As businesspeople, we face challenges on a regular basis. Rising to those challenges is what separates the mediocre from the best. Occasionally, certain challenges come along you would rather avoid and you can legitimately sidestep very easily, and yet you still choose to engage because you just want to do the right thing. Such was the case one day for US District Judge Jed Rakoff.
No small-time lawyer, Rakoff presided over the recent $163 million settlement in the New York Mets’ owners’ case involving the trustee of the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme. In 2009, he criticized the SEC based on its poor handling of the Bank of America nondisclosure violations. Rakoff sentenced a Goldman Sachs director, Rajat Gupta, to a two-year prison term for insider trading, justifying his decision with a detailed analysis as to why it was a fair sentence when some inside traders were receiving much longer sentences.
One day Rakoff just happened to answer his office phone to find a very irate caller on the other end. Rakoff describes the interesting conversation (David A. Kaplan, “The Judge Who Rules on Business” Fortune 2/4/13, pp. 106–113):
“I had the situation where a guy who was clearly a little drunk said, ‘I saw what you did in the X case, and that was absolutely outrageous, and I’m going to kill you.’ And I realized the case wasn’t mine. It was a colleague’s. And I was so tempted to say, ‘Let me transfer your call.’” (p. 113)
What would you have done? And before you answer, let me warn you, your response may reveal more about your character than your work-efficiency concerns. I will let you decide.
On the other hand, if there was ever a reason to transfer a call—I think that was it!