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Building a Professional Partnership with Cristin Traylor and Sara Skeens on Stellar Women

Blair Cohen

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So many of us have that go-to person at work—the one who completes our dynamic duo. For a time at McGuireWoods, one such duo was Cristin Traylor and Sara Skeens.

You may know Sara as the ESI Ninja and Cristin from her 20+ years in the industry. When they work together, they’re even more amazing.

For my first solo-hosted episode of Stellar Women, I sat down with these two to learn more about how they work together to help move the needle for their clients and their careers. Listen to the full episode and check out a portion of the transcript below.

Mary Mack

Cristin Traylor

Senior Product Strategy Manager

Kaylee Walstad

Sara Skeens

Principle Associate, Cyber Technical
Capital One

Partial Transcript

Blair: Your relationship with each other literally bridged two teams together at McGuireWoods—and when I say literally, they were separated by a physical bridge. Traditionally, there is a little bit of a disconnect between the attorney side and the tech side. What helped you both eliminate that?

Sara: I loved going across that bridge—that was my favorite part of my day, skipping across to Cristin’s side.

Cristin: And I loved having her there. I made a space in my office. I had a large office with a table so that we could have meetings in there. So she would come over and hang out at the table, kind of like her own satellite office. It was great because, as I was working on something, I could throw out a question to her: “Hey, what do you think about this?” or “I'm trying to do this. I'm not really sure how. Can you help me?” And she would jump right in and help. We could just have conversations throughout the day about what needed to be done.

Sara: And we could see each other’s sides. too. Cristin would be on a call, maybe discussing something a little more legal in e-discovery, and I would be on a call discussing something a little bit more tech. And we could give the input from the other side together. The things that I learned from a legal perspective—you don't always get that insight when you're doing e-discovery on the technical side. In the same way, Cristin would say, “Well, how would we do this from a tech perspective?” And we’d whiteboard. We lived on that whiteboard.

Cristin: There was one time where somebody was like, “We really want to do this in Relativity and we don't know how.” And Sara said: “Well, we can build an application.” I said, “We can?” And we just got started using the whiteboard, drawing how we want this to connect to this, and this to be like this. All of a sudden she said, “Okay, I can build that!” And it was just amazing. Later, when we rolled it out to the legal teams, they thought it was fantastic. It really just inspired me on the technical side because we made it fun and it just showed how we could create something together.

Sara: And we did it fast. That was the other thing; I think people are impressed with how they can hand us an idea, put us in that room with that whiteboard, and in a day we had the whole thing mapped out. In terms of software development, we had the advantage of me looking at things from the perspective of how fields work together, visualizing all the data, where it goes, and how it moves. And Cristin would cover the user experience side to say: “Well, being a lawyer, I need it to do this, I need it to be defensible here, I need that.”

Blair: Sara, you’ve talked a little bit about Cristin “supporting that weirdo,” which I love about you, obviously. How has she helped you in networking events?

Sara: When I go to a conference, it is the most anxiety-inducing, horrifying thing for me. But when I knew Cristin was there, I could take a breath and kind of watch Cristin to see how she dealt with small talk—because Cristin's really good at going in a room and just meeting people. So she gave me a template to follow, but she also would be the one to help spark that conversation for me. If I was standing next to her, there was never a case where she didn't introduce me. It was always, “This is Sara. Let me tell you about Sara!” She'd find that middle ground I needed to be able to start talking to somebody and kick that off.

That that made a huge difference for me. So I made sure, every time I'd meet somebody, I say something like, “Do you know Cristin?” It’s about identifying people who we know would mesh well together, and getting the other person in front of them to say: “Hey, if you partnered up with this person, you could do really cool things.”

Blair: Along those lines, what has sponsorship meant to you as women in tech?

Sara: It's sad to think about labels, but you're going to have them and you're going to have experiences under them. When you have someone you know can truly understand you—it's one thing to talk to somebody who is just listening. It's another thing to talk to someone who understands. That makes all the difference in the world. For example, for me, navigating a career and having kids was such a weird piece for me. Cristin had already gone through it and it was just great to have someone to be able to look to and say, “Okay, how do I deal with this? Like pumping—how do I do this and work?” Just having the representation of seeing somebody similar to you and knowing that they got there, they climbed this hill, they dealt with those silent battles, too—and look where they are. Look what they're doing!

Cristin: I really feel the same way; it's just so much about having that support, that encouragement. Being champions for other people. I think it's just a great way we can all pay it forward in our industry and help other people and help bring them up. You know, there's new people joining our industry every day and they need those champions. They need those sponsors to help them. And I think we should all think about that when we meet new people.

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Blair Cohen is a brand program manager at Relativity, representing the company with enthusiasm, authenticity, and her flair for humor. When she isn't shining a light on women in tech via Stellar Women or cracking jokes on the main stage at Relativity Fest, you can find her running around Chicago finding the best places to eat with her dog, Goose.

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