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May 2009 Archives

May 9, 2009

Friends and Friendship

Submitted by Deb Volberg Pagnotta
Deb Volberg Pagnotta, an AV-rated lawyer, is President of Interfacet, Inc., which trains employers and employees on various employment issues. Contact info: 914.997.8888 or info@interfacet.com

A friend in need is a friend indeed. As you move through your career transitions, your relationships with friends will change. You will make some new friends, lose some old friends, rediscover some friends you lost many years ago, and learn who in fact is a friend. Some of this may be painful, some joyful, and some deeply puzzling. But like death and taxes, it is inevitable.

We have different layers, different groups of friends: people we grew up with, went to school with, had adventures with, maybe old lovers (maybe not), those we’ve worked with on various projects, neighbors, our children’s parents, our colleagues, and others we’ve met and struck up relationships with from all the diverse places in which we operate. I know I’ve missed groups – feel free to fill in the blanks. For career transition purposes, I’m going to focus on several groups of friends: those at work, old friends, and new. I spend the most time on work friends, because I think it is there that transitioners (or perhaps just me) find the most painful challenges.

Work: As you move through career transition, you will find that your collegial relationships will change in several ways. As we head into desperate times, we tend to form close, emotional bonds with our coworkers – we are scared, we share gossip, we look for reassurance, we are in this thing together. It is well-known that being together in a high-stress situation creates swift powerful bonds, hence those close friendships between police partners, military personnel, athletes, lawyers trying a case together. You and your co-workers share an experience unique to this group, every nuance, every tid-bit of information, every development is avidly shared. At the same time, in financial crisis, our coworkers also become our competitors: is the firm is going to layoff 20%, will it be me….or Jim down the hallway? And, what, if anything, should I do to protect myself and my family, even if it is at the expense of Jim?

Loyalties become strained and may indeed break. When our livelihoods are threatened, when our families are placed at risk, we frequently circle our own wagons. And this might not include in the interests of previously very close friends. Let’s say there will be only one position remaining for the real estate lawyer in the office, where there used to be two – you and “Jane.” You and Jane have been friends for 10 years, you brought her into the firm, you covered each other through maternity leave, through your parents dying, through her divorce and your breast cancer. And now, it comes down to this competition. It is a hard, painful path you are on. You want only the best for her, but you want it for yourself as well.

Remember this. You cannot control what Jane does; you cannot control what the firm does; you cannot control how you feel. But, you can allow yourself to understand this dilemma and you can attempt to move through this with grace, and humor, and compassion. If Jane gets the position and you get laid off, you are permitted to be devastated and sad and hurt and envious. If you get the position instead, you are allowed to be enormously relieved, although you may feel enormously guilty at the same time. The trick is to allow yourself the full gamut of emotions and feelings, while conducting yourself rightly.

There are no hard and fast rules. If you are the one to remain standing at the job, you can look for ways to continue to help Jane. You can send her other job leads. You can reach out to her. You can sympathize with her. You can understand her hurt and anger and distress at being laid off. In Buddhism, there is the concept that you must take care of yourself first, not to the exclusion of others, but with the idea that if you do not take care of yourself, you cannot properly help take care of others. If you are the one to be laid off, you can be gracious to Jane, but you also are allowed to protect yourself against additional pain. If it hurts you to see her, or spend time with her, you do not have to. It is not your job to assuage her guilt, nor is it her job to make things right for you.

It is a difficult balance, even without taking into consideration whether Jane acted “rightly” throughout this process. In one of the work transitions I went through – a change of political administration resulting in hundreds of colleagues losing their jobs – one of the lowest points was seeing coworkers deliberately sabotage each other, with the hopes that somebody else’s departure might enhance their own employment chances. It happens, and it hurts. Recently, my 8-year daughter Jenlu had an issue with a girl she has known for years, “Kylie.” Kylie, whom my daughter has adored, is a social butterfly and has many times, at a party or other occasions with other kids, walked away from my daughter to hold hands with and play with another girl, leaving my child sad and lonely on the sidelines. Jenlu struggled to understand how she can love Kylie so much, and Kylie repeatedly assured her they are “best friends,” but then acted in a hurtful manner – intentionally or otherwise, it was in the end unimportant. I told Jenlu: “you should look at how a person acts, not what they say. If Kylie tells you over and over she is your friend, but doesn’t ACT like your friend, she’s NOT your friend, and you don’t have to keep agreeing to playdates with her. You can say no.” This was a huge relief to Jenlu, who now can simply observe how Kylie acts, and then is free to make her own choices how to respond. If a colleague acts in a hurtful manner, no matter their intent (and it may be utterly benign, or simply in their own self-interest and not yours), you do not HAVE to continue a close friendship with them. You do need to be professional, but you can protect yourself by not sharing unnecessary information, or trying to elicit from that colleague the type of support you would truly like to get. Their interests ultimately will not always coincide with yours, or yours with theirs.

