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I’m a china and silverware kind of guy. Like Field Marshall Rommel. He loved the clink of sterling against porcelain. So he carried them everywhere, even over the Alps (Okay, it was his flunkies who did the lugging).

Then there’s plastic and paper. Rommel would have had nothing to do with those. And, to me, they spell trouble. There’s something about sitting down at my desk to a seared bluefish steak, pesto blackened polenta, and kale cobbler with whipped cream, all thrown haphazardly onto a textured pink cardboard plate that turns my stomach. Not the food. The cardboard. And when I dig in with the white plastic fork and shatter the middle tine, I heave a sigh.

Eating is supposed to be fun, elegant, inspiring. And back in the day, Limoges® and Reed & Barton® made sure of that. Add a tablecloth. A bottle of wine. In the 23rd floor conference room with the client and your colleagues around the table. What could be better?

Here’s the rub. Cardboard and paper are cheap (should I say “cost effective”?). So firms everywhere long ago ditched stylishness and switched to Dixie® and more Dixie®. Whole hog. That’s why the sound you hear in their lunch rooms is that familiar nasty rustle of polyethylene cutlery on cellulose fiber. And the occasional twang of a snapping plastic knife blade, followed by the swoosh of the freed shard of plastic flying toward the wall.

When you’re done wedging the lunch into your petite mouth, it’s time, of course, to discard the entire place setting along with the leftovers glopped onto them. Ugh.

It’s then when you discover that you’re stuck with the obligatory sorting and recycling charade. That farce may be eco-friendly, sustainable, green, and LEED certified.

But it’s not simple.

Back in the day, the detritus of law firm life was handled in round tinplate wastebaskets. They sat on the floor. In the corner of the conference room. Whatever was no longer wanted went into them. That could be the unfinished half of a ham sandwich, a brief on appeal, or dead flowers from the vase on the conference room credenza. No one cared much about sorting any of this mix. They would have snickered at the thought. Happily, everything that was tossed into the wastebasket was gone by the next morning, no questions asked.

Then some wiz bang do-good architect figured out that you could put the garbage into drawers in the credenza instead of storing pencils and staplers and paper clips in there. Those desktop tools had fallen into disuse with the demise of sheet paper, and something needed to be done with the freed-up space. In fact, there was so much empty room that when the garbage drawers were designed into the credenza, there were two or three of them at least. The drawers usually didn’t have labels, until discrete markers were taped onto the front of the credenza by the local recycling police. Before that, you were expected to figure out on your own which drawer was for “trash” and which was for “recycle.”

The distinction between “trash” and “recycle” may make perfect sense to you. But not to me. In my world, garbage is garbage no matter what you call it. And I could rarely guess which drawer was for the cold limp pale-green fried potato dregs and which drawer was to receive the crumbled damp paper cup. In my universe, paper cups are trash that gets recycled or recyclables that get trashed. Who cares. And leftover spuds are trash but they also get recycled if you compost them (as any self-respecting earth lover would do).

So I just put stuff in any drawer that seems handy at the moment.

All and all I’m fed up with this state of the world. Sadly, it doesn’t have to be this way. Believe me. Back in the day, afternoon tea on china was de rigueur in a big shot law firm. And a biscuit or crumpet, too. The garbage was removed silently by someone else without a comment. You felt civilized. And when you finished, you lit up a cigar. Terrific.

Just my two cents.

 

Written by thinker

November 23rd, 2015 at 9:36 pm

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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