Fairy Tale in Colorado

By Greg Deatz

Most of you know the story of Cinderella: Once upon a time, we hear, there is this frazzled serving girl who has no hope for improving her lot in life.  One day, the local prince announces a grand ball.  “I wish”, she says to herself, “that I could go.  Maybe, just maybe, if I could go, my life could change.  I might meet my Prince Charming, and get out of this mess.”  Magically, her fairy godmother appears, and, well…you know the rest: Her life turns around, and she lives happily ever after.

Earlier this year, ALA national announced its annual conference and invited its members to come and learn.  I said to myself, “Gee, I wish I could go, but…probably not this year.  It’s expensive, and I’m busy, so…probably not”.  Then, magically, out of thin air, the NJALA drew my name in a raffle and gave me a scholarship to attend.  So, naturally, I went.  (Before continuing along this line of thinking, I’d like to ask you to stop and imagine me in a beautiful dress, with my hair done perfectly and, of course, wearing a pristine pair of glass slippers.)  And, like Cinderella, my life was changed…

In a nutshell, here were some of my magical moments:

  • My firm has a large plaintiffs’ personal injury (PI) group, so, on Sunday, I participated in a roundtable event for administrators of PI firms.  I met several people who became instant resources for me.  They all had highly relevant and topical experiences that allowed me to step back from my day-to-day grind and consider the bigger picture.  I walked away with faces, names and contacts that I would not have gotten if I had stayed home.
  • On Monday, I attended a networking event hosted by my firm’s time and billing vendor (Rippe & Kingston), where I learned about new features of its upcoming release and met people who are working with the same tool that we use in our office every day.  Once again, I walked away with faces, names and contacts that I would not have available to me today if I had stayed home.  I also had valuable face-time with an important vendor.
  • On Tuesday, the ALA hosted a general session on diversity and inclusion.  The speaker challenged me to think about how to better include people in my life (not just at work) who may be different from me.  
  • On Wednesday, I attended a class on storytelling.  The presenter gave a fascinating perspective on how people internalize what others say: People don’t listen to data downloads or information dumps very well, but they understand stories.  One of the most important aspects of change is getting everyone on board and fully engaged in the change.  In other words, change can only come from a common understanding of why it must happen.  Stories are the tool to convey this in a compelling way.  For me, this bit of learning was unexpected and entirely welcome.

Sprinkled between these specific moments were countless interactions with people who I don’t see or “touch” daily.  During each of these interactions, whether it was with a colleague or a vendor, I had the opportunity to reflect on my role in my firm, and, as a result, I left the conference more informed than when I arrived.

After the conference, I heard similar stories from everyone.  Each of us went to the conference with an open mind, sometimes with an agenda, sometimes without one, but we all had one thing in common: We went, and we all took something of value back home, much like a fairy tale.  

This isn’t to say that I didn’t already have a good network of colleagues (I do).  It isn’t to say that I couldn’t have a meaningful conversation with my firm’s time and billing vendor on my own (I often do, as a matter of fact).  It isn’t to say that diversity and inclusion isn’t already high on my mind, or that my firm isn’t already working this (it is, and we are).  And, it isn’t to say that I wouldn’t have at some point stumbled on the notion to communicate change through story-telling.  But—my network is now larger, I have a deeper relationship with my time and billing vendor and its clients, I have more insight into diversity and inclusion than I had before and I learned something entirely unexpected.

Did you miss out on the magic of the ALA national conference this year?  Next year, you shouldn’t.

Greg Deatz is the Chief Operating Officer of Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

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