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Meet Merrily

Workplace training is only as good as the trainer . . . 

And, you know, Trix are for kids!

Most lawyers make lousy trainers.  Though lawyers can recite Law, they lack any real insight into how adults learn and how adult learners integrate new information and skills into their day-to-day duties.  Worse, when lawyers offer training, their motivation is NOT to empower learners to solve workplace problems internally; on the contrary, their motivation is to market their far more expensive litigation and “auditing” services.  As a refugee of Biglaw workplace boutiques (e.g., Jackson Lewis, Fisher & Phillips), I reluctantly participated in this “training-as-marketing” theater, and observed how HR practitioners, managers, and even other lawyers responded to it–i.e., “the lawyer talked about the Law and RISK, but not the FIX! What a boring waste of time!”   By contrast, for training to WORK, program design and delivery must account for the science (andragogy) of how adults take in and integrate new information, an approach that differs substantially from the didactic attorney lectures.

I consider myself a “self-loathing lawyer.”  While working on a Master’s in Social Work at the top-ranked Washington University in St. Louis on a civil rights fellowship, I started law school believing in the value of “legal tools” to effectuate social change and specifically, to advance the march toward Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO).  Upon completing my JD/MSW in 1997, I launched my legal career as a Trial Attorney at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a “dream job” that became a disillusioning nightmare.  Instead of victims (i.e., employees) and villains (i.e., employers) in employment disputes, I saw people.  I also quickly saw how much the EEOC’s methods (i.e., exacting settlements for “victims”) distorted its mission (i.e.,securing opportunity in hiring and promotion), an insight for which I once cursed my social work education. Thus, in 2000, I “switched sides” and dedicated my legal career to working with employers.  

And, for what it’s worth in the hyper-competitive bloodsport of private Biglaw practice, I earned my stripes.  As a defense litigator, I garnered recognition as a Forty Under 40 winner; I trounced the EEOC in EEOC v. Picture People, a high-stakes disability prosecution; I was inducted into the Denver Business Journal‘s PowerBook in Law; I was recognized as a SuperLawyer in Employment Litigation Defense; I helped two national Biglaw boutiques establish Denver outposts; I developed a portable book of business; and I became a “regular” on the HR speaker’s circuit throughout the region.  Although I may wonder if I was “successful” as a defense litigator, I remain confident that, like many attorneys, I was thoroughly unhappy.

At my core, I am a social worker, which means that I care more about FIXES than FIGHTS.  With advanced education in organizational dynamics, human behavior, social psychology, management, andragogy and public policy, I care deeply about empowering organizations to avoid, address and resolve workplace disputes before they degenerate into litigation (where, from a cost perspective, employers ALWAYS lose).  I also care deeply about promoting the BUSINESS CASE for diverse/multicultural workplaces, and the importance of tying progress toward EEO to profits–i.e., the language of business.  Training, when done well, promotes the dual aims of law and social work.  When high quality workplace training is EFFECTIVE, AFFORDABLE, and easily ACCESSIBLE, employers can realize reduced outside counsel fees, avoid punitive damages, and build more productive, engaged workplace communities.

On a personal note, I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri at the height of its school desegregation, “bussing” battle, the second daughter of a professional jazz musician and a teacher (i.e., hippies).  The frequent race-based fights in the Catholic cemeteries surrounding my high school profoundly impacted me, and I knew, even as a young person, that my life’s work would involve civil rights and equal opportunity.  When I’m not pursuing my professional passions, folks can find me at home in Denver, Colorado with my family and critters or traipsing about the Rocky Mountains.   I am a self-proclaimed “music nerd,” as well as mediocre guitarist.  I know more about South Park than anybody rightfully should.  I’ve become a rabid Denver Broncos hooligan.  I tap dance in grocery stores, sing almost constantly, and “groove violently” at rock concerts, to the utter horror of my daughters.  And, I have become a prolific songwriter about the absurdities of the American workplace.  Oh no, have I said too much?

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