The ALPS In Brief Podcast
ALPS In Brief — Episode 47: Guard Your Data Like Gold and Other Practical Tips from a Hacker

ALPS In Brief — Episode 47: Guard Your Data Like Gold and Other Practical Tips from a Hacker

June 24, 2020

We are using personal devices for work (and working from home) more than we ever have before. These are both big risk factors as cybersecurity threats have soared during the pandemic. So, how do we make security sustainable and not live life at the hackers’ mercy? ALPS Risk Manager Mark Bassingthwaighte sits down with Sherri Davidoff, CEO and Founder of LMG Security and the latest addition to the ALPS Board of Directors, to give you some practical advice in guarding your data like the gold it is.

TRANSCRIPT:

Mark:

Let's rock and roll. Hello. Welcome to ALPS in Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I am really excited about our guest today. I have heard her speak and have read a book about her. And let me just share, our guest is Sherri Davidoff, the CEO of LMG Security. And I believe, Sherri, that is short for Lake Missoula Group. Is it not?

Sherri Davidoff:

It's true. We're named after the lake that we're sitting at the bottom of.

Mark:

For those of you, it's worth looking up in Wikipedia or Google or something to get a little bit of history of Lake Missoula. That's a whole nother story. But Sherri is a noted speaker, trainer, white hack, excuse me, white hacker, and author of the recently released book, Data Breaches, Crisis and Opportunity. As a recognized expert in cybersecurity and data breach response, Sherri has been called, and I love this, a security badass by the New York Times. I just think that's fantastic.

Mark:

She has conducted cybersecurity training for many distinguished organizations, including the Department of Defense, the ABA, the FFIEC, the FDIC, and many more. She's also a faculty member at the Pacific Coast Banking School and an instructor for Black Hat, where she teaches her data breaches course. She is also the co-author of Network Forensics: Tracking Hackers Through Cyberspace. It's a Prentice Hall publication, out in 2012. And this is a noted security text in the private sector and a college textbook for many cybersecurity courses.

Mark:

Sherri is also a GIAC certified forensic examiner, a penetration tester, and holds her degree in computer science and electrical engineering from MIT. She has also been featured as the protagonist in the book Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called Alien. And so welcome, Sherri. And I can say I love the book.

Sherri Davidoff:

Thank you so much, Mark. It's a pleasure to be here with you.

Mark:

It was a lot of fun. It was a good read.

Sherri Davidoff:

Good.

Mark:

What you and I had been visiting about in terms of just having a conversation today, obviously in light of all that has happened in recent months with COVID-19, global pandemic, and this fallout of a very rapid move into working from home did not overlook lawyers. Many, many had to immediately jump and try to figure out how to make this work. And it seems some were pretty successful at that. Others, there were a few struggles, but they got there. But what I really want to focus on is the security side, the security piece of this.

Mark:

I think remote security is exposing not only lawyers, I think businesses of all shapes and sizes, to unexpected or perhaps a broadened way, broadened their risk, their exposure just because we have at times home systems. And I guess initially, would you agree, is the remote work setting a concern for you?

Sherri Davidoff:

Well, absolutely. There's an expanded attack surface now that so many people are working remotely. And I'd say that's for two reasons. Number one, because many people have moved to the cloud, or have started logging into work remotely, and therefore poked holes in their firewalls and things like that in order to facilitate it. And everybody did what we needed to do keep going and to keep business up and running. And that's fine. I'm here to tell everybody it's all fine.

Sherri Davidoff:

Our goal is progress and not perfection. But now's the time to step back and think, "What do we do?" And start cleaning things up, start thinking about, "How do we sustain this potentially long-term?" Because I think remote work has been here for a while and has definitely ramped up, and is here to stay. And the other reason why the attack surface has expanded is because a lot of people are using personal devices for work more than we ever have before.

Sherri Davidoff:

And so all of a sudden, you have sometimes very sensitive data on your personal device that you also share with your kids, or your friends, and you play games and this and that. And there's a different risk level that we have in our personal lives versus what's appropriate when we're handing this very sensitive information, so we have to balance those issues.

Mark:

Yeah. I like sort of two comments here, briefly. Initially, I like that you're saying lawyers haven't done anything wrong, in other words, by transitioning. It's so tempting to try to scare the bejeezus out of everybody and say, "You're not doing anything," but they did what they needed to do. And now is the time because I think you're absolutely right, this work from home evolution in terms of the rapid rise of it, is here to stay in a lot of ways. And so now it's time to say not, you've done anything wrong, or you're bad, but let's try to fix it.

Sherri Davidoff:

How do we make it sustainable and not get hacked all the time?

Mark:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I want to come back to here a little bit down the road, but I do really appreciate the comment of personal devices. And I think that's worth exploring a little bit. Where I'd like to start, if we may, and I don't know if you agree or disagree with this, but even again today, I have come across additional articles talking about an exposure that is I think for so many, flying under the radar. And that is simply the wireless access points, the routers and whatnot that all of us typically have in our homes. And do you feel, is that an overblown risk? Would you have any thoughts about some basic things that staff and lawyers should be thinking about?

Sherri Davidoff:

Well, it depends where you are. I used to live in the middle of Boston, and there were a zillion people around my house all the time. Now I live in the middle of Montana, and wireless security is always important, but less of a concern. So first of all, consider physically where you are and who might have physical access to that wireless network. And absolutely, your network is only as secure as the devices that are on it. And we've seen time and time again that if a computer gets infected, it will try to infect all the devices around it. So if you have a neighbor that starts using your wireless network, and they happen to have a computer that's been infected, that could absolutely cause risk for systems on your network as well.

Mark:

Very good. And thoughts about, are there any just practical steps you think folks might be able to take to minimize that likelihood?

Sherri Davidoff:

Sure. Well, as we were talking about ahead of time, there have been a number of vulnerabilities in common routers and wireless access points. So step number one, make sure that your software is up to date, your firmware is up to date on those devices. And you can do that either, sometimes they have an app that's paired with your smartphone, so you can update it that way. Or you can go into the device itself in the administrative interface and do updates. So every now and then, sit down, have a glass of wine, whatever, update your router. It's fun. It's easy. And change that password. Make sure that the password is not a default, that it's secure, it's not your phone number or your address, because guess what, people know that.

Sherri Davidoff:

And also that the name of your wireless network is something that does not draw attention to you, that it's a little bit under the radar, boring. Make your network look boring.

Mark:

I like that. I like that.

Sherri Davidoff:

Really slow wireless, that's what you should call it. Nobody will want this.

Mark:

I think your idea of maybe having a glass of wine to do this isn't a bad one because there have been times where I've been trying to do some things in terms of ... I take security very, very seriously because I've been telecommuting, and boy, there are times when certain things aren't as easy as they should be. And just instead of throwing the computer, you could have a little sip of, just relax.

Sherri Davidoff:

Yeah. Well, risk is your job at ALPS, so I could imagine it's something you take seriously.

Mark:

That's right. That's right. For a moment, let's just say that I am a lawyer. I'm the owner of a small firm, couple of staff. And we have made this transition out, and everybody's at home for the time being. May or may not be coming back. We'll just see how this all evolves. But as the owner of this small business, what kinds of things really should be on my radar that may not be? What should I think about?

Sherri Davidoff:

Yeah. The number one thing to think about right now is two-factor authentication. And I know that's a big word. I cannot even tell you how important that is because we're living in a world today where all of your passwords have been stolen, just assume that, because if you get a virus on your computer, it's going to steal all your passwords first thing before you even know it. And you're not fooling anybody by keeping it in a Word document with a totally different name. I know that it's there and so do the criminals, and they're just going to grab it.

