GPSOLO July 2009
Pets in the Office
Being solo often means being alone, and some solos address this situation by having a pet in the office. I was curious about those solo attorneys who kept the company of furry things at work, so I sent out a request on SoloSez (the ABA’s Internet discussion forum for solos) to hear about some of these experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I received some great responses (too many to list all of them here) from lawyers keeping a wide variety of pets in their place of business, everything from a Doberman Pinscher to an African Grey Parrot (and that’s just one lawyer). Both offices outside and inside the home are included in this article.
The Bark Association
Lisa Runquist, a California not-for-profit lawyer and author of several books on the topic, the most recent being Guide to Representing Religious Organizations (ABA, 2009), has three Standard Poodles, Charlie, Jazzy, and Zippy. Lisa says that they are great at keeping her company, letting her know when someone has arrived, and letting her know when she has worked enough. Sounds like a typical solo attorney—she might work into the night if the dogs didn’t show up with leash in mouth to let her know that it is time to go. Lisa is the only lawyer reported on here who blogs about her dogs. Learn all about her dogs’ agility training at http://runquickpoodles.blogspot.com.
Bruce Cameron of Mazeppa, Minnesota, is the lawyer with the menagerie. Bruce doesn’t have an office yet but plans to open one in his town this summer, and when he does, he will be bringing along three dogs—a Doberman Pinscher named Dakota, a Rottweiler/Labrador named Jasmine, and a Doberman/Beagle named Caruso—plus an African Grey Parrot named Merry. Write to us, Bruce, when you make the move to let us know how it all works out.
Carolyn Elefant, with an energy regulatory law practice in Washington, D.C., is the author of the well-regarded blog myshingle.com, which focuses on the challenges of operating solo and small law firms. Her much-loved Old English Sheepdog, Francesca, provides great companionship, but Francesca also enjoys sitting under Carolyn’s desk amidst computer wires, which sometimes results in unplugging the computer, and she also will try to climb onto Carolyn’s lap. When I read that last piece of information in Carolyn’s e-mail, I immediately checked Wikipedia for the weight of a female Old English Sheepdog, which is anywhere from 66 to 88 pounds (males can be anywhere up to 100 pounds). Then I tried to imagine this Wookie of a dog trying to get up on Carolyn’s lap, and I only could visualize disaster as her chair went backward and the mouse clutched in Carolyn’s hand pulled her computer to the floor.
Deborah Matthews, who has a trust and estates practice in Alexandria, Virginia, and is on several ABA committees, including being the Chair of the GP|Solo Division’s National Solo & Small Firm Conference, has a Welsh Springer Spaniel named Bailey and had another one named Hannah that recently passed. Deborah tells me that in Old Town Alexandria “dogs are part of the community” and are welcome in most places. At the bank the teller has one basket of lollipops for children and another basket of biscuits for dogs. Deborah says that “A dog personalizes and warms up the office.” She particularly remembers Hannah giving great comfort to a dying client at an estate planning meeting. Deborah is thinking about putting a photo of Bailey up on her website. Well, all of the Being Solo readers know about it now, Deborah, so you better get to it—we’ll be checking!
Marion Browning-Baker, who practices family law in Stuttgart, Germany, keeps a Great Dane in the office. Her first was Abby, and her second is Anna. I’m thinking she sticks to Great Danes because it must make bill collecting easier. She didn’t say anything about that, but she did say that dogs know just how to make you feel better and that there is always a feeling of protection when the dog is in the office.
Jeremy Vermilyea of Portland, Oregon, has his hands full with two Boston Terriers. In case any of you readers are considering getting a dog for your office, don’t get any dog that has the word “terrier” in its name. As Jeremy, who has a construction and business law practice, explains it, “They want to go outside and fetch the tennis ball (otherwise known as the Boston’s version of crack) ALL THE TIME.” All terriers are like this. They were bred to hunt and kill rats, which they do by grabbing the rat by the neck and shaking it back and forth until it is dead. While they may be fun as pets (and for keeping your home free of rats), a terrier is not suitable for most law offices. In fact, Jeremy only brings his terriers into his office about once a week when, he says, “we’re about half-productive as normal.” I imagine the rest of the week he spends recovering from the visit.
Melanie Morgan, who has a mediation practice in McKinney, Texas, has three cats and a dog who keep her company in her home office. Pet hair is a problem, as are what she calls “technical issues”—cats walking on the keyboard and the dog getting tangled up in the computer wires. I’m amazed at the tolerance that people have for their pets. Those fur balls are lucky that they’re so adorable. I can just see the cats finishing up a brief by walking over the keyboard while the dog is howling under the desk because he is all tangled up in the wires. Still, Melanie says that she doesn’t want to get a “real” office because she would miss her “little herd” too much.
Kevin Veler of Alpharetta, Georgia, who has a construction and business law practice, is a certified volunteer dog handler and always has a dog in training with him. This means with him at the office, client conferences, court appearances, and state government meetings. Kevin has a different dog every week or two, and so he has to establish “office manners” to restrict play areas (oh, those pesky computer wires) and prevent chewing on phone lines (but they taste so good). This man has my complete admiration; he manages to go through this with a new dog every week or two and still keep his sanity. I think that he could provide some stiff competition to Cesar Millan of the popular Dog Whisperer television show.
John Thrasher wins the prize for the most animal-centric law office. His office in Rupert, Vermont (a very rural area with a population of 704), is located in the same building where his in-laws have a veterinary practice. John says that there is “a surprising amount of referrals between our businesses.” He brings his dog Haley to the office, where his staff loves him. John reports that benefits also include being able to “take some mental health time by taking her for a walk on the rail trail that runs behind my office.” And if he is meeting with a client who is not dog friendly, he simply sends Haley over to the veterinary office.
Gina Madsen, who has a business law practice in Las Vegas, Nevada, has seven dogs in her home office. She writes in her e-mail, “They’re all curled up at my feet as I type this.” While that might seem a bit overwhelming to some, Gina says that she “can’t help but calm down when I see them all sleeping around me.” The only downside? Barking while she is on the phone, which she controls with the phone’s mute button, although the dogs rarely do bark.
Jan Matthew Tamanini has a business law practice in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and refers to her two retired racing Greyhounds, Pen and Sabrina, as her “two valued legal assistants.” “Being able to have them close by to ground and entertain me as I go about my business makes me a better lawyer.”
Marc Stern, a bankruptcy lawyer in Seattle, Washington, who is co-chair of the GP|Solo Division’s Bankruptcy Committee, has a 130-pound Newfoundland named Loganberry, who comes to the office every day. He says that not only does the dog calm clients down (which we all know is not always an easy thing to do), but when he meets with a prospect at his office, she is also “a good barometer of whether I want the client.”
Robert Robertson, with a family law practice in Austin, Texas, says that his office cats like to leap onto the keyboard and step on the sequence C: format *.*, which would wipe out the entire contents of his hard drive. I guess the important question is whether they step on the letter “y” when the computer asks if he is sure that he wants to do this.
So what can you learn from reading about all of these experiences? Having a pet in your office can be a beneficial experience. Pets can calm you down, calm your clients down, and make your office a more enjoyable place to work. But if you want your computers to work, your phone lines to remain intact, and your computer keyboard to avoid receiving random feline entries, remember the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.
David Leffler is a member of the New York City law firm Leffler Marcus & McCaffrey LLC, which represents clients in business matters and litigation. Prior to that he was a solo attorney for more than a dozen years. In his spare time he blogs at staringatstrangers.com. You may write to him at email@example.com.