Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Running a Scenario

I don't want to make predictions. After all, if I'm wrong, there it is with my name and the date of my wrongness. Not that so many people are reading, but I confess, I read it, and it would bother me to read a wrong prediction.

So, instead of making a prediction, I will "run a scenario". That way, if I'm wrong, I won't have made a wrong prediction. If my scenario runs true, I won't say I made a correct prediction, but I will know I did.

Here goes......

A health care reform bill will NOT be passed.

It will be the first humbling defeat for President Obama. He will handle it with dignity.

As a result of this defeat, despite his valiant efforts to DO SOMETHING, his stature and credibility will rise.

He will then undertake the next big social issue of our day.....IMMIGRATION.

As emotional as immigration reform is, it is much simpler than health care reform.

It has the potential for bi-partisanship, negotiation, and results that are predicable, measurable, and understandable.

Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2010, and President Obama will sign it.

Right leaning Republicans will rail against this new law, and make it the cornerstone of their effort to take back the White House.

President Obama will be re-elected in a landslide, largely because of his handling of immigration reform in the aftermath of his defeat on health care reform.

Many will speculate as to why Obama chose to tackle health care before immigration. Ultimately this decision, whether by design or not, will be credited as one of the most brilliant moves in American political history.

If this all turns out to be wrong....hey, it was just a scenario.

Somehow, though, I do think this is how it's going to play out.

Your scenarios are welcome.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What About This "Public Option"

Two posts ago (Paradoxes in the Health Care Debate), a reader posted a thoughtful comment, which included the following:

"As a lawyer, Barry, would you want to see the government subsidizing other lawyers in your area of specialty? Sure, you can compete with other private lawyers, but can you compete with lawyers being subsidized by the government? The government could lower their rates to zero if it so desires, which you cannot do."

This got me thinking.....the government DOES subsidize lawyers in the criminal law field. The government pays for lawyers for indigent defendants. This takes the form of legal aid, and in New York there is also an "18-B" panel, which represents criminal defendants when a conflict of interest prevents legal aid from representing a defendant. This subsidized lawyering directly competes with private criminal attorneys. Criminal law is not my specialty, but I know plenty of lawyers who do this work, and I have never heard a complaint about "competing with a government subsidized program". Let's look at a few reasons, and see if there are analogies to health care:

1. Some private criminal lawyers, but not all, are on the court appointed panel. They do this to subsidize their income, and because it is also a source for future "private" cases. Many criminal law attorneys derive a serious portion of their income from participating in the court appointed panels, and are PAID by this "government subsidized" program.

1(a) I suspect that many, but not all, doctors in private practice will choose to accept payment from the government option health plan. (They may be required to accept it, which seems right to me too). Will that plan be paying much less than the private insurance plans? I see how little my private insurer (GHI) pays my doctors under the present system. Sometimes it's embarrassing. I maintain that the public option will be a bonanza for many doctors in private practice, and for hospitals.

2. Some clients who would be eligible for legal aid or a court appointed lawyer ELECT to retain a private attorney. There are many reasons they may do this, but the obvious ones are better service, higher skill level, personal attention, and what may be at stake (their liberty). Clients pay extra for this if they (or their family) choose to, and they generally get value for their money.

2(a) I suspect that many, but not all, patients and health insurance buyers will ELECT to pay a premium to stay out of the public option and will pay for private insurance. There will be factors determining how many do this, but the main factors will be "how competitive is the price" and "how much better is the service". It will be all about competition, and the private insurers will be quite able to compete. It's just that as it presently stands, they'd prefer not to.

3. Even in the non-criminal areas of practice, there are times when lawyers compete with subsidized programs, and clients who can obtain legal services for zero cost. There are civil matters where clients can get legal services without paying, or by representing themselves. Housing Court is an example of this. People can pay a private attorney, but many either "can't afford it" or elect not to pay a private attorney. I don't have a problem with this. Legal clients have an option medical patients don't have, they can represent themselves, and some do.

3(a) Doctors already have "competition" from a subsidized source......the emergency rooms that do not turn people away. Who pays for these services? Some patients are on Medicare and Medicaid, some pay the hospital, some stiff the hospital. Where the ultimate cost falls is a big shell game, but if I had to guess at the biggest reason private health insurance is so expensive, its that the hospitals make up the difference on all the "stiffage" by banging the private insurance, who simply bangs it back to its customers. Like I said, a big shell game.

3(b) People without health insurance, and who are not old enough for Medicare, or poor enough for Medicaid, are different than poor legal clients in one important way. They can't be their own doctor. Instead, they either delay care, or go without it, or they face financial ruin when an emergency happens. All because of a shell game. A zero-sum gain shell game designed to benefit those presently running the game.

The "public option" makes for a fairer shell game.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Y'all Asked For It

Why is this all happening?
Why is there going to be massive health care "reform" and a big old new immigration extravaganza behind it?

The Republicans have wielded power or "veto power" in either Congress or the White House since 1980. Their political mantra has been, and still is "the best government is that which does least". They have sold the message so well that in actuality, they caused the government to do NOTHING.

They did nothing, and would still prefer to do NOTHING about our disgraceful health care system. I don't love every aspect of the current proposals, but I despise the notion that a responsible government would do NOTHING, with costs spiraling out of control and a significant percentage of our citizens lacking basic health coverage. What was the Republican plan to address these issues? The plan was to do NOTHING, and the plan was executed.

It's still the plan, and it may still work. Now that change is at hand, the entire propaganda machine is mobilized to stop the change. Never, EVER is there an actual workable counter-proposal, which reveals the basic problem......the view that the government should do NOTHING, and somehow let things get worked out in some "Darwinian (or creator-oriented)" way.

NOTHING was a bad and evil strategy. And now, the Republicans have probably lost their ability to negotiate and improve the details. It's a ramrod job.

Y'all asked for it.

Tomorrow - Y'all REALLY asked for it on immigration, and you're going to get it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Paradoxes in the Health Care Debate

Wow, this stuff is complicated.

Some people told me that I've made some good points about certain issues in the health care debate, but they "don't know where I stand". I apologize for not yet deciding which slogan to latch onto, and for not yet being on auto-answer. I'll leave that to "Democrats" and "Republicans", who have decided they must condescend to all of us by taking thinking, reasoning and logic out of the discussion. Can't say that I blame them.....we make American Idol a top rated show, we buy Disney products, we allow hip-hop to be called culture, and we act like drinking diet soda is a healthy choice. If I were elected, I'd keep the debate to slogans too.

Fortunately, I didn't run, and if I did, I couldn't win. I can't do slogans. I'd rather look at the slogans, and use them as a basis for something unintended.....thinking and discussion. Here are a few:

"If health care reform is passed, a bunch of bureaucrats will be coming between me and my doctor about MY healthcare" ----- To anyone who says or thinks this, I ask the following:
Are the people at insurance companies who reject and reduce medical claims not "bureaucrats"? Are they better...somehow? Lemme see if I understand this....someone whose job it is to reject your claim so their company can maintain profits is better for you than someone who works for the government?

"We have the best medical care in the world" ------- Yes, if you have insurance. (Actually, I don't know if we have the best medical care; I'm as ethno-centric as the next person.....and truthfully, we don't seem like a particularly healthy country). I've heard the argument that even people without insurance still get treated, but the inequities in our current system are stark, and shameful.

"We want to improve the current system, but we do not need a drastic overhaul" ----- This one really gets me. The current system was and is spinning wildly out of control....anyone who is paying their own way for health insurance KNOWS this. This has been going on for years. Eight years Bush was President, and he had a Congress too, and they did not even sniff at this issue. Now a little tweaking won't do it. Now an attempt is being made to make it fair. It's worth the effort.

"Illegal immigrants should not be covered" ------ I actually agree with this one, but I have no problem with taking every undocumented person who is here working, giving them status, and making them work ON THE BOOKS, and paying to be in the health care system. If having them all in the system and paying brings the cost of health insurance down, I vote "aye".

"It will lead to socialized medicine" ------- I know a lot of doctors. None of them are socialists. Most of them are capitalists, and appreciate being among the best paid professionals in our society. Most people do not begrudge them this. Mandated health insurance will be the biggest boon to medical business in the history of business. That's why you don't hear many doctors speaking out against this, except a few insurance company whores. If you were in a business, and there were tens of millions of customers who needed your products and services, but couldn't really afford it so they held off buying it, and now it would be law that everyone would be able to pay for your products and services, would you like that law? Multiple choice question....... If you were a doctor in a small practice, how would you feel about universal insurance?
(a) You'd be sporting a woodie.
(b) You'd be creaming your jeans.
(c) You'd be humming the "Anticipation" song.
(d) All of the above.

