Sunday, August 3, 2014

Neil Armstrong, Project Apollo and Missed Opportunities

July 20, 2014 marked the 45th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing and Neil Armstrong becoming the first human to set foot on the moon. Partly because of the anniversary, I just finished reading Jay Barbree's biography of Mr. Armstrong, simply titled "Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight." Mr. Barbree is a veteran NBC News reporter who has covered every manned space launch. He was a personal friend of Mr. Armstrong.

I highly recommend Mr. Barbree's book. It fully chronicles the life of an American hero. From his days as a fighter pilot in Korea, a test pilot for the X-15 rocket plane (a real beast), an astronaut, and his post-astronaut career as a professor and as Vice-Chair of the Commission investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Mr. Armstrong can be characterized as highly intelligent, cool under the highest pressure situations, and able to think through highly complex situations. He was regularly described by his fellow astronauts as the best pilot they ever saw. Through it all, he never sought publicity, shunned the public spotlight, and remained true to his Midwestern roots. He was a man of genuine modesty.

Although Mr. Barbree's biography of Mr. Armstrong is inspirational, the book also provides an inside view of the space race, a period of less than twelve years that began with the Soviet Union's launch of  the Sputnik satellite in October 1957 (to the dismay of the American populace) and ended with the Apollo 11 landing. The race really began in earnest with the Soviet Union's launch of Yuri Gagarin as the first man in space on April 12, 1961, which was followed shortly by the U.S. launch of Alan Shepard on suborbital flight on May 5, 1961. Despite having a substantial initial lead, the Soviet Union never made it to the moon.

I was born in August 1957. The space race dominated my childhood. As a boy interested in airplanes and rockets, the astronauts were my heroes. I read everything I could get my hands on about space. I recall watching the Mercury launches on our family's old Magnavox black and white television. I watched the shadowy images of Neil Armstrong stepping on the lunar surface in July 1969, shortly before my twelfth birthday. 

A substantial portion of the U.S. population never experienced the space race or the moon landing. The median age of the U.S. population is about 38 years. I have not been able to find a statistic on the percentage of the population born after the moon landing in 1969, but it it clear that a majority of the population was born after that date. 

Because so many people did not experience what I experienced as a youth regarding the space race and Project Apollo, it is perhaps worth an attempt, however inadequate it may be, to try to put into words the excitement of those days. Despite the social upheaval of the decade, there was very little public dissent about the space race: The astronauts were heroes, catching the Soviet Union was necessary, and failure was simply not an option. 

Because of the space race, science, math and engineering were cool. Higher education was in vogue. The future appeared limitless. When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, the country celebrated; actually, the world celebrated.

It is really impossible to put into perspective the achievements of NASA during the space race.  In slightly over eight years, NASA went from putting a single man in a suborbital flight to taking three men to the moon, landing two of them on the moon, and returning all three safely home. Think about it: All of this was accomplished in eight years. 

I have tried to think of something to put this into perspective for younger readers. Although nothing is really satisfactory, consider the iPhone. The iPhone was introduced in January 2007 and was rightly considered a great technological innovation. Now, over seven years later, Apple has introduced a series of incremental improvements, but the basic functionality of the original iPhone has not changed greatly. And to compare the iPhone to Project Apollo only demonstrates that what passes for innovation today cannot hold a candle to what happened during the space race.

Since Project Apollo, we have lost our way in space. The space shuttle, although impressive in some respects, was flawed and never achieved its original goals. Further, it was not able to do anything other than put astronauts and cargo in low earth orbit. Since the last space shuttle flight in July 2011, we have been unable to put astronauts in space, and have been reduced to hitching rides on Russian Soyuz rockets, a system that uses decades-old technology. (At least the Russians were smart enough to keep the old technology available in the absence of a more modern replacement).

The current state of our space program should be a national embarrassment. Before his death, Mr. Armstrong testified before Congress. He tried to explain the need to return to the moon as a precursor to a mission to Mars. Unfortunately, the counsel of Mr. Armstrong and his colleagues has been ignored.

There is a great deal of discussion today about the need to increase funding for "STEM" initiatives, referring to science, technology, engineering and math, and to increase student interest in these important disciplines. Many others have pointed out the importance of national preeminence in these disciplines to technological innovation, the economy, and even national security.

The question is how to motivate students to pursue these important disciplines. We have an obvious example: On September 12, 1962, President Kennedy made his famous speech calling for a journey to the moon and back by the end of the decade: "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

The goal being stated, NASA accomplished it, supported by a legion of scientists and engineers. The entire venture provided high-skilled, high-paying jobs to tens of thousands, with spin-off benefits to the economy that continue to this day, although the effect is waning. 

