Reflections on starting our business

 When we decided to start a business with a mission to keep women working in the legal field, on a high level, and on their own terms, my friend Stacey and I had a laundry list of things we didn’t have going for us. For starters, though professionals with careers we took pride in, neither of us had endeavored to run a legal services business before. We were in two different parts of the country, in different time zones, complicating our daily work schedules and ability to work together in person. We didn’t have offices, and we both had taken time off to raise our young children. Doubts loomed. Did we have any business going into this business? Could we turn this idea into something successful? Would people embrace our mission? Would our friendship survive the transition into business partners? 

In other words, what could possibly go right? 

As it turns out, a lot. For one, we recognized that a few stars were aligned in our favor. With both of us carving out a home office, we had no major expenditures to get us off the ground. This meant that we could grow the business at an organic pace, easing the pressure on both of us. Thanks to Stacey’s legal background, we had enough contacts to make our initial networking possible. And, perhaps the key to it all, we had a strong belief in our mission. In fact, we were our mission— women who had left the conventional working life for other pulls, with a strong desire to have to a meaningful career, but with the imperative of having flexibility at this stage of the game. 

Our model was simple. We knew that too many great lawyers leave law, often permanently, because of lack of flexibility. We wanted to remedy that. We already had a small group of people through Stacey’s contacts. We knew we could grow from there to create a network of stellar attorneys looking to do the kind of challenging, high-quality work that is usually only afforded to those working full time in law firms, and find them clients who would provide this work, and let them do it remotely. And to make it all come together, we needed to do two things successfully: find great lawyers and connect them with great clients. And we needed lawyers first. 

But were they out there? 

They were. And they were many. The abundance of lawyers who had bowed out of Big Law because of the constraints put on their autonomy, or for the choice they were forced to make between family and career, were indeed out there. And within a few months, we had a strong cadre of attorneys whose credentials, work ethic, and life stories impressed and inspired us. We knew then that we were on the right track, that our mission was resonating. 

Now the tricky part: cultivating a client base. For this, we drew on our collective experience in law (Stacey) and in marketing, as well as some time spent navigating the life of a freelancer (me). This gave us a framework and a place to start. And while neither one of us gravitated toward self-promotion, we had a mission we believed in so much that pitching our lawyers and our company felt a lot like advocacy. 

It was this sense of purpose and a lucky mix of mining contacts and casting a wide net of outreach that landed us our first few clients. And soon after that, we put our first lawyer to work. It is with unabashed pride that I can say that this client and lawyer are still happily working together. And those two are not alone. One thing we have learned over the last year is that we are pretty good at putting people together. We know our lawyers well. And we like them. We also endeavor to understand our clients and their needs. And because of our hands-on approach, and the community we try to foster, we have been able to create true partnerships between our network and the clients they serve. We like where it is all going. 

But we recognize there is more work to be done. 

The legal world is often slow to change and we understand that our business model challenges the norms of how legal practice looks through a traditional lens. We recognize that our mission is a cultural as well as a business one. And not everyone gets it, or appreciates it. It can be an uphill battle. And that’s okay too. We are heartened by the response we've gotten and the many firms and companies who are innovative and forward looking. Again, we like where it is all going. 

Kristin Lim is the co-founder of The A.L.T. Group, an exclusive network of high-achieving attorneys. 


Some Thoughts on Flexibility: Stacey Mosesso McConnell

There is an increasing amount of data surrounding the appetite for and benefits of flexible work—and increasing competition for talent and concerns about retaining that talent has employers realizing that offering flexibility is critical. The legal space can be slow to adapt to changing times, but flexibility absolutely must be among the goals for law firms and legal departments hoping to keep up with evolving work culture. Companies and firms alike seek to channel innovative thought to drive their businesses forward. Openness to innovation must include more than simply implementing new technology, creating new structures and collecting data in different ways, but must have at its core a willingness to see people as whole, complex individuals whose productivity and happiness are nurtured in equal parts.