"It's part of a master plan by Obama (and the Dems) to turn the country socialist" ------Note to people who say this....paranoia is not attractive.

"The public option will drive the insurance companies out of business" ------- Are they really going to just roll over and let that happen? Nah, what they will have to do is COMPETE, which I thought was the American way. Oh, is it "not fair" to have to compete with the government? If you give good service and fair prices, and people HAVE TO buy insurance, a private company should be able to kick the governments butt and get huge new business. Have the insurance companies gotten so fat that they can't compete? (How utterly American of them) Can anybody show me where they are competing with each other now? Are they competing on price? On service? Never and nowhere.
No, they will NOT go out of business....they will compete, and the strongest will survive. As it should be.

I'm getting closer to knowing whre I stand.
Can't wait to see what the Senate does.

Monday, October 26, 2009

World Series Preview

As a Mets fan, I know enough about both the Yankees and Phillies to write an objective World Series preview. I can do this because in addition to being a Mets fan, I am also a BASEBALL fan. I know good and bad baseball when I see it.

I saw a lot of bad baseball this season, having watched every Met game through the end of July. After that, well, everyone has a limit. One sentence sums up how bad the Mets were this year....."Luis Castillo was our best player."

I watch some Yankee games during the season, and I read about them every day, and I listen to the FAN. I do NOT listen to them on the radio, since John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman are un-listen-able, but I know the Yankees well enough to talk about them.

It's a funny thing about the Yankees, I root against them, but I like and appreciate most of their top players. I root against them because ever since George Steinbrenner blew into New York, the Yankees became all about winning by outspending, and using their money power to win, because apparently, baseball is about winning. Nothing else matters, the game of baseball doesn't matter, families enjoying the game doesn't matter, fair competition doesn't matter, and having the best player money can buy (at every position) is the way to go. I hate the idea that kids become Yankee fans "because they win", an idea fostered by their Yankee fan parents. Note to parents....this is not healthy.

That being said, the Yankees have some truly great, admirable players, who not only play at a high level, they go about it the right way. My favorites are....

Derek Jeter - When I'm an old guy, and some young person (hopefully) asks me who was the best baseball player I ever saw, Derek Jeter is the man. Statistics don't matter, if you know the game, and you watch enough, you know that not only is he a great player, he is a leader who makes his team better.

Jorge Posada - Switch-hitting catcher with power, super clutch. Plus, if you know about his son's hardships and his family's struggles with that, you have to root for him. I also like him because some people, even some of his team-mates, question his defensive abilities. He keeps proving them wrong.

Mark Teixeira - Wow, this is the guy I wish the Mets had gotten. On the famous "Luis Castillo drops the pop-up on the last out and the Yankees beat the Mets" play, Mark Teixeira was running all the way from first, and scored the winning run. Note to David Wright - would YOU have scored on that? Note to Met fans - would ANY of our current players have scored on that ball?

Mariano Rivera - He euthanizes the opponents when he comes in. He may never retire. He is not perfect, though as close as possible. However, if you get to him once, you better win that game because you are not getting to him again. Ultimate professional.

Andy Pettitte - How long has he been pitching? Fifteen years? It always looks like teams will hit him, but in big games they never do. He also told the truth about Roger Clemens, and about himself, and earned my respect for that.

You can have the rest of them, even A-Rod....OK, especially A-Rod. I don't have much use for Cano, or Melky, or Swisher, or Matsui. I feel kinda sorry for Joba, because he is destined to be "Mariano's replacement", and as much as the Yankees have ALREADY ruined Joba, that will finish him off. Sabathia is a great pitcher, but the fat man is a hired gun, and not nearly as much fun as David Wells.

It does appear that the Yankees will be hard to beat in the World Series. Now, about the Phillies.....

We (the Mets) play them a lot. I suppose it's not a secret, but let me say something about the Phillies.....They are TOUGH, and they fight hard. Position by position, the Yankees have a better team, with better pitching and a much better bullpen. But the Phillies come to play, and while they have three top players (Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard), the guys that beat you are Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, and Raul Ibanez. I don't care what their statistics are, if there is a way to beat you, they will find it.

The Phils are vulnerable to left-handed pitching, so Sabathia and Pettitte should neutralize Utley and Howard. However, other than Mariano, I don't like the Yankees pen against either of those guys, in either ballpark.

Will the Phils actually pitch Pedro against the Yankees? It would be sad if the Yankees bomb Pedro, and while I'd have some regret if he pitches well, I must admit that would be my preferred outcome.

The Phillies have some guys who are either great, or terrible. Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge in particular. The thing with them is, IF they are on, they are hard to beat.

Baseball is a game of intangibles. It sure looks like the Yankees are a "team of destiny". That doesn't win the games. Clutch pitching, defense, and toughness wins games. This will be a 7 game series, the Yankees will win 3 blow-out games, and the Phillies will win the series in 7.

Whether I am right or wrong, I still love the game, and I will spend the winter thinking about Jose Reyes' hamstring, and other similarly important issues.

Monday, October 12, 2009

If The Analogy Fits.....

The people who are most vocal about the need for universal health insurance are those who don't have it. Generally they say they don't have it because they "can't afford it". Lots of people buy things they can't afford, and opt not to buy other things they probably could, but bottom line, it's a DECISION. I'm not saying it's an easy decision, but like many financial decisions, it involves allocating your resources and making judgments.

I recently heard a radio talk show caller say she worked two nursing jobs, made pretty good money, but did not have health insurance because it cost $500 a month. She was imploring the President and Congress to "do something". I wanted to say (well actually, I DID say....to myself, while driving) "Uh, you do know that President Obama is talking about making health insurance MANDATORY, right?" This little tidbit is often lost in the discussion, or tossed in with phrases like "if you can't afford it, we'll help you".

I think a lot of people are in for a big surprise. Breathe easy, you're gonna get health insurance, but YOU'RE GONNA HAVE TO PAY FOR IT.....BY LAW!!!!

Can the government do that? Make you pay for something that has always been optional?

The closest analogy is motorcycle helmet laws. If you live in a State that has mandatory motorcycle helmet laws, it seems like a no-brainer (ouch, bad play on words). Everyone accepts it, you kind of understand that the government is making a law requiring people to protect themselves, and also not make us all responsible for their stupidity. If you live in a mandatory motorcycle helmet law State, you may not realize that such laws are NOT universal. Check out this map http://www.fastfreds.com/helmetlawmap.htm I love the comment on the bottom "When I Ride I Decide... Not the State or the Safety Nannies". Yes, there are people who think this way. People who believe in an individuals right to decide things for themselves. This is very often a Republican trait, and the little map looks like Bush v Kerry or Bush v Gore.

Now we have some irony. The Federal government is going to tell a lot of people they must carry health insurance. And they must pay for it, month after month. I think in other contexts this is called "a TAX". Most middle class people, most Democrats, are fine with taxes on "corporations" and "rich people", but taxes on themselves are harder to swallow. I can't wait for them to start asserting their right to make their own decisions about health insurance.

I know that a logical response to this will be...."Well, if people can't afford it, and the government helps out, then it will end up with employers paying, which is also a tax....the pernicious sort of tax that cripples businesses and job creation". I don't think this can be pawned off on small businesses, the stretched backbone of our economy. I don't think so because businesses make decisions too, and if this becomes the playing field, if it becomes OUR TAX....we're not hiring.

What about the "public option"? I think when most people hear this, they assume this is "the free public coverage that I can opt for". I don't think so. I think it would be something affordable.....that you will be REQUIRED to pay for. Still like it? Getting DMV-like service and having to pay for it? It may end up being a big boon to private health insurers because once people accept having to pay, they will probably splurge for the better service of private insurance.

All this health insurance stuff is all about getting more paying customers. That's always what insurance is about. All the low risk people (ie - young and healthy people) are making a decision to stay out of the system. Now the government is going to make their decision, you are IN because we all need you in....to spread the risk around and make it affordable for everyone.

Damn it, we need more customers. And that is the 800 pound gorilla my friends, the 15 million hard working participants in our economy who do not have legal status, and desperately want it. The ones who are going to ultimately get legalized, and can then participate in our mandatory, you pay for it, health insurance system. They can all make a decision, stay and pay, or leave. They'll stay, and this is what will ultimately make the entire system work. Obama and the Democrats in Congress are surely onto this.

You can write it down.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Part Obama (and a lot of other people) Don't Get

Dear President Obama (and a lot of other people):

Ultimately, entrepreneurs drive the economy, not the government.

