Friends Who Argue

Business Development in the Time of COVID

March 16, 2021 Various Season 1 Episode 6
Friends Who Argue
Business Development in the Time of COVID
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Friends Who Argue, hear about how business development has changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ian Breneman of Blakes chats with Gillian Hnatiw of Gillian Hnatiw & Co and Luisa Ritacca of Stockwoods LLP about how they have adapted their business development practices, and Reena Lalji, in-house counsel with BMO Financial, who shares her viewpoint from a client’s perspective. 

Members of The Advocates’ Society have complimentary access to the Business Development for Litigators CPD series through the new member resource library. Visit https://www.advocates.ca/ and log in to see all of the great, new resources available with TAS  membership. 

Speaker 1:

Welcome to friends who argue a podcast from the advocate society.

Speaker 2:

Each episode will bring you conversations with advocates across all areas of litigation who share their stories, insights, tips, and tricks from their journeys as advocates.

Speaker 1:

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Speaker 3:

My name is Ian Brennaman and I'm a commercial litigator with Blakes today. I'm talking to three lawyers about how they're using technology and social media for business development and in their practices, particularly as the COVID 19 pandemic has continued to limit the ability to meet an interact in person. The advocate society recently launched a free member resource library. The members are able to access complimentary archived CPD programs, including the business development for litigators series. Our guest Jillian natu of Jillian NATO and company and Luisa of Stockwood LL P are both litigators in private practice who contributed to that series, re L is inhouse with BIMO financial. Joining me first is Jillian natu who practices civil litigation and administer law in Toronto. Jillian , thanks for joining us. You're quite active on Twitter. How'd you get started?

Speaker 4:

I joined Twitter in 2005 at the behest of a mentor and on the express understanding that I would just lurk. Um, I was convinced that it might be a good way to follow news and current events and , um, was finally convinced to join on those terms. And at some point along the way, I realized that it was also a good platform, not just for advocacy, but for connecting in and interacting with other members of the profession and the public at large in helpful ways. So it was, I would say a very organic , um , transformation for me. <laugh> um, today I do consciously see it as a tool for , um , business development, wri large, both amplifying my public profile and expertise particular in the area of sexual misconduct litigation, as well as staying attuned to public discourse around issues and in touch with friends and colleagues , um, sort of across spectrums , um, particularly during the pandemic we , where if it were not for social media, particularly Twitter, in my case, I probably would not have had any interaction with a lot of the members of the profession at all in, in the past year. Do you

Speaker 5:

Think the pandemic was part of that organic growth of your use of Twitter?

Speaker 4:

Not for me. I think that I had come to terms with it being a very useful business development tool for me personally. Um, well before that , um, the way that, that my personal practice works is I do a lot of to decide work. I have a lot of , um, one off clients, thankfully, because I , I always say to my clients, I , I , I hope you'll never need me again. Um, and so I need to have a profile both within the profession and within the public at large. Um, I think that probably really crystallized for me around the explosion of the me too movements in 2018 , suddenly it seemed like the entire world was talking about the issues that are the bed and BR bed and <laugh> bread and butter of my day to day practice. And so it dovetailed with the , um , work I was already doing in mainstream media.

Speaker 5:

That's really interesting. And, and it seems certainly at this point in your evolution that you're, you're really active and thoughtful on Twitter, has it become part of your day or do you have to make a concerted effort to stay on top of that?

Speaker 4:

No, I, I don't make any concerted effort hurt despite the best and very wise advice of I'm sure, many business development coaches. Um, I, I don't have any sort of practice where I, you know, plan to tweet so many times a day or so many times a week. I think that that would be at odds with the way come to be a useful tool for me, which is that , um, I use it when I have thoughts or things I wanna say, and I don't force them when I don't.

Speaker 5:

And part of using social media to express things that are important to you, like you've said , uh, does that process ever give you pause or create issues for you down the road?

