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Women in eDiscovery Interviews: Part 6

By Phil Weldon posted 07-10-2018 09:35

As a content coordinating volunteer for ILTA, I was interested to learn more about our female leaders of today. In May of 2018, my ILTA colleague Chandra Foreman was able to put me in touch with the Chicago Chapter Board of Women in eDiscovery. As a non-profit organization, WiE holds monthly meetings for legal professional women with a primary focus on education and networking. They also collaborate, fundraise, and mentor. I enjoyed taking the interviews and am sincerely excited to share them with the ILTA community. “Women can empower other women” as Jennifer Roe so eloquently put. I hope you find these interviews as fun and insightful as I did.

Interview with Diandra Ritchie

Q. What is your favorite elevator pitch or how do you describe what you do to someone who is not familiar with the legal field?

A. I am an e-discovery attorney. I review clients' documents in preparation for litigation. Typically this is done electronically using review software. I help determine what documents will be turned over to the opposing party and what can be held back based on the law, e.g. privilege, personal privacy implications.

Q. What advice would you offer someone that has potential as a leader but needs that extra push to stand up and take that role?

A. Know your value. Trust yourself and know that you are capable and competent. We tend to undersell and underestimate our talents and abilities. It is easy to be paralyzed by fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown. The key is learning to work with that fear and turn it into an impetus to move forward. When insecurities and self-doubt kick in, acknowledge those feelings, and then challenge yourself to take a chance. There will be disappointments, but there will also be successes. You won’t know until you try.

Q. As a woman in leadership, how have you navigated your role? How do you select best practices, technology solutions, etc

A. Leading requires an understanding of the overall direction of the group, knowing what goals need to be accomplished, while realizing there are many moving, individual parts. Compromise and flexibility are key. I think you have to be assertive, but open enough to see when you need to bend – when that serves the greater good. Not everyone operates the way I do. As a leader, it’s important to be mindful of others and create a sense of community. It’s easy to get lost in ego, but ego doesn’t make a team or an organization run well. Sometimes criticism is hard to accept. Sometimes someone else’s idea is simply better. Being a good leader is knowing that you won’t be right all the time, and that’s ok. Leading doesn’t mean dictating every aspect. Let people contribute and be open to suggestions. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.

Q. How did you make the move from individual contributor to leadership role? What was the biggest challenge in making that change and how did you overcome it?

A. The biggest challenge for was overcoming my personal fears and believing in myself and what I have to offer. When I ran for the Chapter Memberships Director for the Women in eDiscovery board this year, my position was the only one that required a vote. The rest were uncontested. I was so nervous, and thought, “of course mine would be one that requires a vote!” But I felt I could really contribute in a meaningful way. I had several ideas and felt an excitement about getting more involved. I wanted to give validity to that excitement and pursue it. I also had to tell myself it would be fine whichever way it turned out, so take that chance. Fortunately, our members believed in me too and were willing to take a chance on me.

Q. Do you have any tips for identifying personal career development needs? How do you find opportunities to build skills / knowledge?

A. You don’t know what you don’t know. Usually the need for development comes in the form of criticism or a project that wasn’t executed as intended. Mistakes are valuable if you can look at them as learning opportunities and not just failures.
Personally, I try to stay up to date on what’s happening in the industry by following industry thought leaders on LinkedIn and checking various media sources that discuss legal technology. It’s important to acknowledge deficiencies when they arise and ask for help. To me, it isn’t a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength that you want to improve your knowledge and skillset. It is also important to have a network of people in the industry, to build a support system for yourself. It is invaluable to have people that you can go to for information and help, and bounce ideas off of. Technology is constantly improving and changing and so it’s important to stay in the know.

Q. What was the hardest or easiest lesson from your career?

A. Learning that not everyone works the way I do. I got my first job at 15, and I have been working since then. I have observed a lot of bad behavior by people in management positions. I always thought that because someone was in a management position, they knew what they were doing or knew how to manage people. That just isn’t the case. Another thing is, I trust too easily. I’ve been in situations where I overshared, because I thought there was a friendship there. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized you need to keep things more professional. Another hard lesson is that hard work doesn’t necessarily equal success. Sometimes you can do all the right things and movement up the corporate ladder doesn’t happen for whatever reason. The workplace, like the world, is full of “-isms” – nepotism, favoritism, sexism, racism, etc.

Q. We had some initial questions about sexism in our list. Do you feel that that is something you’ve experienced? And you don’t have to answer, I brought this up because you mentioned it in your last answer.

A. I don’t know that I’ve personally felt like it has been an issue for me, but as I’ve gotten older I can look back on my previous work experiences and see some differences. For example, I notice sometimes Partners will speak one way to male associates and then adjust for females. They seem to be more trusting of male associates, even when they have substantially less experience than female associates. But when you look at the demographics of most firms I’ve worked in, they’re predominantly male. It sometimes can feel like the old boys’ club. It’s not something that’s hindered me, but it is something that I’ve become more aware of.

Q. What do you love most about your job?

A. Because I work on a project basis, I am constantly meeting new people and learning different areas of the law. A lot of attorneys find their niche and then focus on a few specific practice areas. Doing the work that I do, I get to explore a lot. I’ve worked on intellectual property, anti-trust, securities, pharmaceutical, employment, commercial and class action litigation cases. I like that I know a little bit about a lot. I also enjoy solving problems and coming up with creative solutions. I am very much a people person so the interpersonal aspect of my job is what I love the most.

Q. How do you manage your time? Do you have any tips or tricks?

A. I am all about preparation. I like to sit down and think about what needs to be done. I’m typically more productive in the morning after 30 minutes of “settling in.” That means drinking a cup or two of coffee and have some quiet time to process what needs to get accomplished. I love lists. I am a very pen and paper person. Writing it down, for me, commits it to memory. I also take a lot of joy in crossing stuff off my lists. I start by writing down the tasks I need to accomplish. Then I group similar tasks together, and then prioritize from there. If my list is filled mostly with things I don’t want to do, I do one easy task to feel that sense of accomplishment, and then force myself to embark on the things I don’t want to do. Knocking all the easy stuff out first doesn’t work for me. My energy decreases through the day so saving the hard stuff for last ensures frustration, and sets me up for failure. If it’s a complicated task, I break it down into more manageable pieces so it isn’t so overwhelming. I save all of my notes. That way if something comes up down the road, I can look back at what I did, or what my thought process was, rather than trying to remember.

Q. Are you an early bird or a night owl – do you have a favorite morning or evening routine? It sounds like you’re an early bird.

A. I am not an early bird! I like to get into the office around 9:30 or 10. I’m not a night owl either. I go to bed around 10 or 11.

Q. That’s fair! You are the second person that would not define themselves as either.

A. In the evening, I like to write in my journal to process the events of the day and my thoughts. I like to read a little bit after that to get back out of my head. I used to watch TV before bed, but I stopped doing that. I also leave my phone in the living room when I go to bed, so I can’t reach over and play games or check Facebook when I need to be sleeping. I also don’t want my phone to be the first thing I see when I wake up. For me, I really need the disconnection and value having time to focus on myself.

Q. That is so smart – I feel like we could all use that. Journaling, that sounds like a really great way to unwind at the end of the day.

A. Just start writing! That’s all you need to do to start. It doesn’t need to have any kind of form or organization, it’s for you. It’s about getting your thoughts out and moving on. For me, it provides some kind of closure.

Q. Do you do it for a set amount of time or just as long as you feel you need to?

A. As long as I need to. No rules because that makes it less fun. Sometimes I don’t journal at all, if I am really tired. Sometimes I journal for five minutes. Sometimes it’s two hours.

Q. Who would you say are your mentors and how did you select them?

A. Professionally speaking, Tanya Brown. I first worked with her back in 2012. She was managing a document review that I was on. She has been very supportive of me. We’ve worked together on and off. Sometimes I tend to take things too personally. She can always help guide me, whether that’s a difficult boss or coworker. In my younger days, I definitely lacked the finesse that I have acquired over the last decade, thanks in part to Tanya and her advice. She is also a woman of color in an industry that is not dominated by women or people of color. She’s a sounding board that I don’t need to explain anything to because she already gets it. And that’s invaluable. She has accomplished a great deal in her life, and she inspires and encourages me to do the same. I respect and admire her a lot, professionally and personally.

Q. Name a book that has inspired you and why?

A. Deepak Chopra’s “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.” My mother gave it to me as a gift many years ago, insisting that I needed to read it. So, of course it sat on the shelf for years and collected dust. I was going through a particularly challenging time in life. I was unemployed, had a lot of unknowns, feeling a little down. I was sitting at home and the book caught my eye on the bookshelf. I got it out and started reading it. It’s a small book, not very long, but is rich with knowledge and offers a new way to look at things if you’re willing to do the work. I keep it by my bedside to look at if I’ve had a rough day. I often re-read the Law of Detachment because I can get really hung up when something doesn’t work out the way I planned it to, or I have no control over a situation. This law talks about letting go of attachment to results and not forcing solutions on problems. It also advocates grounding yourself in uncertainty, because uncertainty is a given, but there is also a sense of freedom in uncertainty.

Q. How do you handle challenging personalities or challenging projects?

A. With challenging projects, I really try to educate myself. I reach out to my network. But remember, no one knows everything – it is okay to experience difficulty. And ask for help! With difficult or challenging personalities, with relationships of any kind – whether employment, friendship, family, romantic – it takes work by both parties if it is going to be successful. It requires patience, understanding, and respect. I try to exercise all three, but at the same time, I do call out bad behavior. I try not to take things personally. When people are stressed, I do try to give them leeway, but there is a limit. To me, there is no job worth taking someone’s abuse. I am a firm believe that you dictate the way people treat you. If I accept bad behavior, then I will be treated badly. If you don’t address the problem, then there can be no resolution.

Q. So the next question… you know. In preparation for this I tried to read great interviews of women leaders by other women. This quote from Oprah, was inspiring to me “As a woman leader in the corporate world, I feel like I have to be brave a lot.” So my question is, do you have any advice or tips on bravery?

A. Sometimes being vocal about your needs can come with negative consequences. There is an aspect of bravery in asserting yourself. Women are paid less, and often more is expected of us. It can be demanding. I strongly advocate speaking up and speaking out. It can be done in a respectful way. When problems are left to fester, things break down. If I want a happy work environment, I need to address the issues. Sometimes it can be intimidating to express a concern to a higherup. Because I value myself, I try to improve the environment where I spend the bulk of my day. The other thing about being brave is asserting yourself and giving validity to your feelings. Women are socialized to hide our feelings and always appear strong as the caretakers. Showing weakness is a no-no. In corporate America, that becomes even more amplified. At the end of the day, we’re all human and all experience emotions. It’s unrealistic to expect people to drop their emotions and humanity at the office door. It’s ok to have a weak moment. It’s ok to be emotional. If we can’t allow ourselves those moments, how can we expect others to?

Q. What would you be curious to know about other women leaders?

A. I’d be curious about what feats they overcame to get to where they are. With success comes many failures. We often are more comfortable discussing our successes, but our failures are just as important to the end result. They got us where we are. Talking about what didn’t work is good for growth and reminds us that it’s ok to fail. It’s ok to struggle. We don’t have to stop there. We don’t have to let our struggles and failure be the only definition of ourselves. Often our dream is at the end of a long and winding road of disappointments and hardships. We should embrace those just as readily as we do our successes.

Please check out:
"Women in eDiscovery Interviews: Part 5"

Women in eDiscovery Interviews: Part 7