People who run businesses and employ other people know this. Most people who work for other people don't get this. President Obama works for the government, and as far as I can tell has always worked for others. So has Michelle. They don't get this entrepreneur thing. Neither do 89% of Congressmen (Yeah, I made up the stat, but it's probably right).

Being an employER is way different than "working".

I don't have a "job", I run a business. I don't HAVE a job, I CREATE JOBS. I haven't just created my own little job, I created three full time jobs, plus I contract out meaningful legal work to four other lawyers, plus my little law office puts tens of thousands into the economy in numerous ways. I figure I've created enough business activity to feed eight families.

If I come up with good ideas, if I market well, if I am bold enough, I will create more jobs. I am motivated to do this by several things.....I want to make more money, I want to provide useful services, I want to be known, I want to be remembered, I want to be part of our economy.

I KNOW, as all business owners know, that I will create more jobs, and help the economy, in the long term, WAY more than any stimulus package or clunker program EVER will.

You would think the President would know this.
You would think Congress would know this.
You would think the voters would know this.
You would think people who work know this (some do, but not most)
You would think State and elected officials would know this. (The only one I can think of who seems to realize this is Mayor Bloomberg....an entrepreneur)

You would be wrong.

Hey, I want the health care system reformed and improved. After all, my premiums are now going up to $1880 per month. That's right, my working friends, I PAY that every f***ing month! It's not one of my "job benefits", I PAY for it. As do most businesspeople, IF they can still afford it. Right now, I don't pay for health insurance for my employees, who seem to have it "through someone else". Crazy, but true, and quite common.

I hope I can create more jobs, and help knock down the unemployment rate. I hope hundreds of thousands of small and medium size business owners can do the same thing. I hope we can afford to make business ventures, try new ideas, be vibrant, make the working world exciting and wealth producing. I HOPE WE DO NOT BECOME A NATION OF CIVIL SERVANTS.

How many jobs can "stimuli" stimulate?

Are we in a good environment for new businesses to start? I used to wonder why more people who were laid off didn't TRY to start businesses. But I now realize why. You'd have to be crazy (or at least illogical) to try, when the taxes and health insurance obstacles are insurmountable.

Are we in a good environment for businesses to grow? Uh, thinking that "universal health insurance" will likely mean a mandate that employers cover all, or that universal coverage will increase taxes even further, makes me pause. Entrepreneurs across the country are collectively paused, and will stay that way, and will prevent the unemployment rates from coming down.

Maybe I will make the logical decision to "get a job", and make things safer and easier for myself and my family. I'd probably be a great employee, and I suspect a firm would hire me. Former entrepreneurs usually make great employees. Something about "getting it" comes into play.

If I decided to "get a job", I guess the eight families I feed will have to find another way. I guess if entrepreneurs and employers across the country make this logical move, unemployment will go up even more, and the government will eventually employ most people. Maybe we ARE destined to be a nation of civil servants.

Businesses are where real solutions come from. We need the government to help the Country by letting us do what we do, create real jobs and build a strong, competitive economy. Mr. President (and a lot of other people), you don't get it, and it's going to kill us all.


Barry Seidel
(proud capitalist)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Observations About Health Care Reform

The difficulty with reforming our health care system is that the whole situation is WAY too complicated. It does not fit into our shared cultural desire for a few slogans and buzzwords to sort everything out. Everything is so inter-related that it makes for bad politics. In an effort to untangle some of the confusion, I will offer a few observations:

1. Anybody who doesn't think there is a BIG problem with our current system is surely not paying for their own health insurance. As a businessman who pays for my own family plan (where I just got a notice that my premium is going up to $1880 per month!!), nothing irks me more than people with "jobs with benefits" who deny there is a problem, and claim "we have the greatest system in the world". It is especially galling when Republicans, who supposedly care about capitalism and entrepreneurship, are saying this.

2. In order for an insurance system to work, it needs a large enough pool so that risks can be spread, and prices can be fairly set. I don't have a real problem with making health insurance "mandatory" for all, and I don't think it's any different from law requiring motorcycle riders to wear helmets. Yes I know, some States don't require helmets, under the theory that "people have a right to be jerks and let the rest of us bear the risk of their medical bills". Health insurance is no different. It's pretty stupid not to have it, but many people choose not to, primarily because it's too damn expensive. Clearly, the costs have to be lower for all if everyone is required to be IN.

3. Which brings me to another point. Isn't is obvious that health care reform and immigration reform are inexorably related? When health insurance becomes mandatory, I want the 12 million newly legalized workers to be REQUIRED to pay for health insurance, or for their employers to pay for them. If this is too onerous, please leave. I am sick of paying for your health care. While I'm on the topic, I would also make "working off the books" and "paying people off the books" felonies. That's right. Not only do I want my health insurance costs lowered, I want my taxes lowered too, because I want everyone who should be paying, to PAY. Am I the only one who is ticked off about this???

4. I am amazed when people talk about "tort reform" in the context of health insurance. Yes, we could use some tort reform, but in the overall scheme of things, it's a pimple on the body of the problem. Maybe if there were universal health care, the doctors would be billing so much they could better afford their malpractice insurance premiums. Hey, wait a minute, another insurance issue at the heart of things. OK, let's fix too, this while we're at it

5. Does anybody truly think that under the present system the health insurance companies are competing with each other? Are they competing on price? Or service? Somebody show me where that happens.

6. Another good one....."If the government is involved, a bunch of bureaucrats will be making decisions about my health care". And who at the insurance companies is making those decisions now? And what standard are they using to make their determination?

7. I'm thinking that if millions more citizens have health insurance, this would be good for the doctoring and hospital business. Am I missing something? Oh, it will probably also be good for that other scourge of true health, the pharmaceutical industry.

8. I do fear that those who vocally support "universal health insurance" will be shocked when they find out they "have to pay for it"....at least to some extent. I don't think there can be any viable plan where the consumers are not paying some part of this. So, it really comes down to a TAX. To this I say, "fair is fair", and I think Obama has been tip-toeing around this issue. Fixing this mess will require EVERYONE to pay, another complication that doesn't generally go down too well.

9. The government is not some "otherly" entity. WE are the government. For this thing to get fixed, WE are going to be paying, one way or the other.

Sorry for ranting.
Sorry to my doctor friends.
Sorry to working people.
Sorry to people working off the books.
Sorry to people paying people to work off the books.
Sorry to Democrats.
Sorry to Republicans.
Sorry to tort reformers.

Sorry to say....I'm not really sorry about any of it. If everybody could just see that we are all in this together, we'd have a chance to make some progress.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nice Things About Rosh Hashanah

When I was a kid, say from age 11 until about age 39, Rosh Hashanah was not one of my favorite holidays. There were a few reasons for this:

Summer was over and we were back to school.
The services were long if I went, and the day was guilt-ridden if I didn't.
Services were a fashion event, uncomfortable since I felt so unfashionable.
I had to think about what I had done wrong in the past year.
I felt like I was being judged.
As "irreligious" as I was, I was the most observant person in my family, which felt like an unfair burden. (It's not logical, but that's how it felt)

In the last few years, my thoughts on Rosh Hashanah have changed, dare I say "evolved"? For a quick tutorial, here is the Wikipedia version http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Hashanah Perhaps interesting to non-Jews, and I must admit, I learned a few things myself.

Some nice things about Rosh Hashanah that I now like, enjoy and/or appreciate:

1. Coming at the end of the summer, it seems like a natural time for a "new" year to start.

2. Unlike secular New Year, it is not mushed in with the "holiday season". This is not a knock on Christmas, or the holiday season in general, I just like the idea of reviewing your personal year, and thinking about the New Year, separated from holiday hubbub, gifts, tipping, shopping and holiday intrigue.

3. I like the special greetings and positive feelings that people express.

4. Stopping and evaluating (better than "judging") where I've been and where I'm going seems very worthwhile. What if we didn't all do this at least once a year?

5. Any reason to get together with family and/or friends.....has to be good.

6. Nothing is quite like hearing the shofar being blown. Not only does it connect all the listeners with something that goes back to ancient times, but it connects the listeners together. There is nothing else like it.

7. At services on Rosh Hashanah (and on Yom Kippur), I sense that people are PRAYING more than "reciting". I realize that praying and participation in any service is personal and individual, I am simply noting that I enjoy the feeling of communal prayer more, when it feels truly communal.

