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Saturday, November 17 , 2018, 10:26 am | Mostly Cloudy with Haze 65º


Brian Burke (Column 188): How San Francisco Opera Is Going to The Dogs

Bing, the managing partner’s fixer (and a recent recruit from Hong Kong via Oxford), took over the meeting convened by the firm’s leader because its top income producer quit.

Her supervising partner, Roy, took her to the Tadich Grill, where he was known and welcomed by the staff — but where she was known even better.

She ordered and ate Tadich’s popular sand dabs, handed her supervisor a letter of resignation and walked out. She did not return to her office.

Instead, she called her staff to join her at the The Jolt, a local coffee house, which was where she marshalled when she didn’t want to meet at the firm.

Bing turned to Bradford, “Since you called me last night, I’ve been able talk to people inside the firm, and I’ve made a lot of calls outside the firm as well.

“I also have some historical information I’ve gathered on my own during the last several months because she interests me. She’s one smart cookie.” He paused for effect. There was none.

“Okay, a pearl before swine. You’ll get no fortune cookie jokes out of me.” Another pause; still no effect.

“You can relax for this. She’s curious and unusual. I talked to six people in the firm who’ve worked under her supervision. They like her, and they admire her.

“They feel loyal to her and protective of her because they think there’s something wrong with the way she’s treated by the firm.

“She unintentionally demonstrated how high the connectivity is among our employees.

“On the day of the lunch, she arrived at work wearing red shoes and a dress with a red belt. It was the first time in six years she did anything that might invite attention to the way she looked. Everyone but the partners knew about it before noon. When those who had worked with her saw her in a dress with a waist and red shoes, they knew something extraordinary was about to happen. Most predicted she was going to quit.

“Even though she’s popular with coworkers, she’s correctly perceived as a loner inside the Firm. She doesn’t try to make alliances, and she belongs to no office cliques.

“She doesn’t gossip. She has something of a life outside the Firm, and she’s seen around town with her Uncle Bruce. He’s an East Bay eccentric who makes frequent and flamboyant forays into some of the city’s finer restaurants.”

When Bing said East Bay eccentric, he made no attempt to conceal the disdain San Franciscans, even its newest residents, feel toward anyone living on the wrong side of their Bay.

This includes Oakland; it especially includes Oakland, but it also includes most of the other places in the world – but not Santa Barbara.

“Uncle Bruce lives with the granny. One of his affectations is a chauffeur called Junie, who is required to wear the old outfit of jackboots to the knee, jodhpurs, a blue suit and a blue hat.

“The only car Junie is given to drive is an old Fleetwood Cadillac. He keeps it maintained and polished, but you could pick one up at a third-tier used car lot for a couple of thousand dollars.

“The driver in the fancy costume and the cheap car are paradoxical – ridiculous really – and that seems to be the kind of thing this Bruce enjoys.

“Bruce has a dog he calls Peaches, but he can’t be bothered with any kind of training, so that’s left to Junie.

“They’ve done whatever you do to qualify Peaches as a service dog, so Bruce says, ‘She goes wherever I go by Act of Congress,’ which is a reference to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“He particularly enjoys taking his dog to places that would prefer she go somewhere else. He’s that kind of guy.

“You all know the firm has season tickets for Giants, Forty-Niners, and Warriors games, and there is never a problem finding someone to use them.

“Since the early 1920s, any law firm with aspirations of participation in San Francisco high finance — as ours definitely does — must also support the San Francisco Opera. This means a generous contribution to each year’s annual fund, which is categorized by amount and published in the program printed for every performance.

“We are also expected to maintain season tickets. Regular opera goers know who belongs in which season ticket seats. In San Francisco, few things are more vulgar than failing to fill a seat that’s been acquired with a season ticket. This Firm has had difficulty in this regard.”

Bradford interrupted Bing’s description of San Francisco High Culture. “Bing, is the dog you were telling us about a golden retriever?”

Bing said, “Yes.”

Bradford said, “I know who that guy is. All too often my wife and I have to use the firm’s opera tickets so the rest of you don’t get run out of town as vulgarians. I’m usually in a foul mood when we get there, and I always see some jackass with the same dog at the opera. I know his intent is to annoy people, and he annoys the hell out of me.”

Only Bing would dare to reply, “I’m sure he’d be delighted to hear you say that.”

Bradford said, “The Board of Supervisors twisted itself into a pretzel over this dog thing. Finally, they bothered to read the Americans with Disabilities Act and properly decided that a dog is not a Service Dog just because the owner says so.

