Saturday, September 19, 2009

We don't do what we do

During my recent trip to California, I had lunch in Palo Alto with an old friend who works as a Stanford University professor. As we chatted about work, we noticed something similar about our jobs.

When people ask him what he does, he told me, he responds that he's a professor. Inevitably they then ask what class he teaches, to which he replies, he doesn't. He runs a laboratory in the Stanford radiology department, performing research, earning patents and contributing to the world's knowledge in his field. So although he does instruct and collaborate with the students in his lab, unlike many professors (or at least most people's concept of a professor) he doesn't stand up in front of a lecture hall and teach a class.

I can relate because I'm an attorney who doesn't really practice law. I do occasionally file court papers, appear in courtrooms and work on transactions, but I've mostly left the practice of law behind, spending more of my time as a client than an attorney. I don't bill my time or cultivate a roster of clients. So there we were having lunch, the professor who doesn't teach a class and the lawyer who doesn't practice law.

A few days later I was catching up with another old friend in Berkeley whose parents, whom I know well, also live in the Berkeley area. My friend's dad, a retired radiologist, is an expert pilot on advanced flight simulators. Despite his medical background, he told me that if he were on an airline flight and both pilots had seizures, as a practical matter he would rather take the controls and land the plane himself than try to nurse the pilots back to health.

It felt like he should have been there a few days earlier at the lunch meeting of people who don't do what they do.

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