by Mary Rechtoris on April 21, 2020
For this special edition episode of Stellar Women, we explored the theme of allyship. Relativity Brand Director and Stellar Women guest co-host JC Steinbrunner and I chatted with Susan Wortzman, head of MT>3, a division of McCarthy Tetrault, and Michael Lalande, e-discovery counsel at the firm. The pair talked about their mentor-mentee relationship and the importance of finding a mentor who can help you successfully achieve your specific goals.
Susan shared her take on mentorship, including the need to decipher the best way to articulate feedback based on a mentee’s communication style. Do you have any suggestions for forging a successful mentor-mentee relationship? Share them with us in the comments below.
Head of MT>3
Mary Rechtoris: Hi Stellar Women fans. Hope you all are well. We are continuing our allyship conversation today with Susan Wortzman and Michael Lalande from MT>3, a division of McCarthy Tetrault, a Canadian based firm. Susan leads the firm's e-discovery and information management practice, and Michael is e-discovery counsel at the firm.
JC Steinbrunner: Thanks for joining us. First and foremost, we want to see how you're both doing with everything going on.
Susan Wortzman: Well, it's been interesting. We're both working remotely right now. I'm in self-isolation because I traveled and just returned home. Michael is practicing social distancing and working from home, which has been less challenging than one might think. At MT>3, we're all pretty well poised to work remotely. Many of us do work remote regularly. Some of our lawyers do managed review and they always work remotely. But there's so much challenge going on in the world, there’s a bigger piece in managing all of that. What we are doing as an MT>3 team is having daily calls with everybody on the team so everybody can just touch base and talk about what's going on.
JS: Relativity employees are working from home with no business travel. I think that it's interesting how technology has become a way that we can keep those touchpoints going. We also have daily check-ins to make sure that everyone feels connected, so it's interesting to see other companies also doing the same thing. What are you seeing in your travels in terms of how other countries are dealing with this crisis?
SW: It's obviously escalated so dramatically in the last week. I traveled February 28 through the beginning of March to Colombia. It was international travel and pretty much everybody seemed oblivious at that time. I flew through Miami and then to Colombia and very few people had masks. Everybody was out on the streets. Everybody was in restaurants. So pretty much zero impact. Last week before I went on my holiday, I had a business trip to Calgary. It was within Canada, again, and there was a little bit of social distancing. That was only 10 days ago and nobody really on the plane had masks. Then, I flew home on Monday night and we all had masks on. The airport was filled with people with masks and gloves, including most of the staff. It’s been really interesting because I've seen very different things. In the last five days, that's completely changed. And we'll be seeing for the limited people who are still having to travel, they will be probably wearing masks. I’m home, I'm healthy, and practicing self-isolation. I will not be going anywhere for a very long time.
MR: I suspect many of us aren’t. Thanks so much for joining. For this allyship episode, listeners, you might be confused as to where my co-host Mila is. Today, we have JC as a guest host.
JC: Something I am really proud of is that our team at Relativity is probably 80 percent women.
MR: Relativity is really great with elevating women, especially in our team. And, Michael and Susan, I’d love to hear more about MT>3. Michael, you nominated Susan for our Stellar Woman campaign, which works to elevate female leaders in legal tech. What made you nominate Susan and why do you think she truly embodies what this program is about?
Michael Lalande: Susan is a leader in our e-discovery community, in Canada, and across the world. She is involved in a number of various organizations, such as Sedona. She's responsible for directly mentoring and leading several women e-discovery professionals. She is taking on that role to help not only e-discovery associates within our firm, but outside the firm as well, to provide them with the help and guidance all around. She is a great leader within the community.
SW: Thank you, Michael.
MR: Michael, can you tell us about how you started at MT>3?
ML: I worked at several different organizations where I was a contractor and then start working for Susan. As soon as I met her, I pulled the chute on any other employment opportunities that I had at firms and immediately began working for her. It feels very useful to choose your own mentor. You know what's best for yourself. You know where you want to be in your career and who's going to help you get there. As soon as I met Susan, I knew she was the right person to help me with that.
