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A while back, I read a great piece by Christine Riordin in the HBR on what she says we inaccurately call work-life balance. Apparently, researchers have found that when we are on the job believing that we don’t have enough family or personal time, that itself drains and distracts us.

Some folks, including tech executives with really demanding jobs seem to have it all and do it all. As a young practicing lawyer, who happened also to be a female in a male dominated profession, I gave up trying to have it all because I could not come up with the right formula.

After many years of earnest effort, I ended up going on the ambivalence-creating “mommy track.” I do not intend to make this about male v. female in my profession, but realistically there is a big difference on the demands we experience and the support we need and receive. I tell the young women I mentor in the law that they need to ask for support and guidance when they are feeling overwhelmed or drained. I have suggested they join law firms that have an open commitment to work life issues.

When I jumped on the mommy track, I had worked many years as a full-time litigator while my children were toddlers and young kids. The guys I worked with were great lawyers and good people, but most of them had no experience in dealing with what my female colleagues and I were struggling with — how to be as good as we were at our professions without sacrificing our family lives. There was a lot wrong with this picture.

At the time, most everything else (besides my excellent performance at work) in my life was in shreds, including me. I had begun my litigation career on a stellar track, was harmed in an elevator accident during my first pregnancy that put my baby at serious risk and me on bed rest for over two months. I left full time practice for a couple of years (after my managing partner refused to allow me to return part time) and came back to the law as a mom with a laser focus on my kids and their well-being. I later understood that I suffered from a severe depression that was not treated or recognized by me, my family or my physicians.

Years later, a doctor asked “did anyone ever ask how you were doing emotionally after all of this?” No one had. The situation could have been managed by better health care, including hormonal balance after having two kids back to back and a high risk pregnancy. At the time, I looked around at my colleagues and they seemed to be doing just fine. I wondered why I could not seem to manage everything as well as they did.

Within a decade of this observation, one of my litigator colleagues who seemed to have it all had taken her own life. She said it was “stress” that was making her behave erratically. Regardless of the cause, she left four children without a mom for most of their lives. She left the rest of us in grief and sorrow for the loss of a young mother who also happened to be a really fine and dedicated lawyer.

In contrast to this tragedy, there were other colleagues who managed their law firm careers quite well. Maybe they had more support at home or maybe they had the resources and smarts to delegate non-work demands to other competent people.

Hopping on mommy track, I lowered my expectations about the professional I thought I would be and what my law partners in my early career told me I was going to become. My kids needed more than I could give them as a full-time litigator. I tried to “lean in” but the stars were not aligned for me to pull off the perfect scenario and it was a different time in our culture.

Although relieved in some sense, I felt defeated and have, at times, missed what I left behind as a practicing litigator and potential “super mom.” After years of managing my life pretty badly, exhausted and apparently depressed, I moved out of litigation to a completely different type of job related to the law. I thought I was letting down my early mentors, renown judges who supported me and senior law partners who saw my future on the top of the letterhead.

I got balance by shifting around the things in my life that mattered. In the end, the shifting around led first to a very tough transition and finally to greater balance. Ultimately, I realigned my personal life with my work life. I had ten great years in a major corporation doing things I enjoyed, with people I respected.

My own experience aligns with the research that indicates effectiveness is the thing we should focus on, not balance. Becoming effective in all our life roles helps us become better at each one. And integration of our work with our lives can help us in both. Regardless of what we call this integration, balance or effectiveness, I am hopeful that technology itself and new ways of working will allow for closer alignment between work and family life and the recognition that both can thrive together.

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This week there has been lots of press on the Apple Samsung case, particularly in the Bay Area. The discussion is not limited to SV insiders, because the case deals with issues many of us have confronted in our professional lives: how to deal with a company or person taking ideas without paying for them or attributing them to their rightful owner. As the jury deliberates, they will struggle with complex questions simply put: who took what from whom, or at all.

As lawyers, we are supposed to be really good at making sure we follow the law — we do not take another entity’s intellectual property or copyrights. Having worked for many years and still consulting for a major information technology and publishing entity that owns a great deal of intellectual property, I understand the lines we must draw to protect our businesses, technologies and protected ideas, including patents and marked services or products. Working for two decades in the entertainment world, I have also vigilantly protected the IP rights of major production companies that allow our products to be featured on their productions.

