Working from home has its host of challenges. We are undoubtedly facing a trying period. With great challenge, though, comes opportunity. Stellar Women caught up with Stephanie Clerkin, director of litigation support at Korein Tillery and a 2019 Innovation Award winner, on how she is navigating working remotely and the strength of the e-discovery community.
After an adjustment period, Stephanie shared how she is more productive and some office traditions that continue in this new remote work period. Additionally, she discusses how she has made connecting with friends and colleagues—both old and new—a priority.
Director of Litigation Support
Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I’m your host, Mary Rechtoris.
Mila Taylor: And I’m your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.
MR: So today, we're chatting with Stephanie Clerkin. She is the 2019 Stellar Women in e-Discovery Innovation Award winner. Stephanie, how are you today?
Stephanie Clerkin: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me on here again. It's nice to hear some voices that I know.
MR: It’s definitely nice. We were just talking about how your local Starbucks has a drive-thru, which is game changing.
SC: I’ve got to have my caffeine.
MT: It keeps me going. I'm going to jump into some questions. What have the past few weeks been like for you?
SC: Wow. I can't believe that I'm on week five—or actually it might be week six—of being at home at this point. I feel like I haven't been in the office in literally years. As someone who thrives on being social and being busy, I'm doing surprisingly well in this self-isolation in the scheme of things. I think I really need it. It’s been a forced break as a time to recharge mentally and physically. I wouldn’t have done this on my own, so I've been able to get an exercise routine back. I've been taking walks or weightlifting every day. I've been eating healthier and trying to catch up with friends and family, which was long overdue. When looking at what I’ve been doing for the last six weeks, I know I need to make this routine permanent even when I do go back into the office. So that is a goal for 2020 for me.
MT: That's great. That's so true about reconnecting and stuff. I've definitely tried to find little ways to have a silver lining in this. My mom's obviously in Australia and because everything is virtual now, she has a personal trainer. They've been doing these virtual sessions and I've been doing them with them. It's like I get to work out with my mom, and I haven't been able to do that in a very long time.
SC: I love that. That's amazing.
MT: So, that’s been my silver lining of this whole thing. Stephanie, you also mentioned that you've been reconnecting and family and friends. How have you been able to stay connected with your family, friends, as well as with your colleagues?
SC: At the office, we luckily have had the technology in place that already allowed us to easily collaborate. We have a Saint Louis office and a Chicago office, so I'm used to working with our folks in Chicago quite a bit on a remote basis. We have an internal instant messaging system and video phones. I actually took a video phone home so I can still do calls with other people who also brought their video phones home. We have WebEx as well. I think I actually am talking to my coworkers more than ever via instant messaging these days. I've been able to see several colleagues’ kids, pets, families, houses, and backyards. I think this has actually let me get to know people better. It's when people are in their natural environment and you just see different sides of them that you don't usually see in the office anywhere. Things are a little bit more formal usually. Oh! I don't want to forget that we have kept some very important office traditions going, which include our meme sharing and discussing Dateline episodes even while working from home. Some things need to stay consistent.
MR: The important things. Do you have any tips for people that might want to be making new connections or networking during the stay-at-home routine we have in place?
SC: I have been keeping pretty busy, even though I've been at home. I've been attending multiple networking events per week. My record is six in one week and I still somehow managed to double book myself. Some things never change. But I've been attending virtual happy hours and virtual lunches at least twice a week. I try to incorporate multiple formats into my schedule, too, ranging from formal to casual meetings. I've attended an executive roundtable where we had a specific agenda in advance. We had great conversation and our takeaways were published. I've also done virtual lunches that are a nice mix of formal and informal. We get to know each other, do intros, and maybe joke about some stuff, We also have in-depth discussions on certain topics—what people are scared of, what people are looking forward to. On the other extreme, I've had some happy hours where the goal is no work talk. We play trivia. We discuss Tiger King. And what I found is that I have organically now met [a lot of new people]. I think I'm up to 50 new connections on LinkedIn that I've met at these events. We've been having conversations even outside of these group events. There is stuff out there and a big tip is just sign up and join. I've joined events where I knew nobody. But as we know in this community, everyone's always so welcoming—especially now. Seeing other faces gives us human contact that we're missing.
MR: Wow, 50 new connections in one week.
SC: Well, it was over two weeks.
MR: I also love Tiger King. I don't want to digress too much because I could talk about that for hours. So, at your networking events and on social media, what do you think morale’s been like in the e-discovery community?
SC: e-Discovery obviously is not immune to the effects of COVID-19, no pun intended there. Unfortunately, there most likely will be continued pain in the short term in the form of layoffs, pay cuts, and hiring and spending freezes. But e-discovery and the legal tech community as a whole adapts better than most, I think, and is well positioned to withstand that. All of these calls that I've been on and virtual happy hours, the silver lining is that everyone has been talking about the stay-at-home orders leading to the adoption and acceptance of technology at record rates. I'm personally excited because some of our attorneys who have never logged into Relativity are now becoming regular users. I don't have to hit “Save as PDF” and send as much, at least for now. Then, basically overnight, video conferencing platforms and remote working are now widely accepted even by the courts. Although these are accepted, it kind of scares me a little. As someone who handles e-discovery collections and requests, I’m waiting to see a spike in requests for video conferencing, platform recordings ,and collaboration software messages in our future collection requests. I actually have one more thing that I want to mention, and this is some positive news. I've noticed on some of these calls, some people are going through harder times than others right now. But, the e-discovery community is really a community. That's one thing I love about everybody in this world; it's like one big family and everyone is supporting each other more than ever. I've seen this firsthand. Someone said his/her role has been cut and they were looking for work. On the call, someone said, “Hey, shoot me a message. I think I can help you.” People are networking and finding new opportunities.
MT: That's awesome. You've mentioned a couple of ways you've been connecting. What tips do you have for people who may feel disconnected from their friends and family?
SC: As someone who spent the first week processing what was happening and not necessarily reaching out as much, I wish I would have. Start by simply reaching out, saying hello, and checking in. It's just a text or email. If it's your friend, find something you can relate to and share a link, an article, or a meme. I found some great joggers—which is a fancy word for sweatpants that I just realized. I found them on Amazon and shared them with a friend. We’ve been chatting during this whole time period and that led to us sharing more Amazon purchases and spending more money over the last couple weeks. So, instead of having coffee in the kitchen, maybe you can set up a virtual coffee or virtual happy hour. I've been trying to use my video conferencing capabilities more just so I can see somebody. It just makes the conversation more meaningful. There are so many different options out there right now between all of our video conferencing services and FaceTime and all these other apps like Houseparty. It starts with a simple “Hello, how are you?”
MT: I think people sometimes forget how easy it is and can get sucked into the daunting thoughts of I'm by myself and I'm kind of remote, how am I going to deal with this? But I think you're right that it starts with a simple hello.
SC: Or, “Are you still wearing real clothes to work at home or do you switch to pajamas and sweatpants?” It doesn't even have to be a very deep concept, right?
MT: I completely agree. What has surprised you about working from home during this time, if anything?
SC: How little things have changed? I can do the vast majority of my job remotely. I am fortunate, though, to have a dedicated home office with two monitors. Since my husband still has to work, it's just me and Ginger my nine- month old Kitty all day. I've been able to focus almost more at home than I do in the office. That was a big surprise to me. I thought it would be a little more of an adjustment to being remote, but so far, not that much.
MR: There's a lot about this new coffee drink that people are making. People are coloring or dancing. Other any fun new hobbies or projects you've tackled during this time?
SC: I have a lot of random extracurriculars, I guess I'll call them. As of last week, I finally ran out of drawers and closets to reorganize so I need to tackle the next big project, which is cleaning out the garage. That is the last thing I really want to do, but it's a huge project. I've always been an avid weather nerd, especially living in the Midwest and having storm season pretty much year round. So a couple of weeks ago, I took a Skywarn weather spotting class to learn more about weather. It was free and it was online. It was something I wanted to do for a decade and just never did. I've just signed up for an intro to computer science class that was offered online for free through Harvard. So, I'm trying to do a mix of home projects and educational projects because I may not ever have this type of time to sit down and take an intro to computer science class or a weather spotting class or fill in the blank, whatever that is.
MR: I just started taking French. I know very little.
SC: Bonjour is about all my French.
MR: Bonjour, je m’appelle Mary, is all I know. It’s been two weeks.
MT: I started doing dance classes. I'm a terrible dancer and I've been doing dance classes online. I have this irrational fear that my laptop is secretly recording me and going to send it to everybody I know. I caught a glimpse of myself in the screen reflection and I was like, this is the most embarrassing thing I've ever done.
SC: Mary, can you work on getting that recording and share?
MR: I’ll have to figure out some way.
MT: Stephanie, thank you so, so much for joining us, as always. It was so great to chat, and thanks for all the great tips.
SC: Can I share one of my favorite quotes I've heard when I've been joining Ari Kaplan’s virtual lunches? My favorite quote I've heard out of that so far was from someone named Ginger Shimp. She’s a marketing director at SA. She said: “When we finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is not an oncoming freight train. We will find opportunities in this experience.” I think that is so true.
MT: I love that.
MR: Thanks for sharing that quote.
SC: You’re welcome.
MR: And for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And, I’m Mila Taylor.
Both: Signing off.