For this second allyship-focused episode (you can find the first one here), Stellar Women in e-Discovery traveled across the pond to London in early 2020. While there, I had a chance to talk about mentorship and elevating women in e-discovery with Altlaw owner Terrence Searle and Project Manager Cassie Parker. JC Steinbrunner, the brand director at Relativity, also shared his experience being a leader on our brand team and how he works to ensure his team thrives in their work, and in life.
Listen to this episode to see how Altlaw creates a level playing field for their employees, and why it is important for the industry to continue efforts toward diversifying.
Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women fans. I’m your host, Mary Rechtoris, and I'm recording across the pond here in London. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in legal tech. Today I'm missing my co-host, Mila, but I'm really excited to welcome some new voices for this special edition of Stellar Women that's focused on allyship. Today, I'm excited to welcome JC Steinbrenner—he's the brand director at Relativity—as well as Cassie Parker and Terrence Searle from Altlaw. So I'm going to ask each of you to tell me a little bit about yourself and your role. Cassie, we'll start with you.
Cassie Parker: I am a forensic computing graduate and joined Altlaw when I came out of university. I’ve been at Altlaw for three and a half years now, so it’s good.
MR: Awesome. Terrence?
Terrence Searle: I'm one of the owners of Altlaw. I have been in the industry for 18 years now and originally am from South Africa. I came over and found myself in this industry.
MR: How do you like London?
TS: It’s cold but it’s good.
JC Steinbrunner: I'm the brand director at Relativity. I've been there for almost six years. Before that, I spent a long time in e-commerce. I’m also a professional painter.
MR: And a bread maker.
JS: And, a bread maker.
MR: Literally, he makes bread. We’ll have to bring some over; it’s pretty good. So, since this episode is focused on allyship, JC, we're going to start with you. You are not only my boss, but you've been a mentor to me in many ways. I was doing purely content-, customer-driven marketing for about a year and a half before I was on the creative team. You helped me transition into a producer role. Your mentorship style of recognizing skill sets in people you work with—is that something you learned or is it more innate?
JS: It's a little bit of both. As someone who leads people on a team, one thing that I have learned to do is to appreciate what other people are bringing to the table. Normally as a painter, I would try to do everything myself because you're kind of a one-man show. When you're working on a team, you need to really use others’ traits and abilities to get the best outcomes of whatever the project is. So being a good mentor is about having good editorial skills in a way. With us, it was about the way that you approach your projects; there was a very strong producing aspect to it that I thought would be really interesting development and a good stretch for you. It turned out to be something that's been fascinating to grow and here we are.
MR: Terrence and Cassie, how do you both work together?
TS: The staff and I sit together. We do everything together, rather than a situation where I’m asking them what’s going on with a situation. We'll work on the same things and we'll know what's going on. It's very transparent.
CP: It feels like we are on the same kind of level playing field and there isn’t a hierarchy on projects. People jump in and I can help and there’s other times when Terrence would ask a question and I can help him.
MR: That’s nice that you’re not worried about communication style or stepping on anyone's toes.
CP: You can say what you think. So I could say to him, you know, he did this right, or if I thought it was wrong, I could tell him.
JS: That’s really valuable and that’s what I treasure in those kinds of relationships. It's just being able to get the same feedback that you’re giving and just having really open and honest dialogue about whatever. That’s where things get really interesting and productive.
TS: I think it benefits everybody to have that sort of relationship where we learn from one another because we’re never too old to learn. That’s important for us.
MR: Before merging with Altlaw, you had your own company that you founded.
MR: Has this culture been something you’ve always tried to facilitate?
TS: Yes, we always say that we want our employees to be happy. If they're happy, they're going to make your clients happy. If your clients are happy, you're happy, so it's a good circle.
MR: Do you have any mentors, male or female, that have got you to where you are now?
TS: I wouldn't say I've had mentors [in the traditional sense], mainly because most of my time has been with my own business in this industry. But, I've certainly learned a lot from the partners that I've had. All of us are different and bring different aspects to the business. We all learn from each other and our partnership is a constant evolution.
MR: Cassie, you didn't start in e-discovery, right? You went to school before.
