Nothing But the Ruth!

Is This a Kindergarten or a University?

By | Apr.10.13 | Daily Dispatch, Innovation, Law Practice Management, Nothing But The Ruth!, People Management

Nothing But the Ruth

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the South by Southwest Interactive Track in Austin, Texas. This conference focuses on business and social media. I came away from the week with my head buzzing with ideas. Among them were concepts from a fantastic session I attended on unique businesses. One of the panelists, Scott Chacon of GitHub, had simple but incredible suggestions for solving problems more effectively.

Chacon asked a profound question during his talk: Is your work environment more like a kindergarten or a university? In businesses that are run like a kindergarten, people are under constant supervision. They are told step-by-step exactly what to do and every employee does everything exactly the same. Does this sound like anyone’s first job out of law school?

When a business is run like a university, the outcome matters more than the specific process. No one is breathing down your neck as long as you get your work done. No one cares when you work, how you do it or what you wear. This environment allows for significantly more freedom but also a higher degree of responsibility and discipline. It also allows for a greater degree of creativity.

When a business is run like a university, work-life balance is a given. No employee has to miss a child’s game or recital because it was scheduled during “work hours.” This environment leads to low turnover. I think this is because employees have more balance in their lives, they’re allowed to do what works for them and, to a degree, they feel more like people instead of company commodities.

The next time you walk through your office, ask yourself if the law firm feels more like a kindergarten or a university. The answer may change the way you look at work.

Ruth Carter’s virtual practice, The Carter Law Firm, focuses on intellectual property, social media, First Amendment and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal 2012 Legal Rebel, Ruth recently published the e-book The Legal Side of Blogging: How Not to Get Sued, Fired, Arrested or Killed. In “Nothing But the Ruth,” she writes about the lessons she’s learning while building her new virtual practice. She also blogs weekly at

Illustration © ImageZoo.

Sponsored Links

Recommended Reading

One Response to “Is This a Kindergarten or a University?”

  1. Paul H. Burton
    10 April 2013 at 10:16 am #

    in my book “The Waterfall Effect: Six Principles for Productive Leadership” (Amazon), I devote a whole chapter to Peeling Back The Onion. The notion is that by developing your people to be doer versus waiters, you can have a university-style workplace.

    Most lawyers never learn to manage, much less lead, before becoming practicing lawyers. The exigencies of the daily grind then prevent most of them from developing either skill set very well. My own managerial and leadership experience didn’t really develop until I was first in the corporate world and later in the entrepreneurial world.

    Learning to Peel Back The Onion – find and leverage the hidden talent of your people – is a fundamental step in giving them broader reign over how they get their work done.