How we define flexibility and how it is implemented is the subject of much debate, research and scholarship. There is an increasing effort to create structure out of the nebulous construct of “flexibility.”  “Flexibility” usually means any combination of reduced hours, ability to work remotely, and ability to job-share. As flexibility data adds up and conclusions seem clear, it appears a critical mindset shift must be made to use this data to define and implement effective solutions.  Rather than seeing people who seek flexibility as somehow being suspect, less career-focused, or risky in some way, it’s time to normalize flexible work.  Flexibility can be something an employee utilizes at different points of his or her career—it isn’t necessarily a permanent decision.

It’s a Gender Issue, But It’s Complicated 

A lack of flexibility disproportionately affects women, leading to a decrease of women in the workforce. This is true across many industries but particularly troubling when it comes to law. Although women represent roughly half of law school graduates, women in equity partnerships hover at about 20%.  The decline is pronounced when it comes to child-rearing years where the rigors of law firm life and lack of access to flexibility leads women to make difficult choices. As women systematically leave the legal profession there are personal, business and larger societal implications that must be considered. Obviously, individuals lose power as well as the ability to earn a fair income when they return to work. While on a micro level this is disappointing and frustrating, in the legal space it results in some macro-level issues as well. When women end up leaving more junior level attorney roles in droves because of the demands of the practice combined with no realistic flexibility offerings, how will they ever re-enter to earn more senior levels roles, become judges, or rise to more powerful positions in companies? What implications will this have for law firms and companies’ bottom lines, let alone society at large?

One way to encourage women to stay in firms during the years they typically leave is to offer structured flexibility—but this requires leadership to model use of flexibility policies. Robust programs to do this and collect data regarding their success should be priorities. Retaining women is an end unto itself as there is compelling data about the correlation between the participation of women and bottom line success. Additionally, and importantly, structured flexibility can start to move the needle on the pay gap. Much attention is given, rightfully to the “10 year mommy gap.” Given such clear data, any steps to close this gap are moves in the right direction. If leadership prioritizes structured flexibility from the top down, it will encourage its use and over time, hopefully work against negative stereotyping that prevents full and robust adoption. Men can lead by example when it comes to taking advantage of these policies. If it’s clear that using the opportunities for flexible work are not going to result in a loss of status at work or be a detriment to promotion, then we can be sure that over time the policies will become ingrained in the workplace culture. Having a policy that no one uses is not going to accomplish any of the goals that the policy purports to address. 

How Is Big Law Leading the Way? 

Thus far, much of Big Law has adopted flexibility policies, but a small percentage of lawyers are taking advantage of them. See the impressive work by the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance. It seems the stigma associated with a reduced schedule will take some time to diminish. Manar Morlaes, President and CEO of the Diversity and Flexibility Alliance summarizes: “For a flexibility policy to be successful it must be de-gendered, de-parented, de-stigmatized, and integrated into the cultural norms of an organization.”  Clearly there’s work to be done here—we can agree that a certain set of practices makes good business sense, but we can’t force people to adapt to a cultural shift overnight.

There is reason to be hopeful--as some firms have reported success with their new flex policies and the rewards are being reaped by both male and female attorneys. Recent stories have shared how flex time is being enjoyed by men who see this not as a “mommy” issue, but as a “person” one, and emphasize that working flexibly has made them better lawyers. Says Erik Lemmon, an associate in the Denver office of Holland & Hart: “I almost view it as something that saved my legal career, because I was essentially being forced to choose between hours and hours and hours at the law firm or doing what I wanted to do at home with my family and kids. I wasn’t going to compromise on my kids, family and wife.”  Recently, Schiff Hardin was in the news, announcing a new Ramp Up/Down gender neutral flex policies for new parents.  Other firms have similar programs in the works and hopefully these programs will be used by both men and women and demonstrated to be effective.

How Can We Big Picture This? 

