Yadira Flores is a partner in Fogler Rubinoff‘s Business Law department and is a member of the firm’s Indigenous Business Law practice group. Myriah Graves is the firm’s Director of Professional Development and formerly a litigator with the firm, who began as an articling student there. In this episode, Lindsay speaks with Yadira and Myriah about the impact of the pandemic on women, both generally and in the legal profession, how the return to work and continuing of hybrid working may continue to disproportionately affect women and their opportunities for advancement, and the ways in which young lawyers have also been impacted. This was a fun and fascinating conversation.
Lindsay: Hello, and welcome to the Law Firm Intelligence podcast. I’m your host Lindsay Griffiths, Executive Director of the International Lawyers Network. And we have two guests this week. We’re very excited to welcome Myriah Graves from Fogler Rubinoff, and Yadira Flores, also from Fogler Rubinoff.
So why don’t the two of you introduce yourselves and the firm. Tell us a little bit about yourselves. Myriah, why don’t you go first?
Myriah: Thank you, Lindsay. I’m really excited to be with you this afternoon. So my name is Myriah Graves. I am the director of professional development at Fogler, Rubinoff. I’ve been with the firm for almost 22 years, I was a litigation lawyer for the first 17 years and then switched to this position about four or five years ago. For anybody not familiar with Fogler Rubinoff, we’re a midsize full-service firm and we’re based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Lindsay: Thanks so much. All right, Yadira, why don’t you tell us about yourself?
Yadira: Sure. So thank you as well for having us, I’m also very excited.
My name is Yadira. I’m a partner at Fogler Rubinoff. I’ve been at the firm for just over a decade now. I started out as a summer student, moved on to articles, and then have practiced in a couple of areas at the firm over the last decade.
Right now I’m focused on practicing in the indigenous space. I help indigenous governments with negotiating and executing business deals in the energy sector, infrastructure, construction, and the like, and we do that through partnerships, joint ventures, commercial agreements, and all sorts of other solicitor work.
Lindsay: Well, that’s really cool. We don’t do too much of that here in the States, so that’s really very interesting.
Yadira: It’s been a very busy actually practice area over the last few years. Very active.
Lindsay: Cool. All right, so let’s jump into our questions for today. We’ve got a really interesting set of questions.
Yadira, we’re going to start with you. How has the pandemic disproportionately affected women in the workplace?
Yadira: So I don’t think it’s a secret that over the last couple of years, women have assumed additional and intensified childcare responsibilities because of the closure of daycares and extracurricular activities in schools. So a lot of women have had to downshift their careers or step out of the workforce altogether. And there’s a really interesting study that was done by McKinsey and Company in partnership with Lean In Org. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s about women in the workplace in 2021 and it’s one of the largest studies conducted. And they found that women were increasingly more burned out in 2021 than in the previous year, and also increasingly more burned out than men.
So you take those two things together, it sounds like there’s a sort of health aspect to this, and then there’s also an impact to the career and that can also affect families and all of that. So I think the burden has been very large on women and it has been disproportionate in terms that it’s affecting women more than perhaps the men in similar situations.
Lindsay: Are you seeing that at the firm as well? Is that something that you guys are facing at Foglers?
Yadira: I don’t know if I’ve seen it directly at the firm, but I can say sort of anecdotally that I have friends where for instance, there may be a lawyer-lawyer couple, but it’s the woman who might be, they’re saying we can’t manage the situation, especially if they have kids or other responsibilities to care for elders. And they’ve decided between themselves that it’ll be the woman who will take a leave for instance.
So I see that it is happening. I don’t know if necessarily this is something that I’m seeing directly at the firm, but I am seeing it at sort of at large with other women professionals.
Lindsay: So sort of a counter-question to that and it sort of connects to that, is how has it affected women in terms of leadership and leadership opportunities?
Yadira: I think a couple of things, like on the one hand if women are downshifting, taking leaves, taking a step back in their careers, they can’t simultaneously be pursuing additional work responsibilities and perhaps advancement in their careers. So there’s a sort of direct correlation there in terms of progress. But interestingly enough, the McKinsey study also noted that even during this time, where women are stretched thin, a lot of women in leadership positions are the ones that are stepping in to help with employee wellbeing, and they are the ones who are leading the way in terms of diversity and inclusion, equity and diversity inclusion initiatives. And they’re providing all of these additional benefits, but their work in those spaces isn’t necessarily being recognized or valued in the same way as other work.