8. The prayers seem to have more "fill in you own" personal issues, and I like that.

9. I like listening to good sermons, and Rabbi's are usually at their best on Rosh Hashanah.

10.These days, I'm OK doing what I do, how I do it, and it took me a long time to get to this point. I've probably spent some quality time on past Rosh Hashana's thinking about this.

L'Shanah Tovah to all.

Monday, August 10, 2009

10 Best and 10 Worst Things About Being a Lawyer

It's fair to say I have a love/hate relationship with my chosen career path. It is not enough to say the career path is "lawyer". I'll be the first to admit, I don't even know what lawyers who work in big law firms actually do, nor do I know what lawyers who work for the government actually do. I only know about solo and small firm lawyering, the kind where you are your own boss in your own business. Where you figure out how to get clients and cases, you figure out how to get the work done, you figure out how to get paid, and you figure out how to figure out if you actually are enjoying it. Eventually, you ask yourself.....is this what I'm going to do until........I can't do it any more?

Some might say it's an admirable quality to keep getting up after repeatedly getting knocked down. However, which boxer would you admire more....the one who kept going back for his next beating, or the one who got out while he could still walk and talk, and became a gym teacher?

I can't say that I hate everything about law practice, or that I hate every day of practice. I want to believe that if that were true, I'd be man enough to admit it, and use my abilities for something else.

That being said, I regularly ask the question......"Why am I doing this?"

To give it some perspective, here is a top 10 list of the best and worst things about being a lawyer.

10. Best - I know a lot of stuff about a lot of things.

10. Worst - I know a lot of stuff about a lot of things.

9. Best - Sometimes people sincerely thank me for what I have done for them.

9. Worst - Very often people do not thank me, even when I have given them my guts.

8. Best - I have some great stories.

8. Worst - Most of my best stories start out, "I was involved in this crazy case once....."

7. Best - Sometimes you make a big fee for relatively little work.

7. Worst - Very often you make a small fee for pressure packed, brutally hard work.

6. Best - I make my own hours, and I have the flexibility to attend to family matters.

6. Worst - There has never been a day in the last 27 years when I did not think about my cases.

5. Best - I know many amazing lawyers who are also great people.

5. Worst - I know some lawyers who are real jerks.....though not as many as some people think.

4. Best - Some Judges are awesome.

4. Worst - Some Judges act like civil servants.

3. Best - Judges who actually practiced law generally respect what lawyers do.

3. Worst - Judges who never practiced (more than you'd think) treat the lawyers with disrespect. Wow, this one really ticks me off.

2. Best - I am really good at seeing practical approaches to difficult situations, and really good at advising clients who have serious problems.

2. Worst - Very often, people ignore my advice because of illogical personal animus towards the other side (often a family member). This happens even when I advise them not to do this, and show them how harmful it is.

1. Best - Complicated problems do not scare me.

1. Worst - Sometimes really simple people have really complicated problems. I may not be scared, they SHOULD be scared, and the fact that they are not scared ends up scaring me.

I don't know if reading this is useful for any of my readers, but it sure helps me to air it out.

Thanks for reading!!!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tribute to Frank McCourt

Sad but true, it took the death of one of my heroes, Frank McCourt, to shake me from my blogging slump.

Frank McCourt, who passed away yesterday, was the patron saint of wannabe writers. After growing up in abject poverty in Ireland, he came to the United States at age 19, and eventually became a high school English teacher. After teaching at Stuyvesant High School for many years he published his first book, Angela's Ashes, at age 66. And won the Pulitzer Prize for it!!

Angela's Ashes is a memoir, written in the voice of a boy, with the perspective of a man who has had years to think of poverty's imprint on his life. He wants to feel empathy for his mother (Angela), yet he must tell her story truthfully. This he does.....alcoholic father, babies dying in infancy, going to bed cold and hungry, begging in the streets, hypocritical clergy and church. The boy wants to believe, in his parents, in God, in ANYTHING, and he is rewarded with nothing. He does, however, begin to believe in himself, and he eventually finds his way.

If you have read Angela's Ashes, you know there is no other book quite like it. Something about the detail, something about the phrasing, something about the choices the storyteller has made, give it power. Perhaps it's because he didn't tell the story right away.....he thought about it for 50 years. He taught kids about writing, he sat in pubs with "real writers", he wondered whether he was actually a writer (or perhaps an imposter).

If you have never read the book, put it on your list and read it. You can thank me after.

Then, there a few other things you will probably do. You will see the movie, but please, only AFTER you read the book. You will read 'Tis, Frank McCourt's second book, which spans the time he came to the United States until he became a teacher, and you will then read Teacher Man, his book about starting out as a teacher. I think you will do these things because you will want to know the man who wrote Angela's Ashes.

A few other related notes:

1. Frank McCourt has been interviewed on TV many times. I suspect some of his interviews will be shown in the upcoming weeks and months. I'll recommend these too. Here's a great interview with Charlie Rose http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mxPk7PCxsE&feature=related

2. When I was in high school, I used to listen to talk radio late at night. One of my favorite hosts was a part-timer named Malachy McCourt. He's Frank's brother, and is featured prominently in the books.

3. About two years ago, I suggested that Rebecca read Angela's Ashes. I think it was the first "grown-up" book she read. It felt great when she finished it and thanked me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on Affirmative Action

Sondra Sotomayor will be confirmed without much difficulty. The debate over her selection will cause dialogue about affirmative action. Touchy issue for many, but an issue worthy of debate. I don't view the President or Judge Sotomayor as beneficiaries of affirmative action (even though on some levels they may be), since they qualified for their accomplishments on their merits. If one takes as a given that they were not aided by affirmative action, isn't this a strong argument AGAINST it? Shouldn't merit and qualification ALWAYS be the top criteria for advancement?

Even if one accepts the concept of affirmative action, I DON'T want it ingrained in our society. In my view, any argument that it should be permanent is racist. It's saying that there will never be equality based on merit, that we need "equalizers". I don't accept this. I always want any affirmative action to have "sunset" provisions in mind. Essentially, the imperfect remedy should end when the circumstances necessitating the solution have been minimized. We've come a long way, probably in spite of this "race based" remedy.

True story......About 18 years ago, I had an African-American high school intern working in my law office. One day we had a discussion about affirmative action, and I expressed the opinion that I found some aspects of it troubling. She asked what I meant, and I said that while I understood the need to redress injustices and equalize opportunities, that fundamentally it was making race a "factor" when in fact Dr. King had expressed hope for a world where race was not a factor, and people were judged on merit. She asked me if I were AGAINST affirmative action. I said that actually I was not, but I wondered if she thought someone who was against affirmative action was likely a racist. She thought about this and said she thought they probably were. I thought this was true in some situations, but the more serious racism came from liberal white people who were the biggest advocates of affirmative action. She asked what I meant, and I said, "Let me run a scenario by you. If it were common knowledge that there were relaxed criteria for minorities to get into medical school, and a liberal white person became ill and went to an emergency room, would they wonder about the qualifications of the African-American doctor treating them?" She said, "Nobody would think that way.....would they???" Ah, sweet innocence of youth!

I had to give an honest answer.....Sadly, not only do I think it would be true, but the more liberal a person is, the more likely this would apply. Call me a racist against white liberals, but this is how I see it.

When it comes to admission to schools, and access to employment, I have no problem with valuing "diversity", however one defines it. There IS more to school, more to life, more to "success", than grades and test scores.

Quotas are racist, any way you cut it. Maintaining them should never be an objective.

Diversity IS often a worthwhile result. Achieving it without quotas is a dilemma worthy of our attention.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dickey Betts (Concert Review)

I approached the recent Dickey Betts concert at The Concert Hall at the Ethical Culture Society, in Manhattan, with some trepidation. There may have been some pure "Dickey Betts and Great Southern" fans in attendance, but let's face it, almost everybody there was a curious Allman Brothers fan. The unspoken question was....

Do the Allmans miss Dickey more than Dickey misses the Allmans? I had been pondering this since last year, when I saw the Allmans at the Beacon and found it strangely disappointing. I count myself as a true old time Allman Brothers fan. Live at the Fillmore and Eat a Peach have always been my "go to" albums. I knew what was missing at the Beacon....Dickey Betts and HIS Allman tunes.

My big fear was that Dickey Betts would do "his own stuff" and not do much Allmans. I was willing to cut him some slack for some of his newer material.....I give this courtesy to any "classic" concert artist. Hopefully though, he'd give us what we all wanted.

When Dickey Betts and Great Southern took the stage, there was an odd familiarity in the composition of the band. Two drummers (one black, one white), bass player, two guitarists, a keyboard man/singer with long blond hair and a mustache, and Dickey Betts. This Allmanesque assemblage went deep into the Allman's/Dickey catalogue and rocked the house for two and a half hours.

