Saturday, May 27, 2006

Guest Blogger: Shawn Wood

Shawn Wood is a commercial litigator and partner with the national law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Shawn is also a monthly columnist for Chicago Lawyer magazine and a recipient of its Annual Writing Award. Most recently, he was honored by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin as one of its "40 under 40 Attorneys To Watch" in 2005.

Shawn contributed a piece to this blog around the time of the Academy Awards. This is his second guest blog. I asked him to write a piece about the Boston lawyers who exchanged nasty e-mails, and he was gracious enough to provide the following...

By Shawn Wood

You probably first read the infamous “Lawyers Behaving Badly” e-mail exchange through a forwarded message. Within days, it was featured in the Boston Globe and on CNN. By the end of the month, the story exploded onto every media outlet but Cartoon Network.

And when the media’s talking heads got around to addressing lessons learned, everyone missed the point.

The e-mail exchange was between two lawyers in Boston. Criminal defense attorney Will Korman had offered a job to recent law school graduate Dianna Abdala. She respectfully declined.

Actually, she not-so-respectfully declined. To do it justice, I’ll quote George Michael (and not the one with “guilty feet that had no rhythm”), and say let’s go to the tape:

Abadala: Dear Attorney Korman: At this time [which, incidentally, was well past happy hour at 9:23 on a Friday night], I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew. [sic.] Thank you for the interviews. [signed] Dianna L. Abdala, Esq.

So you’re thinking, all right, it’s mildly annoying. The “lifestyle” part makes her sound like Nicole Ritchie, and signing her name “Esq.” is a bit much, but what’s the big deal? Here’s the exchange the followed:

Korman: “Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite job start), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 p.m. voicemail message to convey this information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationery and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. – Will Korman.”

Abadala: “A real lawyer would have put the contract in writing and not exercised any reliance until he did so. Again, thank you.”

Korman: “Thank you for the refresher course on contracts. This is not a bar exam question. You need to realize this is a very small legal community, especially for the criminal defense bar. Do you really want to start pissing off more experienced lawyers at this early stage of your career?”

Abdala: “Bla Bla Bla.”

After Abdala hit “send” with those three words, this exchange was sent and re-sent all over the globe. The phrase “to pull an Abdala,” consequently, became part of our vernacular.

By the time in reached us here in Chicago (where our “lifestyle” is always a bit behind), the e-mail chain actually shows a fascinating game of telephone. Each person who forwarded the message offers a short commentary on the exchange.

One of my favorites is a guy named David Breen, who rips on Abdala’s failure to distinguish between “reaping what you sow” and reaping what you do with a needle and thread. He also comments that Abadala clearly must not be a BU grad. (Echoes of Thurston Howell’s “Ahh. A Yale man.”)

Another recipient and sender is identified as Alison Foley. Alison says she went to school with Abadala and that the e-mails “truly convey [Abdala’s] personality.” (“I had two classes with her. In both, she would come to class late, sit in the front row eating and drinking (usually chips and a Snapple), and never took notes.”)

These real-time comments also offer an opportunity to learn new online-speak. Most folks know “LOL” means laughing out loud and “BTW” means “by the way,” but one person commenting within the Boston e-mail chain remarks: “WTF is with the Bla, Bla, Bla.”

We learn something new every day.

Once the e-mail exchange was picked up by major news outlets, many of them covered the story by explaining how it “just goes to show that you need to be more careful what you say in an e-mail because it could hurt your career.” These comments seem to miss the larger point.

The more fundamental lesson here is far more simple: DON’T ACT LIKE SUCH A JERK IN THE FIRST PLACE!

This wasn’t a situation like the f-bomb laced tirade by a Chicago real estate associate that made the rounds last year (often referred to as the “monkey scribe” voicemail), where someone blew his cool and yelled at opposing counsel. If we’ve done our jobs well, we’ve all been the recipient of harsh words at some point in our careers.

The Boston e-mail exchange was entirely different. It showed a laughably snotty young lawyer (one of the most convincing antagonists since William Zabka), who spit in the face of someone who was giving her an opportunity, and then she hocked an ever bigger loogie when he tried to explain that the legal community is a small world.

Whether this was all caught on a recorded e-mail or not, whether it was in a professional setting or with a stranger on the bus, what seems important here is to avoid ever acting like such a complete jerk toward another human being (or even toward a cat or goldfish, for that matter).

