28 June 2010

US Postal Service To Inaugurate New Alternative Billing

In a hastily called news conference that was sparsely attended due to all news media being focused on the Kagen hearing, the US Postmaster General announced that “...in order to make ends meet, the US Postal Service will have to move away from our current flat fee arrangements for first class delivery and move to an alternative billing model based on actual costs of delivery.”

He went on to state that “the hourly billing model that works so well for law firms will be our model. We know that this innovation might get some folks upset but we can’t live in the past – the 21st century is here and hourly billing for mail delivery is the future!”

When asked whether this approach would further reduce usage of the US Postal Service, the Postmaster said: “We will allocate our overhead across our client base so the actual number of people using our services won’t really matter all that much.”

When asked what it would cost to have a letter delivered, for example, from New York City to Bismarck, ND, the Postmaster said:

“That’s hard to say. We’ll deliver it and then send you a bill.”

Thanks for reading.
Richard Russeth

24 June 2010

My Top Ten Rules For Job Search Success


Don't be whiny, needy, pushy, petty, annoyed or irritated in your dealings with anyone who could help your job search; in other words, not with ANYONE.  Remember they are helping you...


NEVER speak ill of your former employer or co-workers to anyone EVER; at least not until you have your next job, then they are all fair game - though you'll probably just sound petty at that point.


A job search is a job. Treat it like one. Get up and go to work every morning (the italics are for a reason) for a set period M-F. That set period should be at least three hours.  It doesn't count if you are multitasking all kinds of personal stuff at the same time.


Always carry resumes with you so you can hand them to anyone at any time. Get some business cards too. Nice ones please. Not that cheap paper stock.


Develop, practice and memorize your "elevator pitch" - see the book Rites of Passage by John Lucht and other resources. You need a 30, 60 and 180 second version. Practice until they don't sound like you practiced.


Add everyone to your Linkedin profile. Join some groups on Linkedin.  Read about how to maximize Linkedin. Get involved in some law job chats on Twitter. Make sure the profile is spot on and perfect just like your resume presumably is. Track folks on Gist and give feedback. Try to build your network on Linkedin and Twitter before you actually, you know, need them. Facebook is fine, in my view, for actual friends. A blog never hurts.


Do some volunteer work not related to your job search or the law at least once a week. It will help put your situation in perspective and give you a sense of accomplishment that may be otherwise lacking when you enter your third week without so much as a nibble.  Give thanks you have the ability to do volunteer work for someone else instead of being the deserving recipient.


Your being out of work is boring to other people. Don't overplay your hand.   Sometimes even ask other people how they are doing...


Always always always send a handwritten snail mail thank you note to anyone who grants you some of their precious time in person or on the phone re an interview. Mail it the same day that they help you. Retweet them.  #ff them.  Keep them in mind.  See #10.  Its really not possible to say thank you too much.  And if they do something really really out of the line of duty, send them a little something.


Nothing gets other peoples' attention more than not going after a job you know you don't have a prayer of getting but instead actually recommending or telling someone who actually has a shot. Give it away. What goes around, comes around - good and bad.  Recruiters remember people who help them. Get some good karma.

Bonus Rule: "Be silly. Be honest. Be kind." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

21 June 2010

Joe Torrre, General Counsel

Joe Torre would have made a great General Counsel. George Steinbrenner would have made a terrible GC. One makes it about the game, the other makes it about himself. The owner has that uxury but the manager does not.

When I lived in the New York area, the Yankees were on a roll and Joe Torre was the coach of the century. But I was always struck by how little he actually seemed to do in the dugout. This was especially true when I watched a game on TV. A nod. A finger to the side of his nose. Pick up the phone. Walk to the mound. Talk. Walk back to the dugout. Scratch. But each move seemed to have a purpose, a meaning, a goal. I doubt if Joe Torre even spit without meaning something - whatever he had in his mouth night after night.

Joe probably knew more about baseball than anyone in Yankee Stadium on any given night, but he never flaunted it. He just got it done. Time after time after time.

And what is a GC on any deal? A manager. And if he's going to manage the team effectively, he better know more than anyone else about doing deals or he's not going to have the respect of his team. This doesn't mean he's can pinch hit, be the DH or even throw a good slider. It does mean he knows when each of those skills are needed in the deal, and which of his people can deliver on it in the bottom of the ninth and down a run.

That's what a great GC does - he doesn't make the game or the team about him. He just gets it done. Like Joe, he knows who to put in and who to take out...