I have experienced this sense of loss when something we create is picked up without attribution or payment or permission. A number of years ago, work I was involved with was “infringed” by one very large lawyer-related organization. This entity used both a name and trade dress that was very similar to something my team and I had created. When I showed this to my ceo he said “take it as a compliment, its flattering.” I wanted to send a cease and desist. He said no. Later the issue came full circle when I tried to hire a freelance writer who also wrote for the “infringing” entity. The writer apologetically declined because as he said “the management [of the other organization] doesn’t want me to write for you because it might be confusing since our publication names are so similar.” Exactly. But so wrong.

Now, as any of you IP lawyers know that is a sweet admission: the recognition that the names were so similar as to be confusing was good evidence for infringement. We all know that confusion in the marketplace is a critical factor in infringement. Although perhaps not evidence of actual confusion, this admission by management at the lawyer organization was enough for me to go back to my ceo suggesting a cease and desist letter. He said no again. I was frustrated, because I thought wrong is wrong and should be righted. But my ceo did not want to engage in this fight, it wasn’t our core business that was being trampled and it did not represent revenue, but it did represent significant marketing dollars. At the time, I was not able to say something or do what I thought was right … at least let them know we were aware of what they were doing.

But now I am saying something. Because as we see the apparent demise of business ethics, it is these “small” infringements that ultimately become big challenges to revenue. Remember what mom taught: sharing is fine, but taking is not fine.

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If you are a professional, you have had tough ethical decisions to make in your career. This is an inescapable aspect of being in the business world.

If this has not happened to you, you are new to your profession. And if it has, you are doing well because you are thinking through tough issues and you know them when you see them.

There are times in the life of every communications professional that we must make very tough recommendations to our internal clients. There are times in the life of every professional that we must make decisions that could have a downside to reputation and bottom line. There are times in the life of every executive that someone in your organization will bring you bad news and you will not want to hear it.

But you must hear it. And consider what to do about it.

In the world of crisis communications, sometimes our clients disagree with us and sometimes they agree, but regardless we advise them on the risks and benefits in handling very difficult matters and situations. There are times when the reputation of an institution or a business will in fact be hurt more badly by NOT saying what is.

Many executives cringe at bad news. This in turn causes those within an organization or business to avoid telling it.

But bad news is important to confront and report. We have seen the impact to reputation when bad news is hidden and we are not open with our publics. This generally backfires. We have also seen examples of businesses and organizations that confronted bad news, dealt with it openly and became stronger.

What I am talking about here is the courage to say what is, when the news is bad, both internally and externally.

There are times when silence is not golden. So if you are in leadership and you want a functional organization, tell your constituencies that you want to hear bad news. Tell them that silence is not golden. When bad news happens, go public with it in a way that proves to the world that you are in fact an ethical, healthy organization that does the right thing when that is the right thing to do.

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Recent interesting reading in the Harvard Business Review supports the sound advice — choose your words carefully — if you can. Say what?

In computer-assisted research over the past couple of decades, Professor James Pennebacker, author of the The Secret Life of Pronouns, What Our Words Say About Us, has determined that words like pronouns say big things about a person’s stability and honesty, among other things. In fact, his research reveals that these words actually say more than “content words.” That means words we usually throw around to connect what we are trying to express — such as pronouns and prepositions really say a great deal about us.

Professor Pennebacker explains his research quite powerfully. He says “function” words are more socially bound than other content words. And he says that we really cannot control the way we use these words, they just happen and are difficult to track without the use of computer analytics.

One example given is a simple sentence with lots of pronouns. ” ‘I don’t think I buy it’ ” reveals a focus on self, but ” ‘That’s ridiculous’ ” doesn’t. The Professor also explains what happens when a person lies. Perhaps these words are a way to couch their real feelings? So that use of the word “we” is used more often than “I.” And when we are being more honest, we use words such as “but” and “without.”

