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Stellar Women in e-Discovery: Joy Murao [PODCAST]

Mary Rechtoris

When Joy Murao began her career in litigation support in 1994, the world of discovery looked vastly different. The days of poring over paper documents have since been replaced by sharing files electronically; however, according to Joy, the more things change, the more they stay the same. What has held true throughout the years has been the importance of mentorship and empowering young professionals as they navigate their careers.

Joy has been an inspiration and a leader to many in the field. Several of her colleagues and peers nominated her as a “stellar woman in e-discovery” for her enthusiasm for education and ability to collaborate with her clients to solve challenges.

The Relativity Blog chatted with Joy on her career, her aptitude for problem solving, and why we all should consider a lesson in improv.

Joy Murao

Joy Murao

Founder, Principal Consultant

“Joy has a highly effective management style. She always praises achievements and innovation. Joy has a willingness to take on people from other industries and help them find a path that fits their personality. She has an imaginative view of the interconnectivity of tasks and processes that leads to great innovative solutions to problems (even before others have recognized them as problems or after most have abandoned the issues as intractable).”

– Ron Deutsch

“She's innovative, fearless, and consistent. Her compassion for others and desire to add value to this industry is inspiring and extremely impressive!”

– Michelina Gibbs

“Throughout her career, she has relentlessly sought to help and improve the people, processes, and industries that make up our market. Selflessly, she continues to create some of industries’ best professionals.”

– Rob Hodgson

“Joy is a visionary. Throughout her 20-year career, she has been a paralegal, litigation support director, teacher, consultant, and now runs the company that she founded: Practice Aligned Resources. She has made it a priority to mentor young professionals entering the field, working with students on their specialty technical skills and getting them jobs. She is an expert in the field who has spoken at Relativity Fest on the state of the industry, and continually advocates for women in e-discovery.”

– Janice Hollman

“Joy is a great mentor. She recognizes people’s transferrable skills and is willing to teach what she knows and accept the mentee where they currently are in their professional development. Joy always cultivates future women leaders in the industry and goes above and beyond for her customers. She creates and implements a vision for her team. She is a visible leader as a pioneer of change. She leads by example, inspires her team members, and drives positive change in their professional lives.”

– Claire Lee

“Joy embraces technology, new and old. She finds innovative solutions for her clients and considers them a true collaborative partner. Her ability to understand the client’s needs and provide the appropriate resource, whether it be human, technical, or a combination of the two, is amazing.”

– Kristen Molina

“Joy has always been a thought leader in our industry. Joy excelled in management roles in Big Law and has led groups and individuals to become visionaries and thought leaders in their own right. As a leader in this industry, Joy had been helpful in the development in the careers of many people, and has been involved in Woman In EDiscovery for a number of years. As a minority and a woman, she has been an inspiration to many of us to step out and pay it forward.”

– Candi Smith

“Her focus on outstanding work product, customer service, and innovation makes her a star.”

– Geralyn Villaflor

“Joy is a creative leader in e-discovery who is most interested in providing market-leading solutions in a collaborative manner. She's breaking barriers and building a strong network while doing it. Truly a super star and inspiration.”

– Gilbert Villafor


Mary Rechtoris: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. This is “Stellar Women in e-Discovery,” a campaign we recently launched that encourages those in the e-discovery community to highlight standout professionals in the legal field. These are women who push boundaries, champion innovations, and pay it forward. Ultimately, they are women who inspire. I'm Mary Rechtoris, part of Relativity's community and customer advocacy team. I'm delighted to be joined by one of our nominees: Joy Murao. Joy, thanks so much for joining us.

Joy Murao: Thank you so much. I'm honored to be here.

MR: Excited to have you here. To start us off Joy, what drew you to the e-discovery field and what do you love about your work?

