With Thanksgiving falling on a Thursday this year… wait, I’m being told that it does that every year… we decided to release a panel discussion that Greg moderated with the General Counsel from McDonald’s, Fannie Mae, Western Union, and Tyson Foods. The discussion ranges from where these GCs are expanding their search for talent, to truly increasing diversity both in their outside law firms as well as looking at their own diversity ranks, to retaining talent by improving the overall structure of the workplace.
  • Desiree Ralls-Morrison, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, McDonald’s
  • Terry Theologides, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, Fannie Mae
  • Caroline Tsai, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Western Union
  • Amy Tu, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, Tyson Foods
Special thanks to Reuters Events for allowing us to share this discussion with our listeners. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

Marlene Gebauer  0:07

Welcome to The Geek in Review. The podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal industry. I’m Marlene Gebauer,

Greg Lambert  0:14

a member glamour. And that’s well, Marlene, with the Thanksgiving falling on a Thursday this year.

Marlene Gebauer  0:23

Yes. Every year. I’m pretty sure it’s every year.

Greg Lambert  0:27

is it every year? Oh. So, we decided that we would run a special episode this week. And a few weeks ago, I moderated a panel, with the general counsel’s from McDonald’s, Fannie Mae, Western Union and Tyson Foods, where we discussed recruiting and retaining of talent in the legal industry, kind of a big issue.

Marlene Gebauer  0:52

So with permission from Reuters Events, who hosted the event, we’re going to share that discussion with the listeners of The Geek in Review. And I want to say thank you to Reuters, because you’ve given me

Greg Lambert  1:02

Yeah, we appreciate the week off, thanks.

Greg Lambert  1:07

Good morning, or good afternoon. My name is Greg Lambert. I am the Chief Knowledge Services Officer at Jackson Walker in Houston, Texas. I also some of you may know me from my blog, Three Geeks and a Law Blog or podcast, The Geek in Review. We have a fantastic panel here today. We’re gonna be talking about cultivating the next generation of legal talent. And I think if you stick around, there will be a fireside chat right after this session as well. So make sure you stick around for that. I’m going to start off by just having the panelists introduce themselves very quickly. And just going to go with how I see you on the screen. So Terry, you’re up first.

Terry Theologides  1:49

Good afternoon, I’m Terri Theologides and I’m the General Counsel of Fannie Mae in Washington, DC.

Greg Lambert  1:56


Caroline Tsai  1:57

Hi everyone. I’m Caroline Tsai, Chief Legal Officer of Western Union based in Denver,

Greg Lambert  2:03

And Desiree.

Desiree Ralls-Morrison  2:05

Hello, everyone, Desiree Ralls-Morrison, the General Counsel of McDonald’s here in Chicago.

Greg Lambert  2:11

And finally, Amy.

Amy Tu  2:13

Hi, Amy Tu. I’m the Chief Legal Officer for Tyson Foods I’m calling in from Springdale, Arkansas.

Greg Lambert  2:21

Right. Oh, thank you all for taking the time to talk on this topic today. I’m going to start off with you, Terry, although we’ll probably get some follow ups from everyone else. So we’re going to be talking about things like legal skills and recruiting of talent. So what is it that today’s leaders can do to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders look and think differently than what necessarily what we look like? So what are you doing to promote diverse viewpoints and in recruiting that of the people that you oversee?

