Small Companies = Big Opportunities

Some argue that if you are innovative, ambitious and creative you should not go to law school because being a lawyer will sap all of that energy away from you until you are miserable and are desperate to get out. The proof of such a statement is perhaps the number of lawyers in this country that leave the practice of law to fulfill other career-related goals and dreams, and become much happier in the process. In some ways, law firms are like investment banks in that they are highly sought after positions for college and graduate students lured to the nation’s business centers for, in addition to the experience, big deals and big compensation. But the hours can be demanding and the work can be grueling at times, not to mention the difficulty with some of the personalities. Law firms and banks essentially ask that you put all other aspects of your life on hold while you work for them so that the firm can serve its clients. And as indispensable as one may think he or she is, there are always others that are ready and willing to step in and take over the job without the firm skipping a beat.

With time, many lawyers and bankers realize that they stopped using their brains long ago and that their experience has allowed them to do the same thing over and over on autodrive mode. Salaries and bonuses continue to rise in an effort to attract and retain hard-working, talented individuals, but there comes a point where money is not what these people are seeking. They are looking for a chance to think, to create, to be innovative and to be happy, a promise that these law firms and large banks will never fulfill because they cannot, for to do so would undermine a traditional business model proven to make money. Most of the work that allows lawyers or bankers to be innovative and creative, to think big or to improve or radically change a business or process happens within small companies or firms. The bulge-bracket banks and white-shoe law firms offer none of these opportunities; they only require that you show up early, stay late and keep your mouth shut in the meantime. While there is no substitute for experience on Wall Street out of college or graduate school, after a while, the best opportunities (and often talent) can be found elsewhere.

Thanksgiving and Beyond

As hard as it is to believe, another Thanksgiving has come and gone. I find it’s true what they say, that each year passes more quickly than the last the older you become. Growing up I remember telling people that my favorite time of the year was from November 20 to January 5. I know the dates are a bit random, but they do capture the build up to the holiday season as well as the cool down after the beginning of the new year. Don’t get me wrong, the summer is always a fun time of year, but there is something special about the holidays, especially when I was younger. These days, I blink and it seems as if the year has passed, as is the case with 2007. Christmas will soon be here and then we’re already on to 2008. Wow. So far, 2007 has been good to me and my family. Let’s just hope that the next five weeks are not the exception. 

World Business. In one Place.

With as many people as New York has during its hectic morning rush hour, one tends not to see the same people on a daily basis. Sure, there is a group of people that I take the train with each morning, we all recognize each other and leave each other alone to our commuting ritual of reading or sleeping, but once we exit the train at Grand Central Terminal, we are each lost in the crowd, headed to the street, the subways and the escalators of 200 Park. And although I don’t tend to see the same people once I exit the train, I have randomly run into friends of mine twice in the past week. These friends live far from me and were headed to work in midtown as I was trying to head downtown. I tried to calculate the odds of running randomly into two good friends, at being in the same place at the same time on the same day, but couldn’t come up with a precise number. All I realized is that the odds of such an occurrence must be pretty large.

There are times when not just New York, but the whole world feels small. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the world is becoming more and more one place as opposed to several places spread out over thousands of miles, as this Financial Times photo depicts here. In such a world, the skyscrapers of New York are next to those of Shanghai, London, Chicago, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. In the next few years to come, working remotely will continue to grow in popularity and will soon be the norm across a number of industries worldwide. Global collaboration will allow companies to hire the best employees from around the world and provide them with the technology and resources to stay wherever they choose and work productively. In many instances, this is already old news. I can only imagine what the next decade will bring. It will be exciting to be a part of the ride.

HDTV Nation

Last Thursday morning, as I was trying to turn on CNBC before catching the train to work, our television unexpectedly died. We had bought it used over three years ago, and it was an RCA (perhaps this explains it all), but otherwise it should have worked for years to come. I tinkered with it that evening to discover what I could short of taking the whole thing apart and could not find any reason why it stopped working all of a sudden. Oh well, I told my wife, I guess we’ll just have to get a new TV. While she is not one to watch much TV, she recognized the value of having at least one working television in the house in the event that she actually wanted to watch something, and agreed with me.