The main objection to the manned space program has been cost. Consider this: The cost of Project Apollo in 2008 dollars was $98 billion according to one analysis. In 2009, the U.S. spent $800 billion on an ill-considered economic stimulus that has yielded few concrete benefits. What would have happened if instead--or simply as part of the stimulus--President Obama had called for a national effort to return to the moon by 2016 (which would have allowed same time that it took NASA to accomplish the same goal decades ago) and to land man on Mars by 2025, and had asked Congress to fund it? Instead of talking about "STEM," there would be a national initiative establishing a clear goal that, to use President Kennedy's words, would "organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."  Even more importantly, it would have made STEM cool again. And it sure would have helped the economy.

Unfortunately, we do not have leaders with President Kennedy's vision. Equally unfortunately, heroes such as Mr. Armstrong had to live their final days witnessing our country basically throwing away their accomplishments and legacy. It had to be an extreme disappointment to Mr. Armstrong, just as it must continue to disappoint the remaining aging heroes who formed the team that put a man on the moon.

We need to find our way back to space.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr.: An Epilogue, a Small Family Reunion, and a Mystery Solved

On Memorial Day 2013, I wrote a post regarding my uncle, Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr.  My uncle, a Master Sergeant in the Marines, died in a helicopter crash in Korea in 1953 before I was born. My mother always referred to her brother as "Don," which, as the original post noted, was a family mystery. We could not figure out how you get "Don" from "Gilbert, Jr." 

As the original post explained, I had been able to piece together more about my uncle's life from the Internet--including the fact he had been married shortly before his death--than we had learned from family history. The blog post concluded by asking anyone with information about Gilbert, Jr. (or Don) to contact me. However, that request felt much like putting a note in a bottle and casting it into the Pacific Ocean.

Much to my surprise, several months after writing the post, I received an email from a young Marine, Greg Holt. Greg had seen my post and it had prompted him to write. Greg is the great grandson of my mother's much older sister, Mildred. Greg had grown up hearing his grandfather Jerry (and to some extent Mildred) tell stories about my uncles Gilbert, Jr. (or Don) and Bill, especially involving their service in the Marines.

Greg is currently posted in Germany. I'm not exactly sure what the job title is, but Greg and his unit essentially serve as a concierge for injured U.S. service men and women being treated at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Kaiserslautern. Greg helps our injured soldiers get the care and benefits to which they are entitled, and also helps make travel arrangements for the families of those who are so seriously injured they cannot travel. Interestingly, many more injuries occur in regular day-to-day activities than in combat.

Greg and his wife Amanda just had their first child, a daughter named Harper. Amanda and Harper are not able to live permanently with Greg in Germany, but are able to make frequent visits. 

I happen to do a lot of work for clients from Germany, and try to make a business trip to Germany at least once a year. This May, I traveled to Germany, flying into Dusseldorf. Greg, Amanda and Harper made the trip to Dusseldorf from Kaiserslautern and we spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the "Altstadt" (old part of the city), which happened to be be during a quirky event called "Japan Day."

Greg told me some stories about my uncle and even had some memorabilia from my uncles. It felt like the proverbial "message in a bottle" had been answered in full. Well, almost in full. Greg had no idea why my mother referred to her brother as "Don."

This is a photo of Greg, Amanda and Harper in Dusseldorf.




I had been meaning to post an update regarding my uncle since returning from Germany in late May. The fact that it waited until the Fourth of July seems appropriate, as was the fact that our family reunion of sorts in Dusseldorf was just before Memorial Day. 

Not only is it appropriate to remember my uncles' service, it turns out that just about everyone in Greg's family (including his sister) serves or has served in the military or has been a military spouse. Thank you to all of them, and thanks to all our service men and women on our Nation's birthday. 

Having just about given up on the "Don" mystery, I received an email from Greg this week. Greg had spoken to his grandfather Jerry (my first cousin) and Jerry knew the answer. When Gilbert, Jr. was stationed at the Marine Air Station in El Toro south of Los Angeles, Gilbert, Jr. apparently had quite a social life, including going out with some Hollywood actresses. Thus, the family began calling him "the Don Juan of the West Coast." My mother would have only been thirteen at the time, so maybe she didn't get the joke. Or maybe Gilbert, Jr. took to the nickname. In any event, mystery solved.

