Earlier this month (April 2019), I along with 12 of my AJC colleagues participated in the extraordinary AJC – Adenauer Leadership Exchange Program to Germany. For the past 39 years, AJC and the Adenauer Siftung have sent yearly delegations of their leaders to Germany and the USA for a weeklong immersive experience with top-level decision makers, politicians, ambassadors, journalists, opinion leaders and leaders of the Jewish community. Through a series of nonstop morning-to-night meetings in Hamburg and Berlin, our trip gave us a deep understanding and appreciation of Germany’s history, culture, current political atmosphere and the extensive domestic, European and global challenges Germany faces.
My key take-aways are that the more I learned (and we learned so much), the more I realized how little we know. Life is complex and surely that is the case with Germany. Every issue Germany faces has a myriad of aspects and there are no simple shortcut answers. It requires deep understanding, respect and skill. Diplomacy seems to me similar to brain surgery. A sledgehammer is not the right tool if you want to avoid doing more harm than good. Unfortunately, a sledgehammer is what Germans feel – the Russian Invasion of Crimea; America’s shift into a more isolationist stance (which, we were told many times, started with President Obama); the questioning of NATO; President Trump’s critical tone towards Germany (which is hugely upsetting to the folks we met); Brexit; the rise of authoritarian regimes in the EU; just to name a few.
I was struck by the depth of knowledge possessed by the people we met, many of whom spent decades immersed in their areas of interest. Others deeply moved me with their incredible caring, including, for example, the people in charge of helping refugees to effectively integrate into Germany society. I was inspired by the Chabad Rabbi who bravely set up a Jewish Day School in Hamburg for 12 students a decade ago for a school which today, is fully enrolled with 240 students (half of whom are not Jewish!) and a long wait list. The fact that the Chabad is only a few miles from the Hamburg Blue Mosque where four terrorists planned the September 11th attacks was unnerving to say the least. And, then infuriating to learn that Iran via Hezbollah continues to operate through that Mosque, notwithstanding AJC's tireless efforts to confront Hezbollah.
A half-day of briefings at the Bundeswehr Military Leadership Academy in Hamburg, taught me much about the central role Germany has played in a number of critical NATO actions and how the Germany public struggles to redefine the role a German military should play in an ever changing world against the backdrop of its troubled Third Reich history. We learned about the economic struggles and cultural disruption for many living in the former East Germany and the rise of xenophobia and the authoritarian AfD party.
Multiple visits to the Parliament (known as the Bundestag) to meet a range of parliamentarians exposed us to the complexity and challenges of coalition governments. Meeting with the EU’s Ambassador to Berlin gave us tremendous insight into the importance of Germany to the EU, the EU to Germany and the reciprocal Germany/EU relationship with the USA. I am now more convinced than ever that the Transatlantic Alliance is the greatest force of peace and prosperity ever known to humanity. We must do all we can to strengthen this Alliance and all the institutions connected to it.
I was fortunate to have a private tour of the Chancellery and the museum collection that included the original speech cards used by JFK for his famous “Est Ein Berliner” and President Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”. Photo below. This reminded me poignantly of the horrors of the Cold War and how we must remember that that although freedom has a high cost, that cost pales in comparison to the evils that are unleashed by authoritarian regimes.
I could go on and on. A colleague asked me, “Was the trip complete? Was anything missing?”. The answer is that it was full and complete as possible given the six-day time frame. That being said, the trip utterly failed to quench my thirst and instead whetted my appetite to learn much more. This to me, is the highest compliment to AJC, the Adenauer Siftung and its staff, my 12 fellow travelers, and to all the people we met who made this a most memorable and impactful experience.
I am happy for my client, Jax Schott. We closed this deal with Related for a new yoga studio on Roosevelt Island. In a time of much contentiousness in the world, it is great to work on a deal that is, what I call, a triple win. A win for Jax, a win for Related and a win for the community.
Congratulations to the Patriots for continuing their remarkable run of success. A special call out to the first ever Jewish Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman. Each time a barrier is broken, it demonstrates that stereotypes of who is capable of what, are antiquated. Now that the football season is over, the players get a few months of rest before they gear up again for another season.
For those fighting for the values we hold most dear in our world, there is no off-season. The non-democratic polarizing forces that want to bring us back to the Middle Ages or Stone Age, never rest. Thus, the demands of the time compel us to be fully informed, ever vigilant and completely engaged in our advocacy. One of my highlights of the Super Bowl was watching Bill Belichick scream at the refs in the last minute of the game while he had a virtually insurmountable 10 point lead. He took nothing for granted until the victory was fully secure.
Fortunately, we are not alone. Together, like any great team, we achieve a collective success that is much greater than what we could achieve on our own.
In my last blog post, I spoke of a trip to Washington, DC and the various memorials that attest to the grand vision and immense sacrifice of so many to secure the blessings of liberty that most people in this world do not get to experience. Today, I wish to highlight the timeless words of Abraham Lincoln on display at The Lincoln Memorial, which capture his transcendent mindset. While this blog post is not directly related to legal matters, I do believe that if every litigant reflected on the true meaning of its words, many disputes would be resolved in a few hours.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
After reading these words, does this change your perspective on any pending battle you’re currently fighting in your life?
In Client Goals 1: How to Avoid Aimless Drifting, I spoke of the need for having a clear goal in all your legal endeavors. In this blog post, I will focus on the need for having a clear and meaningful goal that is worthy of your time and energy – that supports your life/business. Too often clients and their lawyers lose sight of the big picture and end up wasting a tremendous amount of time and money.
