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Women in eDiscovery: A New Mom Finds Her Footing in a Pandemic

May 11, 2021

At a recent CDS webinar, Women in Legal Ops & Tech: Taking Initiative and Setting Your Own Course, Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations at CDS led a panel discussion among several women leaders who discussed real-world examples of women taking control of their professional trajectory by launching new initiatives, developing mentor/mentee relationships, accessing/establishing training programs, and networking in a digital world.

Here are some highlights from their conversation.

Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations, CDS
How did you take control of your career trajectory coming back from maternity leave, in the middle of a pandemic?

Nili Yavin, Head of Litigation Practice Support and Technology, Buchalter
I’ve been in the legal and technology spaces for about 20 years now. I started my career on the East coast in Big Law and moved out West to California. I manage a team of project managers and analysts at the firm. I had a baby in the winter of 2019, right before the world shut down.

At the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I packed up all our essentials into our vintage camper and left Hollywood and went to my friend’s vacant house in San Diego thinking we’d be in quarantine for a few weeks, and that turned into over a year now. My husband was helping me at home for a little bit, mid-pandemic over the summer, then we decided to bring on reinforcements and hired a nanny and she was great.

But with a spike in COVID cases and safety concerns, we scaled back and tightened our circle. She left us in November and I’ve been solo again. My husband returned to an office in downtown LA, so he’s going into an office daily, and I’ve maintained our quarantine down in San Diego, solo parenting during the week while working full time, managing a very busy litigation tech department. So pretty crazy.

I can definitely tell you right now, you can’t see it, but my circles are a little darker and the burnout is absolutely real. Mental health is suffering. I’m going to talk a little bit about mental health and our challenges and what trends we’re seeing which are alarming.

But I want to switch gears and refocus the talk on marketing ourselves. I was faced with a double challenge. Coming back from maternity leave is already challenging and difficult, especially in the legal profession. A law firm is busy, intense and a lot happens in four months. That’s always a scary situation on a good day. And on top of that, we’re returning to work from home, working remotely. I didn’t have the opportunity to see people face-to-face, to have one-on-one interactions, to see people in the hallway and say, “Hey, I’m back, what’s up? What’s going on? I’m here.”

So, I devised a plan right before I came back to try to market myself and my department. Ultimately, it’s not all about me, it’s really my department, about adding value, reinforcing our importance at the firm. A lot of these tips can certainly be applied to your situation in your own organization. It’s not fully law firm-centric, so hopefully, you can apply them to your work environment, whether you’re at a law firm or on the vendor side.

Marketing can be tricky. Self-promotion is definitely a fine line. It’s somewhat of an art to master. By nature, we don’t want to come across as being obnoxious, braggy, or annoying.

So, I really try to take the approach of being a small business owner or an entrepreneur where I am running a business within a business. I try to create activity, buzz and awareness.

For example, I set up monthly trainings and lunch-and-learns. Offer free credit. Lunch-and-learn trainings, round tables, case roundups on various e-discovery and lit tech topics. If you’re not comfortable putting these on yourself or people on your team, I recommend partnering up with your service provider or vendor to co-host some of these presentations. I tried to focus on super relevant topics. Obviously, we’re in lit tech, we’ve been doing this for years, we’ve been proponents of this for a long time, but now new folks are coming into the fold. So, I really tried to cement that, and applied super relevant topics to get more people to attend ultimately. I focused on remote collection kits, remote depot services, cloud-based technology that people can access from home, to make it really relevant and current for people.

And probably the most important thing that I did and recommend absolutely (and I did that right at the beginning) was to schedule one-on-one meetings with all the stakeholders at my organization.

When you’re coming back from leave or even if you’re just in a rut, I want to set up those meetings with the top litigation partners, the rainmakers so to speak, and get up to speed on what I missed in the last four months, where they were with their current cases and how my team could help them move forward. I tried to keep these as ongoing meetings as best as I could but respecting their time by keeping it short. I tried to have these monthly meetings with them to touch base. I know we’re all fatigued with these faceless Zoom meetings that seem to go on and on, so we now have monthly, weekly meetings at our organization. I really stress to my team to attend these. Sometimes it’s easy not to attend them, and they don’t even notice if you’re not there. But I said, “Just please attend them and try to participate, ask a question.” Sometimes just hearing your voice will remind someone, oh, wait, she’s there, she’s still here.

And even across departments. Sometimes I’ll attend real estate or corporate meetings, not just litigation meetings where you’d be surprised how many things are applicable to you and how you can insert yourself. Just think outside of the box where you can help. Hopefully some of these are relevant.

Now I just want to switch gears. I mentioned burnout earlier. I don’t know if you guys saw this tweet by the ACLU last week. I saw it and I was shook. It said out of 1.1 million workers who left the workforce in September, 80% of them were women. I mean, it’s just shocking. Basically, you’re seeing women, not just moms, are doing more of the housework, childcare, more of the homeschooling. You’re seeing women taking on less at work, cutting work hours. We’re not putting our names up for promotion perhaps, and then ultimately, women are actually leaving the workforce entirely.

This has a deepening impact and severe ramifications for the future and all the progress we’ve made over the decades. Again, I would like to reinforce the importance of mental health, checking in with our colleagues, the women in our life, not judging people and understanding their situations at home, trying to remember that. For me work has been great. They’ve been somewhat flexible, but I feel like there is still more that the workplace can do for our working parents. You see it in other countries, like Canada, where I’m from originally, and in Europe, you’re seeing government stepping in and helping out. I hear President Biden and some senators are pushing legislation where they will help parents and give them monthly support, depending on how many children they have, to help offset some of the childcare needs. Hopefully, there are brighter days ahead, with the mass inoculation, and hopefully, we have a brighter future and this will change.

Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations, CDS
Thank you, Nili. I actually have one question for you about the lunch-and-learns. Did you do anything at the firm that encouraged participation? I’ve been thinking of ways to encourage my team. In the office, when we were in person, we’d get together as a team and encourage participation and bring in some food, cakes, soda, snacks and lunches. I’ve been thinking about ways to encourage remote participation during lunch by paying for it, getting a budget for that, like a grub hub gift card. Did you do anything like that? Did you see participation without the extra encouragement?

Nili Yavin, Head of Litigation Practice Support and Technology, Buchalter
Our firm sent out Uber Eats to people, so they would actually have a lunch. But really, the MCLE credit was huge. We’re an organization where we can offer that credit, and so offering credit is always great to get the attorneys to participate. And sometimes we just had to make some of the trainings mandatory.

Continue on to read Part 2 of the blog series, Establishing Your Professional Brand.

About CDS’ Women in Legal Operations & Technology Webinar Series
In 2020, we began a conversation with a group of women in legal operations and technology, exploring how the pandemic had impacted office culture, career trajectories and gender dynamics. We continue to cultivate the dialogue to see how these changes ultimately take shape, venturing deeper into specific topics while maintaining a candid, conversational tone. We encourage women in the profession to join us to share your experiences and grow your network.

About the Author

<a href="https://cdslegal.com/team/" target="_blank">CDS Staff</a>

CDS Staff

Our leadership team and advisory consultants, project managers, and technical experts assist clients through all phases of the eDiscovery process.

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