Terry Theologides  3:01

Thanks, Greg, obviously, a very important topic. And there’s really no one silver bullet, it really takes a continuous concerted effort to build sort of the team that will represent the leaders of the future in our departments. And that and my assumption is principally that I’m going to grow those leaders. There will be times when I have to go externally, for folks, but my job is developer of talent is really to ensure that we have a strong diverse bench that will make a strong, diverse leadership team of the future. And so it really does start with recruiting in at the, at the entry and in mid career levels, ensuring that you have people that are not just good in their current roles, but have the capacity, the drive the athleticism, and high potential to emerge into leaders. And if you if you’re thin on the bench, that’s where it really takes some concerted effort to bring people in and an investment of time. You know, I’m in financial services, which is an industry that struggles with diversity, I think some of the firms are making progress. But it has meant that at times, we’ve had to go outside the industry to really look for diverse talent and then build the domain expertise as we invest in people when they come into the department. And if you’ve got a diverse bench, and I think we have a pretty good one, a strong bench at Fannie Mae, then it’s really about the blocking and tackling of ensuring their development opportunities because again, if we’re not a particularly fast growing company, so we really need to manufacture those opportunities because they don’t happen organically quite as quickly as a high growth company. And so I’m a big believer in written development plans. I think that forces engagement with your talented up and comers on where they can where they aspire to develop and also where, where you can together find those opportunities. And then it those opportunities present themselves through rotations in the department special projects. But also, I’ve had some of our really strong folks rotate into the business, some of them have stayed in the business. But others, you know, they come back and it but without exception, it’s made them stronger contributors and emerging diverse leaders. The other thing I would say that’s really important, Greg is being crisp about what attributes and characteristics are going to be needed for the leaders of the future. It’s not static, right? What got me to where I am isn’t what’s going to get the GC and five years or 10 years into this seat. And one area that we’ve tried to be more crisp, about articulating is the importance for emerging leaders to have a sensibility for legal Operations and Technology, because clearly, the way we in legal departments do things, five years from now, 10 years from now, it’s gonna be very different from now. And so looking and cultivating those skills of automation, process improvement project management, the ability to see complex projects in their component parts, to unbundle them, and CO source them and use, oftentimes, innovative legal providers, service providers, all those things are going to become sort of table stakes, and you need to invest in cultivating that. Now not silo it in your legal ops function, but really recognize that it becomes, along with people management and communication and ethics, a core pillar of how to be an effective leader in the department of the future.

Greg Lambert  6:50

Terry, I appreciate you using the sports analogies, because we were joking, that looks like you’re coming from Nelson road outside the Richmond Football Club. But today, in anyone else have a follow up on that on. And I know that there’s pressure on building a diverse team. But beyond that, you know, what is it that you’re seeing is a value of a diverse team, as well. Anyone want to pick up on that one?

Desiree Ralls-Morrison  7:19

Sure, I’ll take it. So So you know, for sure, there is you know, when I think about the value that diversity brings, right, even looking outside of our team, we know that it leads to increase innovation, increase business results, right? Revenues, increase revenues and profits, we know that there’s a number of studies out there, there’s a lot of data out there. The same is true within the department. I think if you look at your diverse teams, you get more creative, innovative solutions on everything. And so you know, whether you’re talking about how to settle a case, how to think about a legal issue, how do we approach the business? How do we think and talk about risk, and risk taking, all of that is so much better, you know, when you have a diverse team. Now, it’s the diversity, but it’s also that inclusive culture, right, that allows people to feel like, I can actually contribute something different. And it’s not going to it’s going to be accepted, it’s not going to be challenged, because it’s different. And so I think, you know, for us, it’s around creating that diversity, but also the inclusive culture that has to go with it, that allows people to understand that you’re not, you’re valuable, not just because you’re a diverse individual that’s in the room. But because you’re sharing those diverse views and diverse perspectives with the rest of the room, because that’s what makes us better.

Amy Tu  8:45

I’ll just, maybe I’ll just build on Desiree’s points. I think that this is, you know, this is an external environment that is rapidly changing. And if you’re a consumer facing organization, you have to have those different perspectives, so you know, what consumers are desirous of. And so for us, I think that’s very important to be able to create that inclusive culture. I agree, it doesn’t, right, we absolutely need to have that. So you can grow that talent over time, but also just allow for space so that people can talk about their different perspectives, and so that you can walk in their shoes so that you can have a better sense of what consumers may want.

Caroline Tsai  9:28

The only other point I’d add is that as you look at human capital issues, all of us all of our companies we work at, I think the pandemic has shown, that’s probably one of the top issues that management team members are navigating and boards are looking at. And from a human capital perspective, what I find interesting is and it also gives me hope is their expectations and this new generation of employees In terms of what they expect, in terms of diversity of thought and inclusivity,

Caroline Tsai  10:06

I think that hopefully will help us actually make more progress despite

Caroline Tsai  10:10

the fact that we have not, at least in the time I’ve been a lawyer, but But I do think that, because it is such an important issue across industries. And because I think I would say all executive team members, and boards are very focused on it. And we think about retaining and keeping the talent you need to actually ensure you have an innovative culture and you have the talent, you need to move forward. That’s where this is probably one of the number one issues that all management teams talk about.