Sherri Davidoff:

The other thing is if you reuse passwords on different websites, and one of those websites gets hacked, criminals have automated tools that will try your password in a zillion other websites. It's called credential stuffing attacks. And Akamai, which is a big tech company, reported that there were 61 billion credential stuffing attacks just in the past 18 months. So assume somebody's going to steal your password. You're not going to know about it because that company may not even know they have a data breach. Or if they know, maybe they'll report it to you six months to three years later.

Sherri Davidoff:

And in the meantime, you need to protect your accounts. The FBI recently reported that the number of business email compromised cases is going up because of coronavirus. Scammers are using tactics to try to trick people out of their money, so they're breaking into email accounts. They're finding examples of invoices, or payments, or things like that. And they're saying, "Oh, due to coronavirus, that bank account is being audited, and I really need these funds. Please send it to this other place."

Sherri Davidoff:

So you should guard your email account like it is gold because it is. You have valuable information in it. And remember with lawyers, information is your business. Right? If it's valuable to you, or if it's valuable to your client, it is valuable to a criminal. They can leverage it somehow. So protect that email account like it is gold. And your email account can also be used to reset your password on anything else, and the criminals know that, so they're after your email.

Mark:

That's a great point, that really is. Can you take just a moment or two and explain just a bit more about what you mean by two-factor authentication? I'm not sure that everybody in our audience, I think a lot do, but I know that there are more than a few that really don't understand. And I assume we talk about this, you're really saying we want to use this if we can in any and every setting, so email account, bank account.

Sherri Davidoff:

Yes. Cloud, you name it.

Mark:

Cloud, right, right. But can you just share just a little bit more to make sure everybody's with us?

Sherri Davidoff:

Absolutely. This is my favorite question, Mark. Thank you so much. So two-factor authentication is what you need to know. Authentication means how we verify someone's identity. So online you might have your identity verified with a password. Passwords are dead to me now. In the real world, you might verify your identity with your driver's license. Right? Two-factor authentication is when you use more than one method of verifying someone's identity together. And it makes it a lot less likely that your account will be broken into. And you might not know it, but we use two-factor authentication all the time. I don't know if you can think of a place where you use two different methods of verifying yourself.

Mark:

Well, the one that comes immediately to mind to me is just a debit card at the ATM machine.

Sherri Davidoff:

Yes. I'm giving you a prize. I have to rummage through my swag and drop it off at your office. Absolutely, yes. You're the only person I have ever worked with who's gotten it right off the bat. But yes, your debit card. And when ATMs first came out in the '60s, they did not all have a pin number associated with them. You were in England, you'd get your punch card. And if you lost that punch card, some criminal could pick it up and get your money. And it actually took over a decade before all the ATMs in the world had pins. But now, if you had a choice, if your bank said, "Oh, you don't need a pin on that ATM card," how would you feel about it?

Mark:

I would have a problem with that.

Sherri Davidoff:

You'd have a problem with it. And it's going to be that way on the internet pretty soon. People will be like, "Really? You don't have two-factor authentication? That's so dangerous. I can't believe it."

Mark:

Yeah.

Sherri Davidoff:

I can give you some examples of what you can use for two FA if you want.

Mark:

Sure.

Sherri Davidoff:

Okay. So when you're logging into your email for example, some of you are probably familiar with the case where you get a pin on your phone. Right? You log in, it sends a pin to your phone. That's better than nothing, but it's not the best because those are not encrypted. I don't know if you've heard of simjacking attacks, where attackers can take over your phone, or they can get your phone number sent somewhere else, so those are not the best.

Sherri Davidoff:

What's better than that is an app on your phone, like Google Authenticator, which is free, or Microsoft's Authenticator. And it'll show you a code that you type in. Or even better, it'll just pop up a message that says, "Do you want to authenticate, yes or no? Is this acceptable?" And so you type in your password and then you hit yes, or you type in your code, and then you get in. And so the criminal actually needs your phone and your password in order to get in, and that is so much safer than just a password.

Mark:

And I want to follow up. You had talked as we started this discussion a little bit about they're into your email and they're capturing your passwords. One of the things I want to underscore for our listeners is that you don't know they're in your system monitoring and capturing all this stuff. I still run into a lot of people that say, "Well, I've never been hacked because the computer still works." Nobody's going to send you a thank you card for doing something silly and saying, "We've been in. And thank you, we got all this."

Mark:

But you made the comment about passwords. And one of the things that I hear from time to time as I talk about password policies, long passwords, passphrases, complex passwords, those kinds of things, and the pushback you always get. How in the world do I remember all this? And your comment of a Word document is absolutely not the way to do this. But I have talked about password saves. And one of the questions that comes up from time to time is, well, here I am putting all this information into a file. And sometimes these safes, I have one, Iron Key, that's a jump drive. But they're also cloud-based. And what are your thoughts about the security of that? Because I had a lot of pushback of people saying, "How in the world can that be safe if they're hacking in?"

Mark:

I certainly have my thoughts about it. But I'd love to hear from your ... I mean, you do the pen testing. How reliable are these password safes in terms of helping us try to be as secure as we can?

Sherri Davidoff:

Yeah. So you're probably thinking, "Well, why would I want to put all my eggs in one basket?" And then hackers know they're going to attack that basket. Right?

Mark:

Exactly.

Sherri Davidoff:

The reality is that it's more complex than that because first of all, that basket LastPass, Dashly, OnePassword, you name it, they are especially designed to be hardened against attacks. For example, they're resistant to the common attacks. They're constantly researching it. And if they autofill a form for you, they're using different hooks in the operating system that make it harder for the attacker to grab that compared with a regular web browser, for example, so that's the first thing.

Sherri Davidoff:

The second thing is I use password managers not just for their ability to store passwords, but for their ability to generate passwords. And that's perhaps even more important. You need a unique password for every single website, maybe not the really junky ones that you don't have anything important in them. But most people underestimate the importance of an individual account. Ideally, you want a totally different login for each website because you never know which website's going to get hacked. Right?

Sherri Davidoff:

And the human brain is not designed to remember 20 billion passwords. I mean, it's probably all we can do to remember three passwords. And so then you get people picking the password fluffy1984, like their dog and their kid's birthday, which people can totally guess, or spring2018bicycles, and then that changes to summer2018 when you have to change it. The hackers are onto you. They have automated tools that will automatically try different variants on your favorite password that they have already captured. They'll put an exclamation point at the end. They'll put a one, and then a two, and then a three, and then a nine and a 10.

Sherri Davidoff:

And they'll change spring to summer and 2018 to 2019. So those ways that people modify their passwords are not very secure. So use your password manager. Use two-factor authentication on it if it's in the cloud. And if you hear, LastPass, for example, was actually hacked several years ago. And what happens in that case is you want to change at least your master password if [inaudible 00:21:58] passwords.

Sherri Davidoff:

But it is so much better than keeping your passwords in a file on your computer because people get their computers infected so frequently. And that's the first thing that goes out the door. The criminals are automatically stealing your files, and then you won't even know you've been hacked until your money's been missing, or a spam email goes out to all your clients.

Mark:

So what I'm hearing then as the owner, I need to be really concerned about authentication and protecting passwords, strong passwords. Are there other concerns that come to mind as the owner?

Sherri Davidoff:

Ransomware. A lot of attorneys are hit with ransomware. Ransomwares steal your information often before they hold you for ransom. And that's the thing that a lot of attorneys don't think about because I've seen many law firms even put up out of office messages that say, "Hey, we have ransomware. We'll get back to you tomorrow." That's not cool for your clients.

