Publicity Stunts

Long ago, my law firm won an appeal, and we were thinking of publicizing the victory for the benefit of both the client and our firm.

“It’ll be good to get some attention,” I said to the senior partner.

“It’s easy to get attention,” said he. “Just run naked down Market Street at high noon. We don’t want attention. We want good attention.”

The same could be said of corporate law departments: It’s easy to get attention. It’s harder to get attention for simply doing a good job.

Suppose you wanted your corporation’s law department to be the darling of the press and be nominated for “law department of the year” honors. What would you do?

It’s easy: Make the type of big, public announcements that draw attention: “Our law department is announcing three major initiatives. First, we’re announcing a pro bono initiative. All of our in-house lawyers will devote at least 500 hours per year to pro bono matters. Second, we’re implementing a diversity initiative. [Insert details here.] Third, we’re completely eliminating reliance on the billable hour. Henceforth, all of our law firms will work on flat-fee or other alternative billing arrangements.” (There are surely other items that one could add to this list, too, that are escaping my feeble imagination.)

Gin ‘em up. Send out a press release. Presto! Your law department would be the toast of the town. People would be beating down your doors seeking interviews. But what would you have accomplished?

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People have really given Mitt Romney hell for saying he’s “not concerned about the very poor.” But really, it’s not just wealthy Republican Mormons who lack compassion for the very poor in this country. Ronald Reagan’s greatest legacy to the Republican Party was that he made it okay for them to categorically disregard the plight of the structurally poor and blame them for their own suffering. And for the most part Democrats have decided that in order to win they must show a similar callousness towards the poor. The poor don’t vote, and so both parties conspire to ignore the impoverished — or worse, talk down to those who were stupid enough to be born to the wrong parents.

At an individual level, nearly all of us are complicit as well. Well, I’ll just speak for me: I do my part to not care about the permanent underclass that lives in the richest society on Earth. I won’t even give money to homeless people on the street unless they sing or dance or perform some sort of talent. One time I gave “James,” a blind man who panhandles on the 4/5/6, line at the same times I head into the office, $20 — not because I wanted to be kind but because I got so sick of his spiel (“I’m legally blind, I get a little bit of disability but that only leaves me $18 a month for food.”). I thought he might leave me alone for the rest of the month.

I don’t think I’m the only one who sometimes wants poor people to just go away….

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