And so that’s, again, an effect on their ability to, if it’s not being recognized, then they’re not being given the advancement opportunities or the financial rewards that come along with doing the extra work.
Lindsay: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’ve read similar things.
And do you think that women, I’ve just read an article about this the other day, that the impact of remote work and there are two kinds of remote work. There are women who work remotely all the time and then there are women who are working remotely some of the time. They’ll be in the office part-time and then working remotely part-time, do you think there’s a sort of impact that’s having where women might be missing out on opportunities that are happening in the office because they’re taking advantage of the fact that remote work is so accessible these days?
Yadira: Yes, actually, I think Myriah is going to touch upon some of these issues later in our conversation when it comes to hybrid workplaces and what we can expect in terms of whether people are going to perhaps, we have to be very active about ensuring that they’re not disadvantaged by taking advantage of the remote work opportunities. And I think you’re absolutely right that like more women would be inclined to want to have those flexible work arrangements or work from home because of like child of care responsibilities and all these things that we’ve talked about.
And so I think that there is sort of a natural human tendency to build relationships more with the ones who are around you. So if women are not there or others are not there, then there’s going to be a natural tendency to prefer those who you’re working with in person. But I think we have to take active steps to work against that so that people aren’t disadvantaged. But I think it’s a possibility that yes, women would be impacted more if they’re the ones who are not necessarily present in person.
Lindsay: Myriah for you, what do you think are the impacts then on young lawyers, obviously we’ve had the last couple of years and I’m now sort of going into year three where we’ve got these young lawyers building their practices and careers, and they’re not able to learn in the same way that they used to, from senior partners who are not going to be in the office and we’re expecting the younger partners maybe to be in the office or some of them are not going to be in the office as much. So how are they being impacted by all of this?
Myriah: Well, I think the biggest impact over the past few years has been the loss of the teaching and learning that happened when we’re together in the office. So for example, if there’s a corporate agreement that an associate is drafted and the senior lawyer wants to sit down and go through some of the changes that are going to be made to the agreement.
In the pre-pandemic world, they would sit together in a board room, side by side, and go through the agreement and discuss the changes, and why the changes were made and the associate can ask some questions at that time. Whereas I think in the COVID, the pandemic world, what often happens is the partner’s going to send an email to the associate with track changes, and they’re not going to have the same opportunity to discuss the changes. So obviously the in-person environment and the teaching and the learning are certainly less than ideal when you’re not together in person.
The other thing that I’ve definitely seen a lot during the pandemic is that without access to mentors or senior lawyers close by, a lot of young lawyers spend a lot of time spinning their wheels at home, trying to answer their own questions that really would’ve been cleared up within a minute or two if they could have just stuck their head in the lawyer’s office next to them. So getting the answers to simple questions quickly has definitely been another negative impact, although it’s not necessary. I think young lawyers feel like they have to schedule a time to speak with a senior lawyer, as opposed to just picking up the phone and calling them. So, as a result of that, I see them spending a lot of time trying to get to the answer themselves, and then it’s not always an efficient use of time.
So one of the things we’ve really tried to do to kind of, once I realized this was an issue, one of the things I really encouraged our lawyers to do is to pick up the phone and call the associate when they’re giving them the initial file assignment because this gives them the opportunity to connect first of all, but also to get some background information about the file. And then at that moment, the associate can maybe ask some questions that they have initially before they get started on the project.
So I think those are probably the biggest impacts that I’ve seen over the past few years.
Lindsay: I can imagine. I didn’t even think of that sort of trying to figure out their own answers as being such a big impact. And that makes a lot of sense.
And I would imagine too, that lawyers’ tendency towards autonomy and working independently really works against them in that instance as well.
Myriah: Exactly. I think it’s a lot more daunting to call a senior lawyer and ask a question versus popping your head into their office and asking a quick question.
Lindsay: Sure. So has the firm done anything differently to address the impacts on women and young lawyers?
Myriah: Yes. For sure. Let me start with women first. So one of the things that we’ve actually recently established was an initiative that was brought forward by two of our associates, is we’ve developed a mentoring program just for women called Women at Foglers with the full support of our executive committee, and what this is going to do, it’s going to create an opportunity for our women to learn from each other and to feel comfortable raising and discussing gender-specific issues that they may encounter in their practice. So that’s really just something that we’re getting off the ground, but we’re really excited about that.