Greg Lambert  10:52

Weekly. Good, good comments, all. One. You know, one of the things that I know as on the law firm side, we’ve gotten a lot of pressure over the past decade, decade and a half, to be much more, you know, efficient and innovative in the way we deliver services. And that’s coming from pressure from our outside counsel, who are getting pressure from internally to also to meet those demands. And to not just be the legal department that stands alone in its own silo, but rather to be an overall part of the company that you represent. How are you haven’t needing to change the the playbook. When you meet with your business partners and those new demands in how are you passing those skills down and training the next generation? To meet the new expectations? And, Emile? I’ll let you start off on that one?

Amy Tu  11:53

That’s a tough question, Greg. Um, you know, what I would say is fundamentally, as in House lawyers, we have to be business partners, we have to deeply understand the business, we have to be able to see around corners, and we have to help find solutions. So you know, as we’re thinking about the technologies that enable our business, there’s no doubt that as lawyers, we have to evolve to what worked in the past is not necessarily going to work in the future. And so it’s getting lawyers, my own team included comfortable with using technology, we’re seeing that our business partners are using all types of technology to better understand what is happening real time to have live data so that they can make decisions quickly. That means lawyers also need to embrace that technology, and find better ways of, you know, addressing challenges, finding solutions. And so that may mean something like a Contract Lifecycle Management System that we’re implementing, and going live next year, which should help from an AI perspective in terms of reviewing contracts, so that our lawyers can start working on higher value issues so that they can have time to work on strategic positioning for the company, as well as looking around the corner and see what could be a disruptor. Next, but I really, I mean, I think that in this day and age, that we all have our iPhones or Samsung’s with us, it is just a different world. And we have to be as fast as information travels.

Greg Lambert  13:33

Anyone else?

Desiree Ralls-Morrison  13:37

you know, I try to think about, I try to think about our department as running it like a business. And so you know, we just happen to be, you know, business leaders that happen to have the legal expertise, but really thinking about it and running it like a business. And that includes many of the things that Amy just mentioned, you know, having very clear objectives that we and metrics that we measure ourselves against, and hold ourselves accountable for, it’s making sure that we have a different sense of fiscal responsibility than maybe we have, you know, previously. But also, you know, really ensuring that we are challenging ourselves around constant improvement and continuous improvement. And that means, you know, agility, that means the latest technology, different areas where I think as a department, we’ve traditionally been a little bit more static, but kind of challenging ourselves to be as competitive as we want our business partners to be in the legal profession. And to me, that’s been very, very helpful in terms of a completely different perspective. Terry?

Terry Theologides  14:47

Yeah, yeah. You know, I see the same thing. It’s really interesting when I look at, you know, the people who are kind of doing an exceptional job and in my department, oftentimes it is not for sort of that pure Legal acumen or analysis or something like that, it’s really for being able to collaborate on an interdisciplinary team and solve a problem or improve a process and, and be a business partner. And yet, there’s a little bit of a disconnect, I think, and I’m guilty of it when we recruit in we sort of principally from law firms are looking at kind of the skills that make people successful in a law firm, which is a little bit more as a hired gun, as opposed to somebody as an enduring owner, and collaborator in a process. So I think one of the things is, you know, there may be different paths that may not be out of the AmLaw 100, into leading law departments, because I do think there’s starting to be a little bit of a disconnect in the skill sets that help someone succeed in one environment versus the ones that all four of us see is so critically important to success within a law department and accompany

Greg Lambert  15:58

Carolina, are you seeing the same thing with recruiting, looking, looking at more, or a hybrid of business skills as well as legal skills,

