R.I.P., Judge Hedges

My friend Tommy Fibich just passed along the news that the wonderful Adele Hedges has passed away.  She was one of a kind:  whip-smart, a fair and even-handed judge, a talented writer (and a talented jewelry-maker), and a Renaissance woman.  She and her husband were so kind to Jeff and me when we arrived in Houston.  She left us far too young.  May she rest in peace.

The Post reminded me of a remarkable gift that my parents gave me.

I just got back from watching The Post, and there were two speeches that really struck a chord.  The first was Sarah Paulson’s speech about what made Kay Graham’s decision to publish the Pentagon Papers so brave; the second was Meryl Streep’s speech about finding herself suddenly in charge of the paper.  Both of them reflect the times:  back then, women weren’t traditionally the key decision-makers in big organizations.  As I left the theatre, it hit me:  my parents raised me to assume that I could do things:  leave home, have a career, dream big.  Most of my career has been based on the “what the heck–I’ll try it” theory of career planning.  I tend to take on the opportunities that are presented to me.  (It helps a lot to have a husband who is there to brainstorm with me and who supports the “what the heck–let’s try it” theory.)

For those of you who weren’t alive during the actual event, The Post’s timeline is set in the early 1970s.  What that means is that, when I was barely in double-digits of age, my parents were already instilling in me an unquestionable sense that I had no barriers other than my own qualms.  (OK, they weren’t right about my having any medical or musical aptitude, but other than that, they were spot on.)  What a remarkable gift–one that has paid dividends many times over.  I can thank my mom by treasuring her memory, and I will thank my dad tomorrow during our conversation.

We can give that gift to others.  By expecting people to be able to take on challenges, we’re giving them a head start for success.  If we can also give them the tools to address those challenges, then we can make sure that each generation has more opportunities than the one before it had.

There are likely several more stories to come.

Courtney Milan’s post about Alex Kozinski is a harrowing read, but an important one.  In a Washington Post story about the allegations against him, Matt Zapotosky wrote, “After the story posted online, the judge told the Los Angeles Times, ‘I don’t remember ever showing pornographic material to my clerks’ and, ‘If this is all they are able to dredge up after 35 years, I am not too worried.’”  Well, “this” is not all they are able to dredge up.  I don’t know how many other stories there are out there, but here’s mine.

I clerked for the Hon. Joseph T. Sneed in 1985-86.  It was one of the best jobs that I have ever had.  Judge Sneed taught me about tight editing, critical thinking, and fair decision-making.  He was a wonderful mentor to me and to countless other former law clerks.

Judge Kozinski sat up north from time to time, and at one point during my clerkship, he asked me to go for drinks with him and his clerks after work.  I’m sociable (though not much of a drinker), so I agreed.  When I showed up, none of his clerks were there.  Just him.

Two things stand out in my memory.  One was that he asked me, “What do single girls in San Francisco do for sex?”  Another was, after I said I needed to head home because I had to absorb the news that my mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, he offered to “comfort” me.  There was no reporting relationship between him and me, and I certainly never believed that my job with Judge Sneed was ever in jeopardy because of my interactions with Judge Kozinski.  I just thought that the judge exhibited extremely poor taste.

But I have told countless female law students that I would never write them a letter of recommendation for a clerkship with him, and I have told them why.  I didn’t want them ever to be at risk of being sexually harassed by him.  I have told some of my female colleagues not to be alone with him, and for the same reason.

I doubt that he remembers our interaction that night.  I do, and I view his statement to the Los Angeles Times as a challenge; hence, this post to add to the other voices.


Why customer service matters so much

Few things in life push my buttons so much as bad customer service does. Why is that?

One reason is that I work in two different service industries. Law is certainly a service industry, and so is higher education. The former involves my fiduciary duty to my clients. The latter involves duties to my students (to teach them well), to my profession (to create good scholarship), and to my university (to perform my job duties well). I try to do a good job every day–I don’t always succeed, but I try–and, for the life of me, I can’t understand people who don’t take their jobs seriously.  Is it the pay? Probably that’s part of the story, but I hope that’s not the entire answer. I know highly paid people who are bad at customer service, and I know low-wage people who are marvelous at it.

Another reason why bad customer service pushes my buttons is what bad customer service represents. An organization’s customer service is one measure of whether the organization is healthy. It’s the window to an organization’s inner workings. What an organization values is what it rewards. If it rewards customer service, customer service is good. Chewy.com is a perfect example of great customer service, as is Zappos.com. Both companies go out of their way to make sure that their employees treat their customers well, and both companies are rewarded for their efforts with customer loyalty.

Bad customer service, on the other hand, indicates poor morale and thus indicates a low-functioning organization.

So here’s the question that puzzles me: how can we take the symptom of bad customer service and use it to fix the unhealthy organization that has generated it?