Cowen Cafe: Squeak and Bind

On Thursday, August 27, 2020, corporate, law firm, and provider participants gathered for another Cowen Cafe Zoom meeting, sponsored by Integreon, Lineal Services, and NightOwl Global, a Haystack company. As usual, we started with a 30-minute group chat, separated into four breakout rooms, and reassembled for a final recap. This week, the discussion turned to things that go squeak in the night and to the ties that bind.

In a shift, we launched the discussion by bringing up five topics submitted by participants before the call began:

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • How are you maintaining productivity across the entire team?
  • Building ties to business clients virtually.
  • Managing more work with less resources continue to be an issue.
  • How can law firm leaders help legal department leaders adjust to the “new abnormal”

While all five topics were discussed, the group focused on two in particular: what keeps you up at night, and how to build ties to business clients virtually.

What keeps us up at night

Workloads overwhelming us

Some are kept up at night worrying about how they are going to get everything on their plates done; overwhelmed by the work load, they fear they will miss something critical.

Work seems to be increasing, observed one corporate participant, perhaps because now she seems to be available 24×7 on the laptop at her dining room table. We no longer are working at home, quipped another corporate participant; instead, we are sleeping at the office.

To tackle overwhelming workloads, one law firm participant offered several suggestions. She tries to handle the work one task at a time, because there is no other way. She tries to give herself the same compassion she gives others, a tactic she learned from her children. She tries to ask for help. She prepares and works from priority matrixes. And she changes up her environment, a strategy others mentioned as well. The day of the call, she started the day working outside to get some sunshine (winter will be setting in all to soon) and then moved to her craft room where there was color to brighten her day (and ours).

The economy slowing down

A provider participant is kept up at night be the economy. He fears we are much worse off economically than we let on and he worries about colleagues in certain industries who already fear losing their jobs. Things are hard now; the coming months could be tougher.

Innovation squelched

Three participants – corporate, provider, and law firm – worried that as people batten the hatches in response to the concerns discussed above, the drive for innovation may dry up.

Perhaps hard times will spur innovation, said the provider participant, but possibly the response will be to retreat to a space where nothing new is undertaken. Another provider chimed in to note that sometimes smaller budgets do indeed foster creativity.

To inoculate himself such outcomes, remarked the corporate participant, he has been inviting vendors in to deliver pitches. Then he invites others, internal and external, to attend the pitches. Not only does this help connect people, he also has been able through this approach to get scrappy innovative vendors in the door and doing something new.

The law firm participant felt the current situation is leading to differing and even opposing results. Some companies appear to be parking innovation on the sidelines. Other seem to be accelerating it, particularly through the use of automation.

Building ties

One of the common ways attendees have tried to take on that which keeps them up at night has been through efforts at building ties. “Pre-pay it forward,” wrote a corporate participant. “Try to connect others together and it will come back to you. Doing the right thing often works that way.”

Join groups like this one

For one corporate participant, this has meant he has been working on two things and has observed a third. He has been joining groups like this one where he can foster ties and build relationships.

Replicate hallway/water cooler discussions

To replicate hallway discussions, the corporate participant has been asking people a lot of questions, even ones unrelated to work; this way, he can learn more about what others do and where they are going.

Someone at a provider who started a new job just as COVID hit implemented “virtual” coffee breaks where they typically discuss non-work-related items just to get to know each other better, figure out common contacts, and uncover areas where they could compliment each other.

A law firm participant remarked that “there definitely seem to be more calls in the absence of hallway or elevator conversations.”

Expand partnerships

In addition to his own efforts, the corporate participant mentioned above has noticed that many more providers now are using other providers as channel partners, with the result that a partner that does one thing might introduce him to one of that partner’s partners that does something completely different. He likes seeing that not all providers are trying to be all things to all people; he values that those providers recognize and acknowledge their limitations.

Talk more

Another corporate participant said that in recent weeks she has come to value the power of having a phone call or video discussion with internal clients instead of communicating only by email, chat, Slack, and the like. She has had better strategic discussions, more effective brainstorming sessions, and, yes, more meetings. This approach has really helped her feel connected to her clients and colleagues and she thinks it helps them feel the same way.

A law firm participant concurred. You need to have more, better, and more transparent conversations internally, she said. It no longer is the case that if you have not heard anything bad, you are okay; now that needs to be stated affirmatively and explicitly.

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