The cat and the law firm: the purr-fect advantage
Dr Bob Murray shares how an uninvited cat calmed a firm’s clients – and brought a managing partner to his knees
Pud usually sat on Frank’s desk. They made a great pair. Frank was a family law partner in boutique Chelsea firm E&H.
The business was dominated by ambitious partners a long way from retirement, and since Frank was neither of these, he was a bit of an outcast.
Pud was a ginger cat, a stray. But he was no ordinary feline – he had some distinguishing features. He was, shall we say, on the ‘solid’ side.
Frank said Pud’s main aim in life was to preserve his precious calories by sleeping as much as he could and exercising as little as possible. This was not difficult since he rarely left the office during the day.
Pud was also deaf. Somehow, he had survived as a street cat (‘feral’ as some of the younger partners unflatteringly remarked) without the benefit of his hearing.
He was also – how shall I say it tactfully? – not in the bloom of youth. Back in his (perhaps domestic) past, he had been declawed and desexed. Frank said every disaster that could happen to a male cat had happened to him, yet he’d survived.
Pud arrived at the firm shortly before I was hired as Frank’s coach. One Monday at around noon, he simply jumped unnoticed through an open window into the converted terrace house that was the open plan offices for the 20-person firm.
He landed on Frank’s desk. It was cluttered as always and Pud wasted no time in clearing it. Some of the papers landed on the floor and others in the wastepaper basket. There was no one around to scrounge a meal from – so Pud settled down to sleep.
The office became busy in the afternoon, but being deaf Pud didn’t care. At around 3pm, Frank returned from a stressful client encounter and found, to his surprise, a large sleeping feline stretched across his desk where his court documents had been.
Pud didn’t curl like an ordinary cat. He used his entire length to place ownership over as much real estate as he could. Frank tried to reassemble his documents and wake the cat.
“Wake up, kitty,” he said. No reaction. He gave Pud a shove. The ginger lump opened an eye and purred. A deep sonorous purr.
Frank, who had become a widower after 25 years of marriage, was smitten. He had lived alone in his Battersea flat for ten years – and now here was Pud.
Dan the managing partner came out of his office and told Frank animals weren’t allowed. “Your cat will have to go,” he said. “My cat?” Frank objected, “’I’ve never seen this animal before.” “He’s on your desk, getting rid of him is your responsibility.”
Pud continued purring, impervious to the conversation of which he was the subject. Frank stroked him automatically. So did Dan’s secretary, Penny, who came to admire the new arrival.
“Whose cat?” she asked. “His,” said Dan. “Not really,” Frank protested. “I love his purr.” Penny stroked Pud gently. Dan went off in a huff and a junior lawyer was instructed to put Pud back on the street.
He went to sleep on the doorstep, and as soon as the door opened and a junior partner rushed out to a meeting, he woke and sauntered back in. Through the week, one ruse after another was employed to rid the firm of Pud. All failed. By Friday afternoon he was a fixture.
Frank or the secretary fed him (his ‘salary’, she declared). I met Pud when I met my new coachee. Dan wanted Frank to be more proactive in business development; and become more social by attending partner lunches, partner meetings and discuss strategy.
I met Frank in the firm’s meeting room. I was faced by a balding man in his mid to late fifties cradling what appeared to be a large reddish bundle of hair. “We call him ‘Pud’,” he said, before introducing himself. “He’s the firm cat. He lives with me after hours but he really belongs to everyone here.”
I soon discovered Pud was a calming influence on the office, an effect he had on everyone – even on the few clients that came in those days. Pud decided that his job was to sit in the meeting room whenever Frank saw his visitors; usually couples on the verge of divorce (they became more reasonable under his influence – how can you fight while stroking a purring cat at the same time?).
The effect did not go unobserved by the go-getters. The litigators, the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) partners and even the property lawyers borrowed Pud for meetings at the office (which, strangely enough, became more frequent). Pud was stroked, he purred – and for the most part, everyone calmed down and reached agreement.
Gradually, Frank upped his business development and Dan was pleased. I was offered more work with the firm, and as an eager young psychologist, I gratefully accepted.
The change to the firm’s fortunes didn’t happen overnight, but the firm’s revenues slowly increased. It was Penny, who also did the billing, who was the first to notice.
“It’s the Pud effect,” she declared. Dan laughed. What a ridiculous suggestion. “’Pud effect’, indeed!” he sneered.
But by the beginning of Pud’s second year, revenues had grown substantially. A second meeting room was created by combining
Dan’s office and a broom closet. More lawyers were hired including another family practice specialist. Those with a cat allergy were quickly eliminated.
When both meeting rooms were occupied, the question as to who got Pud was often hotly debated. Dan was often called in to settle cat-related disputes and eventually, he set out a Pud-priority list.
Family law had first call on the cat. Then came litigation and mediation, then M&A, then employment law. And finally, property and tax.
In between his conciliation and agreement building duties, Pud relaxed on Frank’s desk, his regularly-emptied litter box tucked neatly out of sight and smell.
Just occasionally, by Pud’s third year with the firm Dan could be seen carrying the lump around the office and even stroking him. “Why don’t cats get grey hairs?” he asked wistfully of no one in particular. “Maybe because they don’t run law offices,” he said, in answer to his own question.
No one really knew how old Pud was. Guesses ranged from 10 to 20 years plus. Those who had been there for Pud’s entire five years with the firm thought 20 plus was more accurate.
And then he died. It was a Friday before a long weekend. Frank came back from a partner lunch and there was Pud, stretched out on the desk. Frank stroked him and there was nothing. No open eye, no purr. A gentle shove had no effect.
I was summoned to the office for general grief counselling. They changed the firm’s name to EH & P. Dan insisted. The partners agreed – it was fitting.
This story is based on the experiences of a real firm and a real cat; and real research. One group of studies showed that having pets in the office reduces stress and conflict and increases productivity and engagement by about 20 per cent.
Another, carried out in London law offices, showed that having a calm animal in a meeting room greatly increases the chances of dispute resolution (the animal used in the study was a golden retriever). Like all the names, that of the cat has been changed.
Dr Bob Murray is a behavioural psychologist fortinberrymurray.com