Caroline Tsai  16:07

I actually go back to like two traits that I think remain true and have never changed on a spotting amazing talent and in the law, the permit, and that would be excellent judgment, and second curiosity and a curiosity. I think with those two components, I stand firm and strong believe that you can cover any of those any substantive area in house, because that coupled with Amy’s point about truly understanding the business. So to tie back to technology and talent, I would say, especially being in financial services, what I’ve seen is if you have those components, and there’s so many spaces that are facing so much obstruction, but there are new areas of law, right, and so you if you have that innate curiosity to learn about digital currency, or to understand and work closely with, let’s say, our technology, or to our chief data officer to understand the capabilities of artificial intelligence and machine learning, to help improve our processes, and then connect the dots to customer experience. That’s, that’s the rising star in the law department who goes above and beyond their day job, because let’s be clear, it’s not like I have a job description that says you’re the expert in AI, machine learning, or digital currency, you’re actually hired perhaps to be a business legal lawyer or to be an IP lawyer. But it’s that talent who comes in kind of always curious, always reading, and always coming up to say, Hey, I, this is what I see going around the corner, and then building that relationship with a business to say, hey, you know, these are some of the emerging risks or, and opportunities I’m seeing. So that’s what I see, that actually excites me, when I see rising stars come in, they’ve got this curiosity, and they’re just in absorb mode, reading all day count.

Greg Lambert  18:02

I like that dovetail Desiree in your, I think it was Desiree that, you know, give them space to actually give those thoughts out to have that curiosity, not just internal, but to share that diversity of thought as well. Good. Good. Points. Desiree, I’m gonna, I’m going to come back to you on this next question. And obviously, with all the things that have gone on the last 20 months or so, with the pandemic, with, you know, the racial reckoning of the United States and beyond, you know, there’s just this expectation now that the corporations are going to, you know, they’re just gonna have to take on more of a value of the society. Would you mind just briefly describing what your corporate values are, you know, how does your legal departments support them externally with customers? And then also, how do you support them internally, with your employees, especially in this way, most of us are still in this kind of hybrid motion where we don’t have necessarily the everyone in the same room where we can we can talk to them. So how, how have things been over this this time for you?

Desiree Ralls-Morrison  19:15

Yeah, sure. Thank you. So So first, I will say I been at two different companies in the last 20 months. Right. And so it’s been an evolution, but it also a change, which has been very interesting for me. You’re absolutely right. I think, you know, people are expecting companies to really step up. And you know, what we’re realizing in the businesses is that this is not just a social imperative. It’s actually the smart thing to do from a business standpoint. We mentioned already, you know, deep what we know about diversity, we also know that environmental instability affects the top and the bottom line. And so it’s very, very clear that there’s this mandate for us to do something I think Here at McDonald’s, our corporate values are embedded in everything that we do. And at least they, we try to make sure that they are. And we try to make sure that they’re certainly embedded in how we approach ESG issues. So serve is one of our we have, we have five core values serve is around, we are giving back to people, we’re doing what we should with people. And that includes internally and externally, we are in the service business, we’re in the business of, of people. And we really want to make sure that we we show up for our people, I will tell you in my department, what that means, in part is that I listen. And I spend a lot of time hearing what the people in my group are concerned about what’s on their mind, what their challenges are, what their issues are. And I sort of think about most of us, as leaders, we’re service, we’re in service of the people that we lead, and that and that’s kind of how I think about it. Inclusion is another one of our core values. And we’ve talked about that one already. But we look at that inside the department in terms of creating that inclusive culture, but also outside of the department, with respect to our vendors and our suppliers and the law firms that we utilize. And that means making sure that we are have a diverse set of external suppliers that we use, but also that we hold them to the same standards. And so we do a number of things like mutual commitment to diversity, where we with our vendors are agreeing that we’re going to have diverse slates and we’re going to have diverse teams. But we really want to partner with the the companies that we work with. Because we’re we think we’re in this together. And we want we have similar goals and objectives. I would say, you know, the other the other. One of our other goals is around community. And that’s being a part of the communities that we are a part of. And you know, pro bono is one area where I would highlight here are where it’s a big part of how we interact with our community, we saw an impact during the pandemic, but for us, it was a positive impact, because we were able to find many pro bono programs that were virtual. And so it increased the number of lawyers at McDonald’s that were able to participate, and were willing to participate. And that’s something post pandemic in a hybrid world that we’re hoping to continue. We in fact, received three pro bono awards this year, because of how active our employees were in that space. So you know, for me, I’ll just say that I came to McDonald’s, just in April. But a big part of me coming to the company was because of the values. And because of how those values are connected to the work that we do. And because you know, with an iconic brand like McDonald’s, everything that you do in this space gets seen and heard. And being able to pull back on those values and honesty and transparency really is critical to how we do our work. And I think and I think ultimately in terms of our success.