In a subsequent interview with the Boston Globe, Abdala referred to herself a “trust fund baby” who has “just been taking it easy” because “she worked hard in school.” She also claimed that she was enjoying the notoriety from the all the publicity regarding the e-mails, but also said she had filed a Complaint against Korman with the Massachusetts state disciplinary board complaining about Korman’s forwarding of her messages to third parties.

Wouldn’t you love to be the attorney with the state disciplinary board who had that Complaint land on your desk? You could offer the triumphant three-word response:

Dear Ms. Abdala: Bla, Bla, Bla

If you'd like to see any other guest bloggers, click here:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

From the Archives: (Parents of) Friends

It's big news in Chicago that Jennifer Aniston and her boyfriend Vince Vaughn (a former Chicagoan) are looking at homes here because they want to get out of Hollywood. I've never met Jennifer, but I'm sure she'll love it here.

During the years "Friends" was on the air, the stars of that show rarely made it into Chicago. Jennifer did film a few movies here, and David Schwimmer directed several plays here with his theatre company ("Looking Glass"), but most of the other stars rarely made into town.

"Friends" was one of those television shows that nearly every age group watched--even the WJMK Oldies audience. And while our listeners watched it, they watched it through slightly different eyes. They saw those kids living in luxurious Manhattan lofts and thought: "How in the world can they afford those places? They must cost $10000 a month."

John Landecker, who had two grown-up daughters about the age of the Friends cast, suggested that their parents must be shelling out the cash. That comment inspired me to rewrite the lyrics to the "Friends" theme song by the Rembrandts. Although I didn't have any kids yet, I thought of John's situation with his daughters, and my little brother who brought his laundry home to mom until he got married, and had some fun with the concept.

The result was the following tune. It was a regular part of the Landecker & The Legends stage show for most of the seven years we toured.

(“Parents of”) “Friends”
By Landecker/Kaempfer

The last time you called home was a month ago today,
You just discovered what they meant by take home pay,
We know it’s hard to start a new career,
When your refrigerator’s, only filled, with pizza and beer,

But-I’ll still pay for you
You know it doesn’t matter when,
I’ll still pay for you,
When your car breaks down again,
I’ll still pay for you,
Now can you lose that new tattoo?

You keep saying that my way of life was wrong,
But you’re getting pretty stoned up in your room tokin’ on the bong,
You’ve completely cleaned the basement out of furniture,
And were still not sure, if your new roommate, is a, him or a her,

But-I’ll still pay for you
I’ll always be your daddy,
I’ll still pay for you,
I cough up money gladly,
I’ll still pay for you,
Now can you lose that new tattoo?

Why don’t you come and visit,
That isn’t too hard is it?
You know your Mother’s lasagna,
is simply exquisite,
Despite your self-assurance,
I still pay your car insurance,
Now you know that life ain’t free,
I’m still here to do your laundry,
Your dirty, stinkin’ laundry, baby.

Now I seem to have had more than my fill,
Of paying telephone and doctor’s medical bills,

But-I’ll still pay for you
You know it doesn’t matter when,
I’ll still pay for you,
When your car breaks down again,
I’ll still pay for you,
Now can you lose that new tattoo?

For the rest of the Rick Kaempfer archives, click here:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Half Empty: Dirty Old Men

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

"Dirty Old Men"

By Rick Kaempfer and Dave Stern

It was the summer of our 40th birthday. A group of us (all turning 40) gathered in New Orleans to relive our glory years and pretend like we could still party like 20-somethings. It was just the guys. All wives were left behind in our respective home towns...all happily allowing their pathetic aging husbands go to New Orleans for three days of decadence.

And we were having a great time too. Unlike our youthful partying days, we even had a few dollars in our pockets to enjoy great meals in addition to the many, many, many drinks we were consuming. And though we started to feel younger simply by being back in a non-stop partying town, there was also one moment that made us face reality.

If you’ve never been to Bourbon Street, let’s just say that the way gals earn those cheap plastic beads is an eye-popping experience. It happens time and time again, often within a few feet of where you are standing. Right there. Slightly below eye level. Accompanied by a big smile.

“Hello fresh air,” parts of them say. “Yes it is a little cold out here.”

