Thought Leadership and Industry Trends
What a Pandemic Teaches You About Work, Life, and Shaping Your Future
from our Women in Legal Operations & Technology Webinar
No one can deny that the coronavirus pandemic has profoundly impacted office culture, career trajectories, and the future of work. We gathered a group of women leaders to take stock of how recent developments have impacted women in the field of legal operations and technology in particular. Joining us in the discussion were:
Anthy Antoniou, Manager, eDiscovery and Litigation Practice Support, Pryor Cashman
Anthy leads the team responsible for processing data and making it available for their review teams. She also manages client forensic collections and provides technical support.
Amanda Fennell, Chief Security Officer, Relativity
Amanda has a background in digital forensics and is in charge of compliance, privacy, risk, product security, cybersecurity. Relativity is software that helps you organize data for a lot of the legal services and entities out there. “We organize data, discover the truth, and act on it. That’s our mission statement.
Nicole Guyer, Senior Consultant, CDS
Nicole is on the managed services team, oversees client relationships, and deals with all aspects of the EDRM with her clients. With about 15 years in the industry, she is a former Women in eDiscovery board member, and is very passionate about gender equality.
Michele Kell, Director, Enterprise Operations, CDS
Michele manages the project management team, senior consultants and the director team across offices in NY, Chicago and DC. She has many direct reports and a lot of client work going on at various locations.
Nikki MacCallum, Strategic Talent Manager, Lighthouse
Nikki is also passionate about gender equality. She comes from an executive recruiting background and has worked specifically in the eDiscovery space in recruiting since 2005.
Nili Yavin, Head of Litigation Practice Support and Technology, Buchalter
Nili heads up the eDiscovery and Computer Forensics Department at Buchalter, a West Coast law firm. She has been in legal technology for almost 20 years, starting in college interning at a law firm in Boston.
What follows is a synopsis of some of the key topics and takeaways from the webinar, lightly edited for clarity. You can access the full recorded webinar here.
Adjust, Adapt, Rinse, Repeat
Michele Kell, CDS: Before the lockdown, CDS was generally tied to having folks in a geographic office. They had people working remotely and had a policy surrounding it, but generally they really promoted the collaborative kind of office environment tied to a geographic location. I was on a flight every other week since I manage people in DC, New York, and Chicago so I was constantly traveling around the country to those offices, collaborating in person.
Once the pandemic hit, obviously all of that changed, so CDS went fully remote across all of their offices, and across all of their functions, so not just their legal operations team, but also all of their administrative functions, HR, accounting, etc. Everyone went fully remote and I was no longer flying anywhere. My new workplace became my little office in my Chicago condo, and my co-workers became my four-year-old and husband, who usually sits right next to me since we have a dual desk at home. So, we’re very close, and see each other all day long.
Anthy Antoniou, Pryor Cashman: The law firm where I work had been really resistant to the idea of working remotely for over two years prior to the pandemic. But on March 13th, we decided to lock down, and then effectively we went into work-from-home mode.
The week following my first day working from home, I remember getting dressed, putting on my work clothes to go to my working-from-home environment, which I had to build. For me, it was essential that I continue to feel as if I was going into the office, and to feel that I was connected. Surprisingly, working from home felt isolating for me, and I didn’t realize that it would have that effect on me. But now, many months later I have come to the realization that I can work very productively and efficiently from home, and I don’t have to be present in the office to do my job well.
My wife and I work well together because she’s in the TV and film business. She has had to adjust to my working from home because this is her time to be off. Her busy season is over, and she usually has her summers to herself, but now I’m home, having virtual meetings, whereas in the past this was her time to relax. We had to adjust to that.
Amanda Fennell, Relativity: I was fully remote before the lockdown and was the only executive working remotely for Relativity, so for me it leveled the playing field. For once, people understood the pain of being the only person not in the room and missing those conversations that ended right when the Zoom stops. I also moved from Princeton, New Jersey to New Orleans, and two weeks later COVID hit. I was pushing everybody on the executive team to go remote before it actually happened because I could see it was coming. I feel the biggest challenge for my company has been about getting used to the technology and adjusting to the cultural shift of working remotely.