Speaker 4:

Social media is not without risk. Um, I think that my practice is one that's already , um , built to absorb a certain, not just absorb, but also embrace a certain degree of risk, which is why potentially it seems to work for me. Um, I do have some very clear are boundaries , um, sort of cognitive boundaries about the types of conversations I do and don't have in public spaces. And at the end of the day, the things that I talk about online tend to align very closely with the positions. Um, I take in my cases and, and before courts any way. So it doesn't , um, I think carry the same degree of risk. The , for me, as it might for others, somebody else on the panel said that my practice is my politics and it's no secret <laugh> that I am a feminist who is very committed to feminist causes and who , uh , practices in a , um, very , uh , with a very fem , intentional feminist lens on the positions I take. And so being that person in public , um, doesn't , um , I think do any damage to my business when that is. In fact, my brand

Speaker 5:

That flows into my next question, which is then the parameters you set around using social media, but from a sort of workflow perspective. And you already told me that , uh , when your work becomes busier, you tone back the social media sort of , um , automatically, but are , are there any other sort of parameters you put on that to, to make sure that , uh , your use of social media doesn't , uh , become too involved? They're too time consum ?

Speaker 4:

Um, I go through periods where I delete it from my smartphone, from my iPhone. I delete the app just , um, because I can find it becomes too , um, too much of a , just a reflex of like, let's look on what's going out there. And, and that doesn't necessarily mean I'm tweeting more. It just means I'm absorbing more. And I've tried to be smarter this year about , um, building , um, building a bubble around myself. This is the year of bubbles, right? So in addition to the physical bubble that we've all put ourselves into, sometimes you have to create a bit of a communications bubble just to minimize the stress and anxiety in your life. Law. Twitter has become a bit more of a , a thing I'm making air quotes around the word thing , um , in the last couple years. And I think it's great as , um , a means of communication and connection between members of the profession. I also think it's really interesting about how it's it levels the playing field, and it's enabled some , um, very junior members of the profession to build , uh , very effective platforms for themselves. So I think it's great that way. Um , I think it would be mistake to assume that it's , um, the magic solution for everyone. And I do usually ENCO encourage lawyers to open an account so that they can sort of , um, listen and potentially engage in, in minimal ways, but there's no one size fits all business plan. You really have to tailor it to a, the type of person you are and B the type of practice you're trying to build. It works for me because as I say, I have a very public facing practice that , um, engages with issues that fit nicely with the existing public discourse. So it's a very sort of natural, organic fit. Uh , that would not be so much the case if I was trying to build , um, a different kind of practice. And it may be that I wouldn't need the same kind of profile if I had , um , more of an institutional client base. And so , um, I feel like advocates in their young years feel all this pressure to somehow business development. It's something that everybody to tells you that you should do, but , um , <laugh> , it's hard to figure out what that means and what that's gonna look like for you. And so I think people should try different things and see what works for them. Um, the fact that this came about for me quite organically, I think, is a reflection of the fact that it does fit well , the kind, the business that I have developed , um, if you're trying to really force something then is probably not gonna work because , um, I think the most effective voices in any space, including Twitter are the ones that are authentic.

Speaker 5:

Julie . I think there's a lot for , uh , members take away from everything you just us . Thanks . So

Speaker 4:

It was a pleasure

Speaker 5:

Joined now by Rena Louy who's senior council at the Canadian personal and commercial banking division of Bino BMO financial group, Rena, thanks so much for joining us, Rena you're someone who's often on the receiving end of many of the business development efforts that our other guests talked about today. How have you seen BD strategy change from pre COVID to now?

Speaker 6:

Uh, well, I think the obvious one , uh, is, is that none of us are meeting in person, obviously that , uh , that has been a , a huge shift. I think it has resulted in , um, people being a little bit more creative on, on how to do things. So for example, at the beginning of the pandemic , uh , in the spring of this year , um , I think people were really shifting very quickly to doing things online , um , and trying to connect virtually that way. Uh , and then I think through the summer , uh , at least in Toronto know, as , um, things were relaxing a little bit more , uh, I think people were making a bit more of an effort to see if they could get together in person outdoors. And now that we're going into the fall with further lockdowns, it's shifting again. Um, and I do think that there's been a level of fatigue, which I'm sure your other guests have talked to about , uh , that is impacting how BD is happening. So I'm definitely seeing , um, shifts in the last several months, for sure.

Speaker 5:

And even in the last few months with the re lockdown and so on, and, and the zoom fatigue that we all feel has that changed how you want to be approached from a BD perspective.

Speaker 6:

You know, it's interesting from my personal perspective, it , it hasn't changed. Uh, but I don't think it's the same for all clients. Uh, so, you know, I've, I've had some conversations , uh , both with , uh , colleagues of mine internally within the bank and, and externally as well. And for me personally, Ian , um, what I am, I guess, craving from , uh, professional relationships is more contact. And I think , uh, you know, with all of us working from home, not being able to interact the way that we used to with our colleagues , um , for myself, I, I miss that. And so I think, you know, even though people are having zoom fatigue and , uh , you know, a lot of different levels of fatigue for me, I welcome , uh , uh , with some of my , uh , external counsel more contact , uh , whether it's a zoom or any other virtual , uh , platform coffee, or, you know , uh , a drink at , at the end of the day , uh , before dinner and after work , uh , just, you know, a touch base. Um , that's all always nice now, I think it's also , um, I think you have to know again, who your client is and, and what they would like. I don't, I think for some clients maybe that just might be too much if they've had a full day of, of , um , video meetings. I , I don't have that. Uh, so most of my calls are , uh , still conference calls with just a few video calls. So I welcome that. I do think also having talked to some external council , uh, I was surprised to hear though, I understand that some external council are a little bit , um, cautious because they, they don't want to come across as offending their clients if they try to , uh , connect with them or meet up with them . And I think that's because people have different levels of , um, cautiousness when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. And so my response to that for external counsel who have that concern is , um, and again, it'll depend on the client is to ask them, you know, what makes you feel comfortable if you're not comfortable going out for a, you know, a quick walk in the morning with a coffee, we don't have to do that. Um , but how do you feel about this? I , I think it's just really asking them what they're comfortable with.

Speaker 5:

A , another way we talk about staying top of mind in the law firm context is by trying to expand our use of social media. Uh , I see that you are on LinkedIn. Is there anything on that site that ever tends to peak your interest?

Speaker 6:

Yeah, you know, it's interesting. I , um, in the last year , uh, I have definitely been , uh, more active on LinkedIn and, and I wonder if it's because of the pandemic, Ian , uh, now I'm not , not an , I , I don't post on LinkedIn, but I do follow. And what I tend to do is , uh, follow , um , people , uh , who post very interesting articles , uh, in areas that, that impact the work that I do. So, you know, pre pandemic , um, we all , a lot of clients I think have access to , um, firms , um, marketing and, you know, case summaries and blogs and , and what have you , uh , I still access that, but I'm using LinkedIn a lot more for that to , to access that kind of commentary , uh , or case summary or , uh , you know, a point out of , Hey, this is a really interesting decision. You might wanna look at this , um , this is affecting how we do class actions or, you know, whatever it may be, but it's, it's now added to my record of , of finding out what's happening in our profession.

Speaker 5:

Is that something you think you'll keep doing once the pandemic has hopefully been ,

Speaker 6:

I have to say, I think so. I mean, just like any social media platform , uh , it's a bit of, it's a bit addictive, right. <laugh> , I mean, I always allot myself. I , I Allo myself about five or 10 minutes a day just to skim through LinkedIn. And , uh , before I know it it's 20 minutes later. Right. So , um, yeah, there's a , there's a bit of an addiction there. I gotta tell you, but , uh, but yeah, I think it's been good

Speaker 5:

Aside from , uh , browsing through LinkedIn . Is there anything else , uh , from virtual business development that you hope carries over beyond the pandemic?

Speaker 6:

Well, you know, it's interesting , uh, I , I think there are some opportunities here and, you know , uh, we as litigators , uh, have noticed that in the, in the court context, there's been some, some positive changes that we're all hoping will be long lasting. I think similarly in, in, in business development, I'm hoping that there will be some long lasting , uh , approaches as well. So for example , um , Ian, I'm sure you have this, you probably have clients across the country , um, you know, pre pandemic to meet with them . You would probably book a trip , uh, and try and, you know, schedule many things in that short time period. So you can meet people in person. I think that with the pandemic, you're probably able to do that much more work, like a lot more virtually. And , um, I think that that's a positive thing. So, you know, I, I do like the fact that I have been connecting with external counsel across the country , um, and that's been good because they don't have to travel here.

Speaker 5:

I think you're right. And I , I'm hoping that helps our clients out too. You know, for example, when, if I've got a questioning or even a court appearance in, in Alberta and a client like yourself in Ontario who wants to attend, but really can't justify the time or expense of flying out a , to sit for a couple of hours in a hearing or a questioning. I don't see why we couldn't keep letting people in. Is that something you might take advantage of in the future?