Mark:

No.

Sherri Davidoff:

That means chances are their data was stolen too. And the trend that we are seeing in 2020 is that criminals have started to realize that people have better and better backups. And if you don't pay them the ransom to get your data back, they will threaten to publish it. And in that case, you've got two options. You can either say, "Okay, we'll pay the ransom," in which case, they could come back to you in six months and say, "Pay us again or we'll release it again." You can't trust them.

Sherri Davidoff:

Or you don't pay the ransom, and all your data's published. And what does that mean for your clients and your relationships and your status as an attorney? So you really need to protect yourself with ransomware. And you do that with two-factor authentication, super important.

Mark:

Yes, right.

Sherri Davidoff:

And making sure you have a secure method to connect to your data. So for a lot of people who have just poked holes in their network and they're going through RDP, remote desktop protocol, that's not a secure way to do it. There's other better ways to do it, like using a VPN. Or you can, if you choose to store your data in the cloud, there are some benefits to that, especially if you use two-factor authentication.

Mark:

Let's talk a little bit about this. And for those of you listening, if you're not completely sure, VPN stands for virtual private network. And we're really talking about disguising our location at times, in terms of what servers, when I use my VPN for instance, I am picking servers in Canada and other parts of the United States. I can go all over the world if I wanted to. So you're hiding your location a little bit, but it's also encrypting the data stream, so that's what we're talking about in terms of any remote connection. And I think it's particularly important in the wifi space.

Mark:

But there are a lot of free VPNs available and a lot of other just tiered pricing of all kinds of things. Do you have any thoughts about is it unwise to use the free VPNs as opposed to spending a little bit of money? I hear at times the VPNs that are free, they may be monitoring and monetizing the information they're learning about what you're doing. But I truly don't know. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Sherri Davidoff:

In general, there's no such thing as a free lunch in our society. Right? If you're not paying for a product, you are the product, so they say. So I would be careful about that. In general, I would get an experienced IT person's advice when you're setting up your VPN. I wouldn't do it on your own because if you make a little mistake, again, it's all your data on the line. There's some pretty serious consequences. Also, consider if you really need a VPN. Are you just trying to get into one computer? And if so, is it just a certain type of data that you need?

Sherri Davidoff:

Personally, I am a proponent, I've become a proponent of using the cloud. And I was a slow adopter. Being a security professional, I was fairly conservative about it. But you have some really strong options like Microsoft Office 365 is a great option for attorneys. There's a lot of compliance. There's a lot of regulations that they adhere to, and you can get them to sign off on that. There's other providers as well that are very good. And again, if you're using that two-factor authentication, they have some very advanced security features built in. They are maintaining that software, so I think it takes a lot of the pressure off of small and solo practitioners to just use the cloud. And then you don't have to worry about somebody remoting into your whole computer.

Mark:

One question that comes up every once in a while from lawyers as they start to think through some of the things we're talking about, but in the context of ransomware the cloud, they're learning. And I think for the most part they have as a profession, have a pretty good understanding what ransomware does at a basic level. And it can infect the network and this kind of thing. But I think some believe one of two things, but first, the cloud one is if I put things in the cloud, I'm safe there because there's this break. Would you put that to rest?

Sherri Davidoff:

Yeah. I mean, if you can access it, so can criminals. Right?

Mark:

Oh, yeah.

Sherri Davidoff:

Especially because often we see people click on links in phishing emails. Their computers get infected. And the criminals will even install ransomware in your cloud drives, like One Drive. If you can get to it and a criminal has access to your account, then the criminal has access to it. And there are times, in fact, I have a little video example that we took in our laboratory, where criminals will deliberately remote into your computer and use your computer to break into your bank accounts or your email accounts because you have your password saved there. And you don't have ... You've clicked trust this computer, so it's way easier for them than trying to break in from Thailand, or Russia, or wherever they happen to be.

Mark:

And I want to respect your time here, Sherri. The stuff you're sharing is just awesome, awesome stuff. I want to just take a few moments and shift a little bit now. So we've talked about some really good security things that lawyers, business owners, firm leaders need to be thinking about. And of course, all of this needs to apply to everybody. But let's talk about the home place. So what do I need to think about in terms of making sure my employees do, or understand? Do you have concerns about what the individual is actually doing in their own home?

Sherri Davidoff:

Yes, of course. A big issue that comes up is sharing of computers, so you need to have a clear policy as to whether it's okay to share computers. Is it okay to have certain types of documents on their personal computers? Remember that personal computers are much higher risk. You are likely to get a virus on a personal computer, especially if multiple people are sharing that. So whenever possible, keep work documents on work systems, or systems that are just used for work. And again, the cloud can help you with that.

Sherri Davidoff:

For example, you can allow people to access documents in the cloud and prevent them from downloading those documents. And it's all well and good to tell people that. But ideally, you want to actually implement that control and prevent them from a technical measure. We also see people emailing documents to their personal emails, and now it's totally out of your control. It's up in Google somewhere else. You may have violated some policies, especially if you deal with health information. You might've violated some regulations just by putting it up in Google, or violated your client's privacy. So mainlining control of your data, especially during these times, is absolutely critical.

Sherri Davidoff:

I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention mobile device management software, so if you have people using personal devices, you can deploy what we call an MDM. It's a piece of software that allows you to have some level of control over that personal device. So if that employee leaves, or if the device is stolen, it'll wipe your data from it. It can require that there's a pin or a passcode set on that device, even though you don't own that device. It can require antivirus software, and that's another one. If you do nothing else, require antivirus software. And you can buy it for employees to use on their home computers if they're using those for work.

Mark:

Yeah. The takeaway for me, and there are a lot here, and we can talk about this for hours. Maybe I could.

Sherri Davidoff:

I've been talking about it for 20 years.

Mark:

But I do like, when I think about our confidentiality rules in law, I do think saying we really ... You can't use a home computer for work that the teenage kids have access to in the evening, and the gaming. That's just victim here on the forehead if you ask me. So it underscores the value of saying, "If you have the financial wherewithal, let's supply our employees and staff and associates, whoever may be involved here, with company-owned equipment," because we can enforce the rules. We have control over that. I really like that. I but I also think that there's value in having some policies and then thinking through some of the issues that you just identified. And let's have written policies that staff are well aware of, so that if they are constantly breaking the rules, which is so easy to do because we trust our personal devices. Do we not?

Mark:

We seem to trust our personal devices a little bit more than work devices, whether it's because we know we're not being watched, if you will, in terms of just when you're on corporate device, they have the ability to monitor what's happening to the device, that kind of thing. I don't know what it is. But I think having a policy allows you to, well, not monitor, but hold people accountable.

Sherri Davidoff:

Absolutely.

Mark:

And say, "Look, if you're not doing something."

Sherri Davidoff:

Yeah. A policy's a great first step. And remember, progress not perfection. I do recognize, especially right now, a lot of people just don't have any other option besides using personal devices. And if you do that, again, that next step is to create a separate account at least. So you're not sharing the same account as your kids or as the other people you're working with. And if you can, having a separate device for work is definitely the way to go if you are able to do that.

Mark:

Well, Sherri, it's been a pleasure. I want to share with our listeners that Sherri has made available some remote work cybersecurity checklists for employees and managers. And this isn't live yet, but when it will be, you can click right there and have access to these. They're excellent tools. And Sherri, thank you very much for making that available to our audience. For those of you listening today, I hope you have found something of value. And if you have an idea of a topic that you feel strongly about that you think others would enjoy hearing, or you have a speaker that you'd be interested in seeing if we can have join the podcast, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. My email address is mbass, M-B-A-S-S, @alpsinsurance.com.

Mark:

And before I close, for those listening to the mileage score, you have to go back to earlier podcasts. I'm up to 700 even as of today, so I'm getting there. That's it. Thank you all. Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 46: What if Goat Yoga Isn’t Your Thing?

ALPS In Brief — Episode 46: What if Goat Yoga Isn’t Your Thing?

May 6, 2020

On this episode of ALPS In Brief, at the beginning of Lawyer Wellbeing Week and Mental Health Awareness month, Mark sits down with Liesel Brink, head of HR at ALPS to ask her a loaded question: Why would an employer want to invest time or money in prioritizing employee wellness? 

Transcript:

MARK BASSINGTHWAIGHTE:
Hello. Welcome to ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence Building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte, the Risk Manager with ALPS, and I'm delighted to have as my guest a colleague, Liesel Brink, who has been with ALPS for five years and she is the Manager of HR at ALPS. In her prior life, I guess, leading up her background, she has a vocational certificate in business administration and a bachelor's in applied science among other things that she's done over the years, like still, in fact, serves as a consultant with HR Solutions. Oh, I'm sorry, HR Specialties. Excuse me there, Liesel.

And I've been excited to learn that for the past 23 years or so, she has been involved with the Moose Organization, and, boy, so I look over her bio, there's a long list of responsibilities and it sounds like you have been very, very active with this. And that's awesome. Great for you. Well, let me just say welcome and I guess explain, we're here to talk about wellness. And before I jump into some questions with you, Liesel, I'd like to share for our audience. May is a month where nationally we focus on mental health, it's a Mental Health Awareness Month, but May is also a time where the ABA and Bar Associations really try to prioritize wellness. And that's why I really wanted to have you participate here today. And, can we generally, just start out, how would you define wellness? I mean, what does that term mean to you as someone responsible for part of the wellness program in ALPS?

LIESEL BRINK:
Well, thanks for having me, Mark. It's a pleasure to be able to speak with you in this forum. I always love hearing your ALPS and briefs, so thank you. And talking about wellness, I love it. It's not something that everyone always thinks about and that's one of the reasons why I like it. For me, the definition of wellness is thinking about yourself in the full picture or the whole picture rather than breaking it out into little bits. You want to think about yourself as a whole.

MARK: 
Okay. Then that makes sense to me. One the things that I have done in past years is write about the importance of finding balance between our personal and our professional lives. And of late I've really decided that's not right, at least for me, because if you have to find balance between two things, it sort of suggests or implies that one is unhealthy and the other we need to work on. You see where I'm going? And I like how you... Wellness really encapsulates this in the sense that we're talking about oneness, wholeness, something like that. Okay. Very good. Let's see. I have a list of questions here I want to look at and talk about. Why do you feel that wellness is important, generally, in the workplace setting? Why would an employer want to invest, whether time and money? Thoughts.

LIESEL:
Yeah. Well, it's a loaded question, Mark. If I may say that, one, an employer wants to consider wellness for their employees for a variety of reasons, one being the return on investment. If you're considering helping employees think about financial wellness, that's less stress on them perhaps in the more ability for them to focus on the work that you're asking them to do. If you're thinking about a health aspect of wellness, whether that be in biometric screening or physical activities, that might enlist or allow, excuse me, individuals to actually think about their health a little bit more which could possibly lead for less absenteeism at work. Just a few reasons why an employer might want to consider wellness outside of the fact that it can improve morale at the company, even though it's a small company, and it can also improve the culture.

MARK: 
I like where you're going with that in terms of underscoring health, physical health, looking at financial wealth. I am not a mindfulness guy, and my wife tries to get me to go there at times. She thinks it would be good for me and I won't disagree with her, but for a long time I sort of equated mindfulness, the mindfulness movement, to the wellness movement and sort about... I'm thinking goat yoga and all of this crazy stuff. And that just doesn't... But I'm not saying goat yoga is not a good thing, but it doesn't speak to me. But you're really... Again, just underscores the... Looking at all aspects of a person's life. Before I go with my next question, I'd like to share, too, a little bit of a background or story about ALPS just as somebody that has been with the company now a little over 22 years. And ALPS, I really feel very blessed to have been with the company all these years.

MARK: 
And as any company, it's had its good days and its bad days. Its tremendous successes and some struggles. And I'll be honest and share, there have been times where, as you were talking about morale, was not always what could it be or should be or what I would hope for. And wellness was not something that... There was never a focus on it. And as a person that's gone through, having you join the company, new CEO, I can just share. There has been a sea change that is phenomenal and I would say the work that you have done and that David have done, our CEO, really has... I mean, the two of you are responsible for this. I mean, let's just be honest about that.

MARK: 
And you made me a believer. You really have, and it just... Again, morale. I've never experienced in a workplace setting, out of my whole career done all kinds of things over my life that allows me to feel so much as a team, sort of a home, that kind of thing. So I'm trying to share to our audience the value and significance and just hearing how this can impact somebody directly from the source. Now, so, okay. So, with all that out there, we've talked a bit about how you see this as important to a company, but can you talk about ALPS specifically? Why did... and we do all kinds of things and please feel free to share the kinds of things that we've done. You can go in any direction here, but why was wellness so important to you and to David in terms of... For ALPS?

LIESEL:
Right. So to be completely honest, Mark, it started off with just the health insurance costs, right?

MARK: 
Yeah. Right.

LIESEL:
Everyone knows that those are astronomical and a large part of anyone's budget. And we were trying to find a way to start honing in on what is costing us so much. Like other small companies, we don't have access to a lot of the data that can give us those answers. So what we decided to do was start small. Invite a biometric screening company in and incentivize employees to participate in that so that they could start thinking about their own health. And for us not to be a big brother about it, right? We're not telling them that they have to do this. It was totally voluntary, but it was free. So, why not participate? And, yeah. And so that's where we started. And from there, there was an ask. One employee came and asked, "Hey, can we do fun stuff during the year?"

LIESEL:
And, being a department of one, I said, "Sure. How about we try quarterly," and with a budget of $50 for the year, you start small. You can create a certificate for the team that wins if you want to do a team challenge. And that's how we started it out. We incentivized individuals to participate in group activities. Hiking, we all met at... And when I say, "We all," there were two or three of us who showed up and we did a hike together. We incentivize people to take the stairs at work. We also did a corporate gift, compression socks, which is also an aspect of wellness, right?

MARK: 
I still have mine.

LIESEL:
And so... idea, right? And we did another challenge this past winter. We had individuals wear their socks sometime during one week, and they took a sock selfie. And so, it's little things like that that can start individuals thinking about their own health overall. And not to jump ahead, Mark, but one of the other things that in the last two years I've been trying to push a little bit more about is mental health. And we offer some services already. We have an employee assistance program.

LIESEL:
And then I also found out that through our life insurance company, we have additional employee assistance available to us. So law firms can possibly, or any employer, can be looking at something like that that's already out there that they just didn't know about. And then there is a free National Mental Health Crisis number that employers can push out. If you're having a tough time, call this number. They're here to help. And just breaking down the stigma that seems to be around that.

MARK: 
We're a diverse group of people, and that's going to be true pretty much of the workforce at any business regardless of how, unless you're truly, for instance, just a sole attorney, it's just you. But how do you try to determine what the needs are and then follow up and try to meet the needs of this diverse group that you're working with in terms of trying to keep us all well? Is it sort of spontaneous, do you...