This story helped bring the uncle I never knew to life. It was good to hear there were good times before his untimely death. Greg's family has other photos of my uncles, including some photos of Don clowning around with his Marine buddies in the Pacific. When Greg gets back to the States, he can hopefully get those scanned and emailed. 

At the time of the original post, no one in my immediate family knew where Don was buried. We had assumed he was probably interred in Korea. Greg told me Don was in fact buried at Arlington National Cemetery. A photo of Don's grave marker is available on the Arlington National Cemetery website.


I'm glad that my uncle was brought home. It is sad that my mother apparently did not know where her brother was buried, but I think she would be happy that her brother's remains were interred on American soil at the Nation's best-known military cemetery. I think she would also have been delighted about the small family reunion in Germany with such a nice young man and his family.

As I reflect on this somewhat remarkable--at least to me--series of events, the one thing that stands out is how little my part of the family knew about my uncle. It is so easy to keep in touch now with cheap long distance, email, and social media. It was not easy to do so in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and for much of the rest of the 20th Century. As my parents raised three boys in the Leave It to Beaver and Brady Bunch era, moving us around the country as Dad chased his dream job, it was difficult to keep in touch, and ties to the past faded. 

Still, family history is important, and I'm so glad that Greg saw my post and reached out. It has been great learning more about my lost uncle, as well as about Greg and his side of the family. Although one mystery has been solved, another has come to light. I'm not sure why "Tennessee" is on Don's grave marker. Maybe Greg can help unravel that one, too.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"How We Lost Atlanta": A Little Perspective, Please

For the past 48 hours, Metropolitan Atlanta has been shut down due to what some have asserted is "two inches of snow."  Thousands of residents have spent the night in their cars, worried about loved ones not able to get home, and generally have had their lives disrupted. And now the blame game has begun. As someone who has made the area home for over 30 years, here are a few observations.

1. It's ice, not snow. Northerners love to say that Atlantans cannot drive in snow, which is ironic given that about half the folks who live here came from northern climes. The problem isn't snow. The problem is ice. During a winter weather event here, the temperatures tend to hover around freezing or just above during the day. We often get freezing rain. When we get snow, and even if the temperatures are below freezing, it tends to melt when it hits the ground. When the water freezes as the sun goes down, you end up with a sheet of ice, or, just as bad, black ice. I do not know anyone who can drive on a hockey rink.

2. Critiques over urban sprawl are interesting, but they are not going to change anything. Rebecca Burns, an Atlantan, wrote an interesting piece in Politico about the storm. Ms. Burns' history of Atlanta -- including her observations about the fact that metro Atlanta is actually a quilt of many towns and counties, its rejection of expanded mass transit, and its love of the automobile -- is quite accurate. That said, those observations and a critique of urban sprawl are not going to change anything, at least in the near to intermediate future.

Metro Atlanta is not going to become a European-style city where everyone lives downtown and mass transit is available everywhere. That said, the area has a lot going for it, including great universities, fantastic restaurants, world-class businesses and a great lifestyle. It has a low cost of living and young people can actually afford to buy houses.  Most of the time, the weather is good and is a reason why many of us live here. This weekend, temperatures are forecast to be in the 60s. If our mass transit is not up to what some would like and our traffic is bad (which it is), that is a relatively small price for living in a great area. No place is perfect. 

By the way, it is possible to live without a car in Atlanta. Several of my friends have recently moved to Midtown where they also work, and tell me they rarely use their car and are even thinking about going "car-less." However, you have to plan for such a lifestyle, and it does limit your choices.

3. This one was unexpected. If you have lived through more than a couple of winters in Atlanta, you know that things shut down quickly with the prediction of bad weather. Schools and businesses will close early. Somewhat comical runs on grocery stores are the norm. If anything, the tendency is to be too cautious. We know bad weather shuts down the city, we know the danger of ice, and we know to stay off the roads. 

The weather prediction Tuesday morning was that the storm would hit the Southern suburbs and areas south toward Macon, but would miss the vast majority of of the metro area. Flurries were predicted in the northern suburbs. Why did the fiasco happen? Because most everyone was at work and school assuming that there was no problem. When it became apparent around noon (give or take an hour) that the predictions were wrong, everyone headed out at once, as Ms. Burns correctly notes in her article. That and the rapidly worsening weather created the problem.

Was this metro Atlanta's shining hour? Of course not. Do Governor Deal and Mayor Reed wish they had a "do over"? Of course they do. Do the meteorologists? No doubt. Hindsight is always 20/20. We live our lives based on making reasonable assumptions. It was reasonable for people to go to work on Tuesday morning and it was reasonable to assume the storm would largely miss the metro area. 