MR: What's your overall goal and why is Susan the person to help you get there?
ML: There are two different sides to mentorship. There's the work side of mentoring, and then there's the soft side of mentoring, such as client development or speaking at conferences. It’s dealing with the things that you normally don't deal with in a work aspect. When I met Susan, she is very well spoken. She gave off that aura of trust and confidence that I felt were lacking with any other mentor that I had in the past. She speaks and holds herself in a way that is very inspirational. Susan often speaks about education and how important that is in reading case law, and this is very inspirational to my colleagues and myself.
MR: Thanks, Michael.
JS: Susan, mentor to mentor. How did you get started on your mentorship journey?
SW: There's one person on my team who's worked with me for over 20 years, and we've been at three different firms together. He's moved along with me and I consider myself a mentor to him and very, very active in his career development, his career, and the work that he's done. [Mentorship is] really a natural evolution. I see it as a critical role that I have because I am the leader of McCarthy’s e-discovery data governance division. I want to make sure they have the tools that they need and have the access to education that they need, as well as getting feedback and have that interaction. So it's just a day in the life of being a mentor.
JS: You bring up a really interesting point. Can you talk a little bit about what your mentees may need and how you support them to be the best that they can be?
SW: What I'm learning as I go is that different mentees need different styles and different approaches. I'm probably a bit tough. I can be like a bull in a china shop, and I have to modify my approach a little bit for different mentees. I remember [earlier in my career when] I would write a paper; I would come in the next morning and it would literally be covered in red pen. I went over every single change; I didn’t hand it to an assistant and get these changes made. I went over everything. How do you learn? How do you write better? So I push that with my mentees and the people who work for us to look at the changes and think about think about what the changes are—think about why you should modify them. That’s feedback. It can be uncomfortable sometimes and sometimes it's not; sometimes it's great. What I have learned is everybody reacts quite differently to feedback. It's really knowing the people that you're working with and being able to work with them and give them the feedback in a way that is most comfortable for them. Michael knows that I will give people feedback on the quality of their work. I encourage other people on the team to give people feedback on the quality of their work. But then there's also a huge other piece of mentoring which is encouraging people to develop their careers in terms of business development, client development, and relationships skills.
ML: One of the key things that Susan does as a mentor is encourageing me to speak up and tell her what I'm looking for. So she'll say, “what are you looking for in this relationship? What types of things can I help you with? What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are? And let's build upon that.” I think it's vital for the mentee to speak up and be completely honest and trusting with their mentor. I went to Susan knowing what area I want help with. I told her, “I think I'm good in this area, but I need to work on this.” I also know that Susan has limitations. If Susan is not able to answer something, she always will tell me who to go to.
JS: That’s wonderful. One last point to bring up for both of you is that I work in legal tech right now, but I went to art school. So we did critiques; we didn’t do tests or exams. We just tore each other up and down. We put up work and presented it. You got a lot of feedback. You made adjustments. Having that open and honest forum to develop and understand how other people approach your work is really important to me and something I try to do on my team. Michael, you've touched on this. How do you both develop a culture of open communication that allows you to receive criticism, apply it to your work, and grow from that?
SW: I think a lot of that is about is about timing. I took a course many years ago that talked about conflict resolution. If you’re going to have a conversation with somebody that had some conflict, I learned to not just throw the feedback at them. It’s about saying: “Let’s sit down and have a discussion tomorrow at 10:00 and talk about this.” What we're trying to do in our mentoring now is really saying that this is a mentoring lunch or we're going to talk about these issues and to block the time off. I often say to people that come into my office that now is not a good time. I really want to make sure that feedback conversations are not happening when I've got 10 things in front of me. I want to have time to think about it. So it’s saying there's an issue, let's sit down, let's talk about it and let's work through it.