The show opened with "Les Brers in A Minor", a rockin' instrumental from Eat a Peach. This was followed by "Statesboro Blues" and "You Don't Love Me". OK, neither Dickey Betts nor the Gregg Allman look-alike sang like Gregg, but nobody does. Statesboro Blues is not about the singing, since everyone in the audience was doing their own singing, it's about the guitar playing. And....Dickey Betts still has it!!!

There were a few songs I didn't know, but I knew the style and it felt just fine. I thought Dickey said something about Gerry Garcia, but I couldn't tell because the speech definition on his mic was bad. Or perhaps it's the way he speaks....every time he spoke it sounded like Pootie Tang. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGwl2iKotgM In any event, there were some songs that had a "Dead" sound to them, and they worked.

I don't think the Allmans do "Blue Sky", the quintessential Dickey Betts song. I had to get up and dance in the aisle when Dickey did it. Here's a youtube clip....from the actual concert. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cc_p_D2k7Qg&feature=related

Are you a true Allman Brothers fan? If so, you'd have loved hearing "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed". It's a haunting instrumental where you can feel the guitars singing. I've always wondered "What is this song about....what are the guitars SAYING???" I still don't know, but it sure sounded good. At one point the band left the stage while the two drummers went at it for about 20 minutes. This was "old school" and most excellent. After about 18 minutes Dickey walked out, pulled a cold Bud from the cooler, then sat on the cooler and watched.

I knew they were going to close the show with Ramblin' Man. This was probably the Allman's most widely known song, and it's Dickey's song all the way. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hnwPHUDmrg&feature=related

There may be aficianados who see every Allman Brothers show at the Beacon, and compare and contrast and analyze.

To my simple eye and ear, the Allmans miss Dickey more than vice versa, and I'll see him again before I go back to the Beacon.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Going to Aqueduct With Dad

Today is Kentucky Derby day. I always watch (and bet on) The Derby. It's my favorite sporting event of the year. Better than the Super Bowl, better than the Final Four. Of course, this has something to do with it lasting only two minutes. I used to watch the two hour build-up, but now I don't bother with that. I read a few stories in The Post, bet my selections, and watch the race. I've hit a few nice longshots over the years, most notably Charismatic and Monarchos. My love of horseracing started with....


Sometimes on a Saturday, my Dad would suggest that he and I "head over to The Big A". Since I was only 7 years old, he wasn't saying this to me, he was saying it to my Mom. I wonder if taking me along made this activity more palatable to her. The first few times he said it, I worried that she would say no, but she never did. After a few times, I knew that when he suggested it, we were going.

We had a routine. It was always just he and I. Brian (who was 5) only went with us once, but he was "too cranky". After that he was not asked to go, and he never protested when Dad and I went. The Big A is "Aqueduct", a race track in Ozone Park, Queens. It's where the thoroughbreds race in New York when they are not at Belmont or Saratoga. A workingman's racetrack.

We never parked in the parking lot, always in the street about a mile away. "Why should we pay to park?", my Dad said. So we walked through Ozone Park, past little houses and Italian grocery stores. When we got inside, Dad bought a program and a Daily Racing Form. The program was small but impressive, it gave you the basic information about each race: the horse names and post positions, the trainers, the owners, the jockeys (including their weights and "colors"). Dad told me that when we picked a horse to bet on, to remember the jockeys colors, especially his cap, so we could see him in the backstretch.

There were 9 races a day, with about 24 minutes between races. We used that time to "study our selections". The program was just for looking, while the Daily Racing Form was for studying. It had tons more info than the program, including the charts of each horses prior races. I learned how to read it pretty well. You had to look at the distances, times, surfaces, class, weights, jockey changes, trainer changes, and many other factors. Both the program and the racing form had a little "map" showing you where the starting and finish line were for the particular distance.

I always liked a 7 furlong (furlong is an eighth of a mile) race at Aqueduct, because the horses started "in the chute", and the chart showed that.

We always went and looked at the horses and jockeys in the walking ring, before they went on the track. There was a ritual to this. The horses would be walked around, while the jockeys would stand talking to the trainers. The jockeys would wear different colors for each race, with different colors for different parts of their attire, the program would tell you...."red cap, yellow sleeves, red sashes, polka dot hoops". I would always check that they had it right.

Dad told me about some of the jockeys. Our favorite was Braulio Baeza. He was from Panama, and although I did not know it then, he was one of the greatest jockeys of all time. I only knew what Dad told me, "Look at Braulio Baeza, he sits on a horse straight and tall and proud. No other jockey sits like him." It was true.

I always looked at Braulio Baeza first, to make sure he was sitting straight and tall. The other jockey I liked was Manuel Ycaza. There were three reasons I liked him. People called him "Manny", which was my Dad's name, his last name started with a "Y", which was unusual, and he rode aggressively. Several times I read in the racing form that he was suspended for "rough riding". I always hoped to see a race where he did that.

According to my Dad, some jockeys were "good on the turf", some were better with sprinters than closers, and some jockeys rode well for certain trainers. Who knew if any of this were true? Who cared?

When the horses were ready to go on the track, the jockeys would walk over to their horses, and a booming voice would call out "Put your riders up, please." At that moment all the trainers would give their jockeys "a leg up" and hoist them up on the horse. Then they would walk once around the walking ring and head to the track.....to the sound of the bugle.

We would follow, Dad would "make his wager", and then we would watch the race from our special vantage point. We had a stairway bannister leading to the upper grandstand. It was right on the finish line, and we would stand on the bannister and look over with a perfect view. I stood near the top, with Dad to my left, a little further down the bannister. We would wait for the magical voice of the track announcer, Fred Caposella, to say "It is now post time". I had to look long and hard to find a Fred Caposella race call, and here it is. At the beginning of the clip is a different announcer, and then it picks up with the real deal. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liAwNjeKAvI&feature=related

In horse racing, you can't win every time. In fact, it's difficult if not impossible to win in the long run. We took our defeats in stride, and felt pride in our winners. On the way home we talked about the races. No matter how well or poorly our horses did, we always had a great day at Aqueduct. And, the experiences have stayed with me.......

When I visit Dad in Florida now, we always go to the track....there's a shocker.

When I pick horses now, I focus on the jockeys.

When I take Rebecca to Met games, we park on the street in Corona and walk a mile to the stadium. I'm not paying $18 to park, and for some strange reason, it feels like the right thing to do.

When it's the first Saturday in May, I always watch the Kentucky Derby.

Happy Springtime to all!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review of Citi Field

Although I was fine with Shea Stadium, I really wanted to like Citi Field.

The thing is, I love baseball, and I love the Mets. I love their history, their aura, their persona, their players. I think Jerry Manuel is cool. I loved Daniel Murphy from the first time I saw his perfect left-handed swing and his sharp batting eye. I think Johann Santana is the best pitcher in baseball, and he seems like a nice guy and a real leader. I know that David Wright wants to win, and has it in him to show the Mets the way. Sometimes Jose Reyes is so good it's scary. Last year our pen stunk, and Omar went out and fixed it.

I went to Citi Field Saturday afternoon for a Mets - Red Sox exhibition game. Granted, it was freezing so bad it felt like Shea Stadium. Granted, it was a humdrum exhibition game where Ollie Perez had nothing and the Mets were never in it. Granted, it was a day for the fans to check out the Stadium, and we all did.

There are a few impressive things about Citi Field. One is the large selection of places to eat and drink, positioned EVERYWHERE in the building. There are wide expanses of walking areas behind the seats, and beyond the outfield. There are huge rectangular walk-up bars all over the place. Walking in the "food court" area beyond the outfield was like being at the South Street Seaport. Cool if you are a tourist, kinda OK if you are there for the first time, but not someplace you really want to be.

When I'm at a baseball game, I WANT TO BE AT A BASEBALL GAME!!!!! I don't want to buy a blackened shrimp po-boy on a ciabatta bread for $14.50, with a $9 beer. I want to either bring my sandwich from a deli (made to order), with a bag of chips and some water, OR I want to buy a few expectedly overpriced stadium dogs and a beer, and watch the game. As I walked around the non baseball watching areas of the park (which is most of the usable space), and watched my fellow citizens zombying around, I became convinced that "Idiocracy" is in our future. You've never seen Idiocracy, the Mike Judge movie where a regular guy gets sent into the future due to a failed army experiment? Five hundred years from now, according to this Sci-fi/comedy, every stupid excess of our current society will become the norm, and a normal guy from now will be considered the smartest guy on earth. Here's a few clips......in this one we see the President, who is a wrestler guy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ULZwzF9s5A&feature=related In the next one the hero gets arrested, and goes to court http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQGsdjHTxsQ&feature=related I think the prosecutor was at Citi Field on Saturday.