With our younger lawyers, we’ve really tried to work hard to make sure that they’re feeling connected and still getting good mentorship, even when it’s in the virtual world. So we’ve had lots of touch points, myself, the department chair and their mentors are regularly calling them, meeting over Zoom to see how they’re doing, discussing workload and any work-related issues that may be coming up.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was actually talking to every associate and every student once a week, as the two years have gone on, we do that a little bit less frequently. And we’re also encouraging coffee chats, which is an opportunity to just connect as people, not necessarily to discuss any work-related issues, but just to talk about things that are going on in each other’s lives that we feel connected.
And I think one last thing that we’re doing is what we’ve really tried to do is encourage respect for people’s time away from the office. So one of the things I’ve asked senior lawyers to do is to really avoid sending emails or scheduling meetings late at night or on the weekends, of course, unless it’s necessary from a client service perspective. So we’ve encouraged them to either use the delay send feature so that they can type it at 3:00 in the morning when they’re awake, but the associate isn’t going to get it until 9:00 o’clock that morning, or to just put a line in the email that says, I just want to let you know, I’m sending this on Friday night to get this off my plate, I don’t need you to respond till Monday or this isn’t urgent.
I saw an email signature line that said, from someone that said, I appreciate that my working hours may be different from your working hours. So please don’t feel the need to respond immediately. So I think that’s been helpful. And I know even when I’m talking to our managing partner, Michael Slan, sometimes he’ll send me an email on the weekend and he’ll put that in there saying, you know what, I’m just sending it to you right now to get it off my plate, but please don’t respond till Monday.
So those are some of the things that we’ve tried to do to kind of help our women and our younger lawyers during the pandemic.
Lindsay: I love that. I wish that whoever, I’m not going to mention any names, but there’s somebody who’s been texting me at night and on the weekends. And I really wish that person would be a little more respectful of our time. But yeah, I think if we could all do those kinds of things, I think it would be a lot better.
So Yadira, how do you advocate for yourself during a time of global crisis? I think it can be really hard. I know it’s been really hard for me. So how do you advocate for yourself and how do you support others on your team and in your office?
Yadira: Yeah, I guess I have a question back as to, what do you think specifically about the global crisis that makes it more difficult to advocate for yourself?
Lindsay: That’s a good question. I think I’ve thought a lot about this and I think what it is is that there’s this constant level of uncertainty and anxiety that makes it challenging.
Yadira: That’s fair. Because I was going to say, I think in some ways, the way you advocate for yourself is similar to times where things are normal, which is you have to invest in your relationships continuously and you have to keep lines of communication open continuously so that when an issue comes up, that you need to talk about, it’s not a monumental thing because you’ve had continuous engagement. And so certain things that just may seem basic, but checking in on people, seeing how they’re doing, whether it’s checking in on people more senior or people, more junior, right? We’ve all been dealing with a heightened level of stress over the last two years, and the challenges range from health in our family to just overall stress from the news and what has been going on to learning curves and being in a virtual environment.
But human connection at the end of the day stays the same. It comes down to communication. And so we’re more limited in the ways that we can communicate, we don’t have an in-person environment, but we have a lot of other means of communicating. And I think we just have to continue to invest in those relationships through continuous communication and being transparent, I think, in our communications about our capacities, how we’re doing and how much bandwidth we have to take things on or not. Both in terms of your home team and your work team. And I think that’s really important for women because you need both teams to really know where you’re at in order to continue to succeed in what you do.
You need your home team to support you, and you need your work team to support you so that you can be successful in your work.
So in terms of supporting people in our team, it’s kind of the same thing, keeping the lines of the communication open, checking in, being kind, being thoughtful. I think those basic things go a long way.
Lindsay: I totally agree. And I think the pandemic has really taught us all that the more open and honest and even vulnerable that we are the more effective we are at getting things done. So-
Yadira: I think if we expect… Nobody is a mind reader, right? Like I’m sure people with spouses they’ll have your husband say I can’t read your mind. So unless you tell me what the issue is or what you need help on it, people don’t necessarily know. I know that we’re all afraid of backlash, but I think it’s important to be brave in those times and being authentic about what your needs are to give yourself a shot at reaching your goals.
Lindsay: And I think we found that in the workplace that’s worked very well over the last two years. When we tell our teams what we need, when we tell our colleagues what we need, we’ve found that we’ve been able to actually get what we need, and over the last two years, I think we found that’s worked effectively much more than in the past.
