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The Final Four and Masters are over, the first baseball was thrown a month ago, and there are only six or eight weeks to go until the NHL and NBA playoffs are behind us. What all of this means to those of us in the business of law is that it’s almost firm retreat season. Soon lawyers at small and large firms will decamp to fungible resort communities to eat fungible resort food, drink fungible resort drinks decorated with umbrellas and large pieces of fungible fruit in them, as they lounge by fungible resort-sized pools, and play golf on fungible championship courses designed by fungible retired golf pros. The price of this fun(gibility) is going to “the program,” which generally consists of at least one report on the firm’s finances delivered by a PIA (person in authority), a banquet or two, an interminable presentation of golf awards beginning around 9:30 p.m., some entertainment, and a “motivational speaker.” This individual must be confronted at a point in the retreat when the firm’s collective blood alcohol level remains deeply in the red zone, the PIA’s discussion of the state of the firm is worse than a dental drill being played at close range, and the fungibagel served at the continental breakfast along with a round plastic coffin of cream cheese has turned to bismuth in the firm’s digestive tract. Listening to the motivational speaker is seriously un-fun, but depressingly fungible. Every firm I’ve ever worked for except one — which called its retreat “Camp Swampy” and whose associates were invited with the express understanding that we were only there to lose at least $20 each at the continuous poker game played in one of the motel rooms — has brought in motivational speakers as the “highlight” of their retreats, which makes us no different from every other law firm, professional society and civic group. I personally have listened to ex-prisoners of war; people who survived catastrophes ranging from being stranded on high mountains, sinking ships and malfunctioning airplanes to getting caught in war zones; sports greats and near-greats; a comedian or two; Olympians (a somewhat different species); psychologists; military figures; celebrities; survivors of debilitating diseases; a widow; former correspondents; and guys with “bright ideas” on how we could make the firm run more smoothly. Biodiversity is not in peril in this corner of the gene pool. THE RHUMBA ROOM At the risk of throwing thousands upon thousands of people out of work — and maintaining the firm belief that drinking fungible resort drinks decorated with umbrellas and large pieces of fungible fruit while lounging by a fungible resort-sized pool is time well spent — let me take the plunge and roll out my newest product: the universal motivational speech, suitable for firms of every size, shape and structure. Our dramatis personae consists of the aforementioned PIA, to do the introductory honors and read the multipage CV that is essential to proving that the speaker is qualified to motivate, and, of course, our speaker. So, without further ado, “Let’s get ready to mumble!” PIA: After first thumping the microphone several times — “Is this thing on?” Blows on mike. “Can you hear me in the back? Please take your seats.” Brief hiatus. “Can someone get the people who are still outside? OK. It’s a real privilege to introduce our speaker today. We have with us someone who everybody knows because he [(a.) walked on the moon; (b.) studied the moon; (c.) composed "Moon River"; or (d.) mooned his graduating class]. He has spoken to groups ranging from [(a.) the United Nations General Assembly to the College of Cardinals; (b.) the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Harvard Business School; (c.) the Texas Legislature to the River Oaks Junior League; or (d.) his parole board to the Enron Corp. grand jury] on what he is going to speak about. So let’s give him a warm welcome.” SPEAKER: “Thank you, PIA. It’s truly a pleasure to be back here. I remember being here [(a.) when Lyndon Johnson was knee-high to a rattlesnake; (b.) Dallas and Houston weren't as big as Toledo; (c.) Don Meredith was the Dallas Cowboys quarterback; or (d.) there weren't any cross-dressing politicians in Burleson] and the spirit of Texas is even bigger and more powerful today than it was then. That’s why my experiences when I was [(a.) alone and under fire in Mogadishu; (b.) alone and without oxygen on K2 in the Himalayas; (c.) alone and at the helm of a trans-oceanic sloop; or (d.) alone and naked from the waist down outside the Rhumba Room at 4 a.m.] are so important to you. Because you see it’s what you do when you’re alone and under stress that makes such a profound difference in how you approach the day-to-day problems of the practice of law. “Powerful life-changing experiences approach you [(a.) with the suddenness of a stroke of lightning; (b.) stealthily and without advance knowledge; (c.) as a series of disjointed and seemingly random steps; or (d.) as deep waves of nausea outside the Rhumba Room at 4 a.m.]. How you react is a product of your [(a.) willingness to adapt to change and growth; (b.) training and development; (c.) spirit and initiative in developing team-based approaches to problems; or (d.) tolerance for large quantities of Jagermeister inside the Rhumba Room at 3 a.m.]. “To help you, I’ve developed a program I call [(a.) Six Sigmas; (b.) Six-Second Abs; (c.) Six Steps to Serenity; or (d) Six Shots of Jagermeister between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. in the Rhumba Room] that will enable you to [(a.) achieve your maximum potential for development; (b.) clear your mind and develop intense new creativity; (c.) find new methods for developing satisfied clients; or (d.) expunge the Rhumba Room conviction from your record]. And I’ll be happy to sell you a copy of my book [(a.) "I Think I Can! Self-Empowerment and Me"; (b.) "From Desert Storm to Dessert Station/How Motivation Changed Me From Grunt to Gourmet"; (c.) "21st Century Clients/How to Empower Your Clients and Your Bottom Line"; or (d.) "The Rhumba Room Bartender's Guide"] for $34.99 right after the session. “So thanks again for having me, and I hope to see you [(a.) on a presidential commission; (b) at the helm of a mega-firm; (c) at the helm or your community citizens' group; or (d.) in the Rhumba Room]. There you have it. Another part of your life simplified and easier. By the way, does anyone have the address for the Rhumba Room? Tom Alleman, a shareholder in the environmental and insurance practice group at Winstead Sechrest & Minick in Dallas, does not drink Jagermeister, except when he is out of Ouzo. It comes as no surprise, then, that his opinions are not necessarily those of the firm, its clients or the International Association of Motivational Speakers.

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