Speaker 6:

Absolutely. And in fact, I think for a lot of clients , uh , this has opened up , uh , an opportunity for, you know, again, limiting legal fees, right? I mean, you may not have to fly across to Alberta for that case, if you can do it virtually. Um, and, and I think that, you know, I think again, pre pandemic, you know, doing something by a conference call was never great, but I think what we're seeing is , um , these video conferences are as good as , uh , being in person or close to. So I think there's a real opportunity here.

Speaker 5:

Uh, we're joined now by , uh , Louisa , who's the managing partner at Stockwood L L P and also co-chaired our panel, how to leverage technology to enhance bid business development , Louisa , welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 7:

Thanks for having me in , uh ,

Speaker 5:

As I said, you, co-chaired our panel. We heard a lot about social media , uh , and leveraging technology for business development during COVID. What were the strategies that hit home most for you?

Speaker 7:

Sure. I think that there were , um, quite a few key takeaways or speaker , uh , gave us a lot of good information. Um, I certainly think though one of the principle takeaways was that, you know, whatever technology we've , um, adopted and , uh, embraced to keep our practices going the last 10 months or so during COVID , those are likely here to in some form or another. And so even when we think about , uh , returning to normal, whatever that's gonna mean, I think clients , um, will now expect that when you can give presentations or attend meetings or provide them with education sessions , um, the , a video or via, you know , telephone conference, that's gonna be the preferred method for them. They've , uh , probably realized now over the last little while that that's the most efficient and cost effective way for them to , um, gain access to your services. And so I think that will likely mean we're gonna see a lot less business travel and the idea of everyone flying , uh , up to Ottawa, or, you know, down to Windsor for a couple hour meeting from Toronto, for example, like tho those, those things I think are gonna be gone by the wayside. Um, and , um, so while I think that the human that we have , uh , virtually is , um, quite a bit different than the real human contact that we had before. COVID, I think this is, you know, here to stay for sure. Um, I also , uh, thought it was helpful to hear from some of our speakers , um, about the importance of remembering that not all of our clients , um, are gonna come at technology at the same skill level and comfort level. And so while we were all sort of quickly adapting to hearing platforms and other conference of , of facilities online, like Ms teams or zoom , um, our clients , um , have maybe came at at these , uh, sort of technological advancements at a different, at a different speed. And so we still need to be prepared to deal with clients , um, you know, by telephone or maybe by email or through some other , um , means it's still using technology, but , uh , perhaps not quite as advanced as, you know, we feel , um , you know, we've all become , uh , during COVID you talked

Speaker 5:

About the transition back to normal and how a lot of these things will probably be used in the future as well. Do you think it's gonna be difficult to navigate , uh , taking our clients' temperatures in terms of what they want in terms of in person versus virtual, or really just the no frills email, like you said?

Speaker 7:

Yeah, I mean, I think , uh, this goes back to the basics of when , what , and I started , uh , as a lawyer, I mean, I think it's about communication and you've gotta just ask the questions and , um, and be direct and say, look, this is what we can offer you via zoom <laugh> or, you know, via some other form of , uh , electronic , um, communication , um, or, you know, if you think we need to be in person , um, we'll do it in person. And, and I mean, I also think, you know, you have to , um, know your co lion and know, you know, the nature of, of the contact that needs to be made. And you might say, look, we're prep preparing for a very challenging cross examination . We are now able to meet together in person. So it's worth meeting together in person. So what I think you'll see now moving forward when we, you know, one day get to , um, have of that option. Um, I think what we'll see a lot of is having to , um, explain or justify to your client the cost and time and expense associated within some kind of in person , um , meeting or, you know, in person , uh, hearing as a case may be, and you just, it just, I think another , uh, little, little bit of information you've gotta give the clients so they can make a , an informed decision. And you're gonna for sure have clients who say, no, we're totally fine preparing for trial or preparing for discovery or examination electronically because all the documents are electronic and, and it's seamless and it doesn't matter. And , uh , but you might have some clients where you still have boxes of old tax returns and , um, they are gonna feel more comfortable , um, shuffling through those documents with you in the same room. And , um, you know, just , uh , having that more personal experience is something they're gonna need. So it's about communicating and being able to offer, I think , um, you know , a myriad of options,

Speaker 5:

Great point now in wrapping up the panel on leveraging technology, you said that breaking down the wall between personal and professional relationships has value because so many of us are , are still missing those personal connections, but you also said that it has downsides too . What do you see as the downsides?