Yadira: And just, I guess one more thing that I had thought of raising is that being a good team member, being good to each other and covering each other on files so that people could take real vacation time, those kinds of actions, I think also build a lot of goodwill in your team, and so it just functions better and you have a longer-term relationship with those team members, which is good for everybody.
Lindsay: And I think I’ve learned too that actually taking that vacation time as much as it’s difficult to do and really just connect, it does actually make you a better employee.
It’s hard to do, but when you really step away from your work, you come back refreshed and your mind is much clearer to effectively do the work that you want to do. So it seems counterintuitive to actually say, I’m not needed at the office for two weeks, but you really aren’t, and if you can get someone to cover you and then come back and be refreshed, you really are more effective at your job.
Yadira: 100%. Yeah.
Lindsay: Myriah, what are your main challenges in today’s marketplace?
Myriah: So I think I have two. The first one is something that both you and Yadira touched on earlier, and this is the challenge I think we’re going to have definitely over the next few months as we return to the office and we try to implement the hybrid workplace, the research shows, I think that this is an issue that’s likely, as we mentioned before, can impact women more than men, primarily because women still seem to have a preference to stay at home and work as opposed to returning to the office. And that I was actually going to talk, it’s like you set this up perfectly earlier, but one of the things is it’s like there’s an in-person bias that basically can exist in hybrid work situations.
And the in-person bias, basically it’s the perception that people that are in the office are working longer and working harder than those the at are at home. And of course, for many of us over the past two years, we know that’s not true because I think for many of us, we’ve probably been working longer hours than ever when we were working at home because we don’t have as much separation necessarily from our work and our home life.
And so this in-person bias has the potential to disproportionately reward those that choose to spend time in the office. So as a result, the people that are in the office tend to have greater access to opportunities for interesting or challenging work, networking opportunities and potentially even the possibility of being promoted to partnership.
So I think we as firms are going to have to work really hard to develop policies and procedures, to make sure that this bias is mitigated and that all lawyers are getting access to the same opportunities.
One example, I think that we’re going to have to think about is hybrid meetings, to make sure that the people that are calling into a meeting are feeling as included and are participating in the call in the same way that the people that are sitting around the boardroom table are, I think the risk is the people around the boardroom table are having conversations, and the person that’s called in virtually is going to feel excluded from those.
So I think that’s probably the biggest challenge as we return to the office over the next few months. I think another issue that I think law firms have dealt with, not just probably over the past couple of years, is the legal market’s been very hot and there’s been a lot of movement. So continuing to retain our talent is something that we’re going to have to continue to work on.
And so I think for us, what we’re going to focus on is inclusion, collaboration, work-life balance, and we want people to have autonomy and flexibility because I think those are things that are important to the people that we work with. So I think we as a firm really just need to pay attention to what our people need and to find out what motivates them and to provide them with those opportunities so that they continue to feel like they belong and that they’re connected.
Lindsay: And I think those are probably similar challenges to what other industries are facing too. I mean with this sort of great resignation that we’re seeing across many industries, a lot of people are looking at some of those same challenges, especially with talent, making sure that people do feel like they belong and are getting that sense of fulfillment in the work that they’re doing. So I think a lot of industries are seeing the same thing. So I think we’re all looking at how do people get that sense of belonging? Do they feel fulfilled? So I think it’ll be an interesting time as we do return to work and sort of the time of the worker, is everyone getting what they want at work? And I think it will be really interesting to see what that impact is.
Myriah: Absolutely. Our return to the office starts next week. So we’ve pretty much been, for the most part, we’ve always been open. And so some people have continued to go to work every day the entire pandemic, but for most people next week is going to be the start of the return to work policy. So we’re excited to see what happens and excited to be together again. But no doubt there’ll be some bumps along the road.
Lindsay: Of course, of course. And yeah, I think there’s still probably some fear and some adjustment to happen, but it’ll be interesting to see how that goes.
And then the question I think that nobody wants to answer, but there’s been a lot of changes in the legal industry over the last 10 years, certainly, but we’ve seen an acceleration of those changes in the last 18 months.
We still have one of the highest incidences of mental health crisis in any profession because of the pressure and intensive nature of the work that we do. And I’m wondering if you think we’ll ever change the way that the profession frames personal and professional success to alleviate some of these pressures. What do you think?