What we didn’t realize at the time is that the audience for these free shows is chosen for its non-threatening nature. They look for men with beads—standing far away, say on balconies—or for men close by who wouldn’t dream of being a problem...

We weren’t on balconies. We didn’t have beads. And we were given show after show after show without even requesting it.

Our suspicions were officially confirmed under direct cross-examination. One young lady seemed to be following us around, earning beads after beads from nearby balcony residents. One of us jokingly said to her...

“I guess you don’t have to worry about us, huh?”

“That’s for sure,” she said.


Of course, she’s absolutely correct. We’re beyond harmless. Even our internal fantasies end abruptly with thoughts of divorce court, splitting up our property, and waving goodbye to our children, our wives, and our lives.

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we don’t notice things. We’re not dead. We’re only half-way there. Our eyes are still working reasonably well. What else do we notice?

*The Spanish Language channels
When we’re channel surfing, and we come to the Spanish language channels, we stop. We admit it. We don’t speak Spanish, and we can’t follow anything that is being said, yet we stop. It’s not for the soccer games.

This show is so wrong. One man has five women fighting over him. These young trashy women are willing to say or do anything to the other women on the show in order to get their man. It’s demeaning to women. It teaches women all the wrong values. And we stop every time we’re flipping past it.

OK, this is going to sound sick, but someone has to admit this. All of the cartoon princesses, and we mean all of them, are easy on the eyes (and since they are of marrying age—all of them are legal too). Jasmine could have been the girl in New Orleans following us around—in fact she looked just like her. Cinderella cooks, cleans, and let’s face it, she’s a knockout. As for Snow White, she even sings while she cleans. And Sleeping Beauty...she has the word “Beauty” in her name—AND she would let us sleep in.

Is that all? No, of course not. There are many other examples of noticing things with our eyes, but let us explain how this works in the minds of dirty old men (at least in our case). It’s the same thing every time. There are really six steps.

1. Whoa, look at that.
2. Wow, can you imagine...
3. Stop it, sicko. You’re old enough to be her father.
4. Look at what you’ve done! Everything you’ve worked for, this wonderful loving family and wife—and you’re going to throw it all away for a princess?
5. Change the channel.
6. Ah, a sporting event.

Every time our wives come into the room and complain that we’re watching yet another sporting event, we just take the punishment. We deserve it, and they don’t even realize why. Because if they knew, they wouldn’t be complaining that we’re watching sporting events.

On the other hand, when the women suddenly sit down and watch the sporting events with us, they aren’t just marveling at the athletic ability of the soaring, powerful, muscle-bound, tank-top wearing basketball stars with big feet, are they? What did that last breathless “Oh My” really mean?

Where’s the remote? I think Elimi-Date is on channel 6.

We have started accumulating our "Half Empty" columns here:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Suburban Man: They say the darndest things, again

By Rick Kaempfer

Every day at home with my boys brings another “Darndest Things” moment, and makes me appreciate the genius of Art Linkletter even more. He was the first one to harness this unpredictable free entertainment of childhood logic, expose it to the masses, and make himself quite rich in the process.

Alas, he also owns the copyright.

But that doesn’t mean the concept itself isn’t still wildly entertaining. Two months ago I provided examples of “darndest things” from my own children, and you responded in large numbers. Last month I printed some of your responses (which I found even more entertaining.) I guess this means that this month, it’s my turn again. Next month—it’s back to you.

Here are a handful of recent “Darndest Things” moments from my own brood...

*On Easter Sunday, 3-year-old Sean was just about to eat another Hershey’s Kiss.
“I think you’ve had enough chocolate,” I said.
He looked up at me and replied: “But my butt said I could have just one more kiss.”

*10-year-old Tommy joined me on the deck for a chat.
“Dad, can I ask you a question?”
"You've met a lot of celebrities, right?"
"Even really big stars?"
"Did you ever meet Hillary Duff?"
"No, sorry, I never met her."
He started walking away, when I called out to him.
"Why did you want to know?"
"Oh," he said. "The girls at school would have been so impressed."

*I asked 8-year-old Johnny what he wanted to be when he grows up. He thought about this long and hard, and said in all earnestness...”I think I’ll be a wrestler in outer space.”

*I don’t want to say that Sean is spending too much time with my German mother, but he’s constantly telling me to “Vait!” and asking if we can go for a “Valk.”