And when its time to curse out the umpire.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

[This is Pt. 6 of "Good GC or Great GC: The Seven Characteristics That Make The Difference", a series of seven weekly blog posts discussing what makes a great GC]

17 June 2010

Sorry, I'll Never Do It Again

I am always struck by people who wish they had more authority or responsibility in their jobs. They want someone to give it to them, but the secret is to take it.  Claim it. Put a flag in it. Give it a name and call it your own. When I tell people this, they say, well, then I'll have more responsibility, more stress and no more pay.  Believe me, a good employer will reward the person who takes on more without being asked. If they don't reward you, wrong employer, move on with all the good experience you just gathered!

One of my best mentors, Jerry Jenko, taught me the age old truism that "It's easier to say I'm sorry I'll never do it again, than it is to get permission in the first place."

I recall hiring my first lawyer to work for me when I was General Counsel at Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream HQ in NJ in 1993. I had no authority to hire anyone. Jerry was the GC of our parent company based out of MN. He called me up and said, "Who said you could hire a lawyer?" Me: "No one, I just decided." Jerry: "You don't have that authority." Me: "I'm sorry, I'll never do it again." Long pause. Jerry: "Right, don't do it again." Dial tone on phone. 

To celebrate, I ate some ice cream in our HQ Haagen-Dazs ice cream store mock-up. 

Butter Pecan, I think.

Thanks for reading.


14 June 2010

The Two Types of GCs That "BIg, Local and Firm" Absolutely Loves

There are two very expensive types of General Counsels out there. The ones who think they can do everything and the ones who think they need help to do anything. In my view, in the long run, this kind of over-lawyering and under-lawyering are equally expensive.

The “Everything Calls For A Specialist” GC is known by the speed dial on his mobile phone: #1 Big, Local and Firm, #2 Eye, Pee and Property, #3 We, Seu and Settle, #4 Findem, Buyem and Sellum, and of course #5 See, Em and Ay.

Firms love this guy.

The “I Can Do It All” GC is known by her speed dial to #1 Westlaw representative, #2 NexisLexis rep, #3 Practical Law rep and #4 her third husband.

Firms love this GC too.

Despite my over-lawyering and under-lawyering crack at the start, this GC might actually cost more than the “Everything Calls For A Specialist” GC. At least the “Everything Calls For A Specialist” GC usually gets the job done correctly, albeit expensively.  We all know its much harder (read: expensive) to fix a mistake than do it right in the first place.

I may be The Last Generalist, but I am neither of these GCs. I can fix a broken leg, do an appendectomy, deliver a baby in a pinch, tell you to lose some weight and prescribe Xanax. 

But I won’t perform neurosurgery or a triple by-pass.

Even The Last Generalist knows when to call a specialist.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

[This is Pt. 5 of "Good GC or Great GC: The Seven Characteristics That Make The Difference", a series of seven weekly blog posts discussing what makes a great GC]

09 June 2010

Get Fired With Class

I am always surprised when people tell me that they were surprised when they got fired. “Really?” I want to say. “Maybe that’s one of the reasons they fired you.”

I’m not talking about being laid off, downsized or restructured out of a job here. I’m talking plain, old and boring “it isn’t working out.” Maybe you got a new boss (same as the old boss), maybe you got an attitude somewhere along the way, or maybe you just put it on cruise control and starting texting (illegal in Colorado, FYI). Whatever the reason, good, bad or indifferent you are now terminated, fired, pursuing other interests, or “let go.”

There are a million and one legal briefs telling employers how to handle the firing of employees; especially what not to do. I’m not sure I’ve ever read what the employee should do in such a situation. Here’s my very simple but usually hard to take advice: stay classy.

Class is such an underrated virtue these days. I think its actually been underrated as long as I’ve known what the word means. What does the word mean, you ask? Webster’s defines “classy” as having or reflecting high standards of personal behavior, admirably skillful and graceful.

An easy example of what is not classy: entering the My Bad Boss Contest or engaging in similar sniping, complaining or whining. Here’s the deal, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had terrible bosses. Many of us have been fired or else quit when we saw the writing on the wall (see paragraph 1).

I’m not so concerned about why someone was fired as how they dealt with it.