I have three young children, a nine-year-old and twin seven-year-olds. My husband is a neurosurgeon at Ochsner in New Orleans, one of the hotspots in the news at the time. He works long hours at the hospital so of course I have to deal with the three different Zooms for my kids and my own at the same time. Inevitably there’s arguing, and I’ve taken advantage of those virtual backgrounds and sometimes have had to yell, mute, and space bar to get through the day. It took a little while for me to achieve a sense of equilibrium.
Nicole Guyer, CDS: I worked a few days a week on-site at one of our clients’ offices, so I think that was the biggest transition for me, is not being able to have that human touch, that face-to-face directly with our clients. I still talk by phone with them frequently, but there is that aspect of not being able to see them in person, so that’s one thing I do miss.
Nikki MacCallum, Lighthouse: Lighthouse was actually 50% remote prior to the pandemic, so the transition was probably as seamless as it could be under the circumstances. I report into the New York office, but would work from home one or two days a week. Prior to joining Lighthouse, I was actually in a remote situation, and have come to realize that I am someone who thrives off the energy of other people.
For me, it has been challenging to have to go out of my way to find that connectivity. One really important distinction is that the shift with the workforce isn’t just a shift to remote work, it’s a shift to everyone being remote. I’m also sharing a workspace with my boyfriend. We moved in together the week of the New York City lockdown which luckily has turned out to be a wonderful experience. I just want to make sure we make that distinction–that it’s not just a shift to remote work, but it’s a shift to this whole new worldwide kind of remote lifestyle, which may present different types of challenges for folks. Something someone said to me once that I thought was so relevant: The unknown is your friend. When you embrace the unknown you’re actually living in a world of possibilities as opposed to a world of doom, and for me that mentality has been really helpful.
Nili Yavin, Buchalter: At my law firm I was fortunate that most of my team was allowed to work remotely a couple days a week and so there always was that option, but traditionally the attorneys have been very tied to the physical office at my firm. So finally, they’re starting to understand, moving in our direction, and relying on our technology, which has been amazing. I think our stock has really spiked within the firm right now. I’m brought into all these big high-level decision-making calls, and folks are really relying on us more than ever.
I live in Hollywood and right when Covid-19 hit in March we decided to pack up our camper and haven’t been home in five months. My husband and I packed up the cats, and our baby and moved to a more remote location.
My best friend rented a house north of San Diego, so we’ve been holed up here for five months. It’s a little house, so I’m often working outside. My husband is an employment lawyer, so he was getting inundated and was extremely busy. We had a four-month-old baby at the time, working from a little kitchen table and we both felt we weren’t doing work or taking care of their baby really well and I was running on two hours of sleep. I decided to raise the white flag and brought in reinforcements. I found a babysitter to help a couple hours a day with childcare and brought in a sleep consultant for the baby so I could finally learn how to get him to sleep through the night.
Working Remotely and Managing Remotely is a Balancing Act
Amanda Fennell: I’ll start off just to say that on the opposite end I miss the travel. I feel like it gave me a chance to be myself and not mommy 24/7, and I miss that identity, so I actually really feel like I’m chafing with the lack of traveling.
I’ve had to grapple with how the stress of life was impacting the ecosystem of my workplace, for the people who report to me. I was aware of what I was perpetuating and understood that I had the responsibility to be that really calm duck in the water. Often, I realized I had to slap a smile on it because everybody else is stressed out too.
It isn’t just the male/female dynamic and I realize that different partners grapple with the same issues. But I do feel that women are taking a hit right now in the workplace, taking on roles that they wouldn’t normally take on. The usual microaggressions that took place in the workplace for women have now shifted to a virtual environment.
The latent sexual dimorphism is still there, and I’m very aware of it. I stopped using the virtual backgrounds because I decided “to just own it.” I also think that it’s a separation sometimes, and it puts a wall up, and I don’t always want a wall up. I want there to be some vulnerability as a leader to say, “Hey, this is tough and we’re all going through this together.”
