I have a favorite band, The Airborne Toxic Event. They’ve achieved fame and a lot of airplay for their song, Sometime Around Midnight. They’ve performed on Letteman and Jimmy Kimmel Live. They have more than 38,000 fans on Facebook (yes, I’m still calling them “fans”).

Organ at Disney Concert Hall
The Sports Dude and I saw them perform a few months back at the Disney Concert Hall, where lead-singer Mikel Jollett kicked the night off on the BIG organ. There was a marching band from a local high school, along with Mariachis and dancers. We watched in admiration at the band’s awe looking around, absorbing where they were. How did they go from local band in Echo Park, to performing to a sold-out crowd at the Disney Concert Hall? Better yet, as the band prepares to release their second album, they have in no way lost sight of their roots and who they, as individuals and a band, are. Last night the Sports Dude and I attended a fundraiser for THEIR Neda Project. Neda Agha Soltan, you might remember, was the young woman whose murder on the streets of Tehran was captured on YouTube last year.
I am Neda: Eric Geller, Mikel Jollett and Heather Morse-Milligan
The venue for the night’s fundraiser wasn’t the Disney Concert Hall, or The Nokia Theatre. It was held at The Echo, the club where the band played their first gig. A little joint, with no marquee, on West Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. It’s the kind of neighborhood where the local parking is $2.50 a DAY, not $2.00 an hour for the meters. This night was about their cause, their passion, that THEY brought to Amnesty International, the granddaddy of human rights organizations. The band saw the video of Neda’s death, and, like so many of us, were moved. They, however, put their movement into action. Before the show, Mikel was mingling amongst us in the audience, talking to fans, snapping pictures, discussing his passion, encouraging us to get more involved. From the stage he was humbled and moved. He was impassioned and grateful. I have to say, this has been my experience EVERY time I have seen the band play. They are humbled and grateful. How refreshing. So, what does this have to do with legal marketing? It reminds me of the story in Outliers about the founding of Skadden Arps:

In the beginning, it was just Marshall Skadden, Leslie Arps – both of whom had just been turned down for partner at a major Wall Street law firm – and John Slate, who had worked for Pan Am airlines. Flom [who did not receive any offers during hiring season] was their associate …. “What kind of law did we do?” Flom says, laughing. “Whatever came in the door!” Outliers, p. 118

I summed up my “experience” with the Skadden chapter:

So, what’s the point of the story? I think there are many, but you’ll have to read the book to find the ones that resonate with you.

I, for one, forget sometimes that so many of our firms have been built on the humble backs of hard working men and women. Go through the framed degrees on the walls of your founding partners and you will find amongst the Harvard and Yale degrees, Brooklyn Law School, Seton Hall University, Pepperdine University, University of San Diego, and Southwestern University School of Law.
While it is admirable to aspire to the reputation of Skadden Arps, it is just as admirable to aspire to the tenaciousness of Marshall Skadden, Leslie Arps, John Slate and Joe Flom.
As we advance in our careers, and our law firms grow in prestige, we cannot lose sight of where we come from … our roots. I’m not sure why we so often turn our backs on what made us successful in the first place. Instead of turning our backs on our roots, would it not be better to embrace it, and pay it forward? For fun, let me add a few stories from the personal side of my life to bring this discussion closer to me as an individual:
In 1905 my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island when he was just six months old. By the time I was born, 60 years later, my grandfather was an established and respected businessman in Los Angeles’ garment district. My grandparents lived in a penthouse on Doheny, just south of Sunset Boulevard, where his neighbor was Art Linkletter. I’m a “California-Mart– Morse” which actually used to mean something here in L.A.
When I was around 11-years old, my dad gave me a pint of heavy cream and a hand blender. I sat on the floor of our living room in the Hollywood Hills attempting to make whipped cream. After what seemed like hours, and a very tired arm, I achieved success. My dad then explained: His father made his way through college at CUNY working at a country club where he, as a Jew, could not be a member. One of his jobs was to make the whipped cream. After college, due to religious discrimination, he could not find work in his chosen profession (his degree was as an engineer), so he changed his name, moved to California, and achieved great personal and financial success in the schmata business. And while my grandfather never ate whipped cream again, I did learn that from hard work anything is possible.
The lessons continued into the next generation. When my dad was ready to move on from being a ’57 T-Bird driving, surfing major at Santa Barbara College, my grandfather handed him a broom and told him to start sweeping the floors of the factory. My grandfather insisted that my dad learn from the bottom up. My father too achieved financial and personal success. For the most part, I had a very comfortable upbringing, where my dad made certain to throw in more life’s lessons than this young girl ever wanted to learn.
In the HOT summer of ’77, when I was 12, my dad put me to work in that same factory. I tagged and bagged, and worked from bell to bell, punching in and out, along side everyone else. My only perk was that my dad bought my lunch. Just like his father did for him, my dad insisted that I too learn from the ground up. I might be the boss’ daughter, and the founder’s granddaughter, but I was no different and no better than anyone else.
And while the garment industry in Los Angeles has pretty much died off, and our factories are long gone, the lessons I was taught by my father, and my roots are not.
As I have achieved personal and professional success, I must admit that there have been times where I have lost sight of my roots. I have thought of myself as entitled to something that I didn’t really deserve or personally earn. I was ungrateful for my sweat and tears … why couldn’t it just be handed to me? It seemed so easy for everyone else!! However, my personal journey, especially over these past four years, has lead me to reconnect to what drove me to become successful: Hard work. Family. Personal responsibility. And an attitude of gratitude. Every day I have the opportunity to look out from my window on the 47th Floor where I can see the factory on Los Angeles Street where I spent my summers. I see the Mart that my grandfather helped build with his brothers-in-law, and which is now lost. I am so humbled and moved by my family’s successes, and their failures. While our family business is no longer intact, my aunt ensured that my grandparents’ legacy would live on through the Claire and Theodore Morse Foundation, and the good deeds the foundation supports.
I never want to forget where I come from. That’s one of the reason’s that I have “reclaimed” my family name … Heather MORSE-Milligan. The Morse is what defines me as an individual. It is where I learned the value of my existence. And while my children will never have the experience of working in the garment factory over the summers, I have a feeling they’ll learn how to whip up a bowl of cream by hand.