*Tommy stabbed a dagger in my heart last fall during the World Series. It was time to go to school and he told me he didn’t have any shirts left in his drawer. I looked in his shirt drawer and found two Cubs T-shirts.
“What about these?” I asked.
“Dad,” he said, “I can’t wear those. The kids at school will make fun of me.”

*Johnny was turning into a one-trick pony with the stories he was writing at school. All of them were about video game characters (real or imaginary) and most of them were getting a little violent—his characters tended to die fiery deaths in a furnace. Knowing the hypersensitive school system, I gently urged him to stay away from violence before he got in trouble.
“Why don’t you write about something else?” I suggested. “What else interests you?”
“Geckos,” he said.
“Great,” I said. “Write about geckos.”
The next evening I got a phone call from his teacher.
“Mr. Kaempfer,” she said. “I’m a little worried about Johnny’s stories.”
“I know,” I said. “I already talked to him about it. I told him no more video game stories.”
“Those are fine,” she said. “This one he wrote today about geckos isn’t fine. It begins like this...
‘Once upon a time a boy gecko got into bed with a girl gecko and they made nine gecko babies...”
(The moral of the story is—never tell a writer what to write.)

*Actual conversation on the teeter-totter in the park.
Dad: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sean: A doctor. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Dad: (chuckle) Good question.
Sean: Do you want to be a mom so you can go to work?

OK—your turn.

If you have any you’d like to share, please send them in by clicking on the word “Comments” below. (It e-mails your responses to me). We won’t make any money on it (damn you Art Linkletter!), but at least we’ll provide someone with a smile to help through another grownup day.

If you'd like to read previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, May 21, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Destination Northwest Indiana

By Rick Kaempfer

(From the May 2006 issue)

We were just looking for a quiet weekend getaway. It had been a rough couple of months in our house, and the wife and I simply hadn’t been able to relax and spend time with each other. I dropped the kids off at my sister’s house, and we headed to Northwest Indiana for the weekend. We only had one rule: no plans.

My wife had looked at nearly every single bed & breakfast in the area (on the internet), before choosing the Duneland Beach Inn as our destination. (Duneland Beach Inn & Restaurant, 3311 Pottawattammie Trial, Duneland Beach, IN 46360, 219-874-7729 or 800-423-7729, She couldn’t have made a better choice. Even though a private party had been booked in the dining room, the staff was helpful, friendly, and accommodating. They set us up in the Tally-Ho room; a room with a fox-hunting theme to the décor. They even helped us pick out a nearby restaurant, and asked us about the next morning’s breakfast.

“What are the breakfast hours?” I asked.
“8:30—10:30,” they said.
“I don’t know, how about nine?” I asked the wife.
“How about 10:00?” she said.

She wasn’t fooling around with this no-plans idea, and I didn’t exactly need my arm twisted.

Since it was just before Christmas, we headed over to the mall to do a little shopping. We had been to Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets (601 Wabash Street, Michigan City, IN, 219-879-6506, before, but for some reason this time it felt so much more relaxing. (Oh that’s right; I wasn’t chasing a three year old through the clothing racks, while also trying to keep an eye on a 10-year-old and a 7-year old.) The collection of outlets there is legendary; Ann Taylor, Casual Corner, Old Navy, Nine West, OshKosh B’Gosh , Crate & Barrel, Polo Ralph Lauren, Coach, Burberry, Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, and many others. We only hit a few of them, because my wife was wise enough to sense the onset of my whining, and we had come to this area to get as far away from whining as possible.

It was dinner time anyway. The restaurant they recommended to us was a little place just across the street from the mall. (Café Elite & Catering, 231 W. 7th St, Michigan City, IN, 219-873-1788). I must admit we had low expectations, but we were blown away by the fine dining hidden away in this little house on 7th street. The restaurant probably can’t serve more than thirty or forty people at a time, but the food is excellent. I still occasionally have visions of the cup of seafood bisque and/or the mussels appetizer with andouille sausage in a spicy lobster broth. My wife had the filet (don’t get her started talking about those garlic mashed potatoes that came with it), and I had the scallops. Plus, we each had a scrumptious glass of wine. I was bracing myself when I opened the billfold to look at the total, and I was absolutely shocked. It was $58. Are you kidding me? I’ve spent more than that at Applebee’s.

