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Fenwick & West associate Karen Anderson thought her day as firm chairman was going to be a cinch. After all, as Anderson put it, “How hard could it be to be chairman?” The senior intellectual property litigation associate got a chance to find out last week when she swapped jobs for a day with Fenwick Chairman Gordon Davidson. She learned that while it was fun to be the big cheese, actually doing the work didn’t pack many laughs. “I was exhausted by the end of the day,” Anderson said. “It was a lot of work.” Having to listen to everyone’s problems, weigh competing ideas and find a consensus for every decision ultimately wore Anderson out. She’s done with management for awhile. “It’s a lot easier to stand on the sidelines and throw spitballs,” Anderson said. “You have to spend a lot of time listening and putting yourself in other people’s shoes and trying to provide information in a way that’s not going to freak everyone out.” The job trade was Davidson’s idea. He wagered a switch for a day in a pool game with Anderson at the firm’s retreat in September. “She was giving me a lot of unsolicited advice about how to run the firm,” Davidson said. “I said, ‘If you think you can do it better, then try.’” But what started out as a joke turned into something more constructive with Anderson in the lead, Davidson said. “Karen gave this a lot of thought,” he said. “It will end up having a positive effect on the firm.” In fact, it’s almost like Anderson planned it. Davidson’s partners have joked that he lost on purpose. But that’s unlikely. Anderson is something of a pool shark. She has a table at home, organizes a law firm pool league, owns her own cue stick and has even beaten colleagues in the firm’s game room on a pool table that Davidson said he didn’t know existed. Anderson wasted no time making the most of her day on top. She said she lobbied for a handful of department heads in the firm’s operations to switch with subordinates so more people could get a sense of another’s responsibilities. She also held a luncheon for her staff of bosses for the day to solicit ideas for making things better at the firm. What happened at lunch, she said, was unexpected, but it told her that staff members were thinking like managers. “A debate broke out,” she said. “Someone came up with an idea, and the human resources person jumped in with reasons why it wouldn’t work.” Instead of coming up with a draft plan for law firm utopia, the group discovered that every decision had consequences that needed to be considered, Anderson said. That packed some powerful lessons from her day at the top, she said. “You can’t just give everyone more money and more time off,” Anderson said. “And there’s no way to make everybody happy.”

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