Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with my dear friend, Jenn Smuts about her article in JD Supra Perspectives,
Coming Up for Air: Women in Law and Adapting to the Impact of COVID-19.” Jenn is an ardent supporter of women, an advocate for women’s issues, and a legal marketing leader for whom I have so much admiration. Our conversation touched on so many important issues related to the fallout from COVID-19 and how to be a connected and engaged supporter of the women in your network.

Robyn:

Hi everyone. Welcome to LISI’s first News+Views+To Do’s video interview. I am so happy to have with me here today my good friend, Jenn Smuts, who is the Chief Marketing Officer at Connolly Gallagher in Wilmington, Delaware. Jenn recently published an article through JD Supra Perspectives called “Coming Up For Air: Women in the Law and Adapting to the Impact of COVID-19.”

So I invited Jenn to come speak with me today because her article really sparked a conversation for me about women in the legal industry and really women overall. What this pandemic has done to us and the choices that it has forced us to make or to consider. So, Jenn, thank you so much for joining me. I’m unhappy to have you on today!

Jenn:

Likewise, I’m really happy to be here and I’m so thankful that you’re taking time to ask me a little bit more about this article because it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about since probably November of last year pre-holiday period. I’ve watched so many friends, colleagues — we were just doing like an old alumni get together via Zoom and I’ve listened to so many even alumni friends talk about how COVID has impacted them and their career. And of course, being in legal for the past 20 years, it really had me focus on what’s happening in our industry. I just really wanted to kind of reach out to some of those women and get their stories and it was a pleasure to have my article posted and I’m glad to be here today to talk to you about it.

Robyn:

So I’m interested to hear, you know, you talked to some pretty amazing women, and of all those conversations, what was maybe the biggest thing that you took away from all of them?

Jenn:

I think that the biggest thing I took away was that kind of the associate level or the of-counsel level or the attorneys who are still on partnership track — those are the attorneys who, whether they have children at home or perhaps a part of the sandwich generation taking care of children, as well as elderly parents or relatives, they have really been the ones who kind of reverted back to responsibilities in the home. When push came to shove, even though their spouses are out working as well, it was odd how many women took the step back to be with the kids and to kind of just bear the brunt of the pandemic. What I also did find though was that even at the partner level the female partners within the law firms, they really felt obliged to care for the associates, male or female, and whether it’s mental health issues or just helping with workload.

They too took a role within their law firms to kind of mother, if you will, the attorneys and make sure that they have resources and they would you know, advocate for them at practice group or industry group levels to make sure that other partners knew to be sensitive and ask, engage with those attorneys. So nobody was really immune to this pandemic is what I’ve learned. It’s a little bit rhetorical, but how people have been affected by it. But ultimately women, no matter which level within the legal industry were the ones who kind of stepped up.

Robyn:

That’s so interesting in particular to think about women at the more senior levels in law firms shepherding and protecting, or I don’t know what the perfect word is there, but really understanding that this was the time to help those underneath them, have a balance or be able to continue their work or whatever it was. I mean, leave it to a woman to make sure everybody’s taken care of. Right, Jenn?

So, following on from that, I’m interested to know how do you see the legal industry changing? In particular, from what you just said, do you think that sort of protectiveness again, I don’t know that that’s the perfect word, but do you see that continuing and what long-term impact might that have?

Jenn:

The way I see it in the legal industry is that ironically I feel like in my mind not that women won’t continue to be women. I think it’s, it’s innate and in a lot of us to be protective, to be nurturing. We can compete when we need to, but ultimately we revert to lifting each other up. I think that that won’t change. That will continue to go forward, but I also think the role of technology that the pandemic has afforded us within legal, I think will continue to grow.

So in an article that I had contributed to last month, not this particular article that we’re talking about today, I had mentioned that you know, a lot of law firms that were on the fence with regards to podcasting or blogging even doing kind of online seminars or webinars for clients, I don’t think the clients are going to want to give that up. They have appreciated having the handholding through this and they know that their attorneys can do this for them without, you know, the extra charge. So they’re not going to want to go back, revert back to the way it used to be. So I think that that’s going to be something that we see more of going forward. You know the use and the level of communication, the use of technology, and the level of communication going forward, clients are going to demand that.

Robyn:

Yes, I mean, you know, me, you know, I couldn’t agree more. And it’s interesting from the agency perspective, I’ve said to people, you know, everybody last March, April a year ago, were sort of looking around and saying, “Oh crap, what’s happening? And what is this going to do to our business?” You know, we were not immune to that either. And we have been fortunate to be the, you know, the right provider at the right place in the right time in terms of helping law firms and legal services providers with their web presence or their digital marketing strategies. But it’s so interesting to me, how many people we are helping that come to us and say, well, I’ve never done any marketing before and now I guess I have to do something because I can’t do all the relationship-based activities I was doing before. So I could, I could not agree more with the point you just made.