MR: Great. I really like that, too, regarding giving someone a heads up so they know what they're going into. It takes the initial reaction out of it. So if you're saying, “Hey, Mary, we need to talk about this podcast episode. I just have some thoughts on the tone.” Then, I can brace myself and come into that discussion more ready to discuss versus just kind of throwing it on your mentee.
SW: McCarthy Tetrault has a program called McCarthy Engage that teaches and focuses on feedback so you’re not waiting a year to give someone an annual review and the feedback comes as a big surprise. Having regular and timely touch points with people seems to be far more effective and does take the tension out of everything.
MR: Definitely. Going back to feedback, I think a lot of times communication or feedback can play second fiddle to getting stuff done and making sure you're meeting client deadlines and all that. As a leader of this practice, how do you ensure that your team is still keeping communication and feedback top of mind?
SW: There are a lot of ways to do it; I think you're probably giving feedback on 10 or 20 things in the last two days. One way is just calling somebody and saying things like, “Thanks. I got this draft estimate from you and we need these changes.” I know that person will just make those changes and they get it because we’ve together for many years. Then, other times, I'll send some examples to somebody and let them know there’s another way of doing something. I was on a call this morning with someone and I said that we are consistently doing something that is off in our team, even though it is minor. I said, “This is why I think this is wrong and this is why I think we need to fix it. Can you draft an email and send it to the whole team?” There's a whole bunch of ways of doing it. There's no right and wrong. Sometimes it's a phone call. Sometimes it's an example. It's constant in our world that we are giving feedback. Generally, I try to say, “Here's why this should be done differently and here is a different approach.” I always try to look at everything that I'm sending out the door through the lens of the client. What does the client need to know? What does the client not need to know? I just try to give them exactly what I think they're going to need. I've been around for a while at this. I was a litigator, so I was the client for a long time. I have a bit of understanding of that. I try to always take it back to that and communicate that when we're revising work.
MR: That's super helpful. We'd love for you to talk about your thoughts about why allies are important, whether that was early on in your career when you were still new to legal tech or where you are now and working with younger professionals who are trying to achieve certain goals.
SW: For me, I wasn't primarily doing discovery. I was in the litigation context and my mentors didn't just teach me about how to be a good lawyer, they taught how to be a good person. They were really valuable allies in my life. It's that feeling that there are people who I knew wanted me to succeed and had my back. One of them said to me once that the key to being a good mentor is to make everybody else around you look better than you. And so Michael, for example, has a file right now that came into me and I handed it to him. I have been advising him in the background, but I have not been on a single email to the client. I have not been involved because I want the client to know that they're in his good hands and they are in his good hands. When he has a question, he'll come to me and ask the question. I want to make him look good. So the next time the client needs help, they're going to call him because that's the point of being a mentor. The allyship, I don't know if it was just a coincidence that all my mentors were men. On the other hand, at that time, most of the senior partners in law firms were men. When I left and started my own e-discovery firm, I didn't really have an e-discovery mentor in Canada. I went and I found one in the United States who had started his own e-discovery firm ahead of me. I connected with him to see what his firm was doing. We're still friends today. And in fact, we were on the phone a couple of weeks ago and he was asking me questions about the transition that I had made with my firm. We have a good mentorship relationship. On the other end of it, for me, I have a lot of people on my team. I have a very diverse team—a lot of women and men. To me, the key really is having a diverse team because we all learn from each other and we all do things differently. We all have different educational and work backgrounds. It’s that diversity of the team that makes it stronger.
MR: Thank you—that’s a new take on allyship that I haven't heard before. I just love learning about it. I want to thank Michael and Susan for joining us for this special edition of Stellar Women. We really appreciate you both taking the time.
SW: Thank you very much for talking to us. Being part of this team is something near and dear to both of our hearts. I really appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts with your listeners.
MR: Of course and for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.
JS: I’m JC Steinbrunner.
Both: Signing off.