In a certain sense, flexibility is diversity. It is self-evident that in order to have a variety  of opinions around any given table, it would require those individuals to have different backgrounds, different interests, different world-views, and perhaps different approaches to how and where work is executed.  Diversity is multi-dimensional, so it’s time to view flexibility as a measure that can assure employers have a variety of voices participating in their decision-making. The legal space is really no different from other industries who have been forced to have cultural shifts redefine how they do business. A focus on output, especially the quality of that output must be paramount, and the emphasis on the hows of the outputs must decline. The inputs just aren’t as important anymore, although we see that in the legal space they are held in high regard. Engaging talent that is loyal, hard working and innovative will require firms and legal departments to look more clearly at how their models differ from those of other industries who have been more forward-looking in how they adopt flexibility and other measures to support employees in a meaningful way. Given the clear business case for retention and promotion of women within a diverse workforce, it’s well past time the legal world embraces flexibility and implements programming that recognizing there are many ways to offer innovative work arrangements that will accomplish multi-factor goals. 






October 2018: Attorney Spotlight: Amy Gernon


When I was a college senior, my roommate Beth had the chicken pox.  Beth’s mom came to check on her, and she asked us a lot about our future plans.  According to Beth’s mom, I said “I don’t know what I’m going to do but I will never be a lawyer.”

And then I was.  A few years after college, I (like many others before and after me) went to law school because I didn’t know what else to do.  I spent the next 15 years letting my legal career happen to me because I never took the time to think about what I really wanted to do

But I am now.   And I’m finding that I’m glad I didn’t follow through on what I told Beth’s mom.

Career Reboot

Over a year ago, I quit my corporate job—without another job—and found myself in the middle of a self-imposed, mid-career reboot.  I’ve spent time questioning what parts of law I enjoy and whether I even want to be a lawyer.

This introspection has required more work than anticipated and feels uncomfortably self-indulgent.  But it has given me a clearer idea of how and where I want to work. I want to find ways to build consensus and avoid fighting just to fight.  I want to spark unexpected collaborations and find creative solutions to problems. I want to find ways to think critically and collaboratively about big issues.

Freelancing Freedom

Throughout my legal career, I’ve experienced severe episodes of imposter syndrome. Freelancing has freed me from that.  Turns out, the imposter was the way I was practicing law, not that I was the imposter.

Last winter, I began working temporarily with my former colleague Sonia on a large case.  On my first day of work, two things made me think I might enjoy working at her firm. First, the closet door says “Coat and Ego Check.”  Enough said. Second, Sonia started our case strategy meeting by listing our client’s goals before we discussed our next legal steps. No fighting just to fight.  I was sold.I have now turned that freelance position into a permanent part-time position, which gives me the flexibility to take other freelance projects and also allows me to focus on a new non-legal project.  Working in this flexible way has made me like the law again and appreciate how wrong I was when making my never-a-lawyer proclamation to Beth’s mom.

Freelancing allows attorneys to focus on the parts of law that matter most to them. It creates a flexible working environment, which in turn helps build and retain a diverse legal workforce.  And diversity of knowledge, thought, and experience ultimately leads to better legal solutions.

_______________

Amy Gernon lives in Northfield, Minnesota with her husband and four children. She is an attorney with the Sapientia Law Group in Minneapolis and a member of the ALT Group network.  Amy and a few professor friends have created Brightsmith, an academically-inspired initiative that helps smart people think smarter together. To engage Amy, please contact lawyers@adeptlegaltalent.com



September 2018 Client Spotlight: Chris Keefer of Keefer Strategy

Tell us a little bit about your background
 
Over my last 15+ years as a lawyer, I’ve assisted businesses and manufacturers around the world in developing legal and risk management strategies, further leading the insurance program of a global medical device manufacturer. I’ve presented nationally on risk management and insurance issues, and also created and taught the Drug & Medical Device Law class at the University of Notre Dame Law School.
 