JM: Like some of us in the audience, I started in litigation support back well before e-discovery was a field. My career began in 1994 at O’Melveny & Myers. I don't say I was drawn to it; I kind of tripped over it in 1999. I remember printing a lot of Excel files, and this was way before the production and delivery of electronic files. We were still blowing back endless and endless reams of paper. So, what has drawn and kept me in e-discovery and practice support is my love of solving problems and helping people. You'll notice there are a lot of folks, both inside and outside of law firms, that struggle with technology. I'm happy to be that liaison or facilitator that is bridging the gap between legal and technology.

MR: My dad's a lawyer and he certainly struggles.

JM: So, he definitely would need us. e-Discovery created the demand for specialized legal teams, which we now call practice support—or some firms call litigation support. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. Early on, I was a part of a five-person team at Latham and this was back in 1999. I ended up managing and developing that team for about 13 years. We called it our group Technology in Practice. We really wanted people to contour technology to the way they practiced, versus practicing to the technology, because we found that adoption was longer and more sustaining if they integrated the technology to the practice. Within those 13 years, we grew to be an international team of about 52 people. To me, that was a very exciting time and I was very fortunate to be part of a growing firm. They had a growing global footprint, so some of the work we encountered was very, very groundbreaking at the time. I was very lucky to have the team we had. We brought together people from varied backgrounds. We really focused on education and technology and service to our clients so it's everything I love doing. That's what kept me in it and drawn to it.

MR:  Great, thanks for sharing Joy. We had numerous folks nominate Joy for her contributions to the field and I would like to take a minute to share some of these thoughts. "Joy is a champion for women. She hosts 'Empowering Women Workshops.' I've been to them all and they always have intriguing discussion. Joy keeps her ears open and makes introductions to help employers and potential employees make a connection." Another colleague said, "throughout her career, Joy has relentlessly sought to help and improve the people, processes, and industries that make up our market. Selflessly, she continues to create some of industries’ best professionals." Joy, I'm excited to dig a little deeper into these. Can you tell listeners what prompted you to start your own company, Practice Aligned Resources?

JM: Thank you, thank you for the plug by the way. At some point in your career if you're lucky, you do get a chance to take a step back and assess your situation and picture your next path. I realized that for me that I love working with lawyers. I know some people will probably reel back in horror that I actually love the projects that we work on and I love the technology and teaching and developing people. So, when I had this opportunity to take a step back, I realized that I can do what I love and have it on a broader scale, instead of going to one firm or another firm. I can kind of pull it back and help service other areas like government and corporate legal departments and small firms, what I call “Small bigs” – big law partners that have left and started their own firms. I felt like starting my own business, I could do what I've always been doing but truly make a difference. That's what started me on my path of starting my own company.

MR: What has been the biggest surprise about running your own business?

JM: When I first thought about this question, I thought that you don't sleep. But, the more I thought about it and what truly has surprised me, it's really the encouragement and support that I’ve received after starting my own company. It's not just from friends and business colleagues, but other entrepreneurs and other people that I didn't even know before I started. I'm proud of being a part of our community and our industry and trying to help blend legal technology and education. That surprised me, the open reception I've received.

MR: How did you network with other entrepreneurs or build connections with people starting their own businesses?

JM: For me, it was joining different chambers. There are a lot of different groups out there that help you become an entrepreneur and I found those resources. I feel very lucky to have these people in my life that can help give me feedback. Some of these people, this is what they do. They've been entrepreneurs, they've sold multiple businesses, and they've been very generous with their advice and support. There's a lot of resources out there for new entrepreneurs and small businesses so I just encourage everyone to research that and figure out if starting your own company is for you. It's not for everybody.

MR: Don't make the decision in one day.

JM: Exactly.

MR: In addition to founding your own company, you have a busy schedule. You're an instructor for UCLA Extension, which is UCLA's continuing education division, and you're also the regional southwest director for Women in EDiscovery. So, I suppose my question here is twofold: What energizes you and what do you do to relax?