Greg Lambert  23:17

Karolina I’m going to put you on the spot here Desiree had mentioned that it’s not just the values of what they’re doing internally, but they’re also putting some demands on their vendors, I would imagine their outside counsel to also meet certain thresholds, as well. Are you seeing that happening in with you and your peers? And are you able to actually hold these vendors? Are there any consequences if they don’t meet your values?

Caroline Tsai  23:51

I think I’ll answer it. This way, I’ve actually been involved, you know, 1015 years and all the various initiatives of external counsel programs, in large part because I worked in two very large legal departments, and we had the punch and the and the wallet to say, you will do XY and Z. And then with the punch of our spend, we could also bring other law departments along my privatization actually, when I joined Western in as general counsel, was actually to take a different approach, which was before I go out there, saying X, Y and Z, why don’t I get my own house in order? So I actually focused first, on the diversity of my talents, his team, and to build internal programs to make sure I was focusing on empowering, developing talent. I set the tone where the mission was to create an innovative strategic law department that had a focus on cultivating talent with The starting point being anyone who was direct report to me, it was assumed first and foremost, you were actually a very good lawyer, otherwise you wouldn’t be there that you would be valued first and foremost on how you actually empower and develop your team. And so we’ve been working through that. And I’m actually very proud with the diversity of our team. And now this year, we’re actually turning to those initiatives. So I actually would be the wrong person to talk about what we’ve done X y&z Western Union, although I’m very familiar with all the various programs, have you done?

Greg Lambert  25:36

That you’re the right person to say where the floor should be? Amy, any, follow up on that?

Amy Tu  25:46

Um, you know, I think just from the standpoint of, you know, our own initiatives here at Tyson Foods, look, it’s hard to attract talent to Arkansas. Although, you know, with COVID, I think it’s, it’s been helpful, because people want a little more space. But, you know, I think what’s important is to make sure that we have a strategy. And so, you know, we recently launched in the, in the department, a strategy to drive positive outcomes from a DNI perspective. And that’s, that’s value-driven, right? I mean, we have our own set of values, but values also means, you know, diverse perspectives. And so by driving the strategy, we’re looking to, you know, get our house in order, internally, whether it’s diverse slates, diverse pools, making sure that we’ve uncovered every under every rock, you know, every potential candidate out there who could bring a different perspective, but it’s also the external vendors and making sure that they we are partnering with them. Because I think that many of the vendors, our outside counsel are on different tracks, they’re there for some are further along. Some are not as far along. And so while we will put objectives in front of them, I think we also need to do a bit of education as well, in terms of bringing along the partners that we have externally.

Greg Lambert  27:13

Well, Arkansas, one Oh, but it’s beautiful. So, Terry, how about you?

Terry Theologides  27:18

Let me just add one other. I mean, I agree with everything that the other panelists have said, I’ll say one other thing about the ascendancy of ESG. And I noticed in our most recent survey of employees include, you know, the law department that the law department was sort of off the charts in terms of understanding how their works support the company’s mission. And in financial services that made a lot of sense to me, because I look at a lot of our ESG initiatives on the environmental front, like green bonds and social bonds. I mean, really, the lawyers are at the forefront, doing the most creative work at structuring those, those deals on affordable housing and some of our other mission oriented work. Again, the innovation is very much part and parcel with the expertise of the legal term. So teams, so we just came out, for example, with the ability for the first time to use people’s rental payments in underwriting them to be able to provide the liquidity for their mortgage, which, you know, it sounds obvious, but really, that was off the radar. And now we were able to develop a way a compliant way to capture it. And again, members of my team just did very creative work to, to break through some of the barriers on that. So I do feel that, you know, our profession is very social justice, civic minded, pro bono oriented, and, and so ESG, I think, is an opportunity for legal to shine in many ways.

