Friday, December 12, 2008


I spent half of my workday today at a CLE conference (CLE = Continuing Legal Education) and I simply cannot get one of the speakers off of my mind. He spoke about the perception of lawyers in society and it was actually a very liberating speech in many ways. If I really tried to delve into all of the aspects of it, this posting would try the patience of my readers, I'm quite sure, but during my commute home I realized that I was inspired to blog about his perception of our society's obsession with rules and laws.

It's difficult to summarize in a few paragraphs, but he opined that many of the same people who hate lawyers, hate the courts, etc are often the same people who are stomping their feet up and down as they say "There ought to be a law!" or "Why doesn't the government do something about this??" (he referenced Nancy Grace at this point of his speech but I've never watched her show so I can't opine about that analogy). He talked about the amazing number of regulations and laws that come down from all levels of government every month.

All of this talk about our society's obsession with rules really got me to pondering about my own views on rules [laws, policies, procedures, etc.]. It's a very complex and multi-leveled analysis for me because I am, at my core, a rule-based person in a number of ways. However, I think (although I'm not entirely sure) that these rules are often defense mechanisms for me, or at least "easy ways out."

For example - on a personal level, I'm always giving myself new rules about what I can or cannot eat, how I need to exercise, what I need to do....etc. It's not always a good thing because they often just become another reason for me to beat myself up.

I believe that my relationship with rules is even more interesting on a professional level, however. I've been a lawyer for 11 years now and I've been in-house counsel for 7 of those years. During that time, I've learned to appreciate the benefits of well-crafted (and clear) policies, bylaws, and procedures (and I've also learned how incredibly complicated it is to write even the simplest-sounding policies...because it's impossible to consider every contingency). I am the author of a number of polcies, procedures and bylaws.

I see the value of clarity - as a matter of fact, I simply ADORE clarity and crave it in the written word. I've also noticed first hand, however, the obsession many of us have with wanting to cover every possible base with policies and rules. For a number of years, I've really begun to dislike the sheer VOLUME of written rules with which we surround ourselves, especially in our workplaces.

Now - let me be clear. I'm a firm believer that companies should have a harassment-prevention policy and an ethics policy. And, of course, it's only fair that employees know what the rules are for getting reimbursed and other basic procedures. But we have a tendency as employers (and maybe parents too??) to assume that anytime something goes wrong, that means we have to create a new rule.

I realize I might be jeopardizing my future job security here (since no matter where I work, I'm often the one who drafts the rules and policies) but I have to say that I think we're taking the lazy lady's (note that I didn't say "lazy man's") road when we throw paper at each other instead of trying to communicate with each other about the key issues.

What would happen if, instead of making new rules and policies, we all sat down together and figured out what the core issues were? Including what might be going on in terms of employee spirit (or family spirit if we used the same concepts at home)?

I know. I sound like Pollyanna. And I also know that an employer could be sorry if it doesn't have a particular policy in place, especially if an employee later claims that he or she didn't know that it was against the rules to...(I don't know)....throw trash out the window onto a co-worker's head unless the rule was written in the employee handbook. But I've seen a lot of people change their attitudes once they're shown a little respect and held to a high standard. I can't help but believe that most of us feel infantilized when those in authority rely on mounds of rules and "gotchas" to control us. (I know I do.)

So go ahead, laugh at the irony that the expert policy-writer thinks there are way too many out there. But I would love to someday be in control of a place and make sure that my employees have a reasonable set of written expectations (for both me as their employer and for them as my employees) but also have a deep sense of self-worth because they'll know that it's a workplace where people are trusted and are honestly confronted (with face-to-face respect) if mistakes or even dishonesty occur.

It will take work, but I'm confident that I can do it. Give me a ring in a few years if you want to work in a place like that! :)

1 comment:

Renee said...

I'd love to work in your office. 1. because I'm coming off the work week professionally of my life, and 2. because this office has a policy for everything. We actually have a policy regarding policies. It's really crazy. Unfortunately, this is the favorite part of the job for our staff attorney so we are inundated. We have a 5 page policy for scheduling a meeting. I tried to argue that it's a main function of the admin job and shouldn't need a policy, but alas... It's madness!!