JM: What energizes me? So, I know people and purpose energize me. I find that I don't have any problem waking up early, or even staying up late, working late, if I'm doing something I love. So, with my company, PAR, I built that with purpose. That truly energizes me and you can ask my team; they’re kind of amazed because I do think that I want to help and share what we've learned and what we do with others. We talk about people struggling with integrating technology or even trying to navigate the vast world that we call litigation service providers and all the technology options. I really do find that I enjoy helping people just understand where we are in all that. Purpose and people energize me.

MR:  What do you do to wind down?

JM: You see how I tried to avoid that question. I could tell you what I used to do to relax when I had personal time and vacation time. I'm finding that [it's not like] punching in and out: there is no time clock now. It's harder for me to define that kind of time. For me, [it's about] stealing away for a few hours. I love to cook for my friends or go out to dinner with them. But either way, food and friends are involved with my relaxing time. People always asked me, 'Are your friends in the e-discovery industry?' That'd be no. They are not in the e-discovery industry. But, if you do ask them, I think they will tell you that I still try to solve their problems and I talk about technology.

MR: Coming off that, can you tell us about a mentor you've had that has inspired you?

JM: I've said this before in another podcast, and I hope she hears this, because I do attribute my development in my career to one of my early mentors: Joni Vernars.  She was my manager at O'Melveny and ultimately also was my manager when I worked at an in-house legal department for Atlantic Richfield, ARCO. This was before BP acquired them. Joni was very generous in sharing her knowledge of litigation support. She was also in it, at the time that she managed me, for probably 15-20 years, so she really understood, and this was back in the paper world, that whole back office of running coding shops. Again, this is discovery before electronic discovery came around --those early years of paper and technology when the scanning department had Bell and Howells [high-end paper scanners] and all that kind of stuff. Understanding that gave me a solid foundation, which eventually, as we migrated or transitioned to the electronic world, knowing all that and where we came from was very helpful in designing a new education program. We've transitioned out of paper, but also what we do today is very similar to what we used to do in paper.

MR: And, what's your take on the role of mentorship today for young professionals?

JM: I view mentorship for the young professional as very, very important. I've been very fortunate in receiving mentorship early. In 1984, when I was 14, I was selected for a program that we would call STEM now. I was part of the Bell Labs summer internship program in New Jersey. So at 14, I learned how to code in the C programming language. I was stationed within one of their R&D departments. To see the innerworkings of a company and how they researched and developed new things gave me great insight. You can see that thread of Bell Labs come up throughout my whole career. I believe mentoring can help shape and develop the young professional, whether male or female, to be better prepared for that road ahead. I do think that mentoring helps expose them to the skills they're going to need going forward. And again, set that tone to pay it forward when they get through their path.

MR: This is a great segue. One of your nominations spoke about your 'Empowering Women Workshops.' Could you walk us through what those look like and what inspired you to establish those?

JM: If you work with me, you'll know that I'm always trying to solve problems and I love talking to people. I saw this common theme amongst my female friends of needing more confidence or wanting to learn more about how to take control of your career or whatever that was at the time. And I thought, why don't I bring together these workshops? It's every quarter and we call it the 'Empowering Women Workshops.' It focuses not on topics like e-discovery or cybersecurity, but more about the individual, the person themselves, and their career regarding how they can manage their own career. One of the topics that we had early on was an education on power and politics in the workplace, for example, that grows or builds on the topic of the Lean In. We're all leaning in and it was about knowing more about power and politics. For the second one, we had someone who spoke on improvisation. We sprinkled in a few minutes of that and it was kind of funny because right after that session, [I heard] 'can we have more of improv and acting?' and I thought ‘was this because were in LA?’  We did hire a professional improv actress and that was more about the “Power of Yes, And”. With this person, she's from Second City, we played these games on how to use improv techniques and leverage that in your personal and work life. [It was about] how to use 'yes and' instead of 'no,' or how to be open instead of being closed off. The last one we did because it's the beginning of the year, it was about managing your own career and looking at your skills and strengths as an individual and how that plays out in what you want to do. To me, the empowering workshops are not about e-discovery and outward, but more about the person and the individual.

MR:  How long have you been doing those Joy?