Here’s what I think you should do if you get fired:

  1. Own it. Right or wrong, don’t blame anyone else. Period.
  2. Stay Classy. Even if they don’t. This is number two because if you don’t “Own It” you can’t possibly “Stay Classy.”
  3. Tell Everyone The Truth. Don’t come up with a “too clever” explanation or an explanation that violates Rule 1.
  4. Send A Thank You Note. Individual, snail mail, thank you notes to all the people with whom you had regular interaction. Tell each person something about them that you liked or something you learned from them. Keep it short. Cynicism, irony or sarcasm is not allowed. Use a nice pen. Buy some nice blank note cards. Crane’s comes to mind.
Why the thank you notes? So that you can learn what you learned and who you learned it from. So that you can come to understand what went wrong – writing twenty or thirty thank you notes can give you a lot of insight. So that you can improve.

So that you can stay classy.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

06 June 2010

What The Big Bang Theory TV Show Teaches Us About Being Great Lawyers

Lawyers tend to be smart; this makes sense. Lawyers tend to want to show off how smart they are; this also makes sense. Lawyers tend to like complicated legal solutions; this makes no sense at all.

I am reminded of a complicated solution to a simple problem in a recent episode of the The Big Bang Theory (great show BTW) in which our clever gang of geeks is thrilled that they have managed to switch on a common table lamp:

Howard: Gentlemen, I am now about to send a signal from this laptop through our local ISP, racing down fiber optic cable at the speed of light to San Francisco, bouncing off a satellite in geosynchronous orbit to Lisbon, Portugal, where the data packets will be handed off to submerged transatlantic cables terminating in Halifax, Nova-Scotia, and transferred across the continent via microwave relays back to our ISP and the X10 receiver attached to this ... (he clicks the mouse and watches as the lamp lights up) ... lamp.”

At which point they all cheer.

I have met many Howards in my legal career who draft documents, complaints, demand letters (e.g., a recent famous demand letter from NYT to WSJ), severance agreements, M&A documents in what can only be called Rube Goldberg legalese. This desire for complication also shows up in a preference for clever legal solutions rather than really useful business resolutions.

A preference that doesn’t help the client one whit. It tends to breed costs, alienate everyone from the President and CEO on down, and create more problems where there was only one to solve.

A great general counsel knows that the best legal solution is not always the best business resolution.

This whole NYT/WSJ demand letter drama might be a case in point,. No doubt there are facts of which I am not aware, but IMHO there has to be a better business resolution to the issue underlying that NYT/WSJ dispute over the slogan “NOT Just Wall Street. Every street.”

My answer would have included a phone call, jujitsu marketing, new ads and a sense of humor.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

[This is Pt. 4 of "Good GC or Great GC: The Seven Characteristics That Make The Difference", a series of seven weekly blog posts discussing what makes a great GC]  

03 June 2010

How To Pick A Great Litigator

  • "There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories."— Ursula K. LeGuin 
  • “Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” - Alan Kay, Vice President at Walt Disney
Telling stories is as old as society itself - from bragging about a dangerous hunt 5,000 years ago to tweeting about the hunt for angel funding 30 seconds ago, its all in the telling.

A trial is nothing more or less than ritualized story-telling. Both sides have essentially the same facts to work with but must apply very different nuances, emphasis and perspectives to them; i.e., they each tell a very different story. In the end, in a close or even not so close case, my money is always on the side that tells the best story with those common facts. 
  • “If you tell me, it’s an essay. If you show me, it’s a story.” — Barbara Greene
Think about a dry textbook version of an important historical event that your dry by the book teacher read to you in 12th grade while you stared out the window at a beautiful spring day. Now think about a masterful piece of historical fiction (or “non-fiction novel”) about that same event that you just couldn’t stop reading even though you were sitting a beautiful beach on a perfect summer day with warm ocean waters lapping at your feet. Most lawyers are great at writing essays, but I am pretty confident that no one ever won a trial based on a good essay. Trials are won with stories; well told.
  • “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact”. — Robert McKee (emphasis added)
I’m sure you can guess where I am going with this: can your prospective litigator tell you a good story over coffee? Over a beer? Walking down the street?

Can she keep you laughing about or riveted to a narrative you wouldn't otherwise pay two cents to hear about at all? Does she make you care about the people in her story so that you wished you’d been there in person?

If yes, congratulations, you have just exponentially improved your odds of winning your case.

No? Keep the number of a good appellate lawyer handy.

Or, better yet, go out and find a litigator you could listen to all day long, because after all, your jury will have to do just that.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth