Last week I met a long-time client in Philadelphia for dinner and just to say hello. While we had talked on the phone it had been months since we actually had gotten together. It was a beautiful early evening so we decided upon a sidewalk table where we had a view of a well-known local park.
My friend had warned me that he would have to excuse himself for a few minutes to find a quiet place to talk because he was taking a phone call at 5:30PM from a potential partner for a new venture. Sure enough, right on time his phone rang and he left to go into the lobby of the hotel next door.
You should know these outdoor tables are the small bistro type that seats two. Shortly after he left five guys in suits showed up and proceeded to take over two tables and pull them together next to mine. Since there wasn’t much room they figured they would rearrange my friend’s empty seat and use his space too. This all happened without a word to me and so I chose to have a few words with them about the fact the seat was being used and they weren’t invited into the already tight space. Their attitude was one of the type of person we used to call jerks. Now they call themselves Masters of the Universe and somehow they believe that if you aren’t one of them then you are a doormat for them to walk over.
But that’s not the most important part of the story. I already had them pegged for lawyers or maybe bankers but in the City of Brotherly Love the odds are with lawyers and that turned out to be the case. How do I know? I know because these Masters of the Universe proceeded to talk about current cases, judges, their firm names, and other attorneys using full names for everyone within ten feet of them to hear. I personally recognized two of the names they were discussing. They were so loud I noticed other patrons looking at them as they discussed the private legal business of their clients and firms.
They were from different firms as they also got into a discussion about whose rates were highest. Most of them claimed to have rates in the $1,000 an hour range. They then shared some of their colleague’s rates once again using their full names. They spent the next 90 minutes discussing more clients and leering at and making loud offensive remarks about women who walked on the sidewalk in front of them.
I don’t know what these guys were thinking. Did they think there was a bubble over them and nobody else could listen to discussions that should have been held behind closed doors? Has the financial gap between them and the other 90% of the country also created such a schism that they believe they are immune from the rules governing civility and professionalism? Has the quest for money affected their eyesight so that now they only recognize and see people like themselves?
I thought back to that evening last week when I was reading a story last night about the people occupying Wall Street. I’m sure these fine lawyers with their $3,000 suits and $1,000 an hour rates would have an opinion about them too – especially if it wasn’t Occupy Wall Street but Occupy Philadelphia. They’d probably refer to them with names like human trash and rabble. What they probably don’t know is that they people of the Occupy Movement are the core of this country. According to the op-ed piece I read last night they are not only hippies and punk-rockers and students but also union members and working mothers and single fathers and airline pilots and teachers and retail workers and military service members and foreclosure victims. They are the 90% who have become invisible to people like the loutish lawyers.
I work with small business owners and salespeople and marketers. Some of them are in the top 10% of earners in this country. Most are not. I like to think that none of them are arrogant and irresponsible enough to talk about clients in public, denigrate people they believe aren’t of their class, or forget that we’re all human beings and that businesses (including law and financial firms) have an obligation to make the world a better place.
Have you recently seen this type of behavior? This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed it especially the public discussions of private business matters. There seems to me to be an escalation of this conduct. Do you believe, as I do, that businesses have a responsibility to make the world a better place? I think small business believes it and their actions prove it. But, big business lost its soul somewhere along the way to more and more record profits and greedy, self-indulgent bonuses.
Do you think the Occupy America movement will continue to spread? Is it a catalyst for a new American Revolution that will affect real change? The protestors have every right to peacefully gather and deliver their message without government interference. But, will it remain peaceful? Already protestors’ constitutionally guaranteed rights have been violated. Police are aggressively arresting individuals for no apparent reason. Just trying to video the protest is a sure-fire way to find yourself on your knees with your hands in plastic cuffs. Last week some former Army and Marine veterans came to the protests to help protect participants from police abuse. How long will the protests remain peaceful? What will the Masters of the Universe do if they turn violent?
Oh wait a minute. You don’t think the unexplainable arrests and police behavior could be tied to the fact that JP Morgan Chase just donated $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation? Who was it that said follow the money when you are looking for answers to explain things that have no apparent reason? That methodology always seems to bring some light to these kinds of questions.
I’ve come full circle today from the behavior of a handful of boorish Philadelphia lawyers to a protest movement that is gathering steam and has the potential to change their lives and our own. We live in interesting times has never been more meaningful and with the potential for major social change. What do you think? Do you want change? Can it happen here? Or, are you so jaded at what’s happened over the last half-dozen years you just don’t care?