20 July 2010

Why I'm Running Again

Life and age are funny things. They creep up on you. Ever since I stopped running with any regularity or goal two years  ago, they seem to be creeping up on me ever faster.

My last hurrah as a runner was training for and running the Helen Klein 50K(32 miles)  in California.  Right after that event  I dropped out of running again.  "Not fun anymore," I said. But lately I've been missing the running itself, the feeling of it, the sense of accomplishment - the "fun."  I've been wondering if its time to lace up the shoes again. 

I remember a run that I had perhaps ten years ago, running through Rockefeller State Park Preserve just outside Tarrytown, NY  on the Hudson River. It was a sunny, chilly October afternoon. It was my last long training run before the New York Marathon. Now the preserve is really quite hilly from a mellow meadow to a steep pitch you swear you should have a safety line to run down or up. The only semi-flat path is the one around the lake in the middle of the Park (a lake the Rockefellers built so they would have one to picnic by...) and even then the path slopes and rolls up and down around the duck filled waters.
On this day I ran and ran and ran. Up those hills, across little fast flowing streams, leaves scrunching under my running shoes, sweat pouring off me. There was one hill in particular, that I'd always had trouble making it up. I always ended up huffing and puffing. Oh, I'd make it but it was a "just barely" and "I think I can, I think I can" kind of thing. If I'd owned a heart rate monitor in back then I probably would have scared myself into having a heart attack by the time I got to the top.
But this day, at the end of two hours, I soared. I reached the top in a smooth segue of heart, soul and breath, and as I rounded the top and made the crest of the hill, the Hudson River lay glittering before me. The wind and the sun and the river all clapped their hands and twinkled with the glitter of sun and swirling red, yellow and orange leaves. I can still smell how the wind was, the smell of earth, and decaying leaves and season more beautiful for its fading.

I don't know that I have ever felt so alive as I did in that moment. That sense of connection between body, mind, soul and world. A bit of what the Buddhist call "Big Mind" (not other than who you are at this very moment) I suspect. I've missed that connection since I stopped running regularly, that feeling one's mortality pumping strongly in your chest. Of knowing its strength and weakness. That it can carry you to the top of the hill but not beyond your numbered days. Its a good thing to know. Life that is. That's what "running for your life" really means. That's why I've started running again through the trails around my house here in Evergreen. Its a tough slog right now, I'll be honest. It's not much fun. The altitude is a killer, the extra ten pounds are a knap sack I'd rather not carry. Nor the years for that matter. But its coming back a bit.
Yesterday when I ran across the Elk Meadow and up into the Bergen Hills, the sun flitted from pine branch to pine branch, here and there I could see it, that Big Mind. Once or twice I felt it poke my soul. "Big Mind happy to have this old runner back chasing it", it laughed deeply and silently.
And this old runner, well, this old runner is glad to be running for his life again.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

PS: A video explaining the concept for those with the inclination to pursue this topic in greater depth.

16 July 2010

A Contract Is Not A Kegger

Anecdotal warning. This post is all unsupportable anecdotal observation. Your results and opinion may vary enormously. And probably will.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s the premise: verbal contracts cause more trouble than short contracts. Medium length contracts cause more trouble than short contracts. But long contracts and exceedingly short contracts are almost equally lacking in controversy. That is to say, verbal contracts and medium contracts generate more work for me than short or long contracts. 

And extremely long contracts generate as many, if not more, problems than verbal contracts.

Why? I’m glad you asked!

Verbal Contracts

Verbal contracts (a/k/a “handshake deal") are a problem because, as we know, eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. And the scene of the contractual crime is no exception. Everyone saw something different and there is no record, however short, to help refresh people’s recollection. Hence, verbal contracts are bad news and the source of endless line-ups of the alleged perps.

Exceedingly Short Contracts

The haiku of contracts.  Back of the cocktail napkin sort of contracts up to a two or three page letter agreement. Just enough details to refresh the recollection of the party. Like a photo of a party where you can only see a couple of people but it causes you to remember most folks you saw at the party and the great time you had.

Medium Length Contracts

The short story of contracts. Much like short stories in The New Yorker, they seem to be going somewhere and then don’t. I blame the plain English movement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for straight-shootin’, plain as day kind of writing. But plain English folks often seem to mistake brevity for clarity. So there are just enough details to frame the dispute but not enough details to solve it, if you catch my drift. Medium length contracts are a no man’s land of 8 – 10 pages – you can see the white’s of their eyes and everyone starts firing.