LIESEL:
Well, Mark, every HR person has a crystal ball and that's how we determine everything. No, I... To be honest, we did work with our insurance broker and we put together a survey that we did push out to all of our employees to tell them what... excuse me, to ask them, what aspects of wellness are they interested in in having us focus on? And from that survey I was very surprised we had a large percentage of individuals who participated say that they wanted more help with financial wellness.

MARK: 
Yeah. Okay.

LIESEL:
Yeah, it was exciting to see and also something that allowed me to reach out to a local credit union and bring in someone to help us with budgeting, and they were nice enough to do it as a community service to us. So, again, with that small budget, which, that was in the first year, helped out a lot. So the survey definitely... But even putting out the question to the employees in general, some people are comfortable enough to saying, "Hey, it would be fun if we could do X, Y and Z." Or, "People in my department would like to do this." So, giving some leeway could be beneficial depending on the size of the company.

LIESEL:
The other thing I would say, Mark, is that, starting small is fine because wellness is just about getting people thinking about these different aspects. Because most of the time we're so involved in our lives, in the things that we have to get done in that day and the things that are causing us stress. These are the things that are pulling our focus, and having a wellness program or even wellness monthly emails get people to at least come out of that thinking for a short period of time.

MARK: 
What do you think about space? Physical space? Office setup, those kinds of things? I mean, is there a component to wellness there as well?

LIESEL:
Definitely, Mark, and as far as the morale goes, I would say that that would be something that could be high on the list as far as ergonomics, making it available to employees to have an ergonomical evaluation of their workstation done. Locally, I know that our office supply company is able to do that for us. I know that our insurance broker has someone on staff that was willing to come in and do that with us. It also allows employees to, as far as risk to the company, minimizes Workers' Comp claims.

MARK: 
Sure.

LIESEL:
But also allow someone at the end of the day to possibly not go home with a headache or not have that stress. I do feel that that's important, and one of the first steps a company could possibly take in that mindfulness/morale for the company as whole.

MARK: 
Yeah. I can recall many, many years ago in a prior life, prior job, a big company, actually a government job, sort of big government office, but horrible lighting, these big old computer screens and you're just stuck and, oh, the headaches. You just... And I agree with you that just surroundings can make a huge difference. As you think about the past five years with ALPS, you have any thoughts on what has worked well, what hasn't worked, and would you do anything different? Just...

LIESEL:
Yeah. Five years. That's great. I can't believe it's been five years already. It seems like yesterday.

MARK: 
I know. It goes so fast.

LIESEL:
Yes. So, I would say what has worked well, variety, right? Not.... We are lucky in our company. We have a lot of individuals who love to be physically active. But what I like to think for individuals is not just catering to the individuals that are already thinking about their health. I like to try to get individuals engaged who aren't normally engaged. So, variety, fun, and one of the things that was most successful was the quick walk during our break. We did one during the morning break and one in the afternoon break, just so those that were interested could participate.

LIESEL:
And, again, we're very lucky. Just outside we have a walk path that we could do a quick 10 minute walk and everyone could be back in the office within an allotted time. One of the things that I personally took to heart but I've grown from is that participation wasn't as high as I would have liked it to be. And in talking with and networking with other HR professionals, I found out it was higher than theirs. And so, I was like, "That's fantastic."

MARK: 
Yeah. Yes.

LIESEL:
You try to get individuals into that set of thinking about their health overall, but you can't make them do things. And that's one of the things I would stress to individuals, is try your best, provide the resources, but don't stress if there's individuals who just aren't participating.

MARK: 
Okay. I was just sitting here thinking, we're in the, thankfully, at least here in Montana and nearing the end of this COVID stay at home situation. Our state is in the process of slowly "reopening." Who knows what's going to happen around the country and whether there's... You hear all kinds of, "Oh, my gosh, we may be back into this situation again at some other point." I don't know.

MARK: 
But I think, regardless, there's been a shift in this country that this COVID pandemic has accelerated a little bit. And it's a move toward telecommuting, and I think telecommuting has been happening, but I think it's accelerated a little bit and that's not going to go away. I'd just be curious, we've never talked about this before, but in terms of wellness, in the telecommute context, are there challenges? What are your thoughts about that? I'd love to hear.

LIESEL:
Yeah. So, to be honest, we've kind of been doing this week, been fortunate enough to have individuals who work remotely on our staff regularly, but to the extent that we have now and to the extent that the world is doing this, yeah, it is a bit of a struggle to be fully aware of what individuals are able to do when they're at home. So, taking that into consideration, trying to include things that people can do within their own home, making more touch points with employees, more connections with them, whether it's on the phone, or, we're lucky enough to have video options, too, to be able to engage with them on any questions that they might have or walk them through any of the challenges that we've set up in our wellness program.

LIESEL:
I will also say that we have opened up a platform for our employees through our information and system for employees to share resources on like children's yoga or the things that can be beneficial for everyone in the household now that everyone is home. I also encourage individuals to share humor, work-appropriate humor, but humor, because laughter after all is the best medicine, right? And it's not beneficial for everyone, but it does help individuals kind of remove themselves from their current thinking for a moment and put their mind into a different spot.

MARK: 
Yeah, couldn't agree more. Let me follow up with just two thoughts to underscore your point. We've been very blessed as a company for many, many years to have Nancy as our receptionist, and I can't remember how many years ago she started this, but there's always this morning email to the office with something funny. And she tells her stories, and I'll tell you, my wife gets a kick out of these. We get to laugh in here at home, but it does make a big difference. I do think humor is a great way to deal with some stress at times, but also just to feel good. If you start the day with a smile or a laugh, I think the odds are of the rest of the day being a little happier go up. And let me also share for our listeners, and I am one of the people you've referred to in terms of telecommuting for many years now, I think 10 or 11, something like that.

MARK: 
People have asked me how has COVID impacted me? And I'll sit here and say, "There's some things. Staying at home and not being able to go to a restaurant, those kinds of things. That's not fun." But from a work perspective, we're currently visiting via video on Microsoft Teams, and ALPS has really, significantly or substantially increased the use of teams during this process, and we're going to continue, I'm sure, to have this tool available for years to come. But the ability to video chat as opposed to just sending an email or picking up a phone, I can't tell you what a difference that makes. It's hard at times, as a remote person, to feel included in terms of what's happened at the office. There's lots of little things that go on at the office that we're just not part of because we're not there to have these conversations.

MARK: 
But that changes significantly with video. And I think a lot of folks... the technology and the tools are already there. It's just not being utilized in a way that could be beneficial. So, I'll throw that out there. I'd like to shift and as we start to wrap this up a little bit, bring this back to law. And a significant portion of our book really is the solo small firm space. So when you think about a small law firm and an attorney or an office manager just saying, "Oh, we really should look at this," or, "I'd like to take... But I don't even know where to start." What sort of practical tips or advice would you share that might get them moving in the right direction?

LIESEL:
So, Mark, I actually have previous work experience in law firms.

MARK: 
Oh.

LIESEL:
That's where I started many moons ago.

MARK: 
Oh, wow. I did not know. Very cool.

LIESEL:
Yes. And so I have a little bit of understanding of law firms. To be honest, there are a lot of free resources out there for anyone to take part of. We talked about ergonomic reviews. There are free resources out on the internet for how to set up your workstation properly, where your monitors should be versus how your chair should be and where your knees hit and how they tip the floor. So those are free resources. Hanging up your employee assistance program flyer or posting the free mental health phone number anywhere in the breakroom, those are free and fantastic good steps in as far as other free options, small places to start. Maybe having a lunch out at the picnic table as far as just disconnecting from work for your 20 or 30 minute lunch. Those are good things to start people in wellness.

MARK: 
Right. I'd like to circle back to one of your earlier comments as you wrapped this up, too. You shared, in terms of ALPS, you started out with 50 bucks and try and make something happen and you were talking about just a small staff. I want to underscore that because I think that's really important. You never get anywhere until you take that first step. And if you just take the step and start moving, it will evolve. None of us move forward day-to-day in what we're doing work-wise without making some mistakes now and again, but you do have to take that step. Well, I'm going to wrap it up here, Liesel. Do you have any final comments you'd like to share?

LIESEL:
You know, Mark, just start small. Every little bit is helpful, and don't be afraid to reach out to us here at ALPS if you'd like some more tips and tools.

MARK: 
Well, thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

LIESEL:
Thank you, Mark.

MARK: 
And folks, for you listening to the podcast today, I hope you found something of value. And as Liesel said, please, we are here. We are your resource. Feel free to reach out to me anytime. My email address is mbass@alpsinsurance.com, and you don't need to be an insured to talk with me. If there's something I can do to help or connect you with Liesel, if that would be helpful, that's what we're here to do. One final comment for you, regular listeners. In a prior podcast I talked about trying to ride a thousand miles this year. If you're curious as to the current count, I'm at 305. Here's hoping. Have a good... Bye-bye.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 45: Listening to Your Life

ALPS In Brief — Episode 45: Listening to Your Life

April 28, 2020

There are all kinds of finishing lines in life. Some of those will be positive, and others won't. So go ahead and feel what you feel, but remember the journey isn't over. Sooner or later, you're going to have to decide what's next, figure out how to get there, and then start moving. Mark illustrates the importance and value of listening to your life.

Transcript:

MARK BASSINGTHWAIGHTE: 

Hello, and welcome to ALPS in Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte, the risk manager here with ALPS. Today, I thought we'd take a little time to talk about listening. I've been blessed to have married my absolute best friend in life, and she and I are very honest with each other and have some crazy and interesting and wonderful conversations. At times she will be, like I said, very direct and honest. She'll say, "Mark, you're just not listening," and she's right. I mean, there are times, as she will describe and I readily agree, I have too many planes up in my head. I really am having trouble focusing and paying particular attention. But listening isn't just a skill that is limited to communication between two individuals.

I, with this podcast, would like to talk about listening to one's life and exploring a little bit about what that means in my experience. I would consider myself someone who does a pretty good job of listening to my life. I have seen a number of people have no idea what I'm talking about, no clue how to do it, and no desire to learn. I've seen some people even get hit, in my mind, upside the head by life with some meaning and something you're here to learn, and they just don't do the learning because they're not looking for it, perhaps. Others are very, very good at this, particularly for the big, loud things that life has to say. But I would really like to explore looking at this on the day-to-day, because I think there are all kinds of learnings that can come up day-to-day if we just stop to take the time to listen and to look for the learning.

So let me give you an example of what I think about and what I mean when it comes to listening to one's life. When I was a younger adult, there was a period of time where I was really into bike riding. It was primarily as a means of transportation, and also a way to get a little exercise during a commute. I learned to strip a bike down, clean it up, put it back together, and I had a lot of fun. Then kids, life, all kinds of things get in the way of that, and bikes pretty much got put away for a number of years.

I would say though, in the last three to four years, I've really started to get back into it, and I've really enjoyed it. I've been doing quite a bit of riding, both in the winter, sometimes because there's just too much snow here you can't get out, and in the club in terms of stationary bikes. But, boy, when spring's here, you go. You tune the bike up a little bit, and you just get out and start riding.

So let me use this example of bike riding and share some things about what bike riding says to me and what I take away from it. It has been a great workout. I've put on a lot of miles, and to me it helps keep me in shape. I have found, at times, the more I ride, sometimes some pickup trucks actually, in the neighborhood, in particular, as I work my way around or through the neighborhood, are just going slow and getting in the way. There's some obstacles there, and I've learned to just ride around them in a very safe and responsible way.

It's a lot of fun to get out and ride, particularly when it's a beautiful day and I can take some really long rides. I've been known to go as much as 40 miles in a day, which, for me, at 60, I think is a pretty good thing. But on the long rides, I need to remember, hey, take a phone, because sometimes you need to call for help if you have a bike breakdown and you don't have on hand what you need to repair it, or serious weather changes. Things happen, so it's helpful to have a phone. You take a little water because it's important to stay hydrated. You always wear a helmet. Again, you never know what can happen.

We have a number of bike trails in the area, and there are some bike tunnels that go under roads and areas where paths dip down and go below railroad tracks and highways and things, and there are some pretty tight turns. I've learned to just approach with caution. Sometimes there's another bike coming at me or somebody standing on a bridge fishing or a little ice in that tunnel because it's still early in the season. I just don't want to end up flat on the ground and just bruised up and bleeding from doing something stupid. I've learned, hey, when you have the wind at your back and, boy, an open road, you shift up, and you just take advantage of the support, and you have fun riding at a top speed. I really love that. Of course, at times, when circumstances change or conditions, perhaps, change, you might have an area with a lot of potholes or something, or you've got a hill to climb. You have to downshift. You have to adjust to make the ride enjoyable, perhaps, to not burn out.

So there's lots and lots ... I could go on for another 20 minutes on the kinds of things that you think about and learn as a result of riding on a regular basis. So I can take this experience and all the little things and sometimes bigger things that you learn and say, okay, that's cool. I get better and more efficient at riding. I get healthier. I learn a few tricks. I get more competent and comfortable. But that's not really listening. That's just observing and perhaps learning a few things along the way, but that's not really listening to what your life ... what the experience can teach.

So let's revisit some things and sort of apply it. I mean, that's the goal. You have to look for the learning, and you do that by listening. But now you also need to apply the learning to make, for lack of a better description perhaps, a life lesson out of it. This is one of the things that ... We have great kids, and they have all done so much. What I'm about to share that I hear from them sometimes isn't unique to the kids. I've had other people say these kinds of things. But I like the context of young adults. We have four out of five in their 30s now. Sometimes we'll be talking, and we'll say ... They'll say to us, why do you think you're right or we know more, we've experienced [inaudible 00:08:27]? I say, we just have perspective. We're just older. There's things we've learned. Yeah, dad, but you've never gone through this before or that before. You really don't know. My response, I don't need to experience every little thing to have some insights into how something might play out. You kind of get where I'm going?

So with that in mind, let me, again, revisit riding and share some thoughts about what I've learned as a response to riding over the last three or four years. I'm talking about now ... I'm riding, 5, 600, 700 miles throughout the season, just outdoors. In fact, my goal this year ... We'll see. I'm going to give it a shot, see if I can get 1,000 miles before winter hits. Wish me luck. That's a lot of riding.

So one of the things that I've learned that I really have taken to heart, I need to stay alert, and I never want to go full bore into a tight curve, because something unexpected really is just around the bend. How do I apply that? What does that mean? Perhaps let's even talk about it in the context of a legal career. Well, when I think about this learning, here's just one example. Just because a new practice area is about to seriously heat up, that isn't a good reason in and of itself to jump into this practice area before you have time to come up to speed and/or to develop any necessary internal processes that will enable you to be competent in the delivery of these new legal services. To state it another way, do this kind of stuff is really an accident waiting to happen. So stay alert. Don't go full bore into the unknown. You need to prepare. You need to be intentional about it. You need to look for problems and anticipate.