I had a friend at work who repeatedly used confidential information I gave her, to obtain financial gain at my expense. I was horrified; she was oblivious. I know that she firmly believed she operated with the best of intentions, although I also believe that her actions were ill-crafted and ill-planned. However, I do not continue a friendship with her now, because I no longer wish to put myself at risk with her. She would never deliberately harm me, but harmed me nonetheless. We all have examples of how friends at work – and others in our lives – might have failed our expectations. I recommend to you the movie Rashomon (based on work of writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa) which details a single, brutal event as perceived through four sets of eyes (a woman, her husband, a brigand and a woodcutter). I found this literature helpful in understanding how perceptions might differ profoundly despite what seem like indisputable and unassailable “facts.”

Finally, inevitably, there will be “Elaine” days. When I lost my job many years ago in that political paroxysm, it was at times tremendously difficult to maintain good humor. It felt much easier to be bitter and depressed. On the worst days, when I would hear of colleagues who had landed great jobs, I would call a very dear friend and announce, “this is Elaine…did you hear about so-and-so?” You may remember a Seinfeld episode in which a friend of Elaine’s became engaged, much to Elaine’s distress – she firmly believed she was prettier, smarter, more destined to get married, so how could that other woman have landed the groom? Hence, on those dark jealous days, I was Elaine in my heart.

You may also lose other friends as you transition, not because they or you have done anything wrong, but simply because we each change. Or simply don’t have time any more. Somebody you loved to hang out with every day and discuss the minutiae of banking law may not be as interested in spending time talking with you about the not-for-profit you are now working for.

Old friends. As you move through career transition – whether from unpaid to paid, paid to paid or paid to unpaid! – you should explore your network of old friends. I mean, those you grew up with; attended high school, college and law school with; Jennie from camp; “the gang” from the lost summer of ’69; fellow political junkies from that local campaign in ’76 (um, who was that?); the moms of the kids your kid went to pre-school with…and so on. It is very easy today to locate people – just google the name, or use intelius.com or try LinkedIn. Be casual when you reach out, but start re-connecting. Do be careful, of course, about reactivating old romances (enough said). You are beginning to extend your network. As you reach out, you will find that these old friends too have gone through many changes, many challenges. While we wish all well, it can help you feel less negative when you hear that others have faced similar mountains. At the least, you will gain a broader view of yourself, and gain a sense of the richness of your life outside of work.

New friends. I guarantee you will make new friends as you move into a new career. That is one of the highlights. As you move, whether pursuing an interest you’ve held but never previously explored or starting to work with new colleagues on a matter which excites you, you will exude enthusiasm and interest. You will be operating in the present, not in a “woulda, coulda, shoulda” world. As people see you in a new light, you will be refreshed. You will feel appreciated. You’ll start to feel “worthy” again. As you move into new arenas, be open to the very wide range of individuals you will meet and interact with. It may not be the person you gravitate to when you first walk into the room – it may be the quiet one standing near the window. While transition and change can be terrifying, it also allows you to be yourself in a new way and, thus, follow new paths.

May 30, 2009

Refresh Office Software and Legal Research Skills

Submitted by Susan Chin

The following information may be useful to re-entry attorneys who need to refresh their office software and legal research skills:

Office Software

Microsoft’s Office software (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) is used in most law firms. Free online demonstrations and training are available at www.office.microsoft.com.

Legal Research

Free legal research is available to all NYSBA members at www.loislaw.com. Free online training is available.

At www.lexisnexis.com, free online training and free downloadable user guides are available to the public. No sign in is required.

At www.westlaw.com, free downloadable user guides are available to the public. Sign in is required for online training.

Free training classes of both Lexis and Westlaw are available at NY County Lawyers Association to both members and non-members. Reservations are required at www.nycla.org.

Free use of Lexis and Westlaw (basic subscription only) is available at both NY County Lawyers Association and the NYC Bar Association to dues paying members.

Free use of Lexis and/or Westlaw is available to the public at "public access libraries" which can be found at www.nycourts.gov/lawlibraries/publicaccess.shtml.

In addition, free case law can be found at ten websites which are described in an article by Mr. Robert J. Ambrogi and published in the May 2009 issue of Law Technology News at www.lawtechnews.com/r5/showkiosk.asp?listing_id=3184967. It is also attached as a pdf file.

About May 2009

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