More recently, I graduated from the University of Oregon’s inaugural Sports Product Management master’s program, which focused on the value chain in the product industry. During this time, I also had the opportunity to spend ten weeks in Vietnam with a Nike footwear manufacturer working with senior executives on global trade, supply chain and business risk strategies. 
 
What is Keefer Strategy? How long has KS been in business? 
 
We’re a legal strategy practice based in Portland, Oregon, guiding brands and manufacturers from coast to coast. With an extensive background in managing litigation and insurance programs, commercial transactions, product creation and risk mitigation and transfer, we’re uniquely able to identify opportunities and threats, offering specialized solutions for particular business needs. Our practice provides a trustworthy partnership with conscientious and business-forward strategies.
 
We began conceptualizing and developing the practice model back in April 2017, and turned on the lights a few months later in August. Things took off pretty quickly from there!
 
Where do you see your practice heading over the next few years? How have you seen the business change? 
 
Our primary focus is proactively helping businesses incorporate risk into business decision-making. To that end, we oftentimes act as a multiplexer as far as identifying key issues and then developing and implementing business and legal strategies, bringing on specialized talent where necessary.
 
There is a clear trend toward partnership with business-forward law practices that can provide high-level, cost-effective and flexible services. Without the bloat and overhead of large firms, we see an opportunity to be nimble and establish offices in several metropolitan areas in the coming years, while still operating lean to ensure our clients get big firm treatment at a fraction of the cost.
 
How did you come to find the need for a business like The A.L.T. Group? 
 
We had a real estate transaction earlier this year involving an atypical industrial development project. While I had quite a bit of experience in real estate transactions generally, this project required handling by an attorney with specialized experience in these types of developments. We reached out to A.L.T. Group, and were referred to a network attorney with significant experience in this arena. We were able to effectively provide the specialized services our client needed in a cost-effective manner, resulting in a win-win for everyone.
 
How have you been able to use The A.L.T. Group in your business and to further your mission?
 
After our initial positive experience with A.L.T. Group, we realized we could expand the scope of our practice offerings without the burdensome on-boarding of numerous attorneys in specialized fields. As a result, we have been able to attract national clients across multiple industries, while still operating lean. In this way, A.L.T. Group has given us the flexibility to do all of the work of a large law firm, at a fraction of the cost to the client.
 
What are some of the things important to you when partnering with a company like The A.L.T. Group? 
 
Quality of talent is of paramount importance, and A.L.T. Group’s network is stocked with top-quality talent across the U.S., both from pedigree and experience standpoints. Next, the partnership must be cost-effective to the client (and us, candidly), which is yet another benefit of partnering with A.L.T. Group. Finally, responsiveness is key, and Stacey and Kristin have always been quick to respond with referrals, questions, insights or suggestions.

Thanks, Chris. Always great to speak with you! 

Anytime, thanks so much. 

Chris Keefer is the Founder and Principal at Keefer Strategy. Find him and his team at www.keeferstrategy.com

THE GDPR IS COMING: AWARENESS AND PREPARATION FOR COMPLIANCE

THE GDPR IS COMING: AWARENESS AND PREPARATION FOR COMPLIANCE

By: Amy Apostol

May is here, and that means that GDPR enforcement begins this month.  The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, was adopted by the European Union Council and the European Parliament in 2016 and will be effective and enforceable as of May 25, 2018.  If you haven’t given the GDPR much thought, now is the time to evaluate and prepare.

OVERVIEW OF THE GDPR

The GDPR takes a new look at privacy in light of the ever-changing technological and commercial world in which we live.  Starting with the idea that privacy is a right, it shifts the focus and control over personal data to the individual, rather than the organization that holds and uses that information.  Under the GDPR, individuals have more control over the use, storage, retention, portability, and erasure of their personal data.  Individuals have the right to request and obtain access to their personal data and related information in order to understand how their data is being used and whether it is being controlled or processed for a lawful purpose.  While the fines for non-compliance can be hefty and the steps to meet the GDPR requirements are onerous, a primary goal of the Regulation is to enhance trust and transparency between individuals and corporations.  It aims to help organizations take a comprehensive look at the data they hold and how they use and protect it.  