In a remote environment you have to be more intentional. Co-workers have to work at being social and that was a really big change. You have to be aware of all of the fatigue around Zoom meetings but also make time to connect with people about see how they’re doing, if someone is caregiving, etc. So being more intentional, and learning how to build this muscle using this technology has been the biggest challenge.
Michelle Kell: The role I took in 2019 which required quite a bit of travel was something I had to consider. I was going to be away from my family every other week on an airplane, and it’s something I had to deal with in regard to work/life balance. I’ve found the remote to be better, it’s better for my family balance, yes it’s tough sometimes, but I’m not leaving on a plane every other week, so for me I think the pandemic created an opportunity to demonstrate that I don’t have to do that to do the role that I’m doing, to be a good leader, to be a manager across multiple offices.
Maintain Your Professional Visibility
Michelle Kell: There is that meme floating around that the pandemic is every introvert’s perfect scenario, and the reality is maybe it’s not, because it is a different world. How do you get your introverted employees to be visible? How do you get the women to be visible?
Nikki MacCallum: It is more important than ever especially for women to be visible, and I think that the way the job force is shifting we can no longer – and I say ‘we’ as a human race – be order takers. The people who are going to thrive are the people who are going to go out of their way to create their own opportunities, and start new initiatives.
In terms of visibility, not only staying connected and making sure you’re on your team’s radar, on your boss’s radar, but social media I believe is more critical than ever. Even if you’re just posting an article on LinkedIn, or reposting something someone else posted, your name is now popping up in someone’s feed. For those of us who are more introverted, that’s a great way to stay visible.
Nili Yavin: It’s important to maintain professional visibility whether it’s with your boss, or other people at your organization. For some people it may be easier but for others it’s just not natural for them to go out of their way to communicate virtually. It’s a struggle especially for women to maintain that visibility.
I was in a tricky situation because I was out of the office for four months on maternity leave, which is already a challenge coming back to the workplace. Especially in a legal environment, taking four months off is a big deal, finding a replacement is a big deal. Because of the uncertainty and nervousness of coming back, I strategized the month before, and even before the pandemic hit, about what would I do.
So I came up with a marketing plan for really myself and my department, produced a revamped business and presented it to C-suite, did strategic Zoom meetings in all the different offices with all the head partners, and litigation folks to remind them what we did, and rebranded the department. It wasn’t just about me. It reminded them of what we can do, how we can help them in this new remote world, how litigation technology is here for them, and we even added more services. We never really covered depositions before, so I realized this was an area where I could just jump in. So, I vetted a bunch of vendors on the remote depot tools so we’re getting calls throughout the day and we’re going to do some MCLEs with the firm on remote depots, and it’ll be a new service in our suite.
It was kind of rebranding. I changed the name of the department, revamped the website which served a dual purpose, helping my department grow, reminding everyone that we’re here, and also letting them know I’m back from maternity, and I’m back with a bang.
Set Clear Boundaries Between Work and Life
Anthy Antoniou: During the pandemic, I think what I found was added pressure for me to work longer hours. I found myself not leaving my monitor, or just working constantly from eight hours to 12-14 hours. The days and weeks just blended in together, weekends were just not there for me, and so I had to learn how to manage my time, and say, “I’m working effectively and productively, and I don’t have to continue to work beyond my eight hours unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
My wife and I had disagreements about it, because I was on the laptop working as we ate dinner and I never did that before. She asked, “Why has this shifted? Why is this different now?” My reaction was that I have to work harder, I have to be more visible now. But that’s not really the case, I think I had to understand, get my team, the litigators, the attorneys to understand, “You know what? We have a life outside of this pandemic, outside of this working from home, and we have to understand that and abide by it.”
Michele Kell: When you came home from the office, you could shift into a different world. Now it’s not unusual to look up from your laptop and realize it’s 8:00pm. We should know that what we’re doing during the day is going to be strong enough and visible among our co-workers, but I think we all felt at the beginning and for my clients too, that because we were all sort of just stuck at home with nothing to do, people just expected you to be home, and were almost like, “Well, why aren’t you on your laptop?” I think eventually there had to be, again, some boundaries.