Myriah: Well, Lindsay, I would really love to say yes, but the problem is fundamentally as lawyers, we have to service our clients. And so in order to do that, we have to respond to our clients’ needs. So if our clients stop calling us on the weekend or evenings, then maybe yes. But of course, we know that’s not necessarily how it works.
With respect to the mental health piece that you mentioned, we’ve certainly purposely really increased the support and the resources for our firm over the past few years, we’ve already had a couple of professional speakers in 2022 already in order to make sure that we’re getting our lawyers the support that they need in order to succeed. So that’s my honest answer.
My honest answer is I’d love to say yes, but I think at the bottom as a lawyer, you have to keep your clients satisfied. And if you don’t, then they’re going to go next door and they’re going to find someone that’s going to respond to their email at 11:00 o’clock.
So I think that we’re getting better. I think that people are getting better at putting some boundaries, taking time off to disconnect. So I definitely think that I’ve seen some progress, but I think it’s never going to be a 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday profession.
Yadira, I didn’t know if you have any thoughts.
Yadira: Well, yeah. I mean, something that you just said just made me think of a book I had read, which is Norman Bacal’s “Take Charge” book. And he talks about, there’s this part at the beginning, he talks about perality, which is the connection between perception and reality when it comes to client service. So he gives the example of being at a restaurant and what’s your experience if you go in, it’s very busy and nobody can tend to you, but somebody comes to you and says we know you’re waiting, here’s some appetizers while you’re waiting and we’ll get to you as soon as possible versus if you just don’t get a response.
So there are some tactics that you can employ when things you’re underwater, things are really busy, where you are still doing the client service and you are answering the clients, and you’re letting again, coming down to communication, you’re letting them know that you will come back them exactly in two days or whatever timeframe you need and just making sure that’s okay. And sometimes it won’t be, but I think just in the way that you manage those expectations and you communicate about when you can realistically get to something and if it’s reasonable and all of that, then you keep the clients happy while also not necessarily affecting your own mental health or whatever it is because you’re trying to set some boundaries.
So I think there are tactics that one can use when it comes to giving good client service, but also trying to balance your personal life and in terms of, yeah, success, I think we all have to redefine success for ourselves. Like, what does it mean to be successful? And the legal profession is no different in terms of trying to come to terms with what does it mean to be successful? Is it just becoming a partner at a law firm or are there other ways to be a successful lawyer?
And I think that is an ongoing conversation that only individuals can answer for themselves, but in terms of as a profession, yeah we should definitely expand our definition of success because in my view, success is what makes you fulfilled in your career. That’s when you are successful, right? So finding ways to become fulfilled in your career is a path to success and we should celebrate those things and those different paths more.
Myriah: The one thing I would say is that one of the great things I think about the legal profession is that our days are flexible. So when we talk about mental health and prioritizing ourselves in mental wellness, what if you’re a morning person, you can get up early and get in a lot of work earlier in the day when you’re more productive and then take off earlier in the evening. Whereas if you’re a night person, you might start your day a little bit later, but then you’re also going to finish later. And if you want to go for a walk or a run when you’re working from home during your lunch, you can do that.
So I think that’s one of the great things about the profession, is if you get your work done, you sometimes have the flexibility about when you get it done. So I think that’s a positive thing that I think is good to focus on sometimes.
Lindsay: It’s true. I mean, your days can be long, but you’re right, as long as you’re serving your clients, you can sort of do your work whenever suits you. Absolutely. Yeah.
So totally outside of what we’ve been discussing. One of the questions I always like to ask at the end of this podcast is what is one thing that you’re really enjoying right now?
Myriah: I’m enjoying being able to travel again. My friends are teasing me that I’m making up for a lost time, so I’ve actually managed to get away three times since January. For just short little four-day kind of trips. So I’m really enjoying it, that’s what I’m really enjoying for sure.
Lindsay: That’s great. How about you, Yadira?
Yadira: So I have toddler twins and I’m really enjoying watching them grow. Like, yeah, I’m really enjoying the stage of the kids’ life.
They’re just a bundle of joy and they’re super cute and they want to sleep together now, which is like, it’s so adorable. So yeah, I’m just really enjoying motherhood.
Lindsay: That’s wonderful. So cute.
Well, thank you so much to both of you. I really appreciate your time. All of your insights and thank you so much to our listeners as well. We’ll be back next week with another guest. And in the meantime, please take a moment to rate, review and subscribe over on Apple Podcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thank you so much.