Thursday, March 25, 2010

The EU Currency Crisis - Uniting or Dividing?

I use to love that song, "united we stand, divided we fall." I don't know if you remember it. The chorus continues 'and if we ever find our backs against the wall... we'll be together." Well it comes to mind now as I think about the Euro, that economic glue that is supposed to bind together tribes, more recently nation-states,that have traditionally been at war with each other through so much of history. When the economic crisis hit the world, my brother (the financial prophet whose counsel I take very seriously on such matters) indicated, if I didn't hear him wrong, that the Euro would be okay for a little while but pretty soon, the European Union (EU) nations would start bickering. Various countries within the EU would fare poorly and the rest of the countries would no longer want to carry them. In the EU's case, if that is what happens, a united Europe would fall back on the nation-state tradition to rescue it and go back to life as usual. Instead of 'falling' it would probably stand divided.

The EU has been an interesting and advanced experiment in learning what it means to live, relate, and try to grow together in close quarters as countries, cultures, languages collide but decide to provide the room required by respect for sovereign peoples. The Euro, the economic language crafted to facilitate exchange erasing borders between these countries, was a kind of half-way point between erecting a structure that envisaged one nation-state with multiple new municipalities (each previously a nation-state of its own) and the formal bi-lateral trade agreements that have been springing up in the last few decades around the world.

There is no question the EU form is cutting edge politico-international restructuring. And we are all still waiting with baited breath to see if this can work because we know that technology is pushing us closer together and we need to develop forms of co-existence that enable us to recognize our increasing interdependence, co-dependence, and dependence on each other. This much is true, even if we do not fall when divided, it is increasingly difficult for us to stand alone. Yet it would be paradoxical if the Euro, the very symbol of the glue binding these EU countries together in a new form of international unity caused the splitting up of its various constituent parts.

When we decided as a world to create and favor economic fictions that facilitate merchant trade over the barter system, or even over the idea that we would in fact eat what we killed, or farmed (cultivated), we were also thinking about getting closer to the many people we could not see with our own eyes as human populations grew and we invented new ways or found our long lost brothers and sisters in distant lands who introduced us to new ways of making and then earning our daily bread, rice, noodles etc. We also found the people who represented the products that others may have created but did not travel the oceans to sell -- brokers, merchants, traders, intermediaries... the beginning of white collar business. Into all of this, the idea of one form of value to ascribe to all products and goods exchanged could not be avoided and 'gold' was the easiest, most common and highest form of currency for such exchange. Since then the American dollar has been accepted as such common currency, the standard bearing value that every national currency compares itself to.

With the unification of the European nation-states and the development of a common EU currency, some of us have been allowed to dream a little of that time when the world will join in one economic effort, albeit loose-knit, joined by that certain economic thread that allows individuals to encounter each other in a world marketplace as fluid as an internet chatroom or a skype line. What is interesting is that communication technology is a more literal form of getting together. When I talk to my clients over skype from their offices or homes thousands of miles away, either we have a good connection and we are able to communicate, or we cannot and then we try again as long as we both have the intention to do so. Not so for an economic currency, another tool to engage in exchange. The Euro is not just a symbol of the European Union, it is a common form of valuing the various economies of the EU. As such, it can be the tool that divides; that makes some people, even entire nations, feel they have less than their EU neighbors and for those neighbors to feel they are better, greater, and to see clearly that they have more. You don't have to be an EU nation to go through that experience. Our economic fictions have facilitated our exploitation of our distant brothers and sisters for our own gain, and then to use that gain to belittle, exoticize, and 'colonize' those others. It is just a little less palatable to treat our neighbors that way when we have come to adopt them into our own tribe... hence, creating an expectation that we intend to take care of them when the going gets rough.