In additional to my legal and mediation practice, I have carved out time to be involved with an NGO that focusses on global issues. A few years ago, I was in Washington, DC at a conference that focused in large part on Iranian efforts to develop a nuclear weapon and global efforts to prevent that from happening. I was impressed to see how many people dedicate a good portion of their days focusing on truly making a difference in the world.
Notwithstanding, and perhaps because of, the dysfunction that often plagues Washington DC, I find it important, inspiring and uplifting to visit our nation’s capital. The various memorials attest to the grand vision and immense sacrifice of so many to secure the blessings of liberty that most people in this world do not get to experience and for which we must not take for granted.
Immediately after the conference ended, I walked to the Jefferson Memorial and read Jefferson’s inspiring words as follows:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men. We . . . solemnly publish and declare, that these colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states. . . And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Jefferson and the other founders of our Nation were able to bring forth their vision because they took the time to reflect on their greater purpose and aligned their actions with that purpose. Similarly, it is important to take a break every now and then to align our business and legal objectives with our own greater perspective on what really matters to us.
When you find yourself enmeshed or about to get enmeshed in a litigation, or you are about to buy or sell a business, take a step back: Ask yourself if what you are about to do will enhance your life. If you realize it will not, explore the most efficient way of extricating yourself from the situation.
Years ago, I attended a conference for lawyers in Amelia Island, Florida. The location was spectacular but there were mosquitoes galore. The glorious brochures beckoning me to come to this paradise location never mentioned these bugs, or how much they would enjoy my blood. (I thought, is this how our clients feel about us lawyers? I’ll come back to this question in a future blog post.)
Unfortunately, I did not have a car and the hotel did not sell bug repellent. So I was stuck in Paradise, indoors. Had someone been honest with me and WARNED me about the mosquitoes, I would have been fully prepared with mosquito repellent and enjoyed my time immensely.
Well, during that conference, there was a panel discussion with 3 hugely successful business owners. The business owners were speaking to us lawyers on what they look for and expect from their lawyers. The following quote continues to resonate to this day.
“I demand my lawyer tell me what I need to know, not what I want to hear.”
Wow! So there it is. Smart successful clients want lawyers to give them the bad news. “Tell it straight. Tell me up front. Tell me what I need to know.”
If you are the client, make sure you tell this to your lawyer up front. It will save you a tremendous amount of wasted time and money and will help you avoid bad results. If you are the lawyer, tell your client up front that this is your approach. If they don’t like it, get rid of them as a client. A client who insists on keeping their head in the sand is a bad client. In the end, when their fantasy expectations come crashing down, they’ll blame you. Then what?
On a closing note, if you visit the beautiful Amelia Island Resort in May (or any month to be safe), make sure you bring insect repellent!
In my last blog post, we were drifting in a sailboat aimlessly a few feet from the shore and realized that this is not how we should approach our legal matters. I posed a series of questions to help clients begin to identify their optimal goals. In this post, we will look at phase 2 of the goal setting process — realism.
When I serve as a mediator, it strikes me how two parties can look at the same dispute and come to opposite conclusions as to their chances of prevailing in court. Recently, I mediated a complex insurance dispute with sophisticated parties and experienced legal counsel. Each party and their lawyers seemed to truly believe they had a 90% chance of winning. How is this possible?
Were the lawyers building up the case and telling their clients what they thought their clients each wanted to hear? It is possible. However, in this situation, as I met each side separately, I experienced how that lawyer only focused on facts that supported their position. When I pointed out other provisions in the contract that went against their position, I could see lightbulbs going on. It was as though they had never even noticed those adverse provisions. This is classic confirmation bias and the consequences can be devastating.
Whether or not the lawyers were telling their clients what they thought their clients wanted to hear or not, is a subject for a future blog post. The point I want to make in this post is that it is critical that both lawyer and client fully understand and appreciate all the factors that go against your position so you can effectively size up the strength or weakness of your position. If you go into a battle believing you have the firepower to prevail and it turns out you don’t, then the results will be disastrous.
Once parties get realistic, resolution is easy. In the complex insurance dispute discussed above, they had been fighting for 2 years. After they realized their chances were in fact 50/50, the parties settled after only 4 hours of mediation.
In the next blog post, I’ll delve into what you as a client need to do to make sure you are getting a realistic perspective from your lawyer.
A few years ago, my client took me sailing. I am a novice and relied on his expertise, which for some reason was sorely lacking that day. There were a number of technical difficulties to start. After an hour, we finally left the shore. We did not get very far before we ended up drifting here and there without any clear destination in mind. I thought to myself, is this what I drove 2 hours for? Of course, I have been able to chide him for years about this experience, so it ended up being worth it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to legal matters, too often clients and their lawyers manage deals and disputes in quite the same way. There is a lot of drifting and lack of skill, and it ends up not being a laughing matter.
In dealing with any legal matter, having a crystal-clear goal and destination is essential. Anyone who has been embroiled in a legal dispute or contentious transaction knows that the emotions of fear and anger are ramped up. When these emotions are ramped up, there is a strong tendency to be reactive and impulsive. This type of behavior rarely suits your ultimate goal.
To prevent such reactivity, it is important to ground your thoughts and feelings by asking questions such as “Is my goal crystal clear? Does my immediate goal support my long-term goals? If I achieve my goal, how will it benefit me? Is this the best goal possible for me or my business?”
By asking yourself these questions, you will be able to set a clear destination for your legal matter and avoid unproductive and costly drifting.