Nicole Guyer: I think I often feel this pressure to give a reason, or an excuse as to why we can’t do something, but I found what’s been most successful for me is just saying, “I’m not able to do that. I can’t do it. I’m so sorry.” And then offer a solution, but I don’t even give a reason. I’ll be in the other room watching Little Fires Everywhere, but I’ll just say, “I can’t do it, I have plans with myself.”
Be Real and Own It, All of It
Nili Yavin: I have a little takeaway: acceptance. It’s okay to not be as productive as you planned to be that day. We’re not going to get to everything. You might have a big list, and all these plans that you might do, today, this week, this month, it’s not going to always happen. It’s okay because we put a lot of pressures on ourselves. We’re high performing women, and sometimes we’re disappointed in our output and it’s okay. We can accept it. There’s another day.
My first instinct when there would be a baby crying would be to go to a different room and try to hide it and scramble, and now that’s life, this is reality. There were calls where I was breastfeeding, and it was neck-up, I promise you, and even so I’d be on Zoom calls, and I’d have to have my baby on me, and it was just kind of one of those things that I don’t think people knew. But if they did or a little hand flailed up, I just didn’t care. This is our reality and life is messy.
Michele Kell: It’s really important for professional women to understand, some days you will own it and some days you won’t. You were mentioning you and your husband maybe weren’t both working as much as you would have liked to, and I’ve seen that too. I’m giving half of myself to each thing, but I think it’s important for us to know we’re all battling that at a certain time.
Amanda Fennell: As a leader, I do try to just show people the reality of it instead of hiding it. What we did as women for a long time, at least in my opinion, is that we would try to hide and make it look perfect. Look at us tackling everything at one time and not showing the reality behind it, and for me I let that go early on. I had to show that, “Look, I’m tackling things, and some days I’m killing this working mom thing, and the other days I’m not. This is the reality of today.”
I think acknowledging that each interaction with a human being right now is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Everyone is going through something in some way, and they’re handling things differently, and so the best thing you can do is acknowledge that there just needs to be two-way communication no matter who you are and what you’re doing there needs to be a very good two-way communication, that’s professional, but I think that the acceptance and two-way communication would be the two we’ve got so far.
Nikki MacCallum: I echo all of these especially the productivity and acceptance one, because I know I certainly have struggled with it. I’m simply not as productive as I was before the pandemic. I think it’s also an important reminder that vulnerability is attractive to people. When I see someone else is struggling, I feel like I’m now connected to that person. I don’t have to pretend to have it all together, and that actually fosters deeper and more significant relationships.
The Silver Lining: Grab the Dream Job You’ve Been Looking for
Amanda Fennell: We’re all heads down trying to get through this year and our focus on our career is struggling. We need to decide at some point, I’m still going to focus on my career, I still have things to do that I want to work on in 2020. This is still our year to accomplish things in our career and to accomplish things for our businesses. We’ve got to stop operating like this is the new normal and say to ourselves, No, this is still my year, I’m still going to own it, I’m still going to get stuff done.
I can’t emphasize enough as I’m looking for people in certain roles, now is the time for you to grab the dream job you’ve been looking for.
There are a lot of opportunities out there, while there are some people struggling with layoffs, there are so many opportunities where the requirement of a geographic location has been removed, because right now in a lot of industries we have to be remote for now, so it’s okay for us to hire someone who lives somewhere else. We’re looking to hire an EA for myself right now, and I ended up saying to HR, “I don’t care if this person lives in Paris” – I told them to remove the requirement of a location.
So, I think right now there’s an opportunity to do a check-in with yourself, to make a list of what your dream job is. If you’re not doing it now, it’s probably out there somewhere, and now is the opportunity to grab it and be able to do it remotely so that when you return to the office, you’re in a better position.
I think that’s what we should take advantage of. We’re all in the same place. The time’s now. Demand more. Take the opportunities that we have.