Can we do better? Yes, but no one should be vilified over this.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Decline of Reasoned Persuasion and the Rise of Intolerance

Civil discourse is dying. Reasoned persuasion is largely absent from politics and from almost any part of the media. "Debate" has degenerated into sound bites and name calling, with the "winner" determined based on the best zinger rather than a clearly reasoned argument. Those making controversial statements are often quickly denounced, vilified, and labeled with epithets that would formerly have been reserved for true criminals.

Why does it matter? It matters because it signals a decline in the quality of thought and reasoning. We live in complicated times with problems that often require complicated solutions. It is difficult to get to a solution by shouting over or at each other. 

It also matters because it leads to polarization. It is hard to remember a time in which our political parties and elected leaders have been so divided for so long. I trace the current division back to the Bush/Gore election of 2000, and, if this is correct, it means that the current period of polarization has lasted for a full 13 years, punctuated only by a brief period of respite after the 9/11 tragedy. Polarization means that nothing gets accomplished, or, if one party is completely in power, legislation gets passed without bipartisan support, which inevitably leads to more polarization.

What are the causes? The causes are complex, and are necessarily rooted in philosophical differences between the left and the right. But there have always been differences, and those differences do not in themselves explain why the quality of discourse has substantially declined while the shrillness has monumentally increased. Although there are undoubtedly many reasons, here are a few somewhat random thoughts on why this is the case.

  • Cable news and the sound bite. Time constraints, commercial interruptions, and perhaps simply a change in journalistic approach mean that in-depth reporting is simply not in vogue. Instead, the quick quip, sound bite or talking point has reigned for many years with pundits aggressively trying to top each other. Both Fox and CNN claim to present "debates," but they almost always devolve into disrespectful shouting matches where nothing intelligent is said.  This approach makes the cable network news almost unwatchable.
  •  Social media. In a very short period of time, a large portion of the population has begun receiving most of their information through Twitter or social media. It is pretty difficult to say anything really intelligent in 140 characters, much less engage in a meaningful discussion.
  • Anonymity. Anonymity is often an aspect of social media and talk radio. It is much easier to ridicule, threaten or demonize another person or another point of view when you do not have to stand up and take responsibility for it.
  • The decline of the newspaper industry. The newspaper industry is in a substantial state of decline. Many communities used to have two papers with differing editorial points of view. Now even larger cities tend to have only one paper, and many are a shadow of what they used to be. Declining advertising revenue means less reporting and less depth, and often the editorial quality suffers as well. Some papers have made the fundamental mistake of embracing a one-sided editorial policy which, in today's environment, is a surefire way of alienating about half of the potential readership.
  • Smart phones can make us dumb. The Blackberry, and then the iPhone and Android may each represent a technological advance, but they haven't done much to advance social interaction. On any campus, city street, or at any restaurant or pub, you can see people staring at their phone, utterly self-absorbed in playing a game or responding to a text. It is the height of irony that a device that was originally designed to let people talk to each other seems to have caused us to converse less. There is also no indication that "smart" phones help us think great thoughts.
  •  It's usually not better in writing. Much of our everyday communication is now reduced to writing in emails or texts. The result is that people, especially young people, do not talk to each other nearly as much as in the past. Learning conversational skills and how to read people is fundamental to having a robust and meaningful exchange of ideas. 
Are there any solutions? Quite frankly, I have no idea, and, on a macro level, there is little room for optimism. Unfortunately, the damage has been done, and the extent of ignorance of basic political issues by the American populace is pretty astonishing. This ignorance tends to lead politicians -- always focused on retaining office -- to rely on even more sound bites and zingers. The only thing that is certain is that, if there is going to be any change, and that is a big "if," it will not happen overnight. Perhaps the best place to start is small. Here are a few modest ideas.
  • Tune out. The one thing television networks understand is ratings. The ratings of many cable networks are down substantially. Maybe at some point a network will actually try for balanced and meaningful programing on issues of national import (rather than the latest sensational murder trial) in which participants are allowed a reasonable amount of time to state their views, and are expected to respond in a civil and meaningful way. 
  • Read. Even with the decline of the newspaper industry, there are still lots of excellent sources for news. For example, for strongly differing editorial positions in business publications, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times are a good start. RSS feeds also allow the aggregation of news in "readers" such as Feedly. Unfortunately, Google pulled the plug on Google Reader earlier this year.
  • Converse. Make an effort actually to converse with your spouse, your co-workers, or your fellow students. It's not that hard; people have been doing it for thousands of years! A few suggestions to get you started: "What do you think about [name a subject]"? "Why?" "Do you think there is another side to that?"  
  • Think before you send that text or email. Would it be better to pick up the phone or even to talk face to face? You will almost certainly communicate more efficiently and you might even make a new friend.
  • Try not to react immediately. We live in a world where an immediate response or reaction is viewed as a norm, even though it rarely leads to anything positive. If someone says something you disagree with, instead of disagreeing, denouncing, or labeling, consider not responding at all. If some response seems necessary, consider asking "why do you think that?" If you disagree after the explanation, perhaps asking a question is a better approach instead of trying to win an argument. For example, instead of making a statement, asking whether "have you thought about [the other side]" may lead to a more meaningful discussion.
  • Be judicious with social media. Social media is here to stay. It can be fun and even useful. However, it is difficult to have a meaningful dialogue with 140 characters. And take responsibility for what you put out there. 
And this is the big one: Tolerance should not be reserved only for those who agree with you.  It would be a pretty boring world if there were no differences of opinion.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day 2013: Remembering My Uncle, Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr.

On Memorial Day 2013, we remember the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their lives in service to our country. Although a few of our fallen soldiers are the stuff of legends, most were simply ordinary Americans who served a cause, perhaps reluctantly, and had their lives cut short in the process. Some are remembered with flowers or flags on their graves. Others lie in military cemeteries in foreign lands. For some, the memories have faded away through the sands of time.

Today I am thinking about my uncle, Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr., who died in the Korean War before I was born. My uncle's memory has largely faded into obscurity, but it is important to remember him and others like him. This is my effort, however inadequate it may be, to do so.

Gilbert N. Caudle, Jr. was born in July 1924. My mother always referred to my uncle as "Don," and, although I'm not sure how you get "Don" from "Gilbert N.," I have no reason to doubt what my mother told me. That said, my mother never talked much about Uncle Don (or her family for that matter). Don did seem to be her favorite, and she always seemed to get a little misty eyed when his name was mentioned (and she was a very tough woman). That said, what I have learned about my uncle was mainly pieced together through records that are now available on line, but were of course not easily available when I was growing up.

My mother's family was poor. She was born in Mississippi, but grew up in a small town called Parma in southeastern Missouri. As happened in so many families from that generation, her brothers served in World War II, joining the Marines. My other uncle, Bill, enlisted in the Marines in January 1941. Don joined on December 9, 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor. Don would have been just 17. The brothers, were mechanically inclined. Bill was a mechanic for trucks and vehicles. Don ended up working on aircraft.

Don was a Technical Sergeant during World War II. His service records indicate he apparently did not see combat, and was stationed on the west coast. Don stayed in the service after World War II, and was stationed in various locations, ranging from California to Cherry Point, N.C. to Quantico, VA. 

By the time of his death, Don was a Master Sergeant working on helicopters. Don must have been pretty good at what he did: Becoming a Master Sergeant in the Marines from humble beginnings in Parma, Missouri is no small feat. This is about all we have learned about Uncle Don's death, which is taken from the Korean War Veteran's Honor Roll:
Master Sergeant Caudle was a crew member of a HRS-2 Sikorsky Helicopter with Marine Helicopter Transportation Squadron 161, 1st Marine Air Wing. On March 25, 1953, during a test flight from Ascom, South Korea, his helicopter crashed and burned killing its crew of three. Master Sergeant Caudle was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
Through most of my life, I never saw a photograph of Uncle Don. Recently, I found a grainy photograph, apparently his service photograph, posted on line. A link is here. I see a family resemblance to my mother and me.

In doing research for this post, I learned another fact that had been lost to our family through the sands of time. Don was married to a woman named Mary P. Caudle, who died in 2007 in Buffalo, New York. According to her obituary, Mary also worked in aircraft maintenance for the Marines in World War II. I never had any idea that Uncle Don was married, and my mother never spoke of it. Interestingly, my mother's name was also Mary.

Although the records indicate that Don's remains were recovered, I have no idea where he is buried. I have no idea where his service medals were sent, although assume they were sent to his wife Mary. So far as we are aware, Don and Mary had no children.

My uncle must have been a good guy. I wish I had known him. I wish I knew more about him. If anyone reading this happens to know anything more about Uncle Don or his wife Mary, please let me know. In the meantime, we will remember his service, and the service of so many like him who paid the ultimate price for their country.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

A New Chapter: Joining Thompson Hine LLP

After spending nearly three years at Barnes & Thornburg's Atlanta office, I have begun a new chapter of my career and have joined the Atlanta office of Thompson Hine LLP as a partner. This is a very exciting and important change for me for two primary reasons.

First, the Atlanta office of Thompson Hine is managed by Russ Rogers. Russ is an old and dear friend who began his career in Atlanta working for me as an associate at Long Aldridge & Norman in the 1990s. Russ was the best lawyer I ever worked with, and we had a great deal of success as he rose through the ranks and made partner. Even after Russ made partner, we continued to work together when possible. After we both concluded several years ago that our careers were better served by joining other firms, we continued to collaborate. Russ and I had always hoped that we could end up practicing under the same roof again, and the stars finally aligned to make that possible.

Second, although a large part of my practice involves advising business clients (many  of which are international companies) on sales contracts, non-disclosure agreements, insurance, risk management and other matters, I continue to concentrate on complex commercial litigation. I began my career as a litigator, and litigation, arbitration, mediation, and dispute resolution are mainstays in my practice. Thompson Hine's Atlanta office has over 15 lawyers who focus on litigation at many different experience levels. For the past several years, I have lacked support from senior associates and junior partners on litigation matters. It is important for clients (and for me) to have reliable back-up. Thompson Hine provides that.

This change should in no way be viewed as a knock on Barnes & Thornburg. It is a great firm, and it has been a great place to work. I have many friends at BT and hope to be able to work with them in the future. It simply boils down to a judgment that, at this point in my career, and given the mix of attorneys at the respective Atlanta offices, Thompson Hine is a better fit for me.

In terms of what I will be doing, the focus should be largely the same: Representing domestic and international companies in business matters, and also focusing on commercial litigation, arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution. My litigation practice will continue to involve disputes involving insurance coverage, trade secrets, municipalities, financial institutions, contracts, corporations, LLCs, shareholders, and other matters.

I do look forward to working with younger attorneys, and serving as a resource for them, while they serve as a resource for my clients and me. Over the years, many younger lawyers I have worked with have matured into really fine attorneys. Playing just a small part in their success is very rewarding. I really look forward to returning to being a teacher and mentor, which is exactly what I should be doing at this stage of my career.

My friend and partner from BT, Roy Hadley, is also joining Thompson Hine. Roy works with some of my clients, and I work with some of his. Roy will be a strong addition to Thompson Hine's corporate and technology teams, and will ensure that my business clients also have support and back-up.

In addition to Russ, I know many of the attorneys in the Thompson Hine office, and all of the people at the firm have been very supportive and welcoming. It already feels like home.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

LinkedIn Endorsements: A Little Sanity, Please!

LinkedIn has become an important tool for professionals, serving as a means for networking, managing contacts, and establishing groups with common interests (and communicating with them). LinkedIn now has a news aggregation service that is very useful for keeping informed. What's not to like?

One "improvement" that LinkedIn added last year is the ability to endorse connections. Although it is nice to receive an endorsement, some people have gone a bit overboard. I have received endorsements from people I know only as a connection on LinkedIn and who have not met with me personally and who have no knowledge of what I do outside of the virtual world. I have also received endorsements in areas that are not part of my practice. Such endorsements are not helpful.

Here are my thoughts on LinkedIn and endorsements: 

(1) I have a pretty low bar for connecting with someone on LinkedIn. If someone has a connection with me or a common interest, I tend to accept connections. To me, it is the virtual equivalent of meeting someone at a Chamber of Commerce networking event and exchanging business cards. (On the other hand, I will not accept connections from someone I do not know unless they have a logical connection to my business or a clearly stated reason for wanting to connect).

(2) If our only connection is in the virtual world, and we have not done business together, have not represented opposing parties in a case or transaction, or otherwise have no other meaningful connection (such as being classmates), then please do not endorse me or expect an endorsement. Again, I think an analogy to the real world is appropriate: If we have just exchanged business cards at a networking event, do you have any basis for recommending me? Do I have any basis for recommending you? The answer is obvious.

(3) For endorsements, less is more. If you endorse everyone, then what is your endorsement really worth? 

LinkedIn does allow you to manage endorsements. (Instructions can be found by accessing help on LinkedIn). This morning, I pruned my endorsements considerably, both as to subject matter and the endorsers. If an endorsement was eliminated, it does not mean that the thought was not appreciated, it just means that it does not fit within the framework outlined above.