Another one, and I got to thinking about this just the other day, and I don't know why it struck me, but it really did. I noted. It's really extremely difficult to balance on a bike hands-free while the bike is stationary. Try doing that at a stop sign, as an example. It's extremely difficult, but particularly to do it for very long, but it really gets quite a bit easier the faster you go. I just started to think about that. What could be a life lesson out of that? Well, for me, it's this. If you want to develop a skill and truly become proficient at it, you need to learn to take a few risks while always moving forward. Stated another way, there is value in learning to say yes to opportunities that push your comfort zone. I mean, as I see it, that's how you grow, professionally and as a person.

How about this? I will share. Over the years, I've had a few what I'd describe as close calls. Once in a while, the close call was intentional in the sense somebody was messing with me. At other times, it's just crazy things happen when you're riding on a road or a highway. I try not to do that a lot, but here in Montana sometimes you need to, to get to the trails or the pass that you really want to ride. So one of the things that I've learned is this. Sometimes someone will try to mess with you in the middle of a ride. Know that it can happen. Do what you can to be prepared, and keep pedaling. Most importantly, don't let it frighten you. You still have more than a few miles to go.

Now what can you take away from that? Well, again, in the context of practicing law, here's one of the thoughts that I have. Some people will try to intimidate you. Perhaps it's an aggressive, over the top negative online review or opposing counsel practicing incivility in the extreme during a deposition. There's all kinds of things you could create here. But the fact that these things happen, that says nothing about you. Don't let this get under your skin, because you still have work to do. Continue to focus on what lies ahead.

Now I talked a little bit earlier about ... I try to stay in shape and, during the winter season, keep riding. It's stationary bikes. So I'll go out to the club and take care of that, in terms of trying to work out. But here's a learning from that sort of experience. I will say, even if it's bad weather at times, during the season, you have to make this choice sometimes. Do I want to go out on the road? Or do I want to just go to the club and watch TV as I ride? Yes, I have to admit, and I've learned this, it is a lot easier to ride indoors, particularly when the weather isn't the best. It's an easy choice. But no matter how fast you pedal, you still end up where you started, and I think that's important to appreciate. What that means to me is, if I want to get anywhere in my career and in my own life, I actually have to go outside and make it happen. No one's going to do it for me.

Here's another one that I like, and sometimes you'll see people. They just don't want to do this, and I get it. I do. I get it. But I'm a firm believer. Always wear a helmet, because it's your head we're talking about, the place where you keep all your intellectual capital, things like how to ride a bike and how to get back home. Why is that important? What's the takeaway for me, or what's the learning that life's trying to tell me with that insight? Well, in my mind, it's if you fail to prioritize taking care of yourself, all you end up doing is increasing the risk of injury or illness, which can have serious consequences, to include the ability to even earn a living.

There are times when I will ride in circles, and what I mean by that ... And it's not a negative. It's just I have a loop so that, if I have a little time over lunch, I can go out, and I'm not pounding out 10 miles out of town and back. You just can't do that over a lunch hour. So I have a loop, and I ride locally. At other times, nice days, weekends, I will do some extended riding. Sometimes it's just exploring, and sometimes it's very intentional. But one of the things I've learned from going off the loop and going out and exploring is some trails eventually end. Once there, it's good to take a little time to feel what you feel, but you need to get back on the bike because the ride isn't over.

I started to think about that too. What does that teach me? Here's what I take away from finding that some trails just come to an end. Endings happen. Now think about a career change, a retirement, a divorce. There are all kinds of ends that happen in life. Some endings are going to be positive, and others aren't. So go ahead and feel what you feel, but remember the journey isn't over. Sooner or later, you're going to have to decide what's next, figure out how to get there, and then start moving.

So the point of this whole short podcast is just to share a skill or an insight that is meaningful to me that has been valuable to me in so many ways. Sometimes the learnings, the insights that come from practicing learning to listen to your life are small and perhaps inconsequential in some ways. One of the things I've learned in that genre is always have a rubber band with you. You'd be surprised how often the one thing I need to fix a minor problem is a rubber band. It comes in handy all the time. I think it should be on the list. The three things that you need in life are a good can of WD-40, some great duct tape, and some rubber bands, and you're good to go.

But more often the learnings are a bit more significant and can really help me keep focused, keep moving forward. So I guess I'll just leave it at that and share what I've been musing about, what I've been thinking about on rides in recent months, and encourage you. There is value in taking time to listen to what your life is saying, even if it's just a whisper. That's it, folks. I hope you found something of value today, and please don't hesitate to reach out any time if there's any other topics you'd like to hear, if you just have a question or concern you would like to discuss. You can reach me at MBass@ALPSInsurance.com. Thanks much. Have a good one. Bye, bye.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 44: It’s a Different World — Literally.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 44: It’s a Different World — Literally.

April 15, 2020

Do you feel like you're living on another planet right now? There's a reason. Humans are social animals and social distancing and isolation is not our normal here on Earth. Mark sits down with his son Tristan, and Carmel Johnston, two crew members from NASA's HI-SEAS IV study to learn what is required to survive and even thrive during an extended mission to Mars and how we can adapt our own behaviors to stay happy here on Earth.

Transcript: 

MARK BASSINGTHWAIGHTE:

Welcome. You're listening to ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte, the Risk Manager here at ALPS, and today we're going to have a little fun, do something a little bit interesting. Believe it or not, I'm going to try to make some connections between Mars and all of these stay-at-home or stay-in-place orders all over the country. Now, how are we going to do that? I guess saying Mars is a little bit misleading. We are going to talk about a Mars simulation and I am so pleased and excited to have two very special guests on today and honestly both of them are very special people in my life and in the life of my wife. The first is Carmel Johnston.

MARK:

Carmel is quite an outdoorsman. Boy, trying to get her to do a podcast can be a bit of a challenge, but just because you never know where she is. I was watching this morning, a YouTube of her as she was doing a TV show in Australia of all places, but she also spends quite a bit of time now in Glacier National Park, another place that is near and dear to many of our hearts as folks in Montana. Carmel has a background from Montana State University, a master of science in land resources and environmental sciences. And now she is the Utility Systems Repairer and Operator at the National Park Service. And actually, Carmel, you're going to have to explain, is that the same position in Glacier?

CARMEL JOHNSTON:

Yeah, so it's called Utility Systems Repair Operator, but essentially it's a water and wastewater operator position so, all the water that people drink we create, and then all the wastewater that happens afterwards, we treat before it is given back to the earth.

MARK:

Okay, very good. And I'll explain a little bit more about Carmel here in just a minute. The other guest that I'd like to introduce is someone that goes back in my life quite a few years. We first met in, I believe it was, Tristan, wasn't it 1984 if I'm remembering correctly? This is Tristan Bassingthwaighte and Tristan among, and again, like Carmel, these two, you can find them all over the world at different times. Of note, Tristan received his Masters in Architecture from Tongji University in Shanghai, and then went on to complete his Doctorate of Architecture from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Tristan has done all kinds of things, but my interest in having him visit with us today is, some of what he does is, how would you describe it, in terms of the different, I'm losing my words here, Tristan, but what type of architecture ties in here?

TRISTAN BASSINGTHWAIGHTE:

I specialize in the design of habitats, research bases, even you could say, drilling platforms, the areas people would go on earth or in outer space that are isolated, dangerous working environments, confined environments, and then how to understand the social and psychological issues that occur with people there, being removed from family and society and walks in the park and fresh coffee, and trying to address them architecturally, so that we could say, live on Mars for 10 years and not have everybody go crazy or something along those lines.