Caroline Tsai  28:47

As a perfect example, from a talent perspective of this evolving area, where your talent, I think they kind of gravitate towards it. And companies have different approaches as to who leads ESG. But what I’ve seen just across companies is the value the legal team brings in connecting the dots kind of having that end to end, holistic look, trying to connect your ESG strategy to your values to the going forward. A strategy of your company, as well as keeping an eye on how it connects to risks. And to Terry’s point, I think the D IPs for many companies is a passion for many law departments for us. We have employees in 120 countries, and we do business in 200. And so, it was very, very quickly when we looked at our three core pillars, di fundamentally had to be one of them. It just, it just is his defines this company. And then the other two actually, you can see why lawyers add value because we’re in financial services. So we’ve got a pillar called integrity of money movement, which I love because it, it weaves in our values and integrity versus all the complexity of compliance. And then we’ve got inclusion and economic Novick prosperity. So I think the lawyers, no matter what company you’re at, they’re the ones at the table helping connect the dots, helping also assess from a material reality perspective, what makes sense for the company, as well as teeing up the discussion for the board.

Desiree Ralls-Morrison  30:38

And if I could just add, I, you know, I love what Caroline just said, around, you know, the the risk piece, because I’ve seen as many of us in these in these roles, I think, this transformation of, you know, being very concerned about the risk with some of the reporting and some of the, you know, the kind of where we are, right, and then kind of getting comfortable with this idea that we need to be transparent if we want to if we want the end goal, right, which is, if we want to do what’s right, by by way of the climate, if we want to do what’s right, by way of D and I, then some of that is about being honest about where you are today. And being transparent about that, so that you can be held accountable for it. But then also clearly stating where the gaps and the opportunities are. And that’s a very fascinating transformation to watch. The lawyers get to, in my view, it’s it’s been it’s been great, you know, to see, but it’s it’s certainly something that we’ve had lots of discussions about, I think in the legal industry.

Greg Lambert  31:45

Yeah, it’s good point, you can’t really measure your change if you don’t have a baseline of where you are when you start. Good points all the way around. So Caroline, want to I want to come back to you the you know, the, again, the past 20 months with COVID-19 has really kind of put us in this really interesting spot with going remote and then going hybrid. And now everyone just trying to figure out what does 2022 look like? I would think you know, as far as office, I think we’re all in the office. But I imagine that we have a number of people that we supervise or report to that are not. And I just want to know how that has impacted the mentoring and the relationships that you have with the people that you oversee and mentor. And not just the new people that are coming in, but even the even the well established people. So you know what, what are you doing now? And what’s your kind of plans for mentoring and keeping the stability going forward?

Caroline Tsai  32:52

If anyone has a magic answer, I will take it. I would say that definitely the last couple of years, you’ve seen that, which is concerning seeing the disparate impact on communities of color and women, in large part because of the caregiving responsibilities, whether it was young kids or elderly parents, I mean, I actually am so fortunate that I happen to be an empty nester and I didn’t have to worry about those issues. I worry about the future in terms of how do I make sure we have the same opportunities, engagement and mentoring. When I think about our team, for instance, I’m sitting in my office, we’re not all we’re actually open, and you have the ability to come in, but we don’t actually have a set date yet. And it’s ultimately it’s going to be a hybrid model where it’s going to be part at home part in the office. But when I think about some of our meetings now where we have, you know, let’s say 50% of people on Zoom and 50% are either in their offices or in conference rooms. The dynamic definitely is different. And so one thing we did at our company is there are a couple of programs and initiatives that I think leaders believe really make a difference. For instance, I truly believe a very dedicated mentorship and sponsorship program, at least in my experience really helped me when I was starting out in my career. And so this year, we recently launched a new mentorship program and we’re actually piloting it in certain areas of the company, including the legal department. So the audit department is involved as well as one of our regional operating centers in Costa Rica. And what I like is their partnering, mentors and mentees that are not necessarily in the same unit or function. And it’s all about a focus on growth. And what they want to get from each side of the table. And, and I think the important piece is an effective mentorship program really needs that alignment engagement on both sides of the coin. And so we, we recently launched that. And then from a program perspective, we found that during the pandemic, one of the initiatives we have launched years ago called Women at Woo, which were essentially listening circles, that we ran across the company really provided a different support mechanism. So I’ve kind of borrowed from that idea. And what I do is, I, I take my time going through my team, and I’ll set up now I’ve realized that 3045 minutes is I’m never going to get through my team. So it’s now 20 minute check ins. And I will just make my way around the world just to see how people are doing. My EA has creative, creative ideas where she’ll just call it you know, virtual coffee chat with Caroline, she’ll just come up with a random sampling of employees, and just throw them into a chat with me. And I think that I found to be the most effective just to take time, and have absolutely no agenda. They’ve been funny in the beginning. People show up like, is there? Is there something wrong? And I’m like, No, I’m really just here to chat.