It is a test of the underlying connection, symbolized by the Euro, as to whether in this time of need for countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain, the EU finds itself as one or many. Perhaps the EU can retain its unity without the common currency ... certainly the U.K. has fared no better; even with its separate pound, it has a lot in common with its poorer EU cousins these days!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Management, Supervision, and Representation

There is a definite link between management, supervision, and representation, in a variety of settings. Recently, I have adopted a number of new roles, and in doing so adapted my prior learning to current surroundings. I notice in having done so, I now maintain and manage a business, supervise other attorneys, staff and their work even as I engage in many other tasks myself including client engagement, discussions, and input. In some ways these roles require the same skill sets, in others, completely different. But there is a link between them and it is important to define this link even as I come to better understand each of my new roles.

Reflecting upon these roles could significantly help me become more efficient, feel better or worse about the job I am doing, and bring to light the actual contribution I am making to those I supervise, and represent, and in turn, their contribution to my practice, business, and my own learning. I am certainly not alone in this position. Most corporate, legal, financial, and other managers are similarly placed. But this kind of self-review is more difficult when you are creating a new system from the ground up, and aside from colleagues in other firms or consultants or family and friends or client feedback, you are alone.

The trick to good supervision and management, I think, is to feel less alone. Listen well. Hear both compliments and criticisms from others for what they are. Keep your eyes and ears on the ground and keep your focus; and correct, correct, correct constantly. Correct yourself, correct your attorneys and staff and supercede if and when you have to, liberally. In the end, you have to trust your instincts to guide you in everything even those matters that may be new to you, because it is you who is ultimately responsible for your files, your clients, yours and your firm's reputation. You are more apt to make the correct tactical decisions (with the right team behind you) because you are taking the risks, big and small, everyday; no one else. A couple of instances in my litigation cases have already taught me that.

Obviously it is important to treat your attorneys and staff well. You rely on them and they need to know that you do so in order to rise to the level of responsibility you expect of them. Trusting them to do their job, will instill in them greater scrutiny of their own work, and greater respect for your critiques, comments, and suggestions. As with my children, a mutual respect and love enters the picture because of the kind of intimacy a small firm creates. I tend to applaud good and great work, and depending on the personality of my attorneys and staff, criticize openly or tacitly so they recognize the kind of expectations raised by the situation. A glass half-full person, I am more apt to see myself as blessed at the end of the day, no matter what a particular moment may have brought on during the day. And my attorneys and staff are reminded of this. Although they are counted on to do their jobs in a formidable manner, an error will not end anyone's life. We are on the path to learning and growing everyday. None of us is perfect; of that they will remind me as will others. However, because of such expectations I am apt to recruit only the very best and the brightest.

As for representation of clients, it is not dissimilar in nature to the above. There are elements of supervisory control that are required but also, a depth or intimacy without which you cannot gain client trust, to know the story as necessary to optimally represent that client. I have previously intimated that my goal with clients is growth -- theirs and mine. We teach each other to align to the quest and to provide the other with the tools necessary to reach our common destination. Clients can also vary. Some want more control over the process of representation, and a good deal of contact, and some less. This variation is often based on personality, but sometimes also on the specific needs of the situation. Litigation clients can, for instance, be very perturbed by the circumstances giving rise to the litigation and call for a good deal of closeness so that I can understand the story and situation quickly. Corporate clients sometimes have a transaction that needs to be completed yesterday in which case, learning the clients objectives is key but a good amount of independence may be required to complete documentation. Others are looking for long-term growth through relationship development and partnership.

Management of the business on the other hand, is more objective and independent of the interpersonal. Unlike supervision and representation, the feedback is clearer. Tracking informational, financial, and marketing data, is detail oriented administrative work. However, common elements surface -- the ability to delegate, supervise, keep focus akin to a supervisory mandate and the element of intimacy that comes from looking at details repeatedly, to see if there is improvement in the way attention is paid to them.

If this blogpost appears dry, it's because it is. There are so many aspects to practicing law and starting a new law firm and they are not all exciting in the way we tend to think of headline cases. Creating a sustainable law practice is a commitment day in day out and requires the kind of passion necessary to attend to the details of management, supervision, and representation. This is only possible with constant focus, the creation of trust and intimacy, and a commitment to learning with eyes wide open.