The Professor also notes that in researching the use of words, he did not anticipate this result. He says ” ‘In study after study, we kept finding the same thing … it was the pronouns, articles, conjunctions, and other function words that made a difference, not the content words.’ ”

Not only does the research reveal that our brains react differently to function words, but they are more tied to emotional state and other revealing factors such as social standing and personality. These subtleties are not easy to discern without applying computer analysis to language. Who knew that we reveal so much in the little connectors “we” used to think weren’t so important.

Choosing pronouns carefully, “I” commend the HBR piece as good, interesting and unexpected reading.

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Interesting results posted recently in The Strongest Law Firm Brands in the Land which delineates a study on law firm brand recognition by brand research company, Acritas? The question mark is intended because the most mentioned firms in telephone interviews with high-revenue clients, of at least $1 billion, are not surprising. The results included Skadden, Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis, Sidley Austin, and Wachtell.

Various questions were asked, including which firm the GC and AGC respondents would hire for bet-the-company matters, which the respondents’ have more favorable attitude towards and which they would hire for large M&A matters. The rankings apparently changed slightly on favorability as opposed to which were best known.

Place Still Counts.
One of the interesting things about the study results is that brand awareness for law firms is still somewhat tied to geographical area. The western mainstays, Gibson, Latham & Watkins and Morrison Foerster were top of mind for western interviewees and southern strong-holds remain Baker Botts, Fulbright & Jaworski, and Vinson & Elkins.

A Difference That Matters.
Apparently, as a profession we don’t seem to make the connection between brand recognition and winning business. According to various marketing and branding experts interviewed about the study results, as a profession we do not focus on differentiation. I have spoken with many law firm marketers and managing partners who are quite dismissive when questioned on this point. “Of course our clients and potential clients know our strengths and what makes us different.” Really? Have you asked them lately?

Many lawyers assume that their markets understand their points of value. But that is often not the case. As a partner in a firm, you know what you do. You must assume that others do not. Assume that the rest of the buying world would not be able to articulate the differences between your practice and the firm down the elevator. You have to make this clear to win the business. And the clarity of this message must be authentic, interesting and memorable.

Brand Works.
There are lots of great lawyers around the country that aren’t as well known, but have the talent and resources to represent major clients successfully. Some great high-quality law firms that have been around for a very long time, do not make this list. Some law firms that have big internal problems with management and culture are sitting on this list.

In my opinion, GC’s and AGC’s have a bit of a fear factor hiring lesser known firms and lawyers. Although many GC’s have told me over the years that they “hire lawyers, not firms,” strong law firm brands do factor into the hiring decision. Lesser known firms can suffer from the reluctance of law departments to hire great lawyers in not-as-well-known firms.

A client might be concerned that the hiring decision could be second-guessed later depending on the results. Hiring a lesser known firm could be perceived as carrying greater risk, because if the outcome isn’t favorable heads might roll on the hiring decision. That means just being a great lawyer with the expertise to win a case might not be accepted as compelling. This is true even though the well known counsel and firm competing for the hire have lost and lost badly in other matters.

It is a fact of business life that clients can also be concerned about the power of public perception of the lawyers lined up on either side — even if the lesser known lawyer or law firm actually has greater ability. What if a client could see to the end of a case and the lesser known choice would actually secure a better outcome? We all know what the hiring decision would be in that case.

The skill and ability of the lawyer and the depth of the firm, not just its ranking and brand strength, should compel the hire. But in our world, perception can quickly become reality. This is what firms are up against in creating a place for themselves to win business.

Looking objectively and benchmarking your brand can be enlightening and humbling. Inherent in this process is developing clarity on your firm’s differentiators and communicating this to potential clients in cohesive and powerful brand development and management.

Given the legal market and competition for clients, brand becomes more, not less important in winning the business.

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It’s a done deal. If you are in law practice and want new clients or a way to maintain your reputation and expertise in the world at large, you need to be using social media. However, as with all marketing or reputation management tools, it is necessary and important to have a social media strategy.

One. Do Plan. It is essential to plan your social media communications. Remember that getting out there in social media is essential, but if you want your efforts to be effective, you must plan. Just like you would a case or trial strategy. Social media is like any other communications or media vehicle, it needs to be controlled. Don’t let a frantic push to get into the social media conversation, keep you from planning your road to relevancy and value.