Nili Yavin: Obviously, this climate presents challenges for women as well, but in line with what Amanda is saying, there has never been a climate that has been more flexible and open to new ideas than the current global pandemic. I think it’s important to remember that, whether it’s creating your own opportunity or trying to shape out a job that you never thought existed. I think if there is ever a time to go big, it is now.
If you’re in a certain niche within the legal tech field, this gives us an opportunity to branch into other areas. In my department, we’ve been undergoing a rebranding where we emphasized that we can help with remote collections and the forensic piece, so if you were always interested in learning more about forensics, learning about collections or some other aspect, this would be your chance, because this is not going to change for a long time. These skills are now going to be more heavily relied on. All the stuff that we’ve been doing for years, that we’ve been preaching about is now suddenly at the full center of it all. If you want to carve out a new section, a new bullet-point on your resume, this is the opportunity to do it. This is the time.
Nikki MacCallum: The more you can make yourself stand out, and the more you can carve out that unique path for yourself, the more you’re going to stand out amongst a sea of other individuals.
Anthy Antoniou: It is challenging to have, but the conversation has to continue because I work for a law firm and so does Nili. We understand we have to continue the narrative to say, “Hey, we’re contributing and even though we’re not present in the office, our work product is excellent.” It’s a continuous evaluation. I have looked at other opportunities outside of law firms, going to work for a solution provider rather than staying in a law firm environment, but for right now this is working for me, and I continue to discuss possibilities with the executive committee.
I have found myself sending emails out just to lay out guidelines, and new protocols where they didn’t understand before how working from home could work. After we stop sheltering in place, do we continue to work from home? Is it going to change if some of us are working in the office, let’s say our male counterparts are working in the office and we continue to work from home? Does that change our visibility? How does that impact our jobs, our careers?
Nicole Guyer: I know for me personally I’ve been able to work on a lot of different projects, a lot of different workflows, and protocols, best practices and client playbooks. Since I am working virtually with my team, we have to share information in a different way rather than face-to-face, so having written documentation is important now more than ever.
Connecting and Building Relationships Doesn’t Have to Stop
Amanda Fennell: I think people should take advantage of the fact that there’s no one else who has a leg up right now in that equal playing field, so we’re not having events, we’re not having anyone come up to us after to talk with us about an opportunity, so you have just as much of an equal playing field now in your LinkedIn direct message, as they say, “Slide into my DMs.”
That dynamic has created such an opportunity to use social media to your advantage. I know that people who’ve been creative with the way they’ve approached positions from me normally get more time with me as an opportunity. I’m like, “Yep, I love creativity, so let’s do it.” Use it to your advantage because in a virtual environment I think we have more of a chance to get something tangibly creative in front of people.
I keep pushing this on my own team about undergoing a chrysalis transformation. I don’t want to look back and feel regret. I want to leave the pandemic saying I was better than I started, and I think that’s how I’m approaching it. I think it’s an optimistic way to approach it, and I think those networking opportunities just became virtual. In this environment, let’s be honest, I think all of us are on LinkedIn. It’s an open industry now, so I think those connections are everything, and we should take advantage of it.
Nicole Guyer: If I see a job posting on Linkedin, I will automatically share that with a lady friend first, because there are just not enough women candidates in the applicant pool within eDiscovery. Every day we’re learning new information about the state of our country, the world, the pandemic, and it can just be mentally overwhelming to take that in, process it, and do your job simultaneously. And be a good partner, parent, or friend. Have patience with yourself and your friends. But offer support where you can: offer support.
Nikki MacCallum: I think another thing you can do, especially with networking in a virtual environment, is ask yourself, how do I meet new people? It’s amazing how many connections you already have in your Rolodex that you just don’t even realize you have, and maybe someone you met 10 years ago is now at a different company, or now brings something else to the table, and so I think it’s always great, to go back and reach out to older contacts from years ago. If they’re female that’s awesome to help foster that community, and just connect with them, and see what they’re up to.
Now is also a great opportunity to be or get a mentor. I think that’s a great thing we can all be doing in the pandemic to support women, learn something and give back.