MR: Have you had mentors in this industry, school, or past industries that have left an impact?
CP: I had a female tutor at college. She covered the industry and was alone in the sense of being one of the only females. She showed that you can roll with the punches and be comfortable in that environment. She went out of her way to get us certified in areas that weren’t necessarily part of our course but would help us go on and be employable above someone else applying for a job that didn’t have that [certification].
MR: Terrence, why do you think that it is important—to work well with your team—to retain talent?
TS: The industry that we're in is a very fast-moving industry. We need to share our knowledge with the younger generation and we need to retain that talent to remain at the forefront of the industry. Young people definitely learned stuff a lot faster with the latest technologies coming out. You have to be on top of it.
MR: What about Terrence’s leadership style do you appreciate?
CP: He’s very forthcoming when he’s not happy with something, but he listens and asks questions when there are gaps in his knowledge. He’s been in the industry longer than I have so knows things that I don't know. But I came out of university knowing things that he doesn't necessarily know and he’s very open to listen and learn even after being in the industry for longer.
MR: JC, what are some obstacles that you’ve seen while working that women face in a fairly male dominated field?
JS: I guess I'm fortunate or somewhat shielded from that in the fact that I work in marketing. Our department skews more female than male. Our team—the brand team—is about 80 percent female, which is something I’m very proud of. One thing that I have worked on within our team is making sure that everyone feels that they have a voice and the ability to have an opinion, whether that's for a project or against the project or aligned with their bosses or contrary to their bosses. It’s about having a space where that debate can happen and we can find a way forward that's in the best interest of whatever we're doing. So whether you're male or female, that doesn't necessarily matter as long as you're really bringing your opinion to the table and having a thoughtful approach to the work we're doing.
MR: What's it like in the discovery market with the gender gap? What have you seen?
TS: A lot of stereotyping when it comes to females in this industry; we all know that there are far fewer females. But, this is changing recently with more females within our industry. I think it’s important that we diversify as much as possible.
MR: What were some of the stereotypes that are more prevalent?
TS: Thinking that, you know, females are more of the caring type. This business can often be cutthroat—not necessarily in what we do in terms of the service we provide but the whole industry in itself—so that has led to the thinking that women may not do well in that sort of environment.
MR: Right, and that’s obviously not true—which is why it’s a stereotype.
JC: It's quite funny. I would say the most assertive and confident people on my team are women.
MR: We may be too assertive at times … Just kidding! Cassie, have you seen that? You came into e-discovery a few years ago, so as Terence said, it's kind of shifted. More and more people are realizing the benefits of having a diverse workforce.
CP: I've never experienced that, but you hear about it and you read about it. I’ve been lucky enough to not experience that. The guys here tell me that I bring balance to the office and that they can go a bit haywire when I’m not here.
MR: What’s your take on being allies? What kind of role do you have to play?
JC: The role I have to play is twofold. One is, how do I coach you up? Not you, but in general, to getting employees who are female into a leadership position, which is what I would do for anyone. I don't experience [what you may experience] directly in my day to day work. How do I clear a path with those stereotypes and social boundaries or break that glass ceiling? How do I help you as an ally and get you through that—because it's not an artificial thing that holds people back? So for me, that's a constant learning path because I don't know and I'm not female. So I don't know day to day what you go through, but I try to be open and understand your different point of view and different points of view when I hear them. It’s about trying to be empathetic or compassionate in terms of where other people are coming from.
TS: Our goals are to employ more females and progress the careers of those that work here, whether that is through compensation, setting career goals, and recognizing the work that people do and promoting them accordingly.
MR: Cassie, I talked to Steven Facer and he told me that you are a new mom. Congratulations! That’s so exciting. How old is the little one?
CP: Eight months.
MR: Boy or girl?
JS: What’s his name?
MR: So cute. How do you navigate working and being a new mom?
CP: My partner and I split parental leave. I was off for four months. I feel confident coming back to work knowing that Kai is with his dad, so that helps. All the directors here have kids so there's that understanding. They know what it’s like to come back and have to juggle work with a baby. I have changed my hours so that I can come in a little earlier and leave a little earlier so I can have more time at home. It’s nice being able to have that flexibility.
MR: So, is the UK parental leave policy different?
JS: I was just going to ask you. Do you get eight months?
CP: You can take up to nine months paid I think.
MR: What is it, three months for us?
JS: Three months for the primary caregiver, who is usually the mother, and then typically around two weeks for the secondary caregiver, the father.
MR: Terrence, do you have kids as well?
TS: I do. I have two of them—one is 12 years old and an 8-year-old. They keep me on my toes.
MR: What’s it like being a working parent?
TS: All of us have kids so we will be able to step in if someone needs to do this or that. We always want to be flexible and we all have experience with that.
CP: We all have a personal life that may conflict with that 9-to-5 office day and there’s nothing we can do about it. Having a company that is flexible is good.
MR: So, I think I’ll start with you on this one Cassie. What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?
CP: Being honest and applying it to different aspects of your life. When the advice was given to me, it was given in the context of making a mistake and owning it so that it can be fixed. The same could be said for when you're not happy, or you need help for something. It’s important to be honest and open about that so that you can get through whatever you’re facing.
TS: I’m going to have to agree about always being honest. I think that it’s the most important thing, especially in this industry. I've been amazed at some of the stories that providers try to come up with to their customers about stuff that they've done incorrectly. You should always have honesty.
JS: I definitely agree with that and it’s something that I try to instill in my team. One thing that I was taught by a mentor back in college was: Don't say no. It's interesting because this has actually gotten me into heaps of trouble, a ton of trouble. But the long play was that it really taught me to develop boundaries and understanding about where I could commit and where I couldn't. Over a very long period of time I did that, and I don't know if I would have gotten to where I am now without that kind of initial launching point. I think he had that in mind the whole time.
MR: We should all say no. It’s hard though.
JS: One piece of advice that I would give to anyone navigating work is to really remember why we're here. Why are you going to work? Why are you doing all this stuff? I mean, maybe you're working with great clients, you're building relationships, and that's really fulfilling. Or, you're building a cool product and it's very exciting and challenging. But ultimately, you're doing this so that you can support something else, whether it's your family or self. It’s about being able to balance those two things, and you can neatly call it work-life balance, but I think that it's really about having the feeling that you're really contributing to what you do at work and contributing to what you're doing at home and feeling satisfied with that. It’s about developing in an open and caring atmosphere with your colleagues or your family or whatever group that you're working with. Being that person that helps build the environment that lets those things happen, although it is one of the more challenging things, has been one of the more fulfilling things.
MR: What is something outside of work that you're pumped for?
JS: Well, I have 2-year-old twins and I’m really excited for them to be done with diapers. It'll be a banner day in the Steinbrunner household when everyone can use the bathroom.
MR: Does that usually happen when they’re 3?
JS: Our oldest is 5 and we started pretty late with him. He was a little over 3.
MR: Cassie, what are you excited for?
CP: I'm excited to get on a plane and travel. I haven't been abroad since this time last year, so it will be really nice to kind of get out there and travel. I did a lot of traveling beforehand so it’ll be nice to go for multiple days.
MR: Where do you want to go?
CP: Maybe Canada; I haven’t been there. Maybe some place in Europe like Portugal.
MR: Montreal is supposed to be beautiful.
CP: I’ve heard good things.
TS: At this time in my life, I’m pretty much into cycling. I’m trying to do a tour in Cape Town in 2021.
MR: Do you bike around the city here?
TS: Yeah, I commute to work and home.
JS: That’s wonderful.
TS: I’d like to just do this tour. There’s nice scenery and some epic hills. It's quite a big tour. I think there's about 25,000 people that enter.
JS: How long is the tour?
TS: Just over 100 kilometers, so it’s not a huge tour but quite a big one in terms of numbers.
MR: Seems like a lot to me. After a half hour on the bike, I’m like, okay, that was a great workout. Thanks so much for joining and welcoming us here at Altlaw. It’s been a great few days here.
TS: Thank you so much for inviting us.
JS: Thank you so much.
MR: And for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris, signing off.