Cowen Cafe: Worth Doing Well

On Thursday, July 16, 2020, 64 participants gathered for another invitation-only Cowen Cafe call, sponsored by IproNightOwl Global, and Onna. With an eye on how to get from now to next through resilient leadership, this week’s question was, what have been the newest challenges you have faced?

Some calls crystalize around a single concept; others end up more like a word cloud. This week’s meeting fell into the latter group.

There was a clear sense that we are in this for the long haul. With that dawning realization, we have gone from doing more with less, to doing less with less, to the beginnings of rethinking everything we do.

Things not worth doing at all are not worth doing well.

Quote offered by association participant

The work we need to do may not be changing, but the people, processes, technology, resources, and deadlines all are. “We’re needing to do different things with the money (possibly less)”, commented on participant. “Crisis can break down cultural and organizational barriers,” remarked another. A third shared a quote that kept resonating: “Things not worth doing at all are not worth doing well.”

A number of comments dwelled on the changes we are facing. Typical remarks were: “Operationalizing technology is as important an initial implementations”; “adding collaborative tools and shift to cloud tech are two trends that have accelerated during this COVID crisis”; “the issue is not only what we will do, but also how we will do it – who will do the work?”; and “big opportunities for in-house to align compliance and litigation with internal e-forensics and IT security.”

Some have seen opportunity in this. One corporate attendee said he had been afraid to ask for money to do legal innovation. He is surprise and encouraged to see that now executives a reacting positively to suggestions that they invest in legal innovations; now they are seeing how these investments and changes can help save money or led to better ways of doing things. They are willing to put in a couple hundred thousand now if it helps later on.

One corporate participant said he sees a new normal being established. He is getting strong positive feedback on the use of remote depositions and praise for taking this time and the available technologies to simplify how work gets done, make work easier to do, and document processes.

At the same time, there was concern that the new normal is just a temporary thing and we may end up reverting back to old normal practices.

That we spend doesn’t change, but what we spend and how we spend it does: There was discussion about where money is being freed up. Although revenues have dropped, one person on the call noted, so have expenses. Real estate expenses might be going down (although that can take a while to have a real impact). Travel and entertainment expenses are way down, a significant line item in some organizations. For some of those in the meeting, money not spent in one area can be used elsewhere.

For others, especially people at law firms, they are trying to forecast for the first time – attempting to determine what is in the pipeline, focusing on upcoming client needs.

Where we work keeps shifting: We went from working mostly in the office or on the road, to many of us working entirely at home. That is starting to swing back, much more for law firms than for corporations, but as one participant noted, “I think remote vs. in the office will be less an either or going forward and more of a ‘slider’.”

At the same time, zero trust is a thing. An in-house attorney remarked that they now are talking about instilling a “zero trust” remote environment at their company, one where they shouldn’t trust anyone outside or inside the organization; instead, verify everything. While it is not yet clear what that will mean across the organization, this person has been talking with immediate team members about the need they still have to trust each other. Working remotely may be fueling this distrust, observed another attendee, as whenever there is such a big shift, there always are red flags.

Patience remains a virtue. A law firm participant is seeing a new level of patience at the executive level. Their patience has gotten better, she said, more elastic than in the early COVID days where there was a lot more anxiety. Now there is a sense of “let us be patient, persistent, and find expertise we did not previously know was important.”

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