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Going Beyond the Weather Chat: How Legal Can Create Meaningful Connections Across the Business

April 29, 2021 4 min read

When I think about my proudest professional moments, I don’t typically turn to my deliverables — ideas I brought to life or wins I scored. Don’t get me wrong, I am deeply passionate about and fulfilled by these accomplishments; yet, they are not what I am most enthused about in my work life.

Instead, when I think about my proudest moments, I turn to people — meaningful relationships I’ve built, friendships I’ve fostered, lives I’ve positively impacted, and people with whom I’ve connected. It all comes down to one common denominator for me — PEOPLE. Frankly, everything I do is driven by my innate desire to create meaningful connections with people around me and to bring value into their lives. After all, what’s the point of ground-breaking ideas and projects if they do not impact people around you in a positive way?

Yes, it is all about people for me. As an in-house counsel, I talk and write to people all the time. And while I can be very successful at my job by simply serving as a “drive-through” counsel for my clients (where they stop in for legal advice and then drive off to their next destination), I have no desire to be just that. It’s not fulfilling for me. It does not catapult me out of bed every morning.

I want to be an integral part of my clients’ processes, their trusted advisor, strategic partner, and proactive collaborator. You don’t achieve that by being a “drive-through” advisor. You must offer full-service, dine-in experience. (Don’t mind my restaurant references — I was a restaurant owner for 10 years in my prior life and can’t help myself.)

So, how do you transform yourself into their trusted advisor and strategic partner? You start small. You begin by connecting in meaningful ways, by showing interest in your clients as professionals, and by being authentic in your communications with them. You start by going beyond the awkward weather talk at the beginning of each video call and move into truly getting to know your clients. The following are some ideas to get started!

Begin by sharing more about YOURSELF.

Begin by sharing more about YOURSELF — who you are, what’s important to you, your interests, and your knowledge. Yes, the stuff about you that is not business- or work- related. I get it — the fear of revealing too much and saying something that may jeopardize your influence currency at work is real. However, if you are intentional (as opposed to reckless) about self-sharing, your clients will find you more approachable, which is the first step toward building a strong professional relationship based on respect and trust.

I never waste an opportunity to give a peek into my world, especially during one-on-one meetings — I often mention a recent trip I enjoyed, a book I am reading, lessons parenthood is teaching me, or a life hack that may transform their life.

You’re probably thinking, “My clients won’t take me seriously if I am too open and casual.” The truth is that we live in a world where multi-million companies are run from coffee shops and beaches and where the lines between professional and personal lives are blurred so much that work-life integration replaced work-life balance.

The days of formal business are over. In the world where casual is the new reality, being authentic and willing to give others a peek into your personal world is the foundation for a long-lasting, transformational professional relationship.

Another simple — yet impactful and practical — way to share more about yourself is by changing your out-of-the-office message from dry to authentic. I love what my colleague Meyling Ly-Ortiz does — she personalizes her OOO message to give a small glimpse into her life: “I am out today celebrating my baby’s first day of kindergarten” or “I am taking time off to reconnect with my husband as we celebrate our anniversary.” It helps people remember that she is a real human being and not just a function — Legal.

Be genuinely curious about and supportive of OTHERS.

Ask yourself — what do you know about your clients professionally and personally? When was the last time you asked them about THEM – not the work project they are working on? What have they been watching lately? How do they like to spend weekends? What’s their favorite recipe?

If you learn about your client’s professional recognition or accomplishment, celebrate and share the exciting news with others — via email to your colleagues or on social media.

If your client shares their passion for a particular cause, show interest in it (“Tell me more!”) or even ask how you can support it. Of course, if they share something that should be met with compassion, show the right support at that moment and perhaps follow up if appropriate.

With every interaction and every connection, look for opportunities to add value for your clients.

Extending my “full-service, dine-in experience” analogy, this is where you can individualize your “service” for your clients and grow the relationship. Can you:

  • Share something new with them?
  • Ask them to teach you something new?
  • Connect them with someone in your network?
  • Inspire them to step outside of their comfort zone?
  • Offer advice that may propel them into an exciting opportunity?
  • Help open new doors for them?

In short, you get to choose what kind of impact you can have on your clients. Choose wisely.

Find ways to add some LAUGHTER to your interactions with clients.

There is little success where there is little laughter.
— Andrew Carnegie.

Indeed, laughter helps build trust, facilitates open communication, and encourages bonding over a shared experience – all essential elements of a long-lasting, meaningful relationship built on mutual respect and trust. Shannon Cassidy shares some insights on laughter in the workplace in her blog post, LOL: Why Humor Is Good for Teams and Business – Bridge Between.

Every touchpoint you have with your clients presents an opportunity to grow thriving relationships that can transcend projects, assignments, and even careers, and that can enhance your sphere of influence and create opportunities for growth and innovation.

The key is to focus on being authentic, showing curiosity and compassion toward your clients, and finding ways to add positive and profound value to everyone you work with.

Now isn’t that better than talking about the weather?

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Olesja CormneyOlesja Cormney is Managing Counsel in the Labor and Employment Group for Toyota Motor North America, Inc. in Plano, Texas. In her role, Olesja provides strategic advice and training to her clients on all aspects of labor and employment law, and oversees defense of employment matters. Olesja has company-wide responsibility for supporting immigration and global mobility matters and non-employee issues. Olesja also handles all labor and employment matters for two manufacturing facilities in the United States and for Toyota Connected North America, Inc., a company leading Toyota’s transition from an automotive to a mobility company. Most recently, Olesja has been on the front line of the response to the pandemic, helping guide human resources and the executive team through all the challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19.

In her previous roles at Toyota, Olesja had extensive experience supporting various logistics and manufacturing operations, human resources policy work, talent acquisition and talent development functions, as well as export control matters. She was also one of the lead attorneys assisting Toyota with consolidating its headquarters operations in Plano, Texas, and helping establish the One Toyota culture. Olesja came to Toyota straight from law school. Prior to joining Toyota, Olesja was an economist and an entrepreneur. She founded three businesses, one of which she still owns.

Olesja is passionate about paying it forward in the legal community and beyond. She serves on Toyota Legal Department’s Diversity Committee and has been involved in creating and implementing various innovative initiatives for outside counsel and Toyota attorneys. Olesja has also been on the Board of ACC’s DFW Chapter since 2019, currently serving as the Member Engagement Chair, Annual Meeting Co-Chair, and Wellness Committee Co-Chair. Olesja is serving as a Co-Chair of the Dallas Bar Association’s Equal Access to Justice Campaign Committee, which has a goal of fundraising $1.25 million for free civil legal services in the DFW area. Olesja also serves on the Boards of the Dallas Women Lawyers Association, the Dallas Bar Association Community Service Fund, First Generation Women Achievers of the Bluegrass, and SPARK! in Dallas, Texas. Olesja was recently recognized for her contributions to advancing women under the law by the National Association of Women Lawyers when she was named to the organization’s 2021 Rising List.

Olesja holds a B.A. in Economics and Accounting from Transylvania University, where she graduated first in her class. She earned her M.B.A. from Sullivan University and J.D. from Salmon P. Chase College of Law, graduating with honors.

Hailing from Latvia in the North-Eastern Europe, Olesja now lives in North Dallas with her husband and two small children. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, being active, learning new languages, volunteering, mentoring students, and writing. Olesja recently published articles on diversity and wellness in the ACC Docket.