Friday, October 12, 2007

Living the Strategic Life and Moneylaw

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about volunteers. It was inspired by an incident at my school that involved a person in charge of a cushy assignment “volunteering” to do the assignment himself. (On the school yard this is know as bullying.) I was not sure how to tie it to moneylaw but maybe I have discovered a “hook” by expanding on volunteerism and placing it along side other forms or living a strategic life. First, the hook. I think one thing that would characterize a moneylaw school is good communications. I mean straight talk about what one wants does not want, thinks is right or wrong, etc. None of this passive aggressive, indirect BS that seems to infect people from the upper classes. That lowers the noise level so everyone can actually hear each other. The problem is that you can have a faculty of 40 and 30 of them can be good communicators. The ten living the strategic life can screw it up for all. So, that is my reason (excuse) for bringing this up on money law (and I'm sticking to it.)

The strategic life has three components at least: volunteerism, the image of being overworked, and dispassion. I have written about volunteerism as a selfish and even aggressive act. (Although it is probably no worse than the weenies who watch it and ignore it.) The underlying theme is getting what you want while creating in someone else a sense of obligation. Something like, “I volunteered to eat that last piece of cake.” Here are two examples. At my school, because we do not hire people to teach what the students need, 5 people are now teaching two large first year sections. I think when we all agreed to do it, it could be legitimately be regarded as volunteering because it looked like it would be difficult. Now a few of us have decided it is a breeze. One prep and 6 or 8 hours of your teaching obligation is done for the year – hardly anything that should create in the School a need to “compensate” us in one way or another. But a person employing the volunteer strategy will continue the "I am doing you a favor" charade. I do not know if anyone is in this case, but the strategic life liver will.

Here is another one. In my second year of law teaching I was on an 8 person appointments committee. At our weekly meeting it was announced that the budget allowed for 6 people to go to D.C. Now we all know that profs moan and groan about going to the meat market but they really love it – be a big shot for a few days, drink, clown around. So, at the meeting the Chair asked, “Who wants to go.” Not a single hand went up. At the next meeting the Chair announced that every person on the committee had contacted him privately to “volunteer” to go. “Wanting” to go created no implicit debt but a “volunteer” deserves something in return.

The second component is to always appear to be working hard and overburdened. Even if you just finished an hour of spider solitaire, webboggle, surfing the net, or ordering something online, when you come out of your office you are in the midst of something pressing. So many things to do! I have known people who spend hours in the lounge, chit-chatting in offices, taking long lunches who then leave “exhausted.” Again, the implicit message is “see how deserving I am.”

Third, there is the “show no passion” strategy. Best to appear indifferent. “Oh,” is the best response to virtually everything. i.e.,

“There is a spider crawling up your leg!” Proper response: “Oh.”

“You are on fire!” Proper response: “Oh, perhaps one of the staff can look into it”

“Your students want to know if you plan to make up the 18 classes you missed.” Proper response. “Oh, after she finishes returning my calls, grading my exams and picking up my dry cleaning, I suggest you speak to my secretary”

No matter how much you care, do not show it. Basic bargaining 101: no one has any leverage with you when you do not care. Be sure to use words like “Aren’t you and others concerned about X” as opposed to “I really do not like X.” Do not “own” your concerns.

I am not sure that the strategic life is a law professor thing or and overall upper class thing because the only upper class people I know are in law teaching. Am I describing my school? Actually, I can think of very few people who consistently fit the model. Unfortunately, all it takes is a few who do it all the time or many who use it intermittently. In any case, you would be hard pressed to convince me that my School is different from any other. Have I used these strategies? I am sure I have from time to time.

It must be a pain in the ass to keep living the strategic life. It’s definitely a pain in the ass to be around it.


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