For those law students out there who are turning in drafts of papers–a few thoughts on professionalism.

Here are some things that law professors should tell you so that, when you’re out in the real world, senior lawyers don’t have to worry about your professionalism:

  1. Lawyers care about the written word.  So do law professors.  When you turn in a poorly proofread draft, we’ll form a not-very-flattering impression of your talent.  (We may like you, but we’ll still judge you.)  We will worry that you don’t know how to write well or, worse yet, that you do know how to write well but have decided that your time is more valuable than ours.  Making us parse your sentence fragments, your misspelled words, and a disorganized structure means that you didn’t take the time to check your work before handing it over to us. If you turned in this type of work to a lawyer at a firm, you would probably not get any more assignments, and your job would be in jeopardy.
  2. Deadlines matter.  Clients don’t care that you worked hard on some other assignment and that you’re exhausted.  They don’t care that you’ve got the flu.  Law is a service industry, and the clients who are ill-served by lawyers who miss deadlines (or who wait until the last minute to finish their work) will find other lawyers to do their work in the future.
  3. Yes, sometimes emergencies happen.  If you want us to form a better impression of your work ethic, ask for an extension before the date that something is due.  It’s best not to need an extension (see #2 above), but occasionally life interferes in some pretty awful ways.  If it looks as though you’re going to miss a deadline, the time to ask for help is well in advance.  (That’s why you don’t want to wait until the last minute to start a project–or to finish it.)  You never, ever want to be in the position of telling a senior lawyer who is counting on your work that it’s not going to get to her in time.

We want you to succeed.  The more professionally you behave in law school, the better your habits will be when you’re out in the “real world.”

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.

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?