OK, so lots to eat, and lots of places to shop. I guess this is important because when you have children, the most important thing is to "buy them stuff". Heaven forbid you watch the game with your child and TALK. On a nice afternoon, you can talk about the strategy of the game, and things you heard about particular players, or opposing players you haven't seen before. And if the game gets slow, you can talk about what a nice day it is, and how nice it is to be at the ballgame.

I've had people tell me that baseball is boring. I guess compared to a dance contest show, or celebrity gossip, or a reality show, it IS boring. Baseball is a game where you fill in the gaps in the action with some lost arts.....conversation and thinking. I used to get annoyed, even at "old fashioned" Shea Stadium when between innings, there was a non-stop barrage of noisy "entertainment" and blatant commercials. Citi Field will be the same, with better technology. I so wish it could just be about the GAME.

I have heard that the Mets do not want to Citi Field to be called a "stadium". They want it referred to as a "park" or a "field". Sorry guys, a park or a field is where you go to play a game, or watch a game, it's not a mega-entertainment center.

As far as the field itself, it looks to me like a pitcher friendly park. The dimensions are long and not uniform, and the fences are high in places. I think they are going for "quirky" and charming. We shall see. In right field there is an overhang, like in the old Detroit stadium. I was surprised that so many seats are in fair territory. There are several levels like this....I hate watching the game from there, but it IS close to the food concourse. Now THERE'S a surprise.

The other reason this will not feel like a park or a field is that most of the seats will be sold to corporations and businesses. This is not a day trip with the kids for most people. The whole experience has very little to do with kids, or baseball for that matter.

All the ill feelings aside, TODAY was opening day. I listened to most of the Met game on the radio, and even snuck out to a bar to watch the last inning on TV. It WAS still baseball, the game was still great. I will read about it in the paper tomorrow, and the season is on.

Spring is here, baseball is happening, and nothing can stop it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

More Thoughts on GM and Chapter 11

So, the government forces GM Chairman Wagoner to resign, ostensibly because they found GM's latest "plan" and loan requests unacceptable. What is REALLY going on here is the government knows that the only way GM can become viable is to file a Chapter 11, and Wagoner could not and would not do it. One might think that at SOME point, all the parties (unions, bondholders, banks, suppliers, management) would make sufficient concessions to prevent this bus from going over the cliff.

Unfortunately, it can't happen that way. A Chapter 11 reorganization will bring the hammer down on ALL the parties, painfully. However, the entire process is designed to do this as FAIRLY as possible, with all the parties participating. The reason a proceeding is necessary is that NONE of the parties can agree to the depth of concession necessary, even as it clearly IS necessary. A union head could not agree to a massive restructuring of health and retirement benefits, it's just not was he was elected to do. It's practically a breach of his fiduciary responsibility to do such a thing. Similarly, the Board Chairman can't propose to the shareholders that they agree to file a Chapter 11 and wipe out their equity. He'd be breaching his responsibilities if he did such a thing.

The Obama administration has looked at it, and has surely concluded that not only are the key players not able to voluntarily make the drastic cuts that are the only hope, they have also concluded that on the present path, the company CANNOT make it. Any Republicans who think Obama wants to "nationalize" the auto industry, or have the government take it over, are not paying attention. I don't know if GM will survive a Chapter 11 reorganization, but it will be worth the effort. It will be worthwhile for the government to back the effort. It will make way more sense than throwing money at GM without accountability, and without a REAL re-structuring.

Am I the only one who thinks that the "gap" between GM and the foreign competitors has narrowed? I wanted to be open minded and patriotic a few years ago, so I tried a Saturn Vue as our family car. I have never regretted it. When the lease is up, I hope to get another one. I want to be part of GM's emergence from the Chapter 11 I know is coming.

I think when the whole country actually sees how the Chapter 11 reorganization works, and they see that the pain is being spread fairly, and openly, Americans will buy American in droves. If GM survives, I expect they will emerge with a competitive edge, and they will use it to get on the cutting edge of the newest in automobile technology. These ideas are driving Obama toward the right move, orchestrating GM into Chapter 11 reorganization. Hmmm, competitive edge, capitalism, sounds almost Republican. Pay attention Republicans, you might learn something!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Top 10 Things I Should Blog About

Sometimes I have a bunch of blog ideas kicking around, and I can't decide which ones to actually DO. You might think this is a good thing, since I would have "a lot a material" to sustain my blogging over the coming weeks. The problem is, sometimes if you don't nail a good blog idea right away, it either becomes old news OR so much is written by others that there's nothing left to say.

A little amateur writer honesty is also in order.....sometimes it's easier to have a bunch of ideas than to actually write the pieces. This comes under the heading of "things that look easier than they are, until you try to do them". Like golf, fishing, and yoga. I'd feel worse about having blog ideas, without the blog pieces written, if I were a full time writer. Sometimes I wonder.....if I were a full time writer, and not a "lawyer doing my writing on the side", wouldn't it be easy to turn all the ideas into fully written pieces?

Actually, I do know better. It would NOT be easy. And my virtual hat is off to all REAL writers. Until I try it full time, I will always wonder if I could take writing to a higher level than I have at golf, fishing and yoga......things I have liked, tried, and sucked at. And yes, I do realize that one should not say they "suck" at yoga, that you "are where you are and you do what you can and that is OK", but it is also true that "when you do and you do and you are how you were", you suck.

Here are the top 10 things I should blog about:

10. The over-use of antibiotics is the main reason so many people are sick all the time.

9. The issue of the "shameful" bonuses is a bogus issue that has zero to do with the economic recovery. For Congress to pass laws imposing a 90% tax is the ultimate hypocrisy, and the type of ex-post facto law the founding fathers banned for the States, right in the Constitution. Today's Wall Street Journal editorial made this exact point. The 90% tax is purely grandstanding to distract folks from the irresponsible way the "economic stimulus" packages have been rushed and botched.

8. I have written that GM will soon be in Chapter 11, but the better story is that AIG should already BE in Chapter 11.

7. I am amazed how often intelligent, unmarried older people, with a LOT of money, die without a Will. The result of this is distant relatives inheriting their money. Did they really think they were going to live forever? Did they even CONSIDER making a Will and leaving their money to charity? Were they too cheap to pay for a proper Will?

6. The first and most important thing to do when thinking about a website for your business is: make believe you are the ideal customer/client for your business, and then Google every possible search term you can think of. Check the results and look at all the sites on all the page ones. That's your guide. It doesn't cost anything to do this, so if you are thinking about a website, do this right away.

5. AIG (yes, again!) is being treated different than any other company, and for good reason. They were the lynch pin in the giant Ponzi scheme that WAS the American mortgage system. The thumbnail version is that the mortgages could not have been grouped into bonds and sold, unless there was insurance. Big banks and government bought the bonds based on their value being "insured" by AIG. But AIG, and the banks who relied on their insurance, should have considered the following analogy........if I went to a sports book in a casino, and ALL the action was on one team, and the point spread was never adjusted, in fact, the point spread (interest rates, hehe) was adjusted to bring even MORE action on one team, and the bookie was not laying off it's bets, in fact it was continuing to take even more action on the same team, I would conclude that THE BOOKIE WAS GAMBLING!!!!! And so they were, and the other team won. And we are bailing out the bookie and all the bettors.

4. I learned how to play mah-jongg, and I really enjoy it. Whew, I admitted it.

3. The single most under-rated lawyering skill is writing good letters. It's the first thing I teach any new person in my office. I have a foolproof system for writing great business letters. Three parts to it: One: Identify yourself, and other pertinent parties. Two: Tell the story (this is the hard part, but telling the story well is what MAKES the letter) Three: Conclude by stating your position or asking for something. That's all there is to it.

2. A contested estate matter is like a contested matrimonial case, except there are more players, AND the one person who could possibly keep things under control is dead. Lovely way to spend one's time.

1. I can't imagine staying in law practice for the rest of my working life, yet I can't imagine not doing it.

Guess I'll be keeping my day job.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

GM and Chapter 11

I want to get back to my "building a law practice" stuff, but this GM and Chapter 11 thing is really bugging me. I read today that the GM chairman strongly believes the company cannot go into a Chapter 11 because the public will not buy cars from a company in reorganization, and they will end up in liquidation.

Pardon my ignorance, but wtf is this guy talking about?

