds of idle time.

Sissy stuff.

Listen to me. Throw away the car keys. Toss your gas card. Close out your $412 a month parking space. Live a little. Protect the globe. Win the war. Maybe even BE the local Nuke the Commies Champion.

Just my two cents.

Written by thinker

May 11th, 2014 at 9:13 pm