Two. Related to One above, Don’t Just Sign Up. Do not sign up for every service out there that will allow you to connect with your potential market. Research the way each social media community works. Make sure that the content you post is relevant to the community and that your time gaining visibility is not wasted.

Three. Do Say Something That Matters. Say something meaningful and provide good content. The focus and use of each site is different and if you just throw your blog posts or Twitter updates up on these sites for example, you could find yourself ostracized from the community fairly quickly. Many lawyers use these sites for self-promotion, but the best way to promote yourself or your practice is to provide content that is valuable and meaningful. Heard this before? Great. Check your content dispassionately from time to time.

Four. Do Not Be Fearful of Ghosts. I ghostwrite many blogs for lawyers and law firms. This is because the lawyers that hire me simply do not have the time to blog for themselves. As long as the blog that is ghosted is substantive and meaningful and provides value to your clients and potential clients, fear not. Hire a professional writer, perhaps a lawyer and with your guidance, all will be well.

Five. Do Review Your Social Media Strategy. Once you have a social media strategy in place and you know where you want to focus your presence, keep evaluating. It is really important to maintain the standards that correlate to your firm brand and differentiators. Last year Google analytics changed for blog sites. If you did not adjust your content in your professional blog, you could drop your SEO status and relinquish your position to others that are competing for attention.

Your social media efforts should not be a “throw the pasta on the wall and see what sticks” sort of thing. Your Facebook page and Twitter feeds, for example, could end up being more valuable than your website. Take the time to manage your on-line presence with some basic initial steps.

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We all know by now that networks are critical to our business success and that the web has made our networking more dynamic. But the basics still apply, even as we are experiencing instant gratification — like when we reach out to contacts on LinkedIn and we are instantly linked to former colleagues and new contacts when they accept our request to connect.

What are the basics? One of them is, don’t abandon your network. If you are on a site like LinkedIn for example, it’s unwise to assume that just because you have a hefty roster in your network, it means much.

Networks need to be nurtured. So just like the things that hopefully we learned as kids, we need to be gracious and communicative or our networks can languish.

So, let your network know your news that matters. Fill them in on what you are doing, but not just in the self-serving ways, in the human ways.

Recently, a friend in communications mentioned that she had helped several young professionals in their job searches. That’s great, but she also commented that some of these wonderful young professionals have not come back to post her when they have secured their jobs. That’s unwise.

Humans are social beings. And human nature being what it is, the next time any one of these folks is in need of professional advice or support, they are less likely to get it from the folks in their network that they abandoned when things were going well.

It is also unwise to use your network only to get what you need or to boast about your accomplishments. Tell the folks in your network that you appreciate their efforts on your behalf, so they will be there for you the next time you really need them. And, you will really need them at some point in your professional path.

Don’t abandon your network … it is your safety net for the good and bad times and needs to be nurtured.

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I am intrigued by Josh Erlich’s recent piece in the HBR Blog Network, For Great Leadership, Clear Your Head. It is well worth considering his rationale for what he calls “mindshifting” — in which he persuasively advocates that in order for senior executives to best do their jobs, thinking time is key.

WIthout having done a scientific study, I would bet that many good ideas are formulated when we put down the devices. Why? Because at times our minds need a break from the onslaught of incoming information to get to the big ideas.

“Mindshifting” is purposeful reflection that has a methodology and includes, among others, some common sense steps that most executives, managers and busy professionals in leadership positions likely do not think is value-time. And replicating that reflective time is essential for the first step for the successful mind shift … which is key, Erlich says, for strategy to percolate.

Erlich suggests we must first “[r]emove the obstacles” which will mean different things to different people. In one case, that meant he says creating a strong enough team so that leadership can delegate and free-up time to work on the “big picture.” Another step in this process is to “[q]uiet the noise” and create time to breathe and practice “mindfulness” which is akin to a meditative state in which greater focus is achieved.