The next fourteen hours of the weekend were probably my favorite. We really loved the atmosphere at the Duneland Beach Inn. It’s an old farmhouse, built in the 1920s, and renovated by current owner Annette Corbett in 2003. When she bought the place it had over twenty rooms, but she added the restaurant, made the rooms much larger and more luxuriant, and now there were only nine homey rooms. We didn’t leave ours for a very long time. That bed was so comfortable, the hallways were so quiet, and they actually respected the “Do Not Disturb” sign (nobody was knocking on our doors to clean the room early in the morning). We achieved a level of relaxation in that room we haven’t had before or since.

By the time 10:00 a.m. arrived; we could have floated down the stairs for breakfast. Annette’s dog Cagney was there to greet us, and it felt more like we were visiting old friends than staying at a hotel. Annette asked us what we wanted for breakfast, and when we couldn’t decide, she offered to make us special omelets. She fed us so much food we knew we wouldn’t have to eat again until dinner.

It was around 11 a.m. by now, and since we had not made any plans, we simply got in the car and started driving. I thought it might be fun to spend the afternoon in Valparaiso because I heard it was a quaint college town. On the way there, we saw a sign that read “Attraction: Winery.” Well, if it says attraction, we have to check it out, right? That’s the fun of not having any plans.

Anderson’s Vineyard & Winery (4320 East U.S. Highway 6, Valparaiso, IN, 219-464-4936) located in the middle of nowhere, was a great little find. They specialize in light fruity wines produced from fruit and grapes grown in the Midwest and as luck would have it, they also offer wine-tasting. We tried them all and found one that was so good we bought two bottles (Vidal).

With full tummies and a lovely aftertaste in our mouths, we finally arrived on the Valparaiso campus. The campus itself wasn’t that spectacular, but the downtown area of Valparaiso was an antique shopper’s paradise. A half dozen antique stores lined one side of Lincolnway, and we checked them all out. We were on a quest. Our youngest son Sean goes to sleep to the sound of a music box, and his old one had just broken (which will happen when you constantly toss it across the room). We looked at every music box and wind-up musical snow dome in every store on the street. None of them were quite right. Either they were too girly (ballerinas, princesses), or they played terrible songs (“Feelings,” “Lara’s Theme,” “Nadia’s Theme,” “Buffalo Gals,” etc.)

It wasn’t until we made our last stop (Valparaiso Antique Mall, 212 E. Lincolnway, Valparaiso, 219-465-1869) that we hit pay dirt. A beautiful snow dome with a nativity scene was priced at only $3, and I couldn’t understand why. It was in flawless condition—it probably would have sold for more than $50 at a Hallmark store. As I wound the music, I tried to imagine what warm soothing song might be waiting for me. Would it be “Away in a Manger” or “What Child Is This” or maybe my favorite Christmas song “Silent Night?”

When the tune started, I laughed out loud. It was “Chicago, Chicago.” I immediately went to the register and purchased it. This is now the most treasured tacky item in our home (and I collect them). Every time I wind the music I think of that poor schlub in China who had no idea what song this was. Either that, or Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus are bigger fans of “that toddlin’ town” than I realized.

Our last stop for the weekend was dinner at Maxine’s Restaurant in downtown Michigan City (512 Franklin Square, Michigan City, 219-872-4500). We knew it was taking a chance showing up on a Saturday night with no reservation (remember—no plans), but we also figured we could wait at the bar if necessary. It just so happened that a snowstorm suddenly hit the area, and by the time we arrived at the restaurant, it was a virtual white-out. Bad for anybody driving around Michigan City; good for us. We got a table right away.

With a jazz pianist playing in the foyer, and the wonderful aroma wafting in from the kitchen, we immediately knew we picked the perfect location to end our weekend. I got a big steak, and my wife got the crab cakes, and we sat in complete silence at the table. We were too busy drifting off into our own little relaxed worlds to care about the lack of conversation. I raised my glass and proposed a toast.

“To relaxation,” I said.

When my wife clinked my glass with hers, I saw her smile. A relaxed, content smile. That was truly a sight for sore eyes.

This is just one of my three pieces in this month's SHORE MAGAZINE. I'm really proud of this magazine. You should get a copy of it if you can--it's available in the tri-state area (Michigan, Indiana, Illinois). If you want to check out the on-line edition of the magazine, go here: