Last year, we had the chance to connect with Kathleen Remetta, President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators.
Kathleen talks about some of the technology challenges her firm (Weir Greenblatt Pierce LLP) faced during the pandemic and how the investments they’ve made has made her firm more resilient for the future. She also discusses their investment in security tools and awareness, and how critical it has been to have the ALA as a resource over the past two years.
Hi, this is Lorita Ba from Afinety here with another ALA leadership interview. I’m here with Kathleen Remetta. Kathleen, hi, it’s such a pleasure to see you.
Hi, nice to see you too.
Kathleen, could you just get started by telling us a little bit about yourself, your firm, and what you do there?
Sure. So my name’s Kathleen Remetta, I’m the executive director at Weir & Partners, which is a commercial litigation law firm based in Philadelphia, we have offices in New Jersey, Delaware, and a small presence in New York as well. I’ve been with the ALA a long time. I’m currently the president of the Philadelphia Chapter.
Fantastic. So, given that you’re the executive director, especially of multiple offices, what’s your life been like over the past months?
Been a little crazy. Actually I joined this firm in the middle of the pandemic last June.
Oh my gosh. Nothing like making it interesting. As you think about some of the challenges then that you faced Since you started in June, you didn’t have to deal with the initial craziness of “Oh my gosh, what are we doing?” But I’m sure you faced your own challenges, you know, for the second half of the year. What were those and what did they look like?
We definitely had some technology challenges in the beginning. The firm is a smaller firm. So we had things like no laptops, not really the ability to work remotely. We had some challenges with our phone system, you know? So it was challenging trying to figure out not only the new firm, and the dynamic, and who was here, and who had been furloughed, but also looking at what we needed to accomplish pretty fast so that we could keep business going.
So how are things for you guys now? Are your offices starting to open up, are people going in? You mentioned earlier that you’re in one of your offices right now.
Yeah, so I’ve been in since the beginning. I haven’t stayed home. I’ve been in, I have a handful of partners who still come in but our office did officially reopen. Everyone’s getting used to, like I said, we rolled out some technology and, you know, everyone got trained on the fly at home. And so yesterday they said “Maybe now that we’re back in person, we can actually do some hands on training with the IT department.” And I said, “Yeah, sure. We’ll make it happen.” So it’s been good so far everyone’s been back. I’m in a different office today. So God knows what they’re saying about me when I’m not there.
So you mentioned adopting new technologies, now, was that a result of things that you identified as being missing or is that to adjust to kind of a new reality that you’re looking to move forward with? What are some of the things that you guys adopted?
Well, some of the things we adopted right away was some new security measures. We didn’t really have anyone working remotely when the pandemic hit. So they quickly put together some ways to remote desktop, you know, features. And we did not have a two factor authentication in place. We do worry about breaches, security issues. So we put that in place pretty quickly.
We added some software, we rolled out laptops for everybody so that they’re able to work remotely, set up a secure VPN solution. And one of the biggest things that we did was we changed our phone system so that it’s seamless. We had an old fashioned phone system with the receptionist answering the phone and, with no one there, there was nothing we could do except take an old school message or shoot an email. So we changed that. And we also put in place, their favorite thing in the world: some security testing.
It’s important though, you know, even though everybody hates it. It’s so important.
It really is. And it’s crazy how many times people look at it and they say, “Well, you know, Kathleen, you sent me this email from HR.” I’m like, “Do I have an HR email address? I don’t have an HR email address.” So it’s not me.
And then when they fail it, they have to do a two hour training thing. And, you know, even I failed it. I failed it the other day. I failed it. I failed my own testing.
Well, but that’s exactly right, right? I think it’s easy for any of us to get complacent. I used to work in an email secure security company and, they’re just so sophisticated, so good at this point that it doesn’t matter who you are or how skilled you think you are. In fact, you’re probably at greater risk if you think that you know it all, right?
“I’ll answer this email.” So in doing that, we discovered something that, you know, was missing in the system actually, you know, like we were good and we have it in now that it says external so we can identify if it’s an external email and we’ve done all that testing and everything but I’ll tell you what, I answered it on my phone and I couldn’t hover over To see the email address. So I was like, “I’ll be home in 10 minutes,” you know, kind of a thing and got home. And I went, “Oh my God, I rushed all the way home to this fake email.” And, you know, my IT guy goes, “You failed.” Oh, that’ll serve me right, not to answer my email while I’m in the car, ugh, so.
You know, we had something similar. We had a request that came in through our website contact us form and it was like, “Hey, we’ve identified some pictures on your site that are mine and are unlicensed. I’m about to open up a lawsuit.” I haven’t been here forever. So I was like, “That’s a perfectly reasonable legitimate thing that could have happened.” And I almost fell prey to it, right? Only because I think I used to work in an email security company, I was like “Eh” but I had never seen the tactic before, you know? So it’s like growing sophistication constantly.