I don't need graphs and charts to see where GM is going as we speak.....on a straight line to liquidation. No bailout, no loan, no stimulus, no miracle is going to stop that. It's a competitive world, they are not competitive, they will go out of business. I've heard it said "they are too big to be allowed to fail". Isn't it obvious that they are "too big to succeed"? Being too big to succeed is the hallmark of un-competitiveness. They are weighted down with bad contracts, a bad dealer system, and product lines that have been behind the times and probably can't catch up. Certainly they can't catch up with all the excess baggage.

The brass at GM can keep referring to Chapter 11 as "bankruptcy", as if saying that will scare the country into endlessly bailing them out. Chapter 11 is NOT bankruptcy per-se, it is re-organization. If the reorganization does not work, THEN you go into liquidation (bankruptcy).

A Chapter 11 filing is a very powerful thing. It immediately stops the bleeding by putting a stay on your creditors. It compels the filing of a re-organization plan. It enables a company to renegotiate almost any problem on their agenda. Oh, and it enables the filing company to obtain fresh financing, as CHAPTER 11 FINANCING IS PREFERRED OVER ALL OTHER CREDITORS!!!! That's right, while a company is re-organizing, lenders who assist jump ahead of all other creditors, even secured creditors. The way the government should "bail out" GM is to either provide the Chapter 11 financing, or guarantee the financial institutions who will give the financing. Personally, I think this is what President Obama has had in mind all along.

I am struggling to understand why the GM leadership is so opposed to a Chapter 11 filing. I can understand why the unions are against it, the best parts of their contracts will be history, unprofitable plants will be closed (as they should be), and the company will be made leaner and more competitive. You would almost think that if it's so bad for the unions, management would embrace it. So why don't they?

Well, another party who takes a beating in a Chapter 11 is the stockholders. Hey, aren't most of the executives also big stockholders? How about executive jobs, and executive pay? Guess those would come under fire in a re-organization too. GM had some cash reserves that would have been nice to use as a cushion in a reorganization. But I guess it seemed better to deplete that, bleed the taxpayers of some useless bailout money, and then face the inevitable. Resisting the filing, and waiting until the company really should be in liquidation, may just doom the Chapter 11 to exactly what the executives claim they want to avoid.

Bankruptcy (reorganization or liquidation) are fascinating tactical cards, played in various ways at all levels of business. I've been involved in cases where the mere realistic brandishing of the bankruptcy sword totally changed a negotiation and settled an unresolvable situation.

The problem with GM is the brandishing and talk about a Chapter 11 hasn't convinced them to DO it. As is often true in bankruptcy cases, there has to be a catalyst, something that forces a companies hand. I can understand why President Obama did not force the filing in his first week in office. Had it been any other time, forcing a "pre-packaged" Chapter 11 was clearly the right way to go.

Watch for this......when they get to the brink, and it won't be long, President Obama will orchestrate GM into Chapter 11. It's the only way. Hopefully it's not too late for a reorganization to actually work.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yahrzeit Tribute to Mom

Although I've been on a law/business related blogging streak, I'm taking a day to blog about something personal. Today is my Mom's eleventh Yahrzeit (anniversary of passing). Two years ago I posted "Eulogy for Mom" http://nylaw2law.blogspot.com/search/label/Eulogy%20for%20Mom a printed version of the eulogy I read at her funeral. I wonder how eleven years of thinking about someone every day changes perspective. Although I think about her every day, I pick up the phone to call her less often. I am on my own now, imparting words, doing deeds and demonstrating values to all the people in my life. Eleven years later it finally dawns on me, I have a lot to give because I learned from someone who gave me her all. And so, in honor of Mom......

Top 10 things I learned from my mother:

10. Reading and writing are gifts, appreciate them.

9. Forgiving is better than holding a grudge.

8. If you are interested in something, don't dabble, GO FOR IT!

7. The best way to make friends is to BE a friend.

6. Payback is irrelevant when it comes to helping. Help because you can.

5. You don't have to be "religious" to be spiritual.

4. There are many ways to support someone, not everyone needs the same kind of support.

3. When people ask for advice, give it. Accept that whether they follow it is their decision.

2. Fight for what you believe, but always see reality.

1. Be discreet in your speech, but if something needs to be said, SAY IT.

Mom - it needed to be said, so I said it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to Get Good Cases for YOU

It was easy to list "27 things" you could do to get any kind of legal business. I could list 27 more, if I thought it would benefit anyone. A more challenging list is the things to do AFTER you figure out your "calling". After actually THINKING about what your successful practice would look and feel like.

After getting uninhibited in a most quiet way. Not knowing what the plan is, yet. And not caring. Spending the time and effort BEFORE making the actual plans, so that if the plans work, you will really have something.

Most lawyers starting a practice think....."I want to get my practice started". And you know what? They all succeed.....they get a practice started. And then the stated goal is often, "I want to keep it going and do better". And some effort is made towards that meekly stated goal, and what is achieved is exactly what was stated.

What a luxury, what a blessing it is, to be able to re-invent. To start out with an open slate, to think of what you really want for yourself, and take steps in THAT direction.

Recently a client suggested that I work with "less Zen, more alligator". The case called for "fox", so we compromised on a "Zen-fox-alligator" continuum as a long term strategy for the case.

For one starting in practice, or growing a practice, I hope I've showed where the Zen up front is needed. Now here's some serious "fox"..... 9 solid things to get good cases for YOU:

1. Prepare a direct mail campaign to a targeted list of attorneys. For my money, in law practice, nothing gives you better conversion value (advertising that turns into actual paying business) than direct mail. Some work DOES go into this, but that's one reason it works. What is a "targeted" list? These are attorneys and law firms who are in a position to make referrals for what YOU do. That's why you have to know what you want. So you have something, so you can be one who really knows, so you can be enthusiastic, and so you can send that letter making yourself known for what YOU DO. Who do you target? This takes some thinking, but don't let thinking stop you....THINK!!! Some things just go together. When I started my Queens per diem practice, I targeted attorneys who had cases coming up in Queens.

I knew someone who really knew how to do "wrongful death compromises", a very specific matter in Surrogates Court, which happens at the conclusion of a wrongful death case. Personal injury firms hate doing them because it's a lot of work, not really what they do, and it is needed to finish a case and get paid. She targeted personal injury firms with a great mailing, and became well known as the expert in this type of case.

What else would go together? Almost any specialized legal service is sought by general practitioners. Know what they want? For you to really know your stuff, do a great job, and pay them a referral fee in accordance with ethical rules. There, I said it, THEY WANT TO BE PAID, because general practice is really difficult, and referral fees are very important. Oh, and they don't want you to steal their clients, which you won't do because you do what you do, and they can have all the rest. I received a great mailing from a lawyer who specializes in real estate litigation, particularly "partition actions". His mailing arrived when I had just consulted with someone about such a situation, and if you've ever done one, they are nasty, but sometimes the only way to go. When I spoke with him I knew right away that he LOVED partition cases. I'm not sure why, but I could tell he did. I could also tell he couldn't wait to have my client retain him so HE could start working and pay me. I kept hoping I would get more partition calls so I could refer them to him.

A few more good potential matches for a targeted mailing.

Landlord firms by collection firms.
Plaintiff PI firms by comp or disability firms.
Elder law firms by estate administration firms
matrimonial lawyers by tax, or estate planning lawyers
immigration lawyers by any other specialty.
real estate transaction lawyers by real estate litigators

the combos are endless.....if you THINK for YOU.

What goes in the mailing? Two things, sometimes three.

First, the best letter possible. The one which is reviewed and edited and rewritten until it's perfect. The one that describes what you do, why you do it, and when and why they should call you. It can fit on one page, and it will be great. Put some work into it and email it to me, we'll optimize it.

Second - a specialized rolodex card, with your specialty on the flap. I know, rolodex cards are "old school", but here's my thinking. If you send a business card, people generally extract the information and put it in their "system". If they are interested, they'll do this with a rolodex card too, and if they have a rolodex (and many do) it will be filed under your specialty, so they don't have to remember your name, they will find you when they are looking for what YOU do.....which is way better. How do you like THIS rolodex card?

It's in Rolodexes in about 2000 law offices, filed under "Queens".

The third thing you can include in the mailing is a fee schedule, but only where appropriate.

We may end up with Zen, fox AND alligator.

