When entering the legal field, Krista Deurmeier had a set plan: She would work as a paralegal for a while and then go to law school. That plan changed when she realized the many opportunities that existed in the paralegal profession.
In this Stellar Women episode, Mila and I chat with Krista about the opportunities within the field and why we need to stop apologizing.
Mary Rechtoris: Hi Stellar Women fans. I'm your host, Mary Rechtoris.
Mila Taylor: And I'm your co-host, Mila Taylor. Stellar Women shines a light on female leaders making their mark in tech.
MR: Mila and I are really excited to be chatting today with Krista Deurmeier from Western Digital.
MT: Hi, Krista. Thanks for joining us.
Krista Deurmeier: Thanks for having me.
MT: We are so excited to chat with you. We will jump into questions shortly. But let's start with what has been your highlight for the week? Mary, you can go first.
MR: I was very excited to pick up a package from Zappos. My much-anticipated order for Birkenstock sandals came. I've been mulling this decision for a while. Are they cute or are they unfashionable? Do I do comfort or fashion? This has been a big decision in my life. So they came and I'm thrilled. This is not an endorsement or an ad for Birkenstock sandals, unless, of course, you wanted to sponsor us on Stellar Women.
MT: Well, I'm really happy for you.
MR: Thank you. It's just a huge game changer for my mood to start the week.
MT: I'm glad! I'll go next. My highlight … I think I've definitely spoken about my dog on the podcast. We got him during the pandemic, so he's a Velcro puppy and hyper attached to me. He has separation anxiety. My fiancé and I have been trying to work on it. We literally leave him for one second at a time. But this week, we left him for five minutes and he didn't even make a little cry, which is a big deal.
MR: That is huge.
MT: We probably could have gone longer, but didn’t want to push it. We went to the trash and just stood outside and we came back. I mean he was sitting right at the door waiting for me, but he wasn't screaming, which is new.
MR: Krista, what has been your highlight? I know you have big things to live up to with Birkenstocks and puppies.
KD: Mine also relates to something acquired during the pandemic. We got an exercise bike, a Peloton. I took a Beatles class and I absolutely loved it.
MT: I love it. I took the Beatles class as well. I love my Peloton. Okay, so what do you love about this industry?
KD: I love that I'm constantly learning. Working in litigation, I feel like every case is different. It's either involving a different product, different patent or, we always have different opposing counsel and different judges. All of those things combined makes each case and each project that I'm working on totally different.
MR: Your role is a paralegal. What prompted you to become a paralegal and what surprised you about that position?
KD: I was considering going to law school. I'm a history major, so you have two tracks, right? You can either be a teacher or you can go into law. I wasn't sure that I was ready to make that jump into law school. And so I thought I would try being a paralegal and get some experience working in the legal industry and see how I liked it. I've really loved the structure of it. I love that the work is diverse. I think one thing that has really surprised me [and I always thought that maybe I would go back to law school] is that I found there's so many other roles within law firms, working in-house, or working in e-discovery. There are so many avenues that you can take that I'm not sure that I will ever go to law school. I think there's plenty of work to be done that doesn't require an attorney.
MR: That's interesting because Mila and I have heard this, either on this Stellar Women podcast or through Relativity events, when speaking with paralegals or others in the industry who didn't necessarily go to law school. Law school is very much either immediately on the agenda or on the agenda later after gaining experience. But then once they got their feet wet in the paralegal field, they saw that there are a lot of opportunities. Do you think there are more opportunities rising up or do you think it's more about increasing awareness about opportunities in the field?
KD: I think it's probably the latter. I think it's more awareness. There have always been roles going back to the early 2000s, which was really the start of e-discovery and the ballooning of email and electronic documents in general. I think that has created more roles, but I think it's also created also more visibility into those roles.
MT: Looking back to yourself at the start of your career, what piece of advice would you give yourself then?
KD: I would say to speak up. I'm generally a pretty shy person. I don't think I gave myself enough credit. I knew a lot more than I let on. I would also say to continue learning and to take advantage of the new challenges. I found that a lot of the opportunities that I've had in my career have come out of taking on jobs that other people didn't necessarily want to take on.
MR: Why is that? Is it more the work doesn't seem appealing to other people or they just don't see the hidden opportunities in there? What about those career paths made you interested compared to some of your counterparts?
KD: It is seeing some of the hidden value in learning new programs and new tools. But I think it's also working with those more difficult personalities, which then helps you be able to work with more people in general once you're able to foster some of those relationships. It can help open doors that maybe wouldn't have been opened if you didn't take on that that assignment.
MR: You mentioned that with some of the work you were taking on, people might not be the first to raise their hand due to the varying and sometimes difficult personalities that you're working with. What are some tips you have for listeners who might be working on a project where there are more challenging personalities? What have you found successful when navigating those waters?