JM: They started when I first opened my office here in downtown LA. I would say in the beginning of 2017 was our first one. We’ve had five sessions.

MR: And the improv was a very popular one, as you mentioned.

JM:  We moved all the furniture in the office and just had this open space.  It was a great, safe place to go through the exercises. It is kind of scary to be an actress.

MR: Definitely, putting yourself out there in front of your colleagues and peers. Seems awesome. I'm writing that down as a potential team building idea.

JM: I'll send you an invite. When you come to LA for the Relativity User Group, we will try to make that happen.

MR: That sounds great. Another one of your colleagues said: "Joy embraces technology, new and old. She finds innovative solutions for her clients and considers them a true partner. Her ability to understand the client's needs and provide the correct resource, whether it be human, technical, or a combination of the two, is amazing." What do you find makes for a successful partnership when you work with new clients?

JM: Like I mentioned earlier about moving the furniture for the empowering women session, I try to create a collaborative and safe environment for my clients. It could be physically like a room, but it's also how I approach them when I am meeting with them. I try and get a good sense of their personality: do they like to listen or do they like to talk? I try to make sure that I am working with them and creating that collaborative environment first and then, my first thing is focusing on the end. What are they trying to deliver or achieve? Because I tend to find that when people are working through problems and they jump right into what they've done so far, they lose sight of the end goal. I like to try and start with what are we trying to achieve? What are we trying to deliver? What is your job, whoever my client is, and what are you trying to do? And then, I'll work backwards from there. And then I don't know why but my mind always thinks in options and it's almost like a plan A, plan B, plan C.  As you start talking to me, I'm getting a sense of who you are and I start to think of solutions. I've noticed that my solutions have always been low tech, medium tech, and high tech. In my mind as you're talking, I'm already devising the [plan]: Oh, this person might like this and they're like that and I'm starting to get a good sense of your level of comfort with technology. Ultimately, at the end of that conversation, we do need to balance that iron triangle of time, cost, and quality, which we all struggle with and need to balance. But I also throw in what I need to add in that equation—the client themselves. Their comfort level, what are some of their concerns in regards to conveying or getting that approval from their client? What are some things that may hold them back from adopting my plan? I do try to give them options so that they're more comfortable with it.

MR: Is this something you've learned from your experience working with numerous clients, or is this advice you've gotten?  How did you form this plan when working with new clients or figure out what was successful?

JM: I think it's my natural personality of trying to be a negotiator all the time.  I always believe, and I hate this saying, but there's always more than one way to skin that cat. I’m not personally married to any specific idea. I'm married to the concept of finishing the project and I'm also married to the idea that my client should be happy. I need to reach the end goal and my client needs to be happy. So where are they in that formula and how can I leverage technology? As I mentioned, at Bell Labs and learning programming at that early age, and I think being part of that R&D group, helped me understand the power of programming and technology [in] that things are possible. You have to figure out what you're trying to do and use the right tool. I always use an example for people that a butter knife can be a screwdriver. I’ve had to screw a screw before with a butter knife. At the time, it got the job done, right? But, if I have 60 screws to do, a butter knife may not be the tool. And, if I only have two minutes to do 60 screws, I may need the electric screwdriver. To me, what is the problem we're trying to solve? How much time do you have? What tools do we have available or what do I want to use? I think it's something that's always been in me. It's not something I’ve developed through time. I try to help train others. It’s almost a part of troubleshooting. Identifying the core components and figuring out where the problem may be. I try and teach others how to dissect that situation or that problem and help them identify: here are the building blocks of these incremental options or successes that can happen that ultimately lead to the end product.

MR: Definitely. Well Joy, that is all the time we’ve got for today. I really appreciate you being here.

JM: No problem. Thank you for having me. Again, thank you to everyone that submitted me and I’m honored to be a part of it.

MR: Of course, and once again I’m Mary Rechtoris. This is ‘Stellar Women in e-Discovery.’ Listeners, thanks for joining us.

Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.