Tomorrow.....item 2, creating a quality website.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Good Cases for YOU....and 27 Ways to Get All Kinds of New Legal Business

Roll up your sleeves, pull up a chair, pay homage to your personal muse, or do whatever you do when you embark on something new and important......Today is a two for one day. First, we will get started on How to Get Good Cases for YOU. Today will be part 1 of that. I may wax a little philosophical with this, I may go for some "zen in the law". Don't be intimidated. Don't dismiss this part and think....."I'll wait for the REAL stuff". I will tell you how to actually get the good cases for YOU, but I want you on my team first. Oh, and please don't skip to the bottom for the "27 Ways", which are not there to get the good cases for YOU. Those are there to show you how easy it is to "get business". I don't want your goal to be "getting business", I want you to know you CAN do that, it's easy. I want you to tackle the more challenging.....Getting Good Business for YOU.

Why am I capitalizing YOU? Because I wish somebody would have pointed out to ME that this was a better way to approach law practice than "27 ways". First, you have permission to envision. Envision your practice as successful. What kinds of cases are you working on? How much money are you making? Where are you being quoted? Who are your clients? Who is working for you? What kinds of cases are you turning down? Where are you going on vacation?

Hmmm, another hokey goal setting talk? Well, do you want to be successful? Or are you "hoping" to be successful. Which is more likely to actually have you DO real things towards that end? In the limited time we all have, the decisions we make each hour, each day, over how to use our time are directly controlled by how strongly we envision.

I capitalize YOU because I want you to permit yourself to envision a successful law practice, in detail. Why? Because I want you to take the steps to make it happen, and this will involve making certain decisions and acting on them. For YOU, nobody else. And to do this you have to value YOU. It's sort of a private thing. I'll respect your privacy. Have the conversations with yourself if necessary. Have them with someone you trust. Have them with me if you wish, I'll keep it confidential. The thing is, do not fear exploring what YOU want.

Phew, this is getting heavy. I will talk more about it tomorrow, and we will look at specific decisions that will move us toward our visions.

That got me a little tired, so to take a break, and for a goof........I give you 27 Ways to Get All Kinds of Legal Business......

1. Mail announcements to an expansive list of friends, relatives and acquaintances.

2. Join the referral panel of every local bar association.

3. Sign up for the 18-B panel (court appointed misdemeanor cases)

4. Take the seminars for Court Evaluator, Referee, and Guardian ad Litem appointments.

5. Work part-time as an Administrative Law Judge. At the very least you will get good blog material by doing this http://nylaw2law.blogspot.com/search/label/ALJ%20at%20PVB

6. Make yourself known to local real estate brokers.

7. Get to know various accountants, and refer them clients. Trust me, they will refer you business.

8. Refer clients to all kinds of professionals and tradespeople, and follow up.

9. Answer ads in the Law Journal for part-time and project work.

10. Place ads in the Law Journal offering specific services.

11. Sign up with lawyer temp agencies.

12. Place ads in local newspapers.

13. Place ads in out of State Bar journals, especially nearby States. I hit a few home runs with this one.

14. Let other lawyers know you are available in "conflict situations".....Quik story.....a month into my practice, a lawyer in my suite asked me to represent the other side of a business transaction. His client had a "drapery and upholstery" business. My client was the "upholsterer" and was buying that part of the business. When I looked at the contract it seemed kind of unfair. My new client said what foreign born clients always say "What do you think Mr. Barry?" I said the contract seemed kind of unfair, and he said "I think that too, but I want to buy the business, can you fix it?" So I negotiated a better deal, and the referring lawyer was kind of mad at me. At the closing he whispered to me, "Your client will never cut it, he'll pay some of the notes and go out of business" Three years later, after he paid the notes, I was his lawyer when he bought the drapery business too.

15. Do per diem work (court assignments for other attorneys). People make a living just doing THIS.

16. Do a pro-bono case because you want to. It's just good karma, and invariably the client refers you other paying clients.

17. Be accommodating to people who approach you in court. I'm amazed when lawyers blow off people who approach them in court. One more quik story - I was once coming out of Housing Court when an old lady approached me and said "Mister, is this where I make a case against my Landlord?" Rather than just say "yeah", I said "What kind of case?". She said, "I fell down the steps because he doesn't clean the garbage, and I broke my arm." I said, "This is Housing Court, but it's more for rent problems, your case would be in a different court, and you would need a lawyer for a case like that." "Are you a lawyer?"......Bottom line, case was settled for $30,000. Be nice to people who approach you in Court.

18. Be especially alert in Court's where clients tend to approach you. If you are already in Criminal Court, or Housing, or Family, or Small Claims, potential clients will approach. Be prepared.

19. Participate in things you enjoy, having nothing to do with law. Notice I don't say...."go to bar association meetings, or chamber of commerce, or political clubs". Those are full of lawyers. I played softball with a bunch of guys from Felicia's cousin's lodge in Brooklyn, where nobody was a lawyer, or even knew a lawyer. I did not join the team to get business, I wanted to play ball and be friendly with cousin Al, which I did. I also got all kinds of new business. As an aside, our catcher was in "funeral director school". If his beeper went off during the game, we all took our hats off.

20. Pay attention to "ethnic community leaders".....and not necessarily your own ethnic community. What I mean is, if you happen to get a client from a close-knit ethnic community, and the client is somewhat educated, chances are people will trust his referrals. Those referrals will come to you, IF you are paying attention.

21. Pay attention to how you answer the question "what do you do?". If you do a lot of things, don't say "general practice". Size the questioner up, and take an educated guess at what the most appropriate response would be.

22. Accept credit cards. Many lawyers don't, there are times when you being one who does, gets the business.

23. Participate in a pre-paid legal plan. I met some of the worst clients ever by doing this, but hey, you WILL get business.

24. Teach a paralegal class. I did this, it was fun. I hired the smartest student in the class, who was one of the best clerks I ever had. She worked for me while in law school, and she has been a successful attorney for many years. I also got a few small cases from other students.

25. Take speaking engagements......anywhere. I always got new business after speaking at senior centers or the library. You make a call or two with a suggested topic, and you are in.

26. If you are in a law suite, or a building with a lot of lawyers, introduce yourself to every lawyer and tell them you are available for per diem work, or referrals of cases.

27. Be yourself. It's not as stressful as the alternatives.

Tomorrow....back to good business for YOU.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Let's Get Some (Good) Business

Yesterday I set forth the basic premise that any business involves 3 steps....getting the business, doing the work, and dealing with finances. I promised that today we would "get us some business".

Where does new law business come from? I can (and will) give you at least 27 places it comes from, but first I want to ask a better question. Where does GOOD law business come from and how can you make it come to YOU? Isn't it worth asking, what would be the best type of new business for YOU?

For those who are cost conscious, there's something nice about asking what YOUR good business would be. The nice thing is asking this question "doesn't cost nuthin'".......'cept maybe some time and some thought. Which leads to a "new business tip"

TIP: If you are not willing to spend some time and thought on what kind of cases you want in your new business......keep sending out those resumes till you get a job.....opening a practice is not for you. Does that seem a bit harsh? Let me assure you of something.....I promise you can get plenty of law business, plenty of new clients and new cases....it's really easy. But if you load up your plate with bad business you will have big problems doing the work, and bigger problems with your finances. And when that happens, you will also not spend QUALITY time getting new good business. You will be in that vicious cycle of "crappy cases, tons of work, small money.....crappy cases, tons of work, small money". This is called "typical general practice". And, uh, I didn't read about this in a book!

My point is, things might end up this way, it is a way to live, and a living can be made, BUT....
this is not the only way to go about it. A little forethought could have you marketing for GOOD cases and get you on the way to a successful, rewarding practice, for much more money.

What do I mean by GOOD cases for YOU? Here are a few characteristics:

1. You either know the area of law really well, or are willing to learn it. Put another way, you have a passion for it, or could acquire passion.
2. You could see yourself referring to yourself as a ".......... lawyer" and be proud of it.
3. You enjoy talking about this type of case, hearing about this type of case, and reading about this type of case.
4. You could see yourself writing a letter to other lawyers suggesting they refer you this type of case, and see yourself as being respected by other lawyers for your knowledge of this type of case, and that thought feels good. If you could not see doing this now, you would want to know enough to be able to do it in the future. (which in fact you WILL do)

Tomorrow....how to get GOOD cases for YOU, and

27 ways to get all kinds of new law business (because no matter what I say about marketing for GOOD business for YOU....people still want 27 ways to get all kinds of new law business). I will tell you at least 27 basic ways to get new law business, even though, it will be like when I walk Dovie and he pees on a fire hydrant, and I have to say to him "That's old school". He always looks at me as if to say, "Yeah, but I still like to do it sometimes".....so 27 ways it will be, old school or not.

Hasta maƱana.