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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

March 1, 2004

Starbucks GC Shines

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:59 pm

thank you  with cream on top

Corporate Counsel magazine names its 2004 Innovative GCs in its current edition, and I’d like to salute the work of one honoree — Starbucks General Counsel Paula Boggs (see “Breaking Grounds,” 03-02-04).

According to GC, Boggs largely chose to work for Starbucks “because of its varied charitable efforts.”

“Boggs was especially interested in expanding a nascent program started by her predecessor and run out of the legal department that helped Seattle’s poor make their way through housing court. In the 15 months since she joined the ubiquitous latte purveyor, she has dramatically increased the size of the program, made her department’s 30 lawyers and 46 staffers freely available to the project on a regular, ongoing basis — and made expansion of pro bono activity a central part of her department’s five-year strategic plan.”

The article notes that staffers get extra points at bonus time for regularly performing pro bono work.  The litigation experience in housing court is also seen as a plus.

Several other corporate pro bono programs are described in the article.  Bravos to all, with this oft-voiced plea from ethicalEsq:

Corporate Counsel — especially those from companies and communities with computer expertise and resources — should consider supporting and creating self-help and pro se programs across the nation.  Access to justice by indigent Americans (and those of modest means) can be greatly improved by spreading such programs.  For example:

  • Pick a state with little or no self-help resources available to the public and help make excellent programs available.  

  • Line up volunteer lawyers to act as pro se facilitators in local courts. 

  • Use legal and software expertise to produce user-friendly, interactive programs in many areas of the law — and use financial and political clout to make them available to the public.

  • Train staffers to serve as mediators for family, housing, small claims courts.

There are many ways to make access to justice real.  You don’t have to be litigators to help the poor find justice — don’t give them a fish; teach them to fish.

Sanction This (Firm)!

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 12:58 am

Is it time to start disciplining law firm management for creating ethically hostile work environments? Publically shaming the worst culprits is surely the least we should do.
This isn’t a new thought, of course. It’s difficult to read Prof. Patrick Schiltz’s description of BIGLAW culture, or the other pieces cited in our sermon last year, without wanting to do something about the work pressures that now exist in our “best” law firms (and those that want to be like them) to produce billable hours and endless profits.

pig white . .

The New Jersey Law Journal article featured in our post yesterday (along with background research), focused my attention on just how thoroughly our profession is permeated with a culture that makes fee generating far more important than client service and professional ethics. (“Sorry, Addiction and Work Pressures Don’t Lead to Light Ethics Sentence,” 02-16-04; free reg. req’d), It’s not just the big firms or the “boutique elite.” Despite my feeling that work pressures should not mitigate disciplinary sanctions for neglecting duties to clients, I am sympathetic to the plight of lawyer Bowman, which was discussed in the NYLJ article.

minus sign black According to the article, Bowman “testified that he suffered from alcoholism and that he was stressed out by long hours of work and civic activities required by his firm.” The disciplinary board explained,

If an attorney at Gruccio, Pepper did not meet the required ‘billing goal,’ his salary was withheld and possibly forfeited.” Bowman just couldn’t say no.

Here’s the for-publication response from the firm in question to Bowman’s three-month suspension, as presented by NYLJ:

At Bowman’s old firm, partner Lawrence Pepper Jr. says, ‘It’s unfortunate what happened. We’re heartsick about it.” He won’t say what punishment Bowman deserves, but he does not dispute the notion that long hours, hard work for clients and time spent in civic activities are required at his firm, or any other firm that takes its work seriously.

“When you are diligent for your clients, you work long hours,” he says. “Unfortunately, in today’s world, sometimes the pressure gets to you.”

Makes me all warm inside, and most pleased that clients can expect uncompromising diligence (zeal, too, I bet).

$key neg

We might have expected some useful guidelines and limitations from the profession by now, given all the words written and spoken about the evil of excessive hourly billing (see, e.g., The Hours, by Niki Kuckes; and Matt Homann’s soapbox). Indeed, the ABA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Billable Hours produced a Model Diet meant as a “best practices” summary for law firms — “that ensures a level of billable and non-billable activity to serve not only the interests of an acceptable level of productivity given the firm’s reasonable profitability aspirations, but also other important objectives.”

$key neg There’s one big problem with this Diet, however: it is based on “2300 Creditable Hours for Lawyers” per year. The profession’s “leaders,” after thoroughly studying the problems surrounding law firm demands for excessive billable hours, somehow concluded that 2300 hours is “significant” but “manageable”:

The model reflects an assumption that law firm associates are willing to work hard, that the profession is demanding, but that it provides great rewards, not only monetarily but also through the challenge and stimulation of work for paying clients as well as the other activities reflected in the model. The total is, at the same time, manageable — it represents less than 50 hours of recorded, professional time, billable and non-billable per week, allowing for vacation, holidays, etc. We do not view that as an unrealistic burden for incentivized, enthusiastic, hard-working associates who enjoy what they do. Indeed, the allocations suggested for all types of work — billable and non-billable — are designed to provide a varied set of challenges and to enhance the psychic rewards of the practice.

With that introduction, the proposed typical “diet” is:

  1. Billable client work — 1900 hours

  2. Pro bono work — 100 hours

  3. Service to the Firm — 100 hours

  4. Client Development — 75 hours

  5. Training and Professional Development — 75 hours

  6. Service to the Profession – 50 hours

pig black flip This might make a lot of law firms feel righteous, but it is not the least bit reasuring from the perspective of a healthy profession or a well-served clientele. As it takes considerably more than an hour to create an hour of billable time, the Diet is prescribing perhaps 60 hours per week on average for associate attorneys (after allowing for a bit of vacation, plus sick and holiday leave). Not much pressure there!

So, what can we do? Suspending (or even reprimanding) the entire leadership of the profession, and virtually all managing partners, might be unworkable and unpopular. Doing “ethics environment” audits one law firm at a time just might work. Confidential employee complaints could begin the process. Why shouldn’t we hold partners responsible for the work environment they create and perpetuate? quixoteEsq is on the case. Get your donkey, Pancho, and come along.

  • In the meantime, besides re-reading Professor/Dean/Judge Patrick Schiltz’s article,”On Being a Happy, Healthy, and Ethical Member of an Unhappy, Unhealthy, and Unethical Profession,” 52 Vand. L. Rev. 871 (81 pp pdf), check out The Dangerous Link Between Chronic Office Chaos, Stress, Depression, and Substance Abuse (ABA General Practice magazine, by Nancy Byerly Jones, July-Aug. 2001). Jones says “If ignored for too long, chronic problems at the office can play a big part in setting the stage for battles with depression, substance abuse, and other stress-related problems.” The article includes 29 tips for a healthy law office.

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