Caroline Tsai  36:33

You’re doing? And I think that

Caroline Tsai  36:35

that connection, at least from my perspective, gives me a pulse on how people are feeling. That’s right.

Desiree Ralls-Morrison  36:44

Yes, I completely, completely agree with that. I think that, you know, making sure that you have those touch points where people don’t look at you as like the boss or the boss’s boss, but really just having conversations, I often say it’s not my department, it’s our department. And what you know, helps us to figure out where we’re going, or what we need to do is how they want to shape how we want to shape the department moving forward. So I completely agree with Caroline, I think nothing is more effective than those touch points. The one thing I do worry a little bit about with our, with us is the remote working, I don’t want our department to be seen as just kind of transactional, right? What’s worked really well. And I with I think the best legal departments is, when you’re really a part of the business, the business values you they value what you bring to the table. And so what we want to do is to make sure that the pandemic and remote working doesn’t create this, this, this sense of we’re just transactional, they just need the lawyers for a signature, or for an approval. We like that relationship that you get from real partnering.

Greg Lambert  37:56

And Terry, anything keeping you up at night on this.

Terry Theologides  38:00

I’ve been taking notes from what Carolina and Desiree, were saying but yeah, I think that that extra effort, you can’t just rely on what used to be the organic walking, managing by walking around as being another sort of touch point to stay connected and kind of keep people in the culture together. So I do think those very purposeful, you know, coffee talks, or whatever help, I struggle really with the mentoring, you know, the stuff that used to happen when the meeting would break up. And as you’re leaving, you’re sort of gret refresh your coffee and debrief a little bit. And now I feel like people go from zoom call to zoom call, or teams call the team’s call, and, and we lose that. And honestly, other than sort of having agreed on the problem as a leadership team, we haven’t really come up with sort of a scalable way to try to replicate that. And I think that’s going to be you know, a challenge when we think about how to develop talent and help people feel connected, integrated with the business. Like what Desiree was, say all of that, it’s going to be a challenge. It’ll be a journey.

Greg Lambert  39:08

And I think that that goes back to something I think Carolyn touched on is that you want to make sure that you’re not in inverted birtley, punishing people for not being not being in the room not being able to do say, what their male counterparts who don’t have to take care of family. And I think I’ve read where this really shows up at year end evaluations. And that, you know, people look at this. So I’m just wondering, Amy, any, any other follow up?

Amy Tu  39:42

Sure. I mean, I think the last 20 months have just been really tough, has been tough on everyone. And I think that the, you know, I think we need to recognize that our team members, you know, they need a little mental health break, right? And so whether it’s those through those creative have outlets as you know, having a coffee chat or virtual coffee chat? Or, you know, for example, we we did this, we did this thing on teams where we said, what are you eating? What Tyson product are you eating tonight? And so we had people putting selfies on teams and say, This is what I’m making, you know, tonight with our Tyson grilled chicken, right. I mean, so it’s I’m just allowing for a little bit of levity, as well, as you know, I think as leaders, I’m being a bit more open, what, what I have found is, is that if we open up, then they’re going to be allowed to open up to. And, and that’s, that’s a bit of a departure. I think, for me, in particular, given the industries I’ve been in. But I’ve just found that, you know, with the team that I have, they really, they really just need a, you know, a little bit of time, a bit of empathy, and lots of flexibility. But at the same time, I think it does raise point, they need to also be business partners, and see what value they can contribute to the overall company goals. And I think that, you know, recognizing people for that contribution, but also being very, very empathetic to their situations, I think is just something we have to do these days is it’s just been such a tough, tough year.

Greg Lambert  41:24

Yeah, there was, there was a comment in the chat that said that, Caroline, your meeting method works would work really well for introverts to be it be in the room where they may not necessarily?

