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Schwabe Trial Lawyers v. Pandemic: Our Story of Resiliency

Top Schwabe attorneys share wisdom for International Women’s Day

March 8, 2021

Overview

This year, International Women’s Day has a different feel than it has in years prior, as we’re all more connected digitally yet farther apart while we maintain our six feet—or more—of distance. Legal practice, especially litigation, has long been male-dominated, with women slowly rising through the ranks to join men in the courtroom and leadership positions. And in law, like many other industries, we’ve witnessed first-hand how the pandemic has been especially hard for the women in these roles.

At Schwabe, we’re proud to have a board of directors that is 80% women, and a culture that recognizes the unique challenges women face both “normally” and during the pandemic. For several years Schwabe has actively worked to improve the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in our firm.

To celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we interviewed some of our top litigators (who happen to be women) to learn how they pivoted to the pandemic work environment—and what their predictions are for the future.

What did you learn in your early career that helped you thrive during the pandemic?

Jennifer Campbell: I learned early in my career that it was important for me to speak authentically. With that lesson, I’ll let you know that I did not thrive during the first year of the pandemic. Not even close, and I’m okay with that. I’ve learned another very valuable lesson: the importance of strong relationships with my colleagues and friends. I reached out and received the assistance of my colleagues when I needed it. 

Amanda Gamblin: The way I managed as a new attorney was to compartmentalize. When I was at work, I focused on work. At home, I turned off my phone and focused on family. I did not multitask much, and have discovered I’m terrible at it. So mixing home and work life during the pandemic was initially difficult for me. To work around my mental rigidity, I created a dedicated workspace at home and now I’ve settled in nicely.

Stephanie Holmberg: Early in my career, I learned the value of maintaining relationships—not only with clients, but with colleagues and friends as well. While the pandemic forced me to think more intentionally and creatively about how to sustain these relationships, my professional and personal networks have been more important than ever.

Anne Talcott: Litigation can be a challenging practice under normal circumstances because it is conflict-driven and very deadline-oriented. What has helped me most through the pandemic is relying on those lessons from even earlier in life: Treat others how you would like to be treated, don’t procrastinate, remember that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and be sure to take breaks.

Aukjen Ingraham: I don’t know if it was early in my career, but at some point I learned that everything is temporary even when it feels like forever. Step-by-step and day-by-day is sometimes the only path forward, even when we want to nail everything down. Seizing the moment is tough for us planners, but has some amazing rewards including unexpected connections with colleagues and bursts of creativity.

It sounds like both surviving the pandemic and being a successful litigator boil down to creativity, flexibility, and maintaining relationships. How have your habits shifted throughout the pandemic?

Amanda Gamblin: In the office we have little lights that turn red when you’re on the phone. I brought mine home so my kids knew when not to interrupt. I also turned my desk to face the door so when they peek their heads in, I see them (and clients on video calls can’t), and I can nod or shake my head so they know whether to come in. Despite the occasional interruptions, I feel just as productive at home.

Stephanie Holmberg: For better or worse, the habitual nature of my workday has changed. On the one hand, I’ve been able to shift my schedule to better accommodate my family commitments (the pandemic’s impact on working parents is an entirely different topic!). This flexibility allows me to be more responsive and better serve my clients. But the blurring of the line between work and home has also been a challenge.

Aukjen Ingraham: Being a trial lawyer takes dexterity and the ability to roll with chaos—the same goes for the pandemic. Over the past year, I’ve observed mental flexibility for things that people were once resistant to and a change in what people accept as possible. Many lawyers are risk-averse, but when we were shaken out of our little worlds, all of a sudden some risks don’t seem as scary as we thought they were.

Anne Talcott: Working from home means addressing the unexpected every day—technology that might fail, interruptions by kids and pets, and the frayed nerves of colleagues, staff, opposing counsel, and myself at times. I try to maintain a sense of humor and remember that everyone is doing their best under the circumstances, and some of those circumstances cannot be fully understood, even if we are Zooming into each other’s living rooms.

Jennifer Campbell: To put it kindly, I was always a slow adopter of new technology. In March 2020, I had never had a video call outside of a conference room, never used a headset, and only used my iPad for online shopping. Since we started working from home, I needed to adapt quickly and embrace some of the technology that I had ignored.

What concerns do you have about the post-COVID-19 work environment?

Stephanie Holmberg: Numerous studies have shown that, during the pandemic, women have disproportionately left the workforce, unwinding decades of progress in terms of gender equality. In a post-pandemic world, I believe supporting women—especially in industries and practice areas that have traditionally been male-dominated—will need to be a priority, and certainly that is true for law firms.

Anne Talcott: I am concerned that lawyers, clients, and the courts have become so comfortable with remote work and the potential cost savings that the elimination of travel presents, that virtual interactions will become the predominant way of conducting business even post-COVID-19. In almost every situation, face-to-face interaction results in superior communication, observation, and understanding, and I’d hate to lose that.

What are your predictions for the post-pandemic litigation world?

Jennifer Campbell: It’s hard to predict where litigation is headed in the post-pandemic world, but I can safely say we are not going back to where we were in January 2020. Clients, courts, and lawyers now know that we can do so much more virtually than we thought possible. There are a lot of new tricks we have learned that have brought cost savings and greater efficiencies to our clients—like remote depositions and court hearings. I suspect that our clients, like all of us, want to get back to “normal,” but what is “normal” will have changed by that time. So, when we get back into the post-pandemic world, I predict our clients will want us to continue using the tools that worked during the pandemic and to be more open to learning new tools.

Amanda Gamblin: Now that I’ve learned to flexibly compartmentalize, I think that will be the key in a post-pandemic world. Some people need to be in the office. Others don’t. Some teams need to be in the office together for periods of time (such as during a trial) and at other times can work remotely and still stay connected. We should make room for the needs of the individual, the team, and the client. 

Aukjen Ingraham: Post-pandemic, I predict we’ll continue to be more connected via video. You’ll see this in court hearings, depositions, and meeting with our clients. COVID-19 has illuminated that we don’t have to go through the stress and expense of traveling for all depositions. In some ways, it will bring a much-needed efficiency to the legal world that quite honestly, has needed to arrive for a while. That said, there are some things that we will always need to do in person, and jury trials are one of those things.

Any final musings you would like to leave with us?

Amanda Gamblin: I appreciate the flexibility resulting from the pandemic, but I don’t think it can be a free-for-all—meaning that everyone can do whatever they want whenever they want. Making this work will require coordination, flexibility, and compromise.

Anne Talcott: The question once the world opens, by clients and their trusted advisors, should not be whether something can be done remotely (which is the current inquiry in the pandemic) but whether it should be, in terms of the issues presented and risks and benefits of live interaction at a deposition, a hearing, or a client meeting.

Stephanie Holmberg: While we are seeing signs that the pandemic’s impact is lessening, this is still a really tough time for a lot of people. In my experience, most people are doing the best they can, and I think continuing to approach interactions with compassion and patience is still really important.

Jennifer Campbell: This last year has taught us all that we can learn and adapt to new things faster than we thought possible. That’s a silver lining.

 

While there are no guarantees for what life will look like in a post-COVID-19 world, the themes of flexibility, communication, and the call for women to continue to support each other will likely continue to influence litigation and other similar fields.

As we hopefully round the pandemic’s corner and head toward whatever is “after,” at Schwabe, we take a well-deserved pause to celebrate the women of Schwabe and all women on International Women’s Day 2021. We graciously acknowledge our inspiring attorneys who continue to provide exemplary legal service to our clients, exhibit grace under pressure (and on Zoom), and encourage us to build on this spirit of resiliency as we move forward.

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