Cowen Cafe: On to a New Reality

On Thursday, August 6, 2020, 35 participants gathered for the 20th invitation-only 75-minute Cowen Cafe call, sponsored by Ipro, Lineal, and NightOwl Global. As usual, we started with a 30-minute group chat, separated into four breakout rooms, and reassembled for a final recap. This week’s highlights: accepting a new reality, a new focus on diversity and inclusion, and a new can-do attitude.

Accepting a new reality

Wistful for pre-COVID days (“Someone recently said to me that he would love to go back to the problems we had in January!”), participants in this week’s call nonetheless generally see a growing acceptance that we live in a new reality. Not only are folks beginning to accept that we face a new reality, some are latching onto that acceptance as a way of coping with the challenges of the moment.

A feeling of confidence is starting to spread, reported members of one of the breakout groups. “We have been in boot camp for 20 weeks and now everyone is stepping up and stepping into thriving instead of surviving,” commented one participant. “I do not know if it’s bootcamp or we just understand what a crisis is – and what is just a solution,” said another.

A law firm participant concurred: “The current environment puts us in a situation where there tends to be a feeling that we can not control much or solve much in this crazy 2020 world. Team members are looking for opportunities to solve problems and control something. Consider ways to find ‘wins’ and celebrate them. Identify something we ‘can’ control.”

“Totally agree,” wrote someone from a provider. “Everyone is seeking a lotus of control, which will help them feel that the world is not pushing on them, but they have a say in their world.”

We are going beyond a “just get by” mode, replied a corporate attendee, to one of moving forward. The situation is not great, she said (she used stronger language), and we will never be where we once were, but there still are solutions to be found. Priorities will shift, new leadership will come in and ask the same questions that were asked five years ago, but groups that take the time now to approach their situation holistically and create a solid foundation will find moving forward much easier.

A law firm participant remarked that he is seeing less anxiety and more of a Taoist approach, with folks dealing with problems as they come because that is what the universe serves to you.

As always, not everyone was of one mind. Members of two breakout groups reported discussions around the challenges of physically returning to the office. One group talked about all the emotion and anxiety that go with the return. The other focused on the effect on employees of having to enforce COVID rules such as requirements to wear masks and cautioned those who have been pining to go back to the old office spaces should be careful what they wish for.

Starting to talk about diversity and inclusion

Corporate and law firm attendees said their organizations are starting to address diversity and inclusion issues or are trying to take them on in new ways.

One corporate participant said for their midyear check-ins, now underway, they have specifically been asked to talk about and ask about the racial concerns and unrest of the past few months; these always have been there, but now they are starting to talk about them. Another corporate attendee replied that those comments resonated with her; they are going through a restructuring and for the first time have a diversity and inclusion member on their selection team. A law firm participant chimed in, noting that at his firm they just kicked off a diversity initiative.

“Just get out of my way”

Finally, folks on the call reported that they are seeing a new can-do attitude from people in their organizations.

As one in-house attendee put it, it is as if all of sudden on Monday morning their people woke up and decided they needed things and information and needed them now. Her company has begun implementing a new information management system. Historically, this would have been a very white-glove operation, with their legal technology group holding the hands of the attorneys and staff each step of the way. This time, however, people are asking for the tools to be given to them and then for others to just get out of their way.

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