Other specific ways to reach a state of mind in which the big ideas and strategy will develop are to: “[p]ercolate” which requires effective reflection using valued networks such as mentors and peers to cross-check what appear to be your good ideas; “[c]larify your message” which should be at the top of leaderships’ list of communications must-do’s; and “[k]eep reflecting and adjusting” which is similar to a rebalancing system in your investment portfolio, to ensure the strategy you have set for your business is working and when it isn’t, be strong enough and honest enough to alter your course.

WIthout leadership at the top of any organization that is clearly working through and communicating objectives, it is much more difficult to ensure that strategies will be implemented correctly and will be successful. In my opinion, what Mr. Erlich is advocating for leadership is business-critical and applies to professional services, as well as other organizations. Put the Blackberry down and go to the reflecting pool, you might just come back with your best strategic plan ever.

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Networks have a mind of their own. When they work as they should, they can enhance our business lives in very big ways. But they can also pull focus and time away from other important business development efforts.

Networks are not created overnight and then need attention. Left neglected, they can languish and fall away.

Recently, I came across a fine piece in the Harvard Business Review about people with really successful networks and why and how they work. In their piece Managing Yourself: A Smarter Way to Network, the authors describe the key attributes of really good networks and the people who use them wisely and well.

Good networks don’t have to be big, but they do need to be effective. They need to include key participants that not only actually DO something when asked, but also provide ideas and support.

I have long been a believer that being generous in your own network, is the only way one can expect generosity back. “Reciprocal relationships also tend to be more fruitful; the most successful leaders always look for ways to give more to their contacts,” say the authors of Managing Yourself. And this point is noted over and over again.

One of the most effective executives interviewed for the piece described her business success managing a major tech company’s business unit this way: ” ‘People may chalk it up to luck, but I think more often than not luck happens through networks where people give first and are authentic in all they do.’ ”

If you are not thinking about “giving” and “generosity” in your own network when asked, and if you are not reciprocating without hesitation, it is urgently important that you study the HBR piece for the data that will alter your approach and help you develop a better, more effective network. And, if you are a giver and find that some in your network are not, remove them from your network. But whatever you do, when someone in your networks seeks your support and has given theirs, withhold at your own peril.

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Full disclosure: I am the sort of person who gets off the plane in DC and heads directly to the National Archives before doing anything else. I wholeheartedly admit that I am a fan of seeing these documents up close and personal and have been asked by security to “move along” as I stand mesmerized by their enormity.

Apparently, not many young Americans would likely beg their parents to head to the Archives. But they probably all should go there before stopping elsewhere in our beautiful capital city.

This year, the ABA is focusing its educational effort on civics education for young Americans. The ABA has noted that many of us are not as well-versed as we should be in the documents that are at the core of our Democracy.

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I stopped by the National Constitution Center. I walked through the Balance of Powers section and much to my amazement there was a student sitting poised on a board, a real live person that is, to demonstrate the balance of powers and to tell visitors what it means. The student was reluctant to spend time explaining this to me once I revealed my profession. “You already know about this,” she said, “I am supposed to explain this to kids who don’t know about what this means.” I was thrilled to see the display and the student volunteer and happy to move on, just like in the Archives, sort of.

Several years ago, former ABA president Mike Greco asked members to wear gavels on our lapels and explain the Separation of Powers to anyone who asked. An intelligent 30-something friend of mine did ask and when I responded “the gavel stands for Separation of Powers — would you like to talk about this?” She responded graciously, “No, I am not interested in politics.” When young intelligent Americans of voting age believe that Separation of Powers is a political issue, you know we are in trouble.

It takes time to become an expert on the Constitution, but being an American doesn’t require that much expertise. Basic knowledge is better than none. And although I applaud the efforts of those who mention the Constitution for their own purposes, one wonders whether they have actually read it. (You all might recall recently when one Senate candidate who disclaimed being a witch, also claimed she was a constitutional expert because she went to a graduate school program for a week. Need I say more?)

Go to Twitter, tell your kids, tell your friends’ kids, share your knowledge. Blog about it on your marketing blogs just once — it won’t be a problem for your SEO I promise.

If you have a chance to educate just one person about American Democracy, please do. It’s the only way we have a prayer of keeping it viable for the long term.