KD: That's a good question. Be clear with the person that you're reporting to. Make sure that you understand what the assignment is and do not be afraid to ask questions. Early on in my career, I worked for a partner that had a reputation for being a little bit challenging to work for. It just turned out that it was his communication style and he wasn't actually challenging to work for. He was very brief in how he communicated. Once I learned his communication style, [I realized that] that's just how he talked. He only wanted to respond in one or two words. It made the relationship a lot easier and just work in general.
MR: That's very true. I feel like whenever I talk to someone, and I feel like a lot of millennial professionals can relate to this, if they say just “okay,” it’s not okay, they must be furious with me. It's like, no, they're just getting to their point. I had to realize that [certain] communication styles weren’t always mean or hard to work with. I've had to talk myself off a ledge when I get a short response. So, we chatted earlier about a conference you went to that was really great. It catered to female leaders and emerging leaders. You attended a session that talked about this common phenomenon that female professionals face where you're apologizing. Can you tell us about the session? What interested you about it and what have you learned or what takeaways have you [implemented in] your career now?
KD: I picked this session because I really wanted to learn more about this. Going into it, I don't think I appreciated that by apologizing or over apologizing, it really undermines your authority and can lead others to sense either a lack of confidence or that you're weak. I looked back at some of the instances where I noticed that I was apologizing the most. It seemed to me that I was apologizing when I was either delegating work, rescheduling a meeting, or for delays that were out of my control. One tip they shared that I really love was to take a minute and really think about whether or not an apology is needed. For example, if you're the last person to join a call, are you actually late or are you just the last person to join on time?
MT: I think that's a really good example. I know I do that all the time.
MR: I do, too. I've heard this talked about … If you do join late or even if you are the last person to join or something else, you would normally be like, “I'm sorry I'm late” or whatever derivative of that you say. You can replace that with, “Thank you for your patience.” Something else I heard that a lot of younger professionals say is that we need to strike the word “just” from our dialect. If you look at a lot of leaders or male professionals, they usually don't start sentences saying, “I think we should go this route.” It is, “We should go this route.” And that stripping, I think, shows a little bit more confidence. It's something I'm personally trying to be cognizant of when I am giving my opinion on something.
MT: That's another good one. Another one is when you follow up with someone, you say, “I just wanted to follow up.” Say, “Following up” instead. We touched on this before. But why is empowering female professionals so important to you and your career?
KD: If we don't stick up for each other, who will? We really need to recognize one another for our efforts. These conferences, resource groups, and all these new tools we have to shed light and promote inclusion are really important.
MR: I've mentioned this on the podcast, but I'm really involved in Relativity’s inclusion and diversity efforts and our employee resource group, Relativity Women of the Workplace. You mentioned that Western Digital similarly has a resource group for female professionals. Can you tell us about that? Why are you interested in the group and has there been any programing that was very thought provoking for you?
KD: They have a speaker series where they invite leaders from the business to come in and speak to us. They help promote things like attending the conference that I was able to attend and other virtual conferences for women. They help provide tips and strategies for inclusion and how to do things like removing those filler words. [Those] help us recognize our strengths and help us to improve.
MR: That's cool that they have that speaker series. I imagine some senior leaders share advice and tips for driving allyship.
KD: It's really great to have some interaction with some of the leaders that you wouldn't necessarily interact with.
MR: Definitely, and they're just such a wealth of knowledge. By putting on programing that's often led by employee resource groups or other groups, [it’s great because] they've learned so much throughout their career and they might not always have the opportunity to share that on an enterprise level. That's what I really enjoyed—hearing from some of our C-suite leaders about what they've seen throughout their careers.
MT: I would agree with that. I think that's what makes employee-run programming so engaging. You’re all working at the same organization. So wherever your careers have been, they've all led you to the same place—be it at all different levels. So it's cool to hear people's stories; obviously some are longer than others with how they've gotten to where they are. I really enjoyed that, too.
MR: Krista, this has been so fun having you. Thank you so much for joining Mila and myself.
KD: Thank you again for having me.
MT: Thank you so much for coming.
MR: I just want to give a plug for our listeners to know that we started a new LinkedIn group called Stellar Woman. The point of it is to connect with you all on a more regular basis. We'll be putting relevant articles in there, some updates on the program, and some shoutouts for our community all-stars. So please join it if you're so interested. You may invite your colleagues, your friends, your family, male allies, whomever you think would benefit. We'll put a link in the transcript on The Relativity Blog. So with that, for Stellar Women, I’m Mary Rechtoris.
MT: And I'm Mila Taylor.
Both: Signing off.