Jenn:

That’s right. And I feel like, you know, CRM within law firms has been something that we’ve struggled with for over a decade now. I think there will be some more buy-in if, if attorneys are working remotely, they’re going to need access to information, and maybe CRM is actually gonna get a boost here and used properly.

Robyn:

Wouldn’t that be glorious?

Jenn:

It would be glorious because we spent so many hours and years making this tool a resource, a viable resource for attorneys though. Yeah. I think that’ll come into fashion now.

Robyn:

So we’re going to have to come back and do another one of these and only talk about CRM because I don’t want to take us off track.

So here’s a question for you. And this might be hard to answer, but you know, we talk about changes that we see taking hold in the legal industry, but what should change coming out of this that’s probably going to take longer than it should?

Robyn:

That is a good question. That’s a thoughtful question because I think that what we’ve seen, how we’ve seen the women’s role revert back to caretaker is going to have law firm leaders globally having to reassess and acknowledge that women and men in the workplace are different. You cannot have the same track to partnership, be the same for a male versus a female, acknowledging it from like a human resource perspective. Affording more of the supports that are required for women to be successful on the partnership track. You know, the law firm industry has been obliging by giving, a little more maternity leave. You know, when I had my kids in legal, remind you I’m not an attorney, but I only got six weeks off. Now you get 12 weeks and there are nursing rooms. I was breastfeeding in a bathroom or, you know, pumping in a bathroom stall.

So it’s very different now. However, I think that acknowledging how the women have kind of, like I said, revert and, or are ultimately responsible for a lot of the raising of children at home and all of the requirements that go along with that. I think that’s going to impact how the path towards leadership changes within law firms. It’s going to, there’s going to be a lot of resistance, similar to you know, resistance to getting away from the billable hour because it just works. So why break it and try and rebuild it. But I think that the pandemic has helped us realize that you can’t afford men and women the same exact path towards success, they have to be customized and accommodated.

Robyn:

Right. And it’s interesting on that point, too, if you think about it, I think your point is spot on. Men and women need not have necessarily the same path, but also that might be something that we think about outside of the gender construct, right? There are single dads or, or single parents, or whatever the primary caregiver, whoever holds that role in the family should have some consideration potentially. And it’s funny, I follow The Female Lead on LinkedIn, and there was a quote I’m going to butcher it. But a couple of weeks ago that said, it’s funny something along the lines of, it’s funny how society expects women to fit gender norms, be the caregivers, and be the childcare providers and raise the children, but then punish them for fitting the norm. And I think exactly what you’re talking about is that point.

Jenn:

Yeah. And, and in full disclosure my husband was the stay at home dad for raising the children. And I was the one, I was the breadwinner. Having to be that and do that in the early 2000s, when it wasn’t very common. It was a struggle, it was different, even, you know, even family relations were kind of like, he’s not supposed to be home raising kids.

And you just kind of, you do what you need to do. You do you, I love that phrase. You do you.

Robyn:

Yeah. I know we’ve talked about this before, too, because our spouses are so similarly positioned, right?

Jenn:

Yeah, that’s right.

Robyn:

So one final question. I always like to ask women, what can we do more, better, differently to support other women in our industry? What would be your advice?

Jenn:

My advice is take time out to connect. It’s so easy just even for you and I to know about what each other does professionally, but really when I want to get to know you, I should understand what is your passion? What do you, what do you really want to do? What do you really want to be? And help you succeed in those. Because if our passions are being fulfilled, our professional lives just kind of plod along. So I think that getting to know each other on a more personal level, and I’m not saying that you can do that with everyone. But I must say having celebrated a birthday yesterday, I was overwhelmed by the amount of outreach. And while some people just did a quick Facebook post or some people said something on LinkedIn, you know, there were so many people that actually picked up the phone to call that I was kind of taken aback being an introvert by nature.

It was, I felt a little overwhelmed, but at the end of the day, it just, it really made my day special. It made me feel special and I was able to reconnect with them in a way that it’s going to be ongoing. We talked about things that were important in their lives or are important in my life. And we were looking for ways to kind of continue our friendship. And I think that we need to do that more often with women in the workplace that we consider friends. Women in the profession that we consider friends. And once we start to understand that it also broadens our scope of life. There’s so many things, I don’t know what I don’t know, but by talking to other women, I learned, I learned so much and it gives me perspective and it gives me interests outside of my norm, which I really appreciate because it’s exciting. Life is short, make the most of it.

Robyn:

Oh, Jenn, this is why I love you so much. Because I love that outlook and I couldn’t agree more with it.

Jenn:

I think the world of you as well, Robyn, and I think that you know, it’s going to be women like us who are, you know, role models for our girls and our girls are going to be rocking it in another, you know, 10, 20 years.

Robyn:

Yes. Lord help us. Lord help the world.

Jenn:

It’ll all be good.

Robyn:

Thank you so much Jenn, for your time today! I really appreciate you chatting with me. And I’m looking forward to our next conversation, cause I’m going to get you on the schedule to talk about CRM next.

Jenn:

Excellent. I’d love that! That is something I do like so I’d be happy to.