Caroline Tsai  41:38

Introverts, actually, and I’m an introvert as well, I actually feel in the Zoom meetings is almost like, he felt more equal. And I actually saw people shine during, during the last year and a half, because everyone was just the box on screen, and in many ways presentations, and they had more visibility to the executive team than they probably otherwise wouldn’t. And I would say one more thing, which is, I do think it is different when you can actually connect and speak to someone in person, you know, I see it. When I run into people I haven’t seen a year it is so good to see somebody in person. It’s just different. So it’s funny because there’s so much dialogue and all this discussion about what the new generation or different generations want in the workplace. And I, I’ll give you an example. My son and his girlfriend, they had their virtual internships to big companies in Chicago this summer, and they’re starting. And it was very interesting to see their perspective because one person I won’t disclose who had this great onboarding, you know that the class onboarded and they felt welcome. The second it was very sterile. No, there was no protocol. So the entire internship never saw the real person’s face. It was this. It was you know, the name. And I remember just this conversation. Well, that’s not, that’s not what I envisioned work to be. How do we build relationships? I don’t want to be at a company where it feels like this. Right. And so it’s, you know, interesting, because there’s this new generation, including new generation of lawyers who will graduate and probably start with Sue, right. And it’s just not the same that people contact.

Greg Lambert  43:23

Yeah. Well, I think you just queued up my last question we have, we have three or four minutes left, is speaking of the new generation, we’ve all probably been reading about Generation Z, who are just now graduating the first line, I think 1998 is the established date for them and who are just now graduating from law schools. This is what I refer to as the See Something, Say Something generation that when they see something that’s not right, then it’s there. They’ve been trained, and their responsibility is to point it out and to make sure that it’s fixed and those folks are coming into I know they’re coming into law firms now, though, they’re probably coming into your offices as well. Are you finding that you are having to adjust any expectations or the way that you the even onboarding and training of folks that are just coming in? Terry, I’ll have sex. Have you started off on that?

Terry Theologides  44:33

You know, we’ve had a limited experience with it. I think we’re tending to pull people out of the firm’s after 678 years. So we do have a small summer program and you know, did really I give some of my team members credit for trying to make it engaging and I thought that, you know, it felt fairly normal but I’ll defer to my other panelists on the Gen Z question.

Greg Lambert  45:01

Anyone else? It may be too early for the conversation that anyone else finding that a change in attitude coming in? Amy, you’re nodding.

Amy Tu  45:13

Yeah, sure, um, I guess what I’ve observed is that they have a sense of purpose. They want to be part of something bigger, which is why I think companies have to deal with social issues. And when do you speak out? Is it going to have meaning? Is it something that the stakeholders want? So, you know, I think what we’ve had to adjust to is really bringing people into the fold and say, This is our, this is the company’s purpose, and you have a purpose, and you have value here, in and so I think making them feel like they’re a part of something bigger is something that we are trying to cultivate and adjust to it no longer is it okay, just to say, alright, here, job. You’re the you know, you’re the ex lawyer, and you’re going to do X things. They want to feel like how am I how do I connect to the bigger picture of this company? How can I contribute? So I think it’s definitely a different moment for companies. But that’s, that’s what I’ve seen.

Greg Lambert  46:16

Great. Well, thank thank you all. We are just running out of time. Thank you very much for such a great topic and  . Thanks.

Terry Theologides  46:24


Amy Tu  46:24


Caroline Tsai  46:26

Thank you.

Greg Lambert  46:29

So we hope you enjoyed this special, The Geek in Review episode. And thanks again to Reuters for letting us share this great panel discussion.

Marlene Gebauer  46:37

And of course, thanks to all of you for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoyed the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found at @gebauerm on Twitter,

Greg Lambert  46:50

and I can be reached at @glambert on Twitter

Marlene Gebauer  46:53

Or, you can leave us a voicemail on The Geek in Review Hotline at 713-487-7270 and as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DiCicca. Thank you Jerry and happy Thanksgiving

Greg Lambert  47:06

Thanks, Jerry and Happy Thanksgiving to you Marlene!

Marlene Gebauer  47:09

Happy Turkey Day to you too Greg. Gobble Gobble!