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Extraterritorial Reach of the Regulation

The GDPR applies broadly to all companies that control or process the personal data of EU citizens, even if those companies are located outside of the EU.  Data controllers typically collect personal data directly from individuals and determine the use of the information, including the purposes for which it is used and processed.  Data processors process personal data on behalf of the data controller.  Although a data controller can also process personal data, a data processer is often a separate entity under contract with a data controller.

Personal Data

Under the GDPR, the term “personal data” encompasses more information than we would commonly think about under U.S. rules regarding privacy.  Not only are common information types such as name, email address, place of birth and date of birth covered, but personal data also includes IP addresses, location data, behavioral data derived from IoT devices, internet tracking cookies, and voice or facial recognition.  Account numbers and other unique numbers associated with an individual may also be considered personal data.  The GDPR recognizes that certain information like health-related data, information about ethnicity or religious and political views, or social and cultural identifiers is especially sensitive and requires additional protections.  The GDPR also covers pseudonymized, but not anonymized, data.

Lawful Basis for Collection and Processing

You must have at least one lawful basis for collecting or processing personal data.  A commonly used basis is to obtain freely given and unambiguous consent by an individual who is providing personal data for a particular use.  Personal data can also be collected or processed if it is required to meet the terms of a contract or when there is a legal obligation to do so.  Collection or processing is also permitted when there is a vital (life or death) interest, when it is in the public interest, and when there is a legitimate interest in collection or processing that overrides other interests, such as privacy considerations.  

Privacy by Design

The GDPR requires that companies think about data privacy from the very beginning and as a key concept of the design, development, and implementation of products, services, and processes.  This is called “privacy by design.”  Companies also have an ongoing duty to protect personal data and are expected to make prompt notification of data breaches to individuals and appropriate authorities.

ENFORCEMENT AND PENALTIES

Enforcement starts on May 25th and can carry maximum fines of up to the greater of 4% of a company’s annual global turnover or 20 million Euros for infringement of an individual’s privacy rights.  Enforcement action can be triggered by things like a data breach, a complaint submitted by an individual, or a company’s failure or inability to act on an individual’s request (such as a request to withdraw consent or to exercise a privacy right).  

Penalties imposed can vary and will be proportionately based on the underlying facts, such as the scope or severity of a data breach, the failure to properly report a data breach, the level of attention given to an individual’s rights, the level of non-compliance with the GDRP, and what has happened to the personal data as a result of these factors.

COMPLIANCE PLANNING AND ACTION

Developing a Compliance Plan

While there is no “one size fits all” approach to GDPR compliance, a good plan will include identification of GDPR risks (with emphasis on the privacy risk to the individual over the business-related risk), application of appropriate data protections, and corporate awareness of the location, type, and use of data.  Compliance efforts will likely begin with employee training and education about GDPR requirements and the importance of privacy.  

Documenting Activities

Documentation of your compliance activities, including your action plan and training programs, will be critical to your ability to respond to an enforcement action.  You may want to take a phased approach to compliance so that it is more manageable and realistic.  You can build this documentation and demonstrate your efforts along the way, adjusting for changes in the digital landscape and your operational activities.  For instance, you will want to be able to show proof of consent by individuals whose personal data you are using, information about where personal data resides in your organization or IT systems, security measures, policies related to data access and IT security controls, and implementation of technologies that enhance privacy protections.

In conclusion, while May 25th is an important date, GDPR compliance is a process, not a finish line.  The GDPR can be a helpful tool in the development of data security and privacy best practices to help enhance trust and transparency with customers and the general public.

Amy is a member of The A.L.T. Group and an attorney focusing on privacy, data security, insider threat, and cybersecurity issues. To engage Amy, please contact us at www.adeptlegaltalent.com/engage