Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Risk Takers

The way the world works today, rather than working for one company for the bulk of a career, many of us have many jobs and sometimes many careers.  I certainly have done that and in one of my stops along the way I was a lawyer representing banks and large corporations.  I worked for a local firm but came in contact with attorneys from some of the giant law firms that operate in big cities as a result.

One of the firms I had contact with was a law firm run by lawyers who had William Boeing for a client.  Not, at first, the aeronautical behemoth that is Boeing today, but literally the guy whose name was ultimately a symbol, but in the early 1900's was the name of a guy who started and ran a company.  I don't profess to know much about William Boeing or, frankly, his lawyers, but I have my strong suspicions.  My guess is that young Bill Boeing was a ballsy dude.  You would have to be to start building planes in 1915, wouldn't you?  Hell, the Wright Brothers took the first powered flight in December 1903 and the first one lasted just under a minute and covered less than 900 feet.  But a decade later, Bill started making planes in Seattle.

And when he hired lawyers, what kind of people do you think he was looking for?  Prissy academics or some savvy hard-headed guys who you would want with you in a bar brawl?  I do know that many of these guys boasted degrees from prestigious east coast universities, but I have to think that the guys building businesses and law firms in the early 1900's in Seattle were smart, cagey, hard-working and, importantly, willing to take a risk.  Clearly that is true or none of them would have ended up starting what they did, much less accomplishing it.

Which is why I used to be so amazed at the irony of the people who populated the giant law firms that sprung from those loins.  To suggest that these lawyers were risk-adverse hardly does justice to the notion of understatement.  I am, by the way, not suggesting that these folks weren't good lawyers.  They were.  They knew all the words, all the regulations, all the penalties and all of the volumes and volumes and volumes of ways to paper everything to death so that at no point could they be accused of exercising any judgment of their own.  They documented everything so that at any point from that moment until undoubtedly today, they can firmly and absolutely blame the opposing counsel, their own client or anyone else for anything that happened at all.  Not surprisingly, this process took a lot of time.  And guess what?  They charged by the hour.  Win/win.  Well, not the original meaning of win/win, but what exactly do you mean by that and who gets to define it and why can't we define it as a win now and a win forever and not worry about one side versus the other, eh?  

Yes, you can tell that I wasn't cut out for that particular brand of corporate lawyering.  It didn't seem to me that we weren't doing the absolute best by the client and the process, but instead doing the safest by the client and the process.  I just wasn't convinced it lead to the best outcome and therefore, I wasn't really qualified to play the game.  But it did make me want to have a beer with those guys who started those companies all those years ago and learn a bit more about what they thought then, and what they would think now.

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