My God, well, they’re asking things like, “How are the kids? Did, you know, have her baby?” And you’re just like, “What, how do you know these things,” so, yeah, so we’ve gotten good at identifying it, but not so much me and my phone.
There’s always learning. So, you mentioned that you invested in some laptops, you’ve invested a lot of technology, you know, is your expectation, you know, that there’s a more hybrid environment moving forward, or are, you know, trying to plan ahead in case of a second emergency?
We have the capability that should we need to close again, that we won’t have to furlough. We’ll be able to keep working. Everyone is up and running. I have attorneys that are more comfortable working at home and they’re able to do that so it’s good. We’re right in Philadelphia, right near City Hall. So sometimes there’s something happening at City Hall that may mean it’s not so great. So I want people to get out of there faster so if I get worried that that’s happening, then they can just home that day, be safe. It gives you a little bit more flexibility for sure.
Now that I know and everyone is on their firm-issued laptop, and not their home PC, you know, I feel better.
So I’m curious — obviously there’s a whole lot of work that you’ve done as a result of either improvements that you’ve identified as a result of all this or things that came to light. Are there other initiatives that you’re looking at? Are there things that maybe the firm had planned last year that got put off or additional initiatives beyond the ones already taken that you’re going to be focused on for the next six, 12 months?
So we’re going to be looking at our technology overall and see if we need to do some upgrades, make sure that we’re using current cost effective software. You know, because there’s always something new out there and this is a smaller firm, so, People don’t like change, you know? So we have take baby steps and try to put some things into place regarding calendaring solutions for our litigation department, things like that. So we’re taking a look at office products, and things to help us work better and more efficiently.
I think you mentioned already that you’re president of the Philadelphia ALA Chapter this year. How long have you been a member of ALA?
So we keep trying to figure this out because it’s been a while. I started with another firm in 1999, I think I joined in 2000. And so I was a member for, you know, like 14 years, and then left, and I was a vendor myself. And then I went back and I’ve been a member now for about six years or so. So 20 plus years altogether.
So something keeps pulling you back and obviously enough to encourage you to take a leadership role. How would you describe the value that you’ve gotten from ALA over these years?
Oh my God. I would’ve been lost, especially during this last year, I’m telling you. Our Listserve has just blown up and it’s just great to know that any question, anything that comes up whatsoever, we have not only a core group of members who are amazing and will offer their opinion, and what they’ve done but I can speak to the Philadelphia Chapter. Our business partners are the industry leaders. They’re the ones who have the knowledge, right?
And so I all the time, it’s like they really are not vendors, “You guys really are business partners.” And so what I love about our chapter is that I can reach out to a BP anytime and say, “What are you seeing? I don’t know what to do here. I need help.” And they get right back and it’s great. It’s just been absolutely invaluable.
With the Philadelphia Chapter, how are you guys fixed for in-person events? I know that there’s been a couple more recently. Yes starting to see that pick up too. People are more comfortable.
We did a survey to membership to see who would be comfortable starting to do some in person events. And we got a pretty good response, that people wanted to do it. We started doing it and usually our social events with I don’t know, maybe 40, 50 people come to it. We’ve been waitlisting, like 70 people are coming to it. We’ve been selling out things and it’s been great. People really wanna get back.
And the thing though, we did learn about it is that, you know, we’ve always wanted to offer our education sessions virtually and not just in person. They’ve always just been in person. And it’s hard as an administrator to pick up and leave your office at 11:45 to go to a lunch session at 12 o’clock. ‘Cause, sometimes it’s hard to do that, right?
So now we’ve learned that we can do it, we can do it virtually, and people are able to, you know, take the session from their class, from their office. So we’re getting more people that maybe weren’t able to do that before. And Zoom platform. We’re recording things now. So if you miss it, you can see it later. So even though we were in a pandemic, we came out with some really terrific things in the Chapter.
It sounds like engagement almost increased as a result, right? You know, I think oftentimes, you know, it’s the administrator, it’s the director that’s the only one that’s in the office, right? And it can feel really lonely when you’re trying to figure out the answers to all of these questions. And you’re the one, you know that’s trying to do it. So to have this family, this community to rely on, to brainstorm, even if nobody has the answers, to at least have more than one brain thinking it through must be invaluable.
And it really is. And I’ll tell you what, even though the city was quiet and I didn’t have anyone in, you know, there was an administrator here, and here, and here who are all in. So like we could just see you in person for a minute, you know? That kinda stuff was just great.
Kathleen, I really appreciate your time today. Thanks so much for joining me today.