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Are you listening Dan Pink? FedEx days come to a Toronto employment law firm

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Adopting an orphaned chimp, an exercise video and an anniversary song are not the usual work of an employment law firm, but in one 24-hour period, the employment lawyers at Rubin Thomlinson took a pause and pushed the boundaries of their creativity with extraordinary results.

In his remarkable book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink writes about an Australian software company Atlassian that created a unique event.  Once a quarter, Atlassian employees are asked to put aside their regular day to day work, and instead work on any problem or initiative they want. They have 24 hours to do this, and then they must show their results to their colleagues in the company.  Atlassian employees have named these events “FedEx Days” because they have to deliver something overnight.

According to Pink, FedEx Days set the stage for great outbursts of creativity, with Atlassian employees coming up with all sorts of great products, and solutions to business problems.  Pink suggests that other companies and workplaces have their own FedEx Days.

I loved this idea when I read about it. I wondered whether we could make use of it in our Toronto employment law firm.  If members of our team, who I knew to be exceptionally creative, thoughtful, funny and collaborative, were given a day to work on something other than their regular work, what could they come up with?  When I mentioned it to the group as something a little unusual we could do, they were, not surprisingly, game.

We set aside Monday January 21, 2013 as our first FedEx Day.  Despite some push back (we are lawyers after all) the only “rule” was that you had to use the time to do something useful relating to the firm and/or the practice of law.  No examples or guidelines were given beyond that. What you did, how and where you did it, and with whom, was left completely open.  We had our debrief over breakfast the following morning.

I can report that, as Dan Pink writes, this exercise tapped into our creative reserves, and allowed us to express ourselves in new ways.  As a group, what we came up with was diverse, surprising, and extremely useful.  I am certain that none of these ideas would have surfaced in our normal working day. Our firm manager, her husband (guests were allowed), and one of our legal assistants devised what they called “a short and easy to follow wellness plan for RT staff” which covered everything from nutrition to exercise. This plan was presented complete with an hilarious homemade video illustrating how to do stretching exercises at a desk and along an office wall.

One lawyer came up with an online survey for clients of the firm. This will be another point of connection and will help us gauge whether we are hitting the mark in terms of client service (we hope so!).

In celebration of our 10th anniversary, a collage of the firm was created and framed by a lawyer who claimed, notwithstanding the evidence to the contrary, that she had no artistic ability whatsoever.

Our firm marketing and communications manager returned from a day at the Centre for Social Innovation with a plan to become proficient in web development and responsive design, allowing us to bring this skill in-house.

One lawyer decided that he wanted to spend the day at the Court of Appeal to hear submissions involving the “aboriginal duty to consult”.  While not directly relating to employment law, the case did involve an area of law he was interested in, but, in the everyday routine of things, had had no time to explore.

Our most musical member of the firm wrote a song (the RT Day Ditty) and serenaded us a cappella in the boardroom.  Up until this moment, we did not know that the firm name, Rubin Thomlinson, could so easily be sung to Simon and Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson (Dee, dee  dee, dee, dee,  doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo; and here’s to you Rubin Thomlinson, different than other firms you know; wo, wo, wo…)

And to round things off, under the leadership of one of our lawyers, the firm adopted an orphaned chimp named Baati as part of the In Defense of Animals–Africa program.

This was definitely not a typical day at the office, but certainly one of the most fun and rewarding that we can remember.

So Dan, if you are listening, thanks so much for the suggestion.  And if you are free on Tuesday May 27th, 2013, come join us for our RT Day part two.

Janice Rubin