“The dog must provide some sort of service to the owner that’s more than just being good company. That goofy Uncle Bruce sits in one of the boxes. Those people are snobs. What keeps them from tossing him and his dog into the orchestra pit?”

Bing answered, “Junie has trained Peaches to nudge Uncle Bruce as he starts to fall asleep. If he can’t fall asleep, he can’t add his snoring to the score. This has been a problem in the past, and Bruce’s box-mates are grateful to the dog.”

The explanation was provided for Bradford and no one talked until he replied or until it was clear that he was done talking.

Eventually he said, “Maybe the opera wouldn’t mind such a trial – if the Firm got three season tickets and a wake-up dog to sit in the middle ...”

Another pause because they could tell that Bradford wasn’t done.

“I have seen her with him. She’s hardly recognizable — to me at least. My wife points her out in the box every time we go. She says things like, ‘She is stunning.’

“And, Bev, I thought you were off-base when you were talking – regardless of who you were talking about. Now that I realize who you were targeting, I wonder if your boat is tied to the pier. That young woman is stunning when she isn’t in the building making money for you, me, and the rest of the partners. She doesn’t need any tips from you.”

Bev said, “I don’t like opera.”

Bradford said, “What a surprise.”

He continued, “I’ve heard enough. Roy, you’ve let down your Firm. You were well-compensated to watch over your Associate. When you realized you didn’t understand her work, you should have found someone who did. If you had to go outside the firm to hire a consultant, you should have done it.

“A law firm’s most valuable asset is its collection of associates – associates who can make money for it. Without those revenues, the partners are nothing but hourly wage earners. The loss of her revenue is irrevocable and will continue to be for many years to come – and that will be reflected in your bonus.

“Bev, you, too, are at fault. Roy’s failure is one of neglect. Your failure was born of prejudice and an absurd attachment to values you learned in elementary school. You’ve had plenty of time to get rid of them; they have no place in the operation of a law Firm, or at least not in this law Firm.

“I can’t have you in charge of the associate program with that attitude, so that’s over as of right now. I’ll try to find another use for your administrative talents, but I can’t make it a top priority. Like Roy, you should be prepared for a very disappointing bonus.”

He turned to Bing, “I want you to get her back. Come to my office at noon. If you need something to eat, let my secretary know what.” Without another word he left the conference room through the door leading to his office.

Roy was relieved the ordeal was over. In some ways it wasn’t as bad as he had feared – and in other ways it had been worse. Partners had phone numbers for the associates they supervised. He called hers and was glad to get a recorded voice inviting him to leave a message.

“This is Roy. I just survived a meeting called by the boss to find out why you left. He’s displeased, to put it mildly. But it’s with me, not you. He said my failure was born of ignorance and neglect. Both are true.

“He also unloaded on Beverly. She’s the reason you weren’t made a five-year or six-year partner. She doesn’t like you principally because you don’t wear fingernail polish — and for some other reasons the boss called elementary-school prejudices that have no place in our Firm.

“She’s no longer in charge of the associate program, and he’s going to drive her out. He’ll find her a job elsewhere for now, but she’ll be gone by the end of the year.

“Bradford’s fixer, Bing, the guy from Hong Kong, is going to try to get you back. We all hope he can. I suggest that you think about whether there are any terms on which you would come back. If so, tell Bing what they are. I don’t think he’ll risk negotiating with you. I suspect he’s got orders to say ‘yes’ to anything you ask for.

“I apologize. Just like the boss said, I didn’t do my job, which was to both support and appreciate your work. He said, right off the top of his head, that as soon as I realized I didn’t understand your work,

“I should have found and hired a consultant to help me see what you do and how well you were doing it. Of course, I really hope your relationship with the Firm can be patched up, and I would be honored to have you as a partner.

“If it doesn’t work out, I’m positive that you will thrive wherever you go and no matter what you do. In the event you ever need a recommendation from me, I’ll write it and it will glow.”

When Bing arrived at noon, the managing partner had already talked to various members of the firm and had secured the authority he asked for. He told Bing what he could offer to get her back. It was a lot. He asked Bing if he had any questions. Bing didn’t, and so he was dismissed.

Bing said, “I haven’t had a chance to take a single bite out of my sandwich.”

The managing partner said, “That’s okay. Take it with you.”

The next column: A master negotiator negotiates against himself.

— Brian Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he also is the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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