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Karen Anderson thought her brief stint as chairman of Fenwick & West was going to be a cinch. After all, she wondered, “how hard could it be?” Anderson, a senior intellectual property litigation associate at the Palo Alto, California, firm got a chance to find out not long ago after swapping jobs for a day with Gordon Davidson, the firm’s regular chairman. She learned that while it was fun to be the big cheese, doing the actual work didn’t exactly pack many laughs. “I was exhausted by the end of the day,” says Anderson. “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. In fact, she says she’s done with management, at least for a while. “It’s a lot easier to stand on the sidelines and throw spitballs,” she says. As chairman, “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 switch was Davidson’s idea, part of a wager over a game of pool with Anderson during the firm’s annual retreat last fall. “She was giving me a lot of unsolicited advice about how to run the firm,” says Davidson. “I said, ‘If you think you can do it better, then try.’” But what started out as a joke turned into something much more than that once Anderson warmed to the idea of leading the firm, albeit very briefly. “Karen gave this a lot of thought,” says Davidson. “It will end up having a positive effect on the firm.” Some of Fenwick’s partners have joked that Davidson may have even lost the bet on purpose. But that’s unlikely. Anderson, it turns out, is something of a pool shark. She has a table at home, organizes a law firm pool league and has beaten colleagues in the firm’s game room on a pool table that Davidson says he didn’t know even existed. After assuming the reins of power, Anderson wasted no time making the most of her temporary climb to the top. Following her own instant elevation, she lobbied other department heads at the firm to switch places with subordinates so that more people could get a sense of one 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 says, was unexpected, but it told her that staff members were thinking like managers. “A debate broke out,” she recalls. “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. By the end of the day, she had learned some powerful management lessons. “You can’t just give everyone more money and more time off,” says Anderson. “And there’s no way to make everybody happy.”

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