Long Contracts

The novella. Here everyone thought of everything, wrote it down and threw in the kitchen sink. The Crime and Punishment of contracts. But with a good editor... It's the difference between catering a sophisticated party and throwing a kegger. Both have a large number of people in attendance but the first is governed by the rules of etiquette the second by the rules of the fraternity. Folks, no contract should be a kegger.

Extremely Long Contracts.

The novel with literary aspirations. These appear to have been written by Thomas Pynchon. The are very sophisticated and erudite. They make a great doorstop. They make the drafting lawyers feel like members of MENSA. The problem is most clients, judges and juries have never heard of MENSA. These contracts only make sense while being written by those writing them.  A day later and a new set of lawyers and they are subject to not just several but hundreds of interpretations. They are the Bible of contracts. They are the kind of contracts that gave rise to the plain English movement.  Contracts like this contain lots of semi-colons (and sub-sub-paragraphs) which are my favorite punctuation mark, but, as with tequila shots, results do not improve with more.  The line between too much and not enough is a fine line indeed.

Questions? That’s what the comments section is for.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

07 July 2010

Why Your GC Shouldn't Be An Atheist

So here we are at the end of a long series of blog posts on what I believe to be the six characteristics of a great General Counsel (I started with seven but decided that I didn't like one of them). 

We’ve covered five so far:
  1. More Sheriff Andy Taylor, less Wyatt Earp.
  2. A businessman who knows a lot about the law, not a lawyer who knows a little about business.
  3. Manages real risks, not theoretical ones.
  4. Knows the best legal solution is not always the best business resolution.
  5. Realizes that over-lawyering and under-lawyering are equally expensive.
But the sixth characteristic may be the most important of them all:

Actually believes that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

The key phrase here are “actually believes.”

There are whole industries out there preaching the gospel of preventative law – and almost all of us do it in some form or another – preach that is. But at the end of the day, it is unfortunately easier to get your number crunchers and C-suite people to pony up for actual litigation than it is to budget a smaller number of dollars to teach and train to avoid “theoretical” risks (the ounce of prevention).

I’ve never totally understood this other than to apply the old maxim that there are no atheists in foxholes; i.e., it’s easy to put off spending on prevention when there’s no complaint sitting on the CEO’s desk.

But of course an ounce of prevention really is cheaper than a pound of cure. A GC who believes in the practice of preventative law and is willing to fight for the dollars to actually do it is going to serve your company’s best interests in the long run.

This is why none of my six characteristics involve being a great litigator – not that a GC can’t or shouldn’t be a great litigator – but that can’t be the focus. 

You cannot be an atheist and a true believer at the same time...

That’s why the great GC already has already got religion. A little revival tent, a little legal philosophy and a ton of commonsense to bring the sheep into the fold.  She's willing to go door to door, department by department, budget by budget, VP by VP - ringing doorbells and preaching the gospel to those atheist number crunchers on the fifth floor and the godless CEO on executive row.

 So go ahead and ask.  This is one question on religious belief that doesn't violate Title VII!

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

01 July 2010

Why I Love TED!

My favorite TV show is still the Big Bang Theory on CBS.

But my favorite TV channel these days isn’t CNN, CBS, NBC or even the Comedy Channel (sorry, Jon and Stephen), it’s TED -  TED is a website. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It got it’s start as a conference on those very subjects but it long ago left for bigger territory with bigger dreams. TED has become a “clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers” and believes in “the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world.”

TED provides access to hundreds and hundreds of short videos (usually 20 minutes or less) of brilliant (and sometimes famous) people, giving amazingly clever (and often humorous) lectures about challenging, thought provoking ideas that at the very least push you to reconsider your preconceptions, prejudices and weltanschauung.

If that all sounds Utopian, left-wing and boring, its not; at least, not as far as I can tell. And let me assure you in particular on that boring point. Yes, it may sometimes be a little quixotic, but the world could use a little dose of Don Quixote’s approach to life from time to time. Cynicism is one virtue I have yet to see expressed by anyone on TED.

Watching TED makes you want to go do something in the world, rather than buy something at the mall.  Just this week, I’ve had Dan Pink shake my faith in the power of rewards to motivate (i.e., corporate bonuses don’t necessarily drive the best results), learned that architecture helped drive the evolution of music (thanks to David Byrne) and found out about how a growing “cognitive surplus” might drive change in the world.

TED is the professor you wished for in college because TED makes you want to come back for more, do your own research and talk to other people about what you’ve learned (which usually scares the hell out of them: “you want to talk about ideas...?).
As you can tell, I love TED.  Give TED some of your cognitive surplus, just 20 minutes on the subject of your choice, and I think you will too.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth