#Networked: The Story of 20 Women Lawyers Who Bonded & Triumphantly Pivoted During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Shari Belitz and Patricia Baxter, two authors of the book #Networked, share tales of 20 women lawyers who found each other and successfully pivoted their businesses and lives amid the chaos of 2020—all on the most unsocial of social media networks: LinkedIn.
In this #Networked webinar, you will learn about:
- New ways of connecting in the absence of in-person legal conferences or chapter events
- How LinkedIn is not as intimidating as it might seem
- How to make effective connections online and increase your social media presence
- How professional and even personal struggles can present valuable opportunities for career pivoting
- Patricia Baxter, Esq.
- Shari Belitz, Esq.
- Teresa Milano, Esq.
- Colleen Freeman, Esq.
Watch the Webinar
Mike: Hello everyone, and welcome to the webinar channel of the Association of Certified e-Discovery Specialists. My name is Mike Quartararo. I am the President of ACEDS. Today we are joined by our fabulous partner, BIA, for our webinar entitled, “The Story Of 20 Women Lawyers Who Bonded and Triumphantly Pivoted During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Before we get started, please know that we love questions, and we are happy to take your questions. You can submit your questions using the Q&A widget located at the bottom of your screen. All questions will be anonymous. Also, if you’d like a copy of the slide deck, you can download that from the resource widget at the bottom of your screen. Without further delay, I am super pleased and excited to introduce our sponsor today, BIA, trusted experts in e-Discovery for 20+ years. Learn more about BIA at biaprotect.com. Now, I want to turn it over to Colleen Freeman, Senior Director, National Accounts at BIA, for our presentation today. Colleen, please take it away.
Colleen: Thank you, Mike. We very much appreciate having the opportunity to sponsor this event. BIA, as you mentioned, is a longtime partner of ACEDS. We are thrilled to say that all of our project managers and sales teams are ACEDS-certified. We are not only a partner, but we’re actively involved with the certification process in the ACEDS community. Also, this is a special honor for me today because I get to speak alongside three remarkable women in the industry for this event. In addition, I am a former ACEDS Chapter Leader five years running for the New England Chapter, so this event is bringing together all of the things that I love: ACEDS, female lawyers, the law, and being able to network and speak to the community. So again, thank you for having us, and I’m going to turn it over to Teresa Milano, and the rest of the panelists will introduce themselves as well.
Teresa: Thank you, Colleen. I’m Teresa Milano, and I’m from Woodruff Sawyer. Woodruff Sawyer is a leading full-service insurance brokerage and risk management consulting firm with global expertise. I’m actually a Vice President and Associate Shareholder at Woodruff, and I work out of their Boston office. I specialize in management liability insurance, mostly dealing with high-growth private clients, companies looking to go public, and mature public companies, and I’m also an attorney. Shari?
Shari: Hi everyone, I’m Shari Belitz, and I have to say, this is like a networking story extraordinaire because I should say a little bit about my relationship with BIA. I’m a trial consultant. I went to law school, oh, twenty-some years ago with the founder of BIA, and we reconnected at our 20th-year reunion. We really kind of just forged this wonderful collaborative relationship, so it’s really a true networking story from that perspective. I’m a lawyer, I’m a trial consultant, and I help the defense bar and insurance companies achieve favorable litigation outcomes through the intersection of law and psychology.
Patricia: Hey everybody, I am Tricia Baxter. I am the managing partner of the northeast office of Morgan & Akins. We are a defense firm, a civil litigation defense firm. I handle primarily GL matters. I’m so happy to be here today. I love these ladies, and I love what we are talking about, so thank you for having me.
Colleen: Well again, thank you again ladies, we very much appreciate your time today, and I just wanted to showcase the book “#Networked.” This is the basis of our conversation today. The other incredible thing about not only all the women that came together to write this book but all of the proceeds are going to the National Women’s Law Center. You can find the book on Acmazon, and it’s just a phenomenal story of how 50 women actually came together. We will get into this once I have the chance to start interviewing Tricia. The original basis for the book is that 50 women came together in a LinkedIn group to bond during the pandemic and to overcome personal and professional challenges, and to support one another. 20 of the women of that group came together to write this book. Of course, we have two of the main authors. Today, Shari and Tricia who were the driving force behind the book. I think it’s really important for our ACEDS communities, where we typically are giving a lot of content around eDiscovery, attorney-managed review services, and all sorts of practical tools and techniques you can use as an eDiscovery professional. Another important component, especially at this point in time when we’re all working from home remotely, is to be networked. To be networking and to find new ways of connecting since we can’t meet up at legal conferences or in-person chapter events. What we hope to accomplish today is to have you all have more ways of connecting online and increasing your social presence online, and making new connections. These wonderful ladies today will help us do that. With that in mind, Tricia, I’d love for you to be able to tell our audience today how this whole book came together and actually how your group of female rock stars on LinkedIn came together. One note I’ll say is that in doing the preparation for this event, I looked back at my own LinkedIn and wanted to see when I joined. Actually, I joined in 2006 before I really even knew what LinkedIn was, and it was on account of a women’s club called Downtown Women’s Club. Danielle Danielson is the lawyer that founded that in Boston, and she has chapters all over the US. So, I am very fortunate that it’s a women’s group of lawyers that has brought us all together again today along with LinkedIn. Nice how things have come full circle for me here, and I am thrilled to be with you all. Tricia, we’d love to have you tell us how this all came together.
Patricia: Sure, so I had a similar experience. I had a LinkedIn profile, I think since 2008, and it was essentially parked there for ten years. I just saw LinkedIn as a place to go get jobs. I wasn’t looking for jobs, so I didn’t really think about it at all as something beyond that, so I had the exact same experience. I’ll tell you; this is really what my chapter was about. In my chapter, I go back three years ago, which is kind of what started my journey. I won’t say the whole journey here. You can read about it, but the journey was really started with business development. I had been raised kind of in a lower/middle-income family where we didn’t talk about wealth, and we didn’t talk about growing businesses. There I was, a lawyer developing business, and I was starting to challenge myself and my mindset. I was like, “I want to develop more business, I want to bring in more clients. How do I do that?” I turned to the traditional channels of happy hours and dinners and conferences and speaking. I tried that for like a year to two years, and I just wasn’t seeing the results at scale. When I sat down to look at what my efforts were doing, I realized that in order for those efforts to work, I had to do more of them. I didn’t want to travel for 365 days of the year. I didn’t want to spend six days out a week dining. I have a family. I have a daughter. I enjoy putting her on the bus in the morning; I like having dinner with her and talking about her school day. I wanted to be present, for her and for my family. So, I was like, “Well, this is stupid. I shouldn’t have to choose between my career and marketing and business development, and my family.” So that really led me to, “Let’s try a social media marketing campaign. Let’s see what that is. Let’s see if I can meet new people and network using social media.” I started that, and about six months in I had, I really had to learn how to do it, and that process led me to start this group. This group of women, I really wanted to bring together women, lawyers, that were using LinkedIn in the same way that I was. Which was trying to generate business, trying to meet new people, they were trying to network. That’s what started the group. When I was on LinkedIn, nobody I knew in person was having a social media marketing campaign, nobody was posting or doing original content, so I had to look for them. Over the course of a couple weeks, I had found maybe 10 to 15 women that I saw using LinkedIn like me, posting original content, adding value, really trying to use social media to just talk to people more. So, I invited all of them in, and then they eventually would invite other people, and they would invite other people, and it would snowball. Eventually, right around when COVID hit, I mean, this is like coincidence like right, right before COVID hit, we had 50 women in this group. We were kind of ready and poised to really pivot when COVID hit. It was such a beautiful thing, so that started February-ish maybe, before COVID-19. Then over the course of the next 4 to 5 months, we saw this group really take its own shape. It was very supportive; we were there to help each other with their engagement, we support each other’s posts, we threw each other opportunities to speak, podcast and webinars. It was really amazing, and we also got very personal. So, it took on a whole life of its own, beyond what I had originally thought it was going to do. It became so fun, and it was just dynamic. Then I think about 4 to 5 months into that. I will give credit to Shari; Shari had the idea for the book. She’ll tell you about it, but she recognized how special it was, and she said, “You know guys, why don’t we write a book? Why don’t we write a book about our experiences with the group and our experiences with career and life?” You know, not all 50 women could do it, 20 said yes, 20 signed up. It took us about 2 to 3 months to get everything done, written, and published. This “#Networked” is the result of that. What I love about this book so much, it is that there are career-driven, business-minded women that are being vulnerable. They are talking about their struggles; they are talking about things that I think traditionally a lot of women don’t necessarily feel like they can talk about. So, I’m really proud. I feel like everyone showed up authentically, in their own voice, in their own way, and that is such a beautiful thing. So, that’s the back story to both of those.
Teresa: And Tricia, you said something that we were just talking about as we were sitting here waiting for this session to start today, the word “pivot.” Colleen was talking about how she had a pivot this morning; I had a pivot to do something else. Obviously, the impact of COVID-19 made a lot of people have to pivot right, in personal lives, and especially in business. Where you’re not able to go to these conferences which maybe you didn’t want to go to in the first place, but now you can’t. So, the lightbulb kind of was going off before the pandemic, and then we move into the pandemic, and now you have this platform. What’s really interesting, what I really love to see in this book, in reading “#Networked,” is this pod idea and coming together and finding this group of women. So maybe you can tell us a little bit more about that because I know it’s a little bit intimidating, right? Where you’re searching for this group online, had to find these women. As someone that shifted gears a little bit in my career recently, finding like-minded people, especially on social media platforms like LinkedIn, this pod idea really resonates with me because I would love nothing more to find kind of this pod that works. So maybe you could tell us a little bit more about that because I really feel like that was something that resonated with me.
Patricia: Sure, so yeah. Finding your group, if you will, on any social media channel, at least for LinkedIn for me, was an active search. I would type in search, lawyer, and there’s no female designation, so you couldn’t really do that. I would look, every day, I would just take 10 to 15 minutes, and I would look. Somedays I wouldn’t find anybody and somedays I’d find many people. Then when I found them, I’d look in the comments to see if there were other female lawyers commenting, and then I would check them out. I think about a month into doing that. I had connected with 10 to 15 women that were doing the same thing that I was doing. Then their network, they would bring them in. So really the pod was a LinkedIn chat where everybody was a group chat, and people would drop the link to their content for the day. If you were so inclined, you would go in, and you would like, and you would comment on it, and maybe even share it to help boost the engagement. So, it was very supportive, and I think for us, I think most of us liked each other’s content anyway, so it was kind of easy, and it kind of fit together. That’s kind of how the operational side of it worked. If you’re looking to network, you really need to sit down and identify who you want to network with, and then just give yourself some time to find that group and ask. I even threw it out on LinkedIn. I had a post on LinkedIn that said, “I’m looking for female lawyers creating original content.” I got so many recommendations, so that’s also something that you can do is “Somebody help me out, tag people in here that you know that are creating original content.” People responded so that’s kind of the backstory to that pod.
Colleen: Tricia, this is a great segue to bring Shari into the conversation. I want to, actually, since we’re talking about pods and women coming together, if I could just quote on page 26, I really like what Shari had to say. She said, “A tribe of fierce women who embody the African proverb: If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” I think that’s a great way to introduce Shari. I learned a lot about her and her remarkable way of reinventing herself throughout her career. No less, she had to yet again do it during the pandemic. So, Shari, could you tell us a little more about your story and how you came together with Tricia and the group?
Shari: Sure, so my story, I guess when I look back, and it was really so cathartic, and just therapeutic and just a really good exercise to write it out, even if this never became a book, or never became anything. It was really just a great exercise to write out a little bit about my career and my life, and just kind of making those connections and seeing those themes and seeing what intersected, which is kind of funny because I’m a trial consultant, so that’s what I do. Anyway, I develop themes, and I make connections and I just see how things fit together, kind of like a puzzle in a litigation. So, I wrote out my career, and I noticed that I had pivots. Every time there was some kind of catastrophic disaster, I would pivot. I wouldn’t have known this if I would’ve just been talking to a friend or something like that, but when I actually sat and wrote it down, I realized my first career pivot was after 9/11. I was working downtown, but the World Trade Center, I was actually taking depositions on the 68th floor of the World Trade Center there. For the grace of God, on that Tuesday the 11th, we had a day off from depositions. Really after 9/11 happened, I just kind of reevaluated my life, my career, what I wanted out of my career, and in the back of my mind, and I knew this was something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to pursue some type of graduate study in psychology. This seemed like a really good time to do it. Not necessarily because there was this disaster going on, but it was really just more a mental-emotional thing. I said you know what, I don’t want to be at this firm in two years, in five years, in ten years, and I think I want to do something completely different. So that’s when I took the opportunity to kind of sketch out a plan, and I went in house to an AIG—and I’m just saying AIG because anytime there’s an insurance-related audience, there’s always someone from AIG who worked at AIG, so shoutout to AIG. It was a wonderful 15 years of my life, and I went back to school at night to study forensic psychology with a concentration in injury research and jury science. It was really just a dream that I always had, and it was like I was living the dream. I loved my job at AIG during the day, I loved everything. I was in CSI every night with this. I mean I was in classes with hostage negotiators and FBI profilers, I just really felt like I was living the life. So, I made that pivot after 9/11. Then, I had a lot of personal trauma in my life. I’m very open about it. I wrote about it in the book, and I talk about my fertility struggles and struggles with IVF and recurrent pregnancy loss and really kind of how that threw my career and my secondary education through a loop. I had to once again pivot and make some decisions, and I decided to pursue some really invasive medical treatments while I kept that day job in insurance. I just kind of put school to the side, didn’t finish it up at that point. That was kind of my other pivot, then when I ended up having my twins many years later, I made another pivot based on what was going on corporately and decided to pursue the career that I always wanted to in trial consulting. It was through a chance meeting, actually a chance meeting on LinkedIn of all things, that I got that opportunity, so once again a pivot, once again I was living the dream. I was working at a trial consulting company. I loved what I was doing every single day. I could never sleep at night because my ideas were just in my head and I just was really passionate about my work. I had all of these speaking engagements lined up, or I was getting to explain how to apply psychology to litigation to litigators. I had ten speaking engagements in three cities, and they were all scheduled end of March 2020. So, needless to say, I appeared on Tricia’s vlog, her podcast, “The Defense Never Rests.” Excellent podcast, plug for Tricia, for her firm and her podcast. I appeared on the podcast on March 10th of 2020. Then right after that, the world shut down, the speaking engagements were gone, my job was gone. There were no in-person voir dires. There were no in-person trials. The legal industry was kind of really figuring out what to do. We hadn’t even gotten to a point where virtual trials were a possibility, so I just kind of sat down, I felt really sorry for myself for a day, and I felt sorry for myself, I figured out unemployment. Then after that day, I took a bunch of index cards—you could tell I’m a Gen-Xer—I took a bunch of index cards, and I sketched out a business plan on those index cards. I called the only millennial person I know who was the guy who worked at my gym, who I figured was also unemployed. I said, “Brian, do you know how to design a website? You know, you’re a millennial, you know how to do that, right?” He said sure, and I said, “Well, I have these index cards.” He said, “Can you screen share?” I’m like, “Brian, we have to talk about this over the phone.” So anyway, off and running, I got an invitation from Tricia around the same time to join this networking group. I’m thinking like, “Networking group, are you kidding? I’m cooking, I’m cleaning, I’m teaching. What am I doing with a networking group?” Little did I know, down the rabbit hole I went, this changed my life. Tricia changed my life. These women changed my life. Like Tricia said, they were just giving opportunities from every which angle when I told them I am starting a business. I have the side hustle, I may be starting a business. They were like, come on my podcast, come on my show. I’m doing a boot camp for lawyers. Come talk to us, come write an article with me. Through all of that content marketing, I’ll call it content marketing, through LinkedIn and through all of that content marketing, it gave me a voice, and people started calling me. They started, I got my first trial consultant contract that summer, and it was just kind of, it was off, and I realized just a lot about myself. I realized that how much of a difference people could make in my life when we all banded together and helped each other. We didn’t compete, we collaborated. They gave me a lot of self-confidence. They showed me that I had a voice. Also, with respect to business development, I really learned a valuable lesson of: I’m not going to show you, I’m not going to show you my products, I’m not going to show you I can do this, or I did a mock trial here, I did a focus group there. I’m going to teach you, I’m going to teach you, I’m going to serve you, I’m not going to sell you. That’s my business philosophy, and it was never something I was able to do or use before. I was always in a position where I had to bring in business rather quickly, but this really let me show what I know about applying psychology to litigation and getting people excited about it. Now all of my calls are people who are calling me because they’re just as excited, and I’ve kind of showed them what I know, so I really also learned a different way to develop business. So that’s my, that’s my short story.
Teresa: And it’s a great story, Shari. I know I’m a big fan of your LinkedIn post because I love the ADs, that has nothing to do with it but, definitely a great way to teaching, but I think it starts, one of the themes in your chapter is tomorrow’s promised to no one. Obviously, the 9/11, the constant pivoting, it’s a simple statement, but it’s a profound reminder, right? If you really think about that and keep in mind, starting a new business during the pandemic, constantly having to pivot, but I think the biggest takeaway here is finding your voice. That’s something that I know, as a female, I’ve struggled with. I’ve been the only female in the room many times. How has that, you know if you look back, how has that kind of helped you now as you’re looking forward, we’re coming, kind of hopefully, out of this pandemic, how is that helping you in the business? I know it’s taken years to try and figure out my voice. I feel like that it’s this big component here to maybe you were able to kind of have your success.
Shari: Sure, I think a lot of it goes back to what Tricia was saying about authenticity. I had always worked, I worked at a firm, I worked at a large corporation, you know, kind of corporate America. I always worked at companies, and I’m not saying I didn’t have my voice or my personality, but there was always a little, “Oh, you’re a little too outrageous in your writing,” or “You’re a little too out there with your quotations.” I probably let myself be a little bit stifled because, you know, I’m not the boss; they’re the boss. It wasn’t about, “Oh, you can’t put this in LinkedIn.” It was just about, “Why don’t you tone this down? This is a little bit out there.” When I went out on my own, I really decided to just be who I am. My first post was about NYC closing down, it was late March, and everything was closing down in NYC. It was very depressing; you just heard ambulances at night, there was a morgue across the street from my apartment, and I really just wanted to write a love letter to my city. I’ve lived here 25 years. I love this city. I just sat down. I didn’t even draft it in a Word document, I drafted it in LinkedIn, and it was just a love letter. How I felt about what was going on, and I was amazed at the response, and it wasn’t just, you know, I didn’t really have friends on LinkedIn at that point, but it was like you know executives from companies and really corporate people, and lawyers and it was resonating. It gave me not just confidence, but it just gave me a feeling that you know what, it’s okay to be real. It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to say, “You know what, I really miss Times Square. And I want nothing more to be back in a big, horrible crowd in Times Square.” This is what I miss about it. This is what I miss about that packed subway in NYC. When I started posting about what I was doing, and I was trying to teach psychological concepts and apply them to litigation. And I said, you know what? I’m going to tell funny, embarrassing stories about myself; I’m going to talk about some crazy outfits that I was wearing in the 1990s as I was walking into my law school. I’m going to talk about music. I love music. I’m going to set litigation to lyrics and do a Pat Benatar litigations of a battlefield. I’m just going to teach by doing what I know, how to do. Which really makes things fun and makes it entertaining. No one’s going to redline it. No one’s going to try to change it. This is just me. I’m plugged in. If you don’t like it, who’s not going to like Pat Benatar. If you do like it, you’re going to so get it, and we are going to be, just besties. That’s what happened. I found my circle of people who loved it. They post about Aerosmith and some guys talking about his record albums. I’m like; we are going to be friends for life. The fact that you said albums, you’re in, okay, Bill, you’re cool. So, I just found my voice like that, just by being myself.
Colleen: Shari, I wanted to ask you, especially with your background in psychology, I know that during COVID-19, especially in a legal field, women have been hit particularly hard. There’s been somewhat of a departure from different levels of positions, and I want to be able to speak broadly to our whole audience. We have a number of paralegals and other female professionals as well as male professionals that are attending today. Would you be able to speak to why you think the pandemic may have caused more hardships for women in the profession, and you know, what some tips for our audience that might help them with being able to get more connected across different geographic areas. LinkedIn is a great forum, and it’s brought all of you together but are there additional things that you might recommend that people can do? This question is also for Tricia as well.
Shari: Sure, so I’d like to say, and we’ve all seen the articles, and we’ve seen the studies. That women have been disproportionately affected in the workforce. Just really across the board, there’s been a number of reasons given for that. Most prominently that women generally shoulder the burden of child care, with this unusual homeschool situation, that has been the case in many situations. However, I want to give you the positive side. I don’t mean at all to denigrate the data or the research because that’s absolutely true. The positive side that I found is, I’m a person who, pre-pandemic, in order to network, it was always about the happy hours, and the golf outings, and the three-martini lunches, and things like that, that were popular in the industry. Some of which I had to decline because of children, you know I couldn’t go flying across the country at a moment’s notice. A little bit of what Trisha said in the intro, like she wanted to be home at certain times and not at happy hour every night. Also, as a small business owner, and as a woman who maybe wasn’t invited to the golf outings or the things like that, this has been a great equalizer because online networking is something that really only depends on what you have to say and how will you say it. So, my competitors, who were much larger and have much more money, they can throw big parties. They can do really flashy things, not during a pandemic, though. I can show my knowledge. I can give my knowledge, I can give, give, give. Everything that I learn, and that I know, and I can help, and I can draft those reptile questions for the depositions and throw it on a post on LinkedIn and content rules the day. I can do this at 11 o’clock at night in my pajamas, while I’m eating my Ben and Jerrys, or having a glass of wine. I really think LinkedIn is a wonderful equalizer. There’s of course other platforms that have become popular. I know Clubhouse is a really big up-and-coming one. I think the whole idea for women for small business, for anyone who doesn’t want to do that traditional three-martini lunch kind of networking, online is where it’s at, and your relationships will have such depth. I find I have such a depth. Trisha and I met at a conference in 2014, and I thought she was great, and she thought I was great. You know what, that was about the extent of it. Then we met again later online, our relationship has such depth, and I think that’s because of the medium rather than the people. I really am very bullish about online networking.
Patricia: I’ll add to that, you know, COVID has shown us a lot. It’s pulled up the rug and shown us everything that we’ve been shoving under the rug for decades, years. The inequality, the family relationships, gender inequality is one of them. Like Shari said, it’s been highlighted that women have been primarily responsible for child care. So, when the children are home and you have a two-member household that are both working, it still primarily falls on the female. I considered my husband very equal. Even we felt that. I felt that I was the primary child taker, child care. We had to work through lots of discussions and lots of arguments. We still had one last week. It’s been a year in. You’d think we’d have it figured out, but we don’t. I think the practical tip if you’re a single mom, I was raised by a single mom, more power to you because that’s even tougher. If you’re a single mom or you just don’t have the equality that you want in your relationship, look for other women that are going through the same thing that you are. Team up and get help. That’s my best tidbit because I’ve had to rely on help. This group has been a great help. I lean on them sometimes. Especially in the beginning, it was good to hear that other women were going through the same thing that I was going through. So, if you find yourself in that situation, that’s my one piece of advice, find other women, get into some sort of group chat. If you can Zoom with them, or if they have resources, they can help you. That’s what I found helped me out the most.
Teresa: So, we’ve been talking a lot about LinkedIn here. You’ve all had the first group on LinkedIn. You both are using it kind of as a plot form for your businesses. I have to say in both unique and excellent ways since I’m a big fan of both of your posts. Many of us, and I know I’ve only recently, kind of found out how to kind of properly use LinkedIn; I’ll say, obviously it depends on what each person wants to give on LinkedIn, but many of us struggle with LinkedIn. Now, being remote, trying to establish a connection, trying to figure out how we can differentiate ourselves. Tricia, what would you say to folks that, when we’re trying to take this first step and trying to tackle LinkedIn and creating a connection, what kind of advice would you start giving us to start thinking about as we think about LinkedIn in maybe a different way.
Patricia: So, ill answer that through kind of my story, because I think my story is what a lot of other people’s stories are. The LinkedIn strategy, the social media strategy that I developed, is very much a journey. You will not have it figured out when you start. It changes, and mine changes. It still changes. It evolves and grows on its own. It has a life of its own. I would say you just start. If you start posting and be consistent with it, that’s what I did. If you look back, like I do a lot of videos, if you look back at my first video, oh my god. It was so bad, and when I posted it, I was like cringing. I said to myself, “Trisha, you’re a trial attorney, you’ve been in front of judges and juries. Why is this making you so nervous? It’s a 30-second video. This is ridiculous.” I went through my whole lack of confidence. I wasn’t seeing a lot of lawyers on video on LinkedIn, but I did it. If you take my first video and you compare it to my later videos, it is a world of difference. In terms of content, message, and quality. I only got there because I started. That’s the same with my written posts. If you looked at my original written posts, it was always like, “Look at this case, case law out there.” It just didn’t hit, and for the first six months, my LinkedIn engagement didn’t hit. I was getting hardly any likes or comments. I ended up doing a LinkedIn course, but really it was consistency and just being okay being vulnerable, not getting it right, not showing up perfect. It took me a year and a half basically for me to find my voice, to find my brand. It was self-work for me as far as what am I good at? If I look back, I’ve been litigating for 23 years, and I look back at that. Why are my clients hiring me? What am I good at? I’m not good at everything and to really narrow in on what I’m good at. For me, I can see a case very clearly, the whole thing. The case comes in. I can see it very clearly. That’s my strength. I can do a good deposition, but there are lawyers out there that can do better depositions than me. I got very clear on what I’m good at, and then I started posting on that. That was a journey, it didn’t happen on day 1. It didn’t happen on day 365 either, let me tell you that. It was consistently posting and just letting my voice be heard, what comes out naturally. That’s what I would say to anybody, if you have a goal, first you should have a goal if you’re going to use LinkedIn, if you’re just going on for fun, then you don’t need to take any of this advice. If you have a goal, if you want to develop business, if you want to increase your follower count, maybe you want to be a speaker one day, or maybe you want to write a book. Sit down and identify what your goal is; start creating content around that goal. Connect with people that help you reach that goal and create content that helps you reach that goal. Don’t worry about being perfect. I have typos to this day in my posts. People love to call me out on it, but I’m totally okay with that. You just have to go with it and be okay just being yourself. That’s a journey, and if you embrace the journey, it is well worth it.
Colleen: Trisha, you know we’re finding ourselves in a new normal, and I think even when offices really start opening back up, we’re going to see more of a hybrid work model. Many companies and law firms have said folks can continuously work from home. So, for some of the younger members of the legal profession who may not be as established, what advice can you give them about, in this new normal. How can they make a name for themselves? For someone who might be more introverted, who doesn’t already have a connection online with a group, or is looking for a way to even start. I’m sure it can seem very intimidating, and for all of our speakers today, you’re all incredibly accomplished women and have been able to pivot during this difficult time. What are some basic things that maybe our younger members that are looking for mentorship or looking for guidance, maybe we can talk to them a little bit?
Patricia: Sure, I think fundamentally is to create content. I think the younger generation is probably more familiar with the totality of the mediums available to them. For me, it’s LinkedIn, I do have a YouTube channel, but I don’t really pour as much time into that. I think to create content around what you do. If you’re a leader, if you’re a paralegal, what do you think could help out other paralegals? If you want to be a supervisor, talk about what it means to be a paralegal supervisor. It’s really sitting down and identifying what value you could help out with other people and creating content. That could be a written blog, that could be a video series, that could be a post on LinkedIn, that could be Instagram with different photos, Clubhouse. I have not been on Clubhouse, Shari I think, is on Clubhouse. Getting into those rooms and commenting, getting on podcasts, creating a podcast, it is really content. Put yourself out there because it is the only way to separate yourself out. People will see you for who you are as an expert in your field. If you do that consistently, like everybody looks at Shari now, she is the expert jury consultant. She just constantly creates content that helps people with that genre. When I think of, “Well, I need a jury consultant,” I automatically think of Shari because of her content. I like her as well. It’s really her content that I remember. For me, I’m a GL attorney. I know people will say, “I need a GL attorney in Pennsylvania. I see Tricia everywhere. I’ll give her a call.” That’s my ideal situation, but that’s really that. Start with a content strategy. It can be through whatever medium you’re comfortable with. I started a podcast because I love podcasts. I’m like I understand that medium. I listen to like 7 or 8 a week. Like I can start a podcast. Maybe that’s not for you, maybe you don’t like to talk to people, maybe a written blog, maybe you’re a really good writer, and you could submit your blog to law.com or whatever trade industry magazine that there is out there. That’s my one piece of advice is to start creating content.
Teresa: So, Shari, we are talking about creating content, we talked a lot about innovation here, especially you with finding your way, figuring out, turning your side hustle into kind of what you’re doing now. I think that was something we talked about last time we were together, that you kept calling it your side hustle. Hearing what Tricia was doing, authenticity keeps ringing through on this conversation, being true to yourself and finding your voice. Taking something that you’re passionate about and kind of putting yourself there, that’s intimidating to a lot of us; maybe not a lot of us would actually do that. Maybe you have some inspiration here for the folks listening today about, maybe they have a side hustle, how you kind of in hindsight are thinking about, or maybe some tips or advice that you can give the audience today that you can take away from your experience.
Shari: Sure. So, it’s kind of a funny story, and I wrote about it. I memorialized it in “#Networked,” is my very good friend who’s a life coach for lawyers. I would highly recommend reading her chapter, Olivia Vizachero. She actually metaphorically pulled me aside and said, “Stop calling it your side hustle because then it’s always going to be your side hustle. You’re the CEO of Shari Belitz Communications. Please act like it.” So that was my wake-up call, and that’s also my plug, read her chapter. It’s very inspiring. I would give, so advice to people who are starting out on LinkedIn, or advice to people, especially young lawyers or maybe law students who find themselves in this pandemic and in a situation where it’s quite unusual. What I would say, and I’m going to use someone as an example, she’s a law student who I met through a Bootcamp a woman put together, got a bunch of speakers together, and it was for law students. So anyway, she was a law student, and she was very interested in psychology in the law, she contacted me after, and she wrote a piece about what I was speaking about, and she put it on LinkedIn, and she wrote a piece about a couple of other people and what they were speaking about and put it on LinkedIn. She got really involved in our posts, and it really reminded me a lot of me when I was starting out on LinkedIn. Of course, I was working for many years when I started out, but I remember seeing something about social inflation and nuclear verdicts. I got so excited because I was reading about this and researching it, and looking at all the statistics. I really felt like I had something to say, I had something very extensive to say, so I opened up a Microsoft document, and I looked at the post, and I just started drafting something and talking about all the points. I just put it in the post. The whole act of doing that, just like the whole act of this law student who really just put herself out there and just started getting involved is really, I would say 75% of it. Once you start doing something, it just starts building. She would be top of mind for me, I believe she’s in law school now, but if she was looking to do something psychology in the law, she would absolutely be top of mind for me when she graduates. Just like that, I started speaking about social inflation and nuclear verdicts; I think I was top of mind for people because I gave this answer, and then I kept looking for these posts that talked about it. I talked about it, and Tricia brought me on “The Defense Never Rests” to discuss it and it just kind of starts snowballing. So, if you start, and you start with something that you’re really interested in, even if it’s a tiny little comment, say someone posts something about Med-Mal, and you’re really interested in the topic, and you just post a little comment, or you post a question. I still post questions. I saw a post of someone who tried a pandemic trial in Nassau County, New York. Which is very unusual, and an in-person trial in New York. Right away, I asked him, I said, “Hey, were you able to voir dire on vaccines? What’s the story, were people vaccinated in the jury?” It just started ideas spinning, and he gave me a great answer. We were DM’ing back and forth. I just really think showing interest and asking questions or getting out there if there’s something you know and you’re passionate about. Just putting yourself out there, people are going to respond. People are really nice. They want to help you. They’re interested in what you have to say and just have the confidence to say it. I thought nothing about asking this trial lawyer like, “Hey, what’s the deal? Did you put vaccines in your questionnaires?” Whereas maybe when I was starting out on LinkedIn, I would be like, “Oh wow, this is like a famous trial lawyer, how can I dare ask him a question? What if it’s embarrassing? What if it’s wrong? What if he thinks I’m stupid?” It’s just like, no, no one is going to, if you’re not extremely rude or offensive, I think people really enjoy interacting. So that’s my long rambling advice answer.
Colleen: You know, if you had to go back and talk to your pre-covid self as you were getting into the pandemic, what would you actually do differently? What is one thing you might actually, going back over the last 12 months, do differently?
Shari: I would’ve colored my hair instead of putting it off. That’s number one. I would’ve colored my hair, I would’ve got that pedicure, and then I would’ve bought every box of mad hair. That is number one, but I mean really, I would’ve just had the, and it hard to tell yourself, have the confidence. If I had to go back, I think you can do this. I would say myself, “Look don’t get hung up on what you can’t do. Think about what you can do.” Like, yes, you probably are not going to be a website builder extraordinaire. No one is going to hire you at Google to do engineering. That’s okay. You are good at what you do. Just like Tricia was saying, and Tricia has written extensively, she’s kind of modest, so I’m going to shout her out. So, she says, oh, maybe I’m not the best at taking a deposition, but I can look at something really clearly when I get a GL case today on LinkedIn. She’s written a book about this; she’s written a free book for insurance and claims professionals, “The 25 Factors”, correct me if I’m getting the title wrong. She’s done a program, 60 Days to Clarity. She’s really good at that, and you know what, I’m really good at what I do. Nobody is asking me to build a website. I mean, that would be a shame if they would. It would be embarrassing. It’s just like, you know what, I’m okay with that. I can send a Zoom invite now. I’m good, I’m learning how to put it on the calendar, and that’s totally fine. I’m confident with what I can do, and what I can’t do. I will ask for help.
Patricia: I’ll add to that too; thank you, Shari. I love presenting with Shari. She always plugs me. It’s the best advertising. I’ll add to that too, for me, I recognized that I needed help with certain endeavors, and I just waited. I would’ve started things earlier, and I would’ve asked for help earlier. Like I wanted to do a podcast for a year and a half before I actually took action. A year and a half, I sat on it. Why did I sit on it? Because I was afraid, I didn’t know it was the right thing to do, I didn’t know I’d be good at it, and looking back at it, that was a year and a half wasted. I should’ve started it earlier. Then I started this LinkedIn social media marketing campaign strategy, not even knowing what the hell that was, and it was a DIY effort. Eventually, I got a coach to help me, I’m like, why didn’t I get a coach in the beginning? It was asking for help when I was going into unchartered territory. I would’ve done those things sooner, but it was a journey, and looking back, I wouldn’t actually change anything. Now I know to recognize when there’s fear popping up, and to address it head-on and not let it stop me or delay me. When I get into an area that I’ve never got into before if somebody has already walked that walk, reach out to them. Whether you pay them or you just find a mentor for you that’s not paid, either one. Most things, the path has already been paved to some extent. You can get help from people, and I would’ve done that sooner.
Colleen: Well, I know we’re getting close to the end of our program, and if anyone has questions, we’re happy to answer them. Teresa, did you have any last questions for the panelists before we wrap up?
Teresa: I don’t have a question. I mean, I just think we’ve only, we only have two of the authors here from “#Networked,” I know we mentioned Olivia’s chapter. I just have to say I was really inspired when I read the book back in December. Just to hear various stories. Everyone’s background, everyone’s different paths, and everyone’s different issues. It was really just remarkable; what’s really fascinating is you actually wrote a book during the pandemic. That’s just unbelievable.
Patricia: And that was not easy, by the way.
Teresa: Scheduling and everything it just, it’s really incredible. If anything, if people should take at least one thing away from today, it’s just inspiration from what you all have been able to do and that it is possible, right. So, you know, believe in yourself because I feel like once you start with that negative train of thought, it’s just easy to fall right into that. Be positive and just take a look at this book and it is inspiring, and I hate to sound kind of corny in that sense, but it’s true. I found it very inspiring to read about what you did and learning; also, wow, you know I can use this platform to maybe have a more of an equal footing here on LinkedIn, for example. That was something for me personally, and you know, in my career where I’m at now, it’s something that I think I can use. So, I wanted to tell Shari and Tricia and all the other authors out there, thank you for doing this. It’s helped some of us, and I think it will continue to help a lot of us, especially women, as we continue to try and find our paths with the unknown future and probably ever changed future of offices and ways we network, and the ability to pivot, and switch gears, and be able to change things and basically our mindset. Change our mindset and be able to maybe tackle some of those fears that we have inside and just start by creating content on LinkedIn. So, I just wanted to say thank you for that inspiration. It really did mean a lot to me personally, just, I’m able to come here and sit with you today. It’s been great.
Colleen: Well, and the other thing I should say was also remarkable, not only did these women write this book during the pandemic, with all of the other things they had to take care of at home, with kids learning online and working from home, living during all of this. They are donating all the proceeds from the book to the National Women’s Law Center. Which I think is such a generous contribution and speaks volumes about these women. I think Shari underscored the fact that just by giving back, by paying it forward, and by offering free content online, and really putting yourself out there in that way, can reap tremendous rewards. Rewards that I’m sure Tricia and Shari and the other authors of the book didn’t even expect when you first entered into this journey. So, if you wanted to say maybe something about the charity and the good work that you’re doing for it? I think it’s a wonderful contribution.
Shari: It is. We thought it was a really appropriate charity. We knew, we always knew we were going to donate to a charity. That was sort of the plan. This book was not like, “Oh, let’s like write the next Harry Potter and become like gazillionaires.” The book really serves a broader purpose. I know we all felt very, like I said, I could’ve written my chapter, it could’ve never been published, and it would’ve been such a good feeling for me to just get all of that down on paper and just sort of analyzing my life and career. So, I think it really served a broader purpose for all of us, so we made the decision to choose a women’s charity for lawyers. It seemed like an appropriate type of organization. We’re really, you know, we’re really thrilled about that. It’s exciting.
Colleen: I should say, this just in. I feel like I’m on a newscast with late-breaking news but, my company, BIA, will gladly purchase a book for anyone that’s attending today. If you just want to email me, we are happy to do that. It’s a contribution we’d like to make and to also to thank all of you for your time and your willingness to, again, come to this forum and share what you’ve learned and how this “#Networked” has brought all of these wonderful women together and helped them during the pandemic. So, we can’t thank you enough.
Shari: Thank you so much, that’s really, that’s so generous. That’s incredible, Colleen. I just want to give in a plug for my friend Brian Schrader who’s the founder of BIA. We graduated from law school together. We were all taking our notes on notebooks, Brian had a laptop, and he founded one of the first e-Discovery companies. But when I ran into him at the 20-year reunion a couple of years ago, he was so generous with his advice and his knowledge. I just think his mission and BIA’s mission is very aligned with women and diversity, inclusion, equity, and I’ve spent a lot of time at BIA before the pandemic. I really admire the company, so thank you to BIA and Colleen, and thank you Teresa and ACEDS and Mark, and Mike, and everyone sitting in the background. It’s just wonderful to be a part of this.
Colleen: Well, we could say also on that note, there are the men that support the women, so thank you to all of the men who are also supporting all of us. To your point, Shari, Brian, and Mark were very good to me during the pandemic. I had to pivot. Not only did they help create a position for me at BIA, but they were very good to some of my clients that were displaced and needed kind of homes for their cases, so I’m very grateful as well. I think it’s wonderful when you work for an organization that empowers women, that has provided this platform for me and you all today to do this with our ACEDS partnership. Again, it supports diversity and inclusion as well. These are all very important topics and themes that we’re all experiencing kind of in this new normal. So, we hope everyone that attended today found us to be very helpful and meaningful to yourselves both personally and professionally. There are LinkedIn (profiles), you can link in with any one of us, and I believe that Deja has put our LinkedIn profiles on the chat available to everyone that attended, so thank you.
Mike: Thank you so much, Colleen, thank you Shari, thank you, Teresa, and thank you, Tricia. Thank you to everyone for joining us. A great conversation today. ACEDS, as you know, is a huge supporter of diversity, inclusion, and initiatives. I want to thank our sponsor, BIA. Trusted e-Discovery advisors for more years than I care to recount. Thank you to them for sponsoring today, and of course, thank you to each of you and everyone who attended for a great presentation. Please, visit ACEDS.org for a complete list of our upcoming webinars. Have a great day, everyone, and be kind to one another.
Colleen: Thank You.
Shari: Thank you so much.