Anniversary Speech – Rob Romanoff

I want to thank everyone for taking time today to celebrate our firm’s anniversary.  We’re a few days early, but on February 1st, we will celebrate LP’s 18th anniversary.  This is a remarkable occasion.  With every year, LP gets stronger.  With every year, LP gets better at providing a consistently exceptional client experience.  With every year, we get closer to our goal of becoming the dominant mid-size firm in Chicago.

In prior years, I’ve used the anniversary speech to speak about firm initiatives or firm priorities.  This year, I’m going to do something a little bit different…

You may be aware that each year, Lake Superior State University publishes its “Banished Words List”.  Last year, the school included the words “bigly”, “post-truth” and “dadbod” on its list of words to be banished.  If you don’t know what “dadbod” means, look it up…or ask your teenage kid.  There might be a few men at LP who might resemble the word.  I’m not one of them.

Lake Superior State has its Banished Words List.  I have decided that LP is going to have our own Banished Phrases List.  There are three phrases to be assigned as the initial phrases on the LP Banished Phrases list.  “Built for Speed” and “Unusually Good” are the first two.  I’m sorry to inform you that “Every day is an opportunity” is not the third.

The third phrase consigned to the LP Banished Phrases List is “it is what it is”.  That phrase is forbidden from the dialogue of anyone part of the LP team.  I actually have no idea what “it is what it is” means, but I know it’s not good.  It’s a phrase that people use when they surrender, when they give up.

I’m placing one phrase on the LP Endangered Phrase List.  That phrase is “what can you do…?”  Let me give you a few examples of the context in which I have heard this phrase used, just in the last year:

-Upon hearing that someone is leaving the firm:   “what can you do?

-Upon hearing that a friend or a colleague is seriously ill:  “what can you do?

-Upon hearing another news report about poverty and crime in Chicago:  “what can you do?

When used in this way, “what can you do” is an expression of capitulation.  It’s reflective of someone who lacks the empathy, imagination or courage to be associated with LP.   It’s not who we are or who we aspire to be.

I haven’t put “what can you do” on the LP Banished Phrases list because I think we can transform the meaning of the words.   We can change the meaning of the words simply by changing which word we emphasize.

What can you do?” is a phrase of resignation, but what if it were “What can you do?” or “What can you do?” or even “What can you do?”  Merely by changing what we emphasize, we can transform weakness into challenge, resignation into resolve.

We can shrug our shoulders and say “What can you do?” when someone chooses to leave LP to seek another opportunity.  Or we could focus on making a LP a firm that no person would ever dream of leaving.  We can invest in our people and create a culture of professional development that is second to none.  That’s what we can do and what we are going to do.  With the help of our Professional Development Chair Brian Kozminski and the new Professional Development Committee of Shelly Leonida, Gary Blackman, Mitch Weinstein, Steven Weiss and Lauren Wolven, we are going to have a new focus on giving our people the resources and training to transform their abilities.

What can you do?  You can develop great working relationships.  You can train.  You can share ideas on how to improve a client experience.  You can assist in process improvement in your practice group.  In this firm, everyone is responsible for leadership.  By working together we can raise our firm to even greater heights, making us into a firm that everyone will want to join and no person could ever imagine leaving.

We can slump down, offer a heavy sigh and say “What can you do?” when we learn of a colleague, relative or friend facing a serious health challenge.  Instead, allow me to ask: what can you do?   You can look at Mary Wasik’s work as the incoming chair of the Chicago chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association (Mary is actually in Orlando this week for training with the Alzheimer’s Association).  You can follow the example of Jeannette Ferguson, Becky Morgan, Kim Gross and so many others providing emotional, spiritual and physical support as well as support at work for a colleague facing a health challenge.  You can provide support and at the same time build LP into a stronger firm.

It’s a fact that we cannot open the newspaper or turn on the television or radio without hearing horrific news about crime in Chicago, about a promising young child caught in the crossfire, about someone shot at a memorial service or someone cut down while sitting on her doorstep on a warm summer evening.  Too often, we turn the page or change the channel and say “what can you do?” while secretly being thankful that we don’t live in Englewood or Austin.  Instead of saying “what can you do?” and then wishing it away, I would ask “what can you do?”

  • You can be like Emily Hoyt, who is on the Associates Board for Ladder Up. Ladder Up’s overall mission is to help people access the financial resources and opportunities needed to climb up and out of poverty by providing free tax return assistance, help with financial aid forms for college and financial literacy workshops.
  • You can be like Matt Weiss, who is a member of the Civic Leadership Council of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago (CRFC).  CRFC is a 40-year old nonpartisan nonprofit that provides elementary and secondary students with hands-on learning about the Constitution to prepare them for informed civic engagement.
  • You can be like Mike Cannell, who is a mentor in the LINK Unlimited program. LINK Unlimited is a program where around 75 African American applicants are selected prior to their freshman year in high school to be LINK Unlimited scholars. As part of the program, these students are given financial assistance to cover partial tuition at participating private high schools in Chicago, they receive academic assistance through the LINK program and each scholar is paired with a mentor for their four years of high school. The LINK program has community service and summer school requirements for the scholars. The goal is to have 100% college enrollment.  The role of mentors is to meet with the scholars periodically to do various activities (museum visits, dinner, baseball games, or whatever the scholar is interested in), expose the scholars to new experiences, and encourage and assist the scholars with their college and professional goals. The program is funded by contributions from Chicago businesses and partners and monthly donations from the mentors.
  • You can be like Carrie Harrington, who is a member of the Associate Board of WINGS. WINGS provides support for survivors of domestic violence and their families including shelter and counseling.

I could go on and I could cite the work done by so many people in this firm who try to make Chicago a better and safer place.  I’ve tried to spotlight the efforts of just a few of our younger attorneys because you might not be aware of their work in the community.  I wasn’t aware until I asked.

What else can you do?  You can befriend one of our Cristo Rey students and be an informal mentor.  Ask Linsey Neyt or Patti O’Connor how you can help.  You can also support LP’s partnership with Chicago’s Community Kitchens and the Greater Chicago Food Depository.  CCK transforms the lives of its students, giving them skills to obtain employment and raise themselves out of poverty while also feeding people who otherwise might not have even one decent meal a day.  You can participate in the firm’s Hunger Week activities.  You can contribute to GCFD.  You can volunteer your time, both throughout the year and during LP’s Day of Service.

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The phrase “what can you do” doesn’t have to be a phrase of resignation or an expression of frustration.  It can be a phrase of empowerment, a phrase of transformation.  By asking what you can do, you can transform other people’s lives.  Perhaps along the way, you will transform your own.

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I’ll get off my soapbox now.  I would like to thank you for everything you do for LP and our clients and for all you will do in the coming years.  2017 is going to be a great year for this firm.

I’ve shared with all of you that I consider it a great honor to serve as LP’s managing partner.  What gives me inspiration and complete confidence in our future are the people in these rooms.  You can do anything and I look forward to seeing you do it in the coming year.  For today, on behalf of myself and all of the partners of the firm, please allow me to say “thank you” and “happy anniversary” and propose a toast to all of you, to LP and to a successful 2017!

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