On Saturday afternoon, after some online research on Friday and a quick trip to Best Buy, we bought a new 32 inch HDTV. I installed everything on Saturday and am amazed at the clarity when compared to our prior television. I caught some football last night and was jumping back between non-HD NBC and NBCHD. I think my wife was even impressed at the difference. And so, yes, after of watching regular television and seeing friends all buy new TVs to keep with with each other, we finally joined the crowd. The best part was that it wasn’t even a strugggle to convince my wife. Thank goodness for dying TVs.  

Falling Behind By Falling Apart

For most of the twentieth century, the United States had the best infrastructure in the world. I’m not sure if this is true anymore. The problem is that our existing infrastructure was built around a population and technology that existed, in some cases, thirty years ago or more. What was now the envy of the world is now falling apart and falling behind as developing countries build transportation systems and infrastructure that better conserve energy, plan for future growth, and run on the best technology available. Anyone who has traveled to Europe or throughout Asia knows this. As an American, proud to think that I live in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, it is shocking to deal with weekly train delays and malfunctions, air transportation problems and cancellations and failing bridges (think Minneapolis on August 1, 2007). 

It is clear now in 2007 that the current infrastructure we submit ourselves to everyday in the United States is not prepared to deal with the future demand in population, efficiency and technology. I can’t help but think of New York City, where MTA equipment problems have delayed me more times than I can remember. Ridership is up, the subways are safe again, but the equipment is falling apart. And with the politics involved, there is no easy solution, not to mention the cost involved, to overhaul the system and begin anew. The same could be said in connection with the FAA and this country’s struggling airline industry.

I don’t have any solutions, but think that this is part of the broader conversation occurring in some circles concerning the United States losing its competitive edge in the world. It’s as if China today stands on the brink of where the U.S. was 100 years ago. People come to New York to gaze in awe at what it is today, if not for what it once was. The feelings provoked in New York, in my estimation, are far different from those feelings people experience when they visit the Pudong District in Shanghai for the first time, for in Shanghai they marvel at what is to be, as if the future is displayed before their eyes. I still have many years ahead of me hopefully and can only wish that things get better before they become much worse. 

Hanna Haircut

I thought I would quickly put up a photo of our daughter Hanna showing off her new haircut. Prior to her haircut she had very little hair in the back of her head from sleeping on her back, but the sides and the top were a bit out of control. Mom thought it was a good idea to even it out and when they came home one day, to my surprise, we had our six-month-old Hanna Haircut.

At the Closing

As a transactional lawyer, I occasionally have the chance to attend closings with our clients. Prior to working at a law firm I constantly heard lawyers say that they were “busy with closings” or that they “couldn’t get anything else done until the closing” or even the ubiquitous, “I met him at a closing once.” As such, I was interested in attending a closing to see what they were all about once I began working. I have only been doing this for a short time now, but I have been to plenty of closings by now and can say that they are usually nothing to write home about. A closing in the business and legal sense, as you can imagine, essentially refers to the day that the transaction ends, the documents are signed and exchanged, the money moves and whatever is supposed to happen happens. It may sound exciting, but closings are usually uneventful (which as a lawyer, is just the type of closing you want). What I have discovered is that a lot of time is wasted at closings. People arrive at 9:00 a.m. and wait around for the whole morning for the final documents to be agreed upon, signed by the appropriate people and arrive by email. Minor corrections are made while breakfast is usually served. For the most part, I don’t mind attending closings because it allows me to get out of the office and to meet the people that I have interacted with in the last few days or weeks by phone and email. But even I consider it as a waste of time some days.

From what I understand, closings used to be big events. This is, of course, before the days of .pdf documents and email. The parties to the deal would get together and sign everything and congratulate themselves with big meals and celebrations, dreading what may come their way the next morning, when they get to work on the next deal. Nowadays, however, the parties exchange signed documents by email attachment and get on a conference call on the day of the closing and confirm that they are ready to proceed. There is no need to physically get together, not to mention travel from city to city for a closing. There are occasions when it may be necessary or desirable, but compared to ten to fifteen years ago, it is hardly necessary.

I am attending a closing with our client tomorrow, and yes, it is unnecessary that I be there. I will contribute nothing; yet I am happy to go. The deal closing is a $1.25 billion debt issuance of a major U.S. corporation. I am sure that the food will be good and it will be a pleasure to actually meet the lawyers on the other side, but there is no reason that this deal could not close by phone and email. Nonetheless, I think that we must be careful. Our interactions with each other are already filtered through technology too often that some face time spent with each other couldn’t hurt, even if it is a bit unnecessary.