Posts Tagged 'Survival'

The Power of Fear

I’ve been in touch with several ex-Hellerites who’ve told me that they don’t want to join the class action or even file a proof of claim for fear that they might not get a recommendation or reference from an attorney or shareholder at Heller Ehrman.

“1, 2, 3, 4, . . .” Sorry.  Just counting to ten before I write anything else.  More than anger it saddens me that anyone who was an employee of Heller Ehrman – and is owed money to which they are rightfully entitled – would have this mindset.

I understand that the economy sucks, the job market is tight and there are some real horror stories of survival going on.  But you should never sell yourself short when it comes to recovering monies that were basically taken from you by Heller Ehrman and the banks.

I can relate my own experience: up until this past week, I was unemployed for over five months.  I recently secured a position with Mayer Brown here in Chicago in the legal IT field and during the entire interview and reference checking process, I did not hide the fact that I am part of a class action suit.  Hell, I wasn’t even shy (nor ever have been, for that matter) about running this blog.

If you have concerns about securing references and recommendations here is my personal advice:

1.  Join LinkedIn which is a free networking resource for professionals.  There is a large presence of former Heller Ehrman employees.  You will be able to connect with them and this is the bet part: you can ask them to write you a recommendation online to be posted with your profile.  You can also write recommendations for those ex-Hellerites you worked with and feel were valuable assets to the firm.  

2.  Stay in contact with people you want to use as references.  If they are non-Heller people, then call them up and make sure they understand what is going on with the dissolution and bankruptcy.  I am pretty certain you will find a very sympathetic crowd.

3.  Seek out other social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter to expand your contacts.  

In no way should you talk yourself into accepting less than what you are entitled to especially when it comes to any money that Heller Ehrman owes to you.  

Happy New Year

I hope that 2009 brings all of us what we need as well as what we desire.  Much has taken place over the past three and a half months and some of us don’t want to look back.  This is understandable.

In the new year followers of Heller Highwater can count on frequent communication and updates on the bankruptcy process as well as helpful tools for filing taxes (you didn’t forget did you?)  and making it through 2009.

And this Friday you’ll see posts on how to file a proof of claim in the bankruptcy process, how to join the newly formed Employees’ Committee as well as other information.  

The bankruptcy court and the Heller Dissolution Committee must face the fact that the  former employees of Heller Ehrman who are owed money as a group constitute one of the largest unsecured creditors in this process.   We don’t intend to be out-maneuvered or under represented.  And much of that depends on your participation.

I look forward to traveling down this road with you over the next few months and years.  Have a great New Year!!!

Evaluations and Bonuses

I forgot to mention that last Friday, December 12th, was when most of Heller Ehrman’s support staff would have received their bonuses with much of that based on the evaluations for the period October 2007 – September 2008.

Did anyone get a chance to complete their self-evaluation as requested by their manager during the chaos of the capsizing of the S.S. Heller Ehrman?  I did, but that should surprise most of you, since I tend to get monumental tasks like self-evaluations out of the way early.  That’s why your cruise director is known to make Martha Stewart look like a dirty hippie.

So in the spirit of giving this holiday season, I give to you the self-evaluation I actually submitted using that screwed up Ival or Eval or whatever system. And keep in mind this was submitted on September 15, 2008 – before the dissolution announcement on September 26, 2008.

1. Self Evaluation

1. Please comment on contributions you have made in the last year. For example, you may want to consider special projects, your impact on client/customer service and any improvements to your efficiency or production.

• The contributions I have made or attempted to make in this past year pale in comparison to those that I’ve made in years past. According to my records I have completed the following:

[Note: your Cruise Director decided to omit this very boring, very technical project section.  Another gift to you.]

2. Please comment on any new skills you have developed and/or responsibilities you have assumed since your last evaluation.

• Unfortunately I don’t believe I’ve had the opportunity to develop any new skills since my last evaluation except for an increased sense of cynicism and skepticism as to the direction of Heller Ehrman. I guess this is my space and I’m going to use it, so you’ll have to bear with me while I have my Julia Sugarbaker moment:

After working for global law firms in an IT capacity for close to 20 years, after having seen the writing on the wall when I worked at Brobeck, and after gaining more information about the possible status of my position from outside sources, albeit somewhat sleazy ( and unreliable, than from the people I’ve actually worked with for over eight years, I am still amazed at the charade that Heller Ehrman management is performing and yet still calling it management.

While we attempt to trot out the half-dead, two-legged horse for yet another Dancing With Heller competition – with dance partner #4 I believe, there is one responsibility I’ve learned over the past year.

Well maybe two. Wait – learned is not the correct term – how about resurrected? That’s it. Two responsibilities that I’ve resurrected over the past year: I have a responsibility to myself (meaning managing to make a living and survive and perhaps enjoy what I do if that is possible) and as Heller has taught me, a responsibility to speak the truth, even if that means telling the emperor that he has no clothes.

I began expressing my concern to management late last year when the shareholder and other defections began. Perhaps I went through the wrong channels by directly emailing Matt Larrabee or perhaps what I had to say had no value. But those suggestions made back then were politely acknowledged and probably politely shelved. So much for feeling a part of Heller Ehrman. Back then, the title of my email was “I believe in Heller Ehrman.” Right now I think I’d be better off believing in fairies a la Peter Pan. At least they have peanut butter.

Here is what I don’t believe:

– Heller Ehrman can survive this current crisis and the firm that we knew a year ago will not exist at the end of 2008;

– management is treating its staff, particularly its professional support staff, with respect and dignity by keeping them uninformed;

– that the financial situation at Heller Ehrman is not as bad as some make it out to be;

– that management didn’t take the opportunity to radically change the way it does business – Heller has always been ahead of the curve in terms of certain trends but when management cannot engender loyalty or enthusiasm, how can you even follow a trend let alone make one? See the Professional Goals section for some of the ventures that I would have liked to pursue here at Heller but will most likely be doing so somewhere else.

Here is what I do believe:

– that I will be screwed in some new and different ways including lock up of 401k funds due to lack of administrative fee payment by Heller and by not being paid accrued vacation;

– that the firm will continue on its current course of dumb-sizing until there is really no one left to do much of anything. Wait. That feels like right now;

– that management will have squandered the great skills of so many great people here while looking out for themselves and their own versions of golden parachutes;

– that there will be attempts at “business as usual” this week and the coming weeks, while more people plan their exit so that they leave the ship’s deck at a slight slant and not when it is at a 90 degree angle;

– that the shareholders will come out of this much better than professional staff when all is said and done;

– that for years people will shake their heads and mutter “What a shame.”

Face it. We live in the decade of the Big Lie. The decade began with the swearing in of a dubiously elected president, a company called Enron that lied to its employees and stockholders as to its financial state right up to the very end, the arrest and conviction of CEOs (Tyco, Worldcom) for mismanagement and fraud, an administration claiming that a certain country had weapons that it didn’t and that a certain country was harboring terrorists when it didn’t, financial companies selling products to consumers that promised them the American Dream yet drove them into bankruptcy and ruin.

It’s nice to keep hearing the same doublespeak from Heller management. Phrases are a nice life preserver to buoy one’s spirits in a time of crisis. I believe the Katrina victims had theirs (“Help is on the way”), as did our schoolchildren (“No Child Left Behind”) and even our boys and girls overseas (“Mission Accomplished.”)

And if there isn’t deception at least there is always distraction. And I think that is what management is counting on. Keep a business as usual appearance and we’ll distract them from what’s really going on.

There is great danger in only a few deciding what is genuine information and what is not. Misuse of power comes from not disclosing information. Or only disclosing it in condensed versions or soundbites.

Finally, if management thinks that feeding me these bits will suffice then I have to speak honestly and say that no, it won’t. I can’t afford to make decisions – on how to pursue a project and help make Heller the best law firm that it used to be or personal decisions as to my livelihood – based on sound bites and distractions. My mother didn’t raise any stupid children, although there are two ugly ones still at home.

3. Please list your professional goals for the coming year. You may want to address the Professional Support Staff Core Competencies in your goals; they are as follows: Client Service, Initiative, Ownership, Resourcefulness, Effectiveness and Flexibility

• So, what would I have wanted to accomplish professionally to benefit both me and Heller this past year?

What will I most likely be doing in the next year? I’ll let you in on some of it:

– I won’t be working for attorneys. I’m committed to no longer work in an environment where people can bill $595 an hour yet only see 1/3 of it. Even I know this is stupid. Heller should have paved the way for the virtual law firm years ago. I’ve been telecommuting from my home in Chicago for four years now and the rapid pace of technology has been dizzying while most Hellerites continued to work in their expensive brick and mortar palaces – and using Times New Roman 13pt font no less (WTF?). Heller had the opportunity for several win wins if only management could have seen those wins and those opportunities.

– I won’t work where there is a large geek gap with a technological gerontocracy clinging to what is familiar at the expense of trying and leveraging new technologies. Think Law Firm 2.0 – Heller could have defined it. And power resides in those who control definitions. I no longer want to fight a bunch of old f***s over silly things like font sizes. I want to work where the majority of people are green and paperless. Where people work at home and feel so good about their jobs that they drop what they are doing at any time of the day or night and help resolve situations so that a global firm can survive.

– I will work where staff is respected especially their home lives. Heller had always been at the forefront of this and will probably be that way until the end. That is one thing I am thankful that Heller has clung to.

The law firm, nay – any professional firm, wanting to survive to the next decade had better look towards these trends and opportunities:

– web 2.0, work 2.0

– open source – Microsoft products suck – you and I know it. That’s another emperor who needs to be told a bit of news.

– social networking to the max

– virtualization – not just servers but people. When you outsource don’t dumbsize. And allow more workers to work at home – they’ll be happy, you’ll be happy, we’ll all be happy and we’ll get a lot more done.

I know that in my next ventures I will be meeting many of the fine Hellerites I’ve come to know and love.

Unfortunately we’ll reflect on Heller as one does when you remember an old love affair, or an old friend who died too young.

“Are Your Holiday Cards Done Yet?”

If you worked as a secretary at Heller Ehrman you remember the big push by Marketing to get those holiday cards out to clients, etc.  And if you were a trainer or in IT you remember having to pull out all the stops to get people re-acclimated with Interface CRM to generate the labels etc.

Well,I’m  sorry to say that this is one last push for holiday cards but I promise this will be worth it.  

Send the members of the Dissolution Committee and other Heller Ehrman shareholders your sincerest holiday wishes if you are up to it, and you if can afford it.  When making out your holiday cards over the next few days, set aside a few for those people who’ve had the greatest impact on your holiday season this year.

Let them know that you were thinking of them and how nice it is that they’ve landed safely at another firm if that’s the case.  Make sure they know how their actions have impacted you and your family this holiday season.  Tell them about the lack of medical coverage, mention what you’ve had to do without since your termination, and fill them in on how it is to look for work in this economy.

Here is a short list of Dissolution Committee members and a few key players in Heller’s demise.  


Peter Benvenutti
Jones Day
555 California Street, 26th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

Robert D. Framm
Covington & Burling LLP
One Front Street
San Francisco, CA 94111-5356

Robert T. Haslam
333 Twin Dolphin Drive
Suite 700
Redwood Shores, CA 94065-1418

Jonathan Hayden
Lovitt & Hannan, Inc.
900 Front Street, Suite 300
San Francisco 94111

Richard Holdrup
Heller Ehrman
333 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

Barry S. Levin
The Orrick Building
405 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105-2669

Matt Larrabee
Dechert LLP
One Maritime Plaza
Suite 2300
San Francisco, CA 94111-3513

Lynn J. Loacker
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
1633 Broadway, 27th Floor
New York, New York 10019-6708

Brad Scott
Heller Ehrman
333 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

Paul Sugarman
Heller Ehrman
333 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94104

Is a Resume Enough?

So, you’ve been out of work for six weeks, and let’s say you start to think:  I am doing enough?

Such introspection and self-doubt is normal when you’ve been thrown overboard and trying to find your way to dry land like many of us.  But if you haven’t been in the job market within the past 2-3 years, you may not realize all the resources available to you for networking.

Yes – I said 2-3 years.  Let’s take 2005 as the last time you went through the job search process.  You had your resume, you were smart to have one that kept formatting to a minimum knowing it would be scanned and analyzed on a computer, you utilized Craigslist, Monster, HotJobs – you had all the bases covered.

Fast forward 3 years and what has changed?  The blog The Legal Watercooler has a great post entitled You Updated Your Resume . . . Now What?? in which many of the latest networking tools are discussed.  While I already knew many of these sites and tools, even I picked up some valuable pointers.  Ask yourself these questions:

Am I using social media to the max?

Are my profiles on sites like Facebook or LinkedIn up-to-date?

Do I need a blog?

See more at Heather’s great post over at The Legal Watercooler.  And if you have any more suggestions for your fellow ex-Hellerites, post them in the comments.

What’s Your Employment Status?

Earlier today, a colleague emailed us and said that, according to the Dissolution Committee, there are still more than 300 of us – attorneys and staff – who have yet to secure full-time employment.

I can include myself among those numbers and have come to the conclusion that most law firms – as well as most corporations – are just not spending their money budgeted for Q4 2008. I expect and hope that things will pick up with the start of the new year.

I’ve also decided to start my own business – after working for law firms for the past 20 years – which deals with legal technology consulting. My mother always told me that when you are handed lemons, make lemonade – and, if there is leftover lemonade make sure you set up a lemonade stand and start selling it! And so I am. I figure I don’t have much to lose since for years I had been told that full-time positions at law firms were secure and had great security/benefits such as 401k, health care, etc. And look where that’s gotten me.

I want to check in with my colleagues and see what’s going on with your employment status and the job search. Are are finding that law firms just aren’t hiring? Or the positions available are at a salary less than what you were making?

Also, I keep getting inquiries from reporters for major news services – both legal, business and newspaper – for people who would be willing to discuss what it is like right now to be unemployed in this economy and with the holidays coming up.

Let us know via the comments to this post or contact me at, especially if you would consider giving an interview to one of the reporters who have contacted me.

Over and out

Heller Drone
Cruise Director

How Much Does Your Morning Routine Cost You?

I wanted to point out an interesting post at The Simple Dollar. Entitled When a Treat Stops Being a Treat – and How to Get It Back, the author goes much beyond the “stop spending $3 on your morning latte to save $50 a month” mantra.  He points out that for many office workers, it begins with the morning coffee and progresses to an afternoon “pick me up” and then perhaps a coffee or chai tea at night.  Pretty soon you realize that $150 a month is going into the coffers of your local Peets or Starbucks or here in Chicago it would be Caribou Coffee.

What many don’t realize is this:  it isn’t a matter or “giving up a treat” but adjusting a routine.  More than that triple shot non-fat latte (what can I say, it takes big coffee to move big machinery), as humans we love the familiarity of a routine.  Ever get irked when they don’t have the onion bagel at Einstein’s that you usually order each morning?  Well perhaps if you were to change your “routines” you would see that you can save money by substituting a cheaper alternative.

For me, having worked from home for the past four years, I’ve been lucky.  I usually make my own coffee in the morning.  But I was getting hooked on Starbucks’ iced coffee in the afternoons until I came up with this idea: I just make twice the amount of morning coffee, and place the second cup in the refrigerator.  Then in the afternoon I make a tall iced coffee.  Plus I can always slip in some amaretto or Bailey’s!  See, I’d have to bring my flask to Starbucks for that.

Check out the post and also the rest of The Simple Dollar blog – there is some great advice for those of us watching every penny during these hard times.

Life preserver.jpg
Remember the words of Rev. Frank Scott (Gene Hackman in The Poseidon Adventure):

". . . sitting on our butts is not going to help us either. Maybe by climbing out of here, we can save ourselves. If you've got any sense, you'll come along with us."

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Heller Highwater (
Last Modified: September 14, 2008

- Don't be a dill weed.

- Treat other people the way you want to be treated.

- Ladies and children first.

- This is a rescue, not a bitch session.

- Help don't harm.

- Save the snarks for the attorneys and Above The Law.

Heller Highwater is not:

- a place to practice viscious and vindictive "whisper down the lane" rumour-mongering;

- a place to bad mouth co-workers;

- a place for diatribes against specific people or specific incidents;

- a place to heap pity on poor Heller Ehrman staff by outsiders;

- a place that discriminates or sets margins noting who is outside and who is inside - we even welcome supportive Heller Ehrman attorneys!;

- meant to further the demise of Heller Ehrman, LLP.

Heller Highwater is:

- a place for support, a place of empowerment, a place of passion;

- a place to learn about job leads, resume preparation, skill building, training, new opportunities, and how to succeed in a new workplace;

- a place to keep up on the latest news as to how Heller Ehrman management intends to treat its support staff as it winds down its operations - will it be every woman for herself? or will it be "let me hold the door for you and is there anything else I can do for you"?

- a place of refuge.

Note: in no way, shape or form is Heller Highwater sanctioned, supported or even recognized, (but it is very likely monitored) by the management of Heller Erhman, LLP. The opinions represented here and on each and every page of Heller Highwater do not constitute the opinions of Heller Ehrman, LLP or its shareholders or its management. In addition, the comments left by visitors do not reflect the opinions of Heller Highwater.