Speaker 7:

Yeah, I think this is a really complicated issue for sure. And the more we are , um, sort of hold up in our , uh , either work from home spaces or, you know, isolated in our offices , um, you know, it is, there's this sort of, it is nice to let clients and colleagues and opposing counsel sort of into your personal world. I think it personalizes the experience. I think it makes reminds people that lawyers are humans and we're all sort of going through the same , um, sort struggles that, you know, everyone else goes through, whether it be pet care, childcare, elder care, whatever people are going through , uh , or even self-care <laugh> . Um, uh, so it's, it's great to be able to sort of break down that wall and I think it, it , um, helps humanize you to your clients. It helps them feel like they can be vulnerable with you. Same thing with opposing counsel , for example, so long as no one is, is , um , sort of misusing or taking advantage of that bra of that sort of , um, uh , more sort of personal connection. Um, but what I, you know, the downside that, you know, I was really thinking about when I made that comment is I think it, it becomes, this is a perennial problem for lawyers, but I do think it, it becomes even more of a challenge to turn off work or sort of shut down for the day , uh, it , when there's sort of no wall between , um, the professional and the personal. And so , um, if, if you, don't some sort of separation between work and other and , um, you are sort of allow people in, then I think it becomes really, even much more of a challenge to sort of say, this is, this is time that I, you know, I'm not gonna be working or I am not gonna be available at sort of 9:30 PM for a conference call. And then again, 7:00 AM just because I'm, you know, at home and, and don't have a commute. Um, so that's really that sort of the challenge that I was identifying and, you know, in terms of , um, uh , you know, how you deal with that, like, so is there a way to mitigate that? Like, again, this is not a problem that just came out out in COVID right. Lawyers, we all have that problem. And I mean, I think probably ever since the Dawn of the fax machine, right, it's become difficult for lawyers to sort of turn it off, right. Like, cuz you're always available. And then when email and you know, came about, we be suddenly became even more available. And now this sort of idea that we can work from wherever and ever, it becomes really challenging to turn off. But I, I mean, I , and this is probably trite , but I mean, I think you , we just have to try really hard to set boundaries. And, and so those are sort of boundaries with your colleagues and clients and, and , uh , counsel on all sides , um, to sort of not be available after a certain hour or not be available during a certain period of time when you're either maybe homeschooling or dealing with , um, you know , uh , meals or whatever it is, or you just need time to yourself. Um, so I think that's important. I think the other way to do it is also , uh, and I hear this a lot, especially from my , uh, younger colleagues, my associates, you know, creating a physical distance between , um, your sort of work setting and your home life. And I realize, and I, I, you know, I, most of us are in a really privileged position to be sort of complaining about this. Uh, and I, and I get that for some of us it's easier said than done to create the separation. Um, but even in a sort of small , um, uh , home setting, like a, you know, a small apartment , uh , just sort of not using the same table area or corner of the table that you, you use to work , um, when you're, you know, preparing dinner or eating dinner or reading a book, that's not , uh , you know, file related . Yeah . Um, I think all of those like little tricks, even for yourself, help create the separation that we all , we always have always needed between, you know, work and, and downtime. But , um , it's just even more pronounced now where there's not a as easy a physical separation.

Speaker 8:

This is Chloe Snyder. I'm a commercial litigator at Dentons Canada, LL P , and one of your co-hosts and editors of friends who argue thank you to Ian Brennaman for these excellent interviews with Jillian natu , Lua Riak and Rena Loui on business development. Thank you as well to my co-eds we Hale . And Chris Orkins for their continued support and to our production lead , which include Ian Brennaman, Natalia Rodriguez, Luger , Matthew Huis and Johnson , Jamal Sean Haltz. Thank you again to the advocate society for providing this platform and to Danielle Baglivo of Dentons our technical sponsor for her editing assistance .

Speaker 1:

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Speaker 2:

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Speaker 1:

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Speaker 2:

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