MARK:

My senior moment was extreme environment design. That's what I was struggling with, just every once in a while recall isn't what it should be. While you listeners might be wondering why I have these two guests visiting with us today and what Mars has to do with stay-at-home orders. Both of these folks were participants in a Mars simulation. It was, what is called HI-SEAS IV, and it was a 366 day mission, and Carmel was the crew commander for this mission and Tristan was the crew space architect, and they really have all kinds of stories and insights and experiences to share. But this was a project between NASA and the University of Hawaii, and they literally lived in a very small space for 366 days, never being able to go outside on the side of, it was Mauna Loa, if I'm remembering correctly, but Carmel, could I have you just share a very brief little background in terms of what this experience was about? And Tristan, of course jump in anytime.

TRISTAN:

Hmm.

CARMEL:

Yeah, so we were the six participants of the Hawai'i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation Mission Number Four and that consisted of the six of us living in a 1200 square foot dome on the side of Mauna Loa for the year, and like you said, we couldn't go outside unless we were wearing a space suit and we lived off freeze dried, dehydrated powdered ingredients for the year unless we were able to grow our own vegetables, and we were the guinea pigs studying the effects of isolation and confinement on all of us and out of all the different tools and techniques that people have thought of up to this point for dealing with those psychological aspects of confinement.

MARK:

Yes. Yep. Very good. And Tristan, maybe you can share just a little bit when we talk about isolation, there were six for those of you listening, a total of six individuals participated in this year long mission and I believe it's to this day, the longest isolation experiment run yet here in the States anyway, but there's isolation, too, in terms of communication and Tristan, could you share a little bit about that?

TRISTAN:

Yeah. When you actually go up there, you find you've got your row of laptops so we can all do our work and research and everything. You've got several electronic devices like iPads and everything to do quizzes and surveys, enter the various information for the experiments we're doing, write about how we feel, et cetera, sort of tracking our emotions and reactions during the course of the year. But also there's a viciously delayed internet that only allows access to a few research sites because that's what we were doing. Phones don't work.

TRISTAN:

There's no real time communication with anybody that's not in the dome. So if I was going to say, write an email to grandma, I could compose the whole thing and send it off and it would be held in an ESSA server for 20 minutes and then delivered to her. So, all of our digital communications that people focus on these days are light speed delayed the way they would be if we were actually on Mars. So, you're very, very, very removed from everybody physically and in terms of communication and every way you can imagine. So it's not just, oh, you're in a tent but you can hang out on Snapchat if you want.

MARK:

Very good, thank you. When you guys signed up for this and got selected in terms of what you were thinking it would be like versus what you ultimately discovered, did you know what you were getting into?

TRISTAN:

Yeah, I would say I had a fair idea because I was actually applying to this near the tail end of my Masters research and the Masters research was also on [inaudible 00:08:24] environmental architecture, sociology, psychology, and I only found HI-SEAS because I was trying to research analogs that were on earth and then honestly, just ask some of the participants questions and that accidentally turned into applying.

MARK:

How about you, Carmel?

CARMEL:

Yeah, I think we knew a lot about what we were getting into, but there's definitely a component to it that we had no idea how isolating it really would be. And several of us had done previous analog simulations before, not to that length of time, but two week simulations here and there, and each simulation you go through whether it's HERA or MDRS or HI-SEAS or SIRIUS, any of those, they all have different components to it. And so, ours was the delayed communications. You had unlimited amount of data to be dropping data packages if NASA needed to send us something, but it would be delayed and it would be in the say, constraints of how they would actually send data to Mars.

CARMEL:

Whereas other ones it's, oh you have unlimited real time communication but you only get a certain amount of data per day or per week or something. And then every simulation space suits are different and the different things that you're testing are different, which is great because we're compiling all these resources of the different aspects of isolation and confinement, and then, the ultimate test is going there. And so, hopefully if we practice all these different components to it here, then it will it make easier for actually getting there.

MARK:

Maybe, I'm just going to take a tangent for a quick second, in light of our listening audience here and I really didn't explain what HI-SEAS stands for. It is the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation. So it's H-I dash S-E-A-S, if you ever want to look something up and see what HI-SEAS is all about. Was it hard?

CARMEL:

Oh yeah.

MARK:

How so?

CARMEL:

I would say that it, well, up to this point, it's been the hardest thing I've done in my life, but that is barring that my parents are still here and so when they go, that'll probably be the hardest thing I have to deal with. But having a lack of communication because our connection to society and our friends and family is humongous and each one of us, Tristan will tell stories about his friends that fell off. Each one of us had friends that wouldn't write back or they'd forget about us until the Martian came out, and then all of a sudden we get a lot of emails and people saying, "Oh, we're thinking of you." And you're like, well, where were you two months ago when I really needed you to respond back to an email?

CARMEL:

And it's kind of the out of sight, out of mind concept of as soon as you're gone then people forget because you're not in their regular life all the time. And we were just stuck up there doing our research and it was very easy to feel disconnected from the people that we cared about the most, which made us feel like, well, maybe we don't mean that much to them or you start playing all these games in your head about why people don't respond back. It's probably because they have kids and they're living their lives. But to you it seems like, well, this is really important to me.

MARK:

Tristan?

TRISTAN:

Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. I had all sorts of people that kind of vanished and dropped away. I mean, half of our relationships these days seem to be over email or text anyways. So, you'd think they'd be able to keep up, but it kind of gave you a good opportunity to, healthy or unhealthy, coping mechanisms can help get you through some stuff. So, it was a chance to pick up some hobbies and try and focus on work and do some other things as well, but you definitely feel it.

MARK:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). How did you make peace with that, I guess? How were you able to move forward? Because nobody at the end came out crazy, ready to be hospitalized. Nobody died, in terms of, you didn't kill each other, that kind of thing. So how'd you do it?

TRISTAN:

I think the big thing for me was a string of tiny little fun victories mixed with a few larger goals over the course of the last eight months perhaps. So, Carmel and Cyprian got really into trying to run a marathon and I thought that was the worst idea ever because who wants to run forever? That just hurts. And eventually, Carmel talked me into it and I ended up doing that. So I mean that was a, what did I do, like two and a half months of training to actually get up to that?

CARMEL:

Yeah, I don't remember having to talk you into it. I think you were like, "Hey, I think I could do this." And we were like, "Well, make your training plan. You can totally do it."

TRISTAN:

Yeah. Yeah, something like that. So, you start to run and everything and then I think she and Cyprian were coming by every half hour leaving treats on the treadmill and spraying me with water bottles and stuff. So, you've got your camaraderie on the inside and then when there's not some massive thing that you're working on or accomplish that day, Carmel and I invented the pizza cupcake, a lot of fun, small things that like, "Oh, this is today's victory. I have changed the culinary world."

MARK:

Can you, Carmel, just share for everybody listening again what running a marathon in a dome looks like?

CARMEL:

So, we have a treadmill there and at the beginning of the year, the treadmill was kind of adjacent to the window and then we found that Cyprian kept falling off of it because he was looking out the window, and so we put it in front of the window and then at least you had the same Mars landscape to look at while you're running, but for the most part you have to watch a lot of movies because running a marathon in general is pretty time consuming depending on how fast you're grounding. Either way, it's a lot of movement and listening to movies or watching movies or listening to podcasts or something, it's kind of the only way to take away from the monotony of one foot in front of the other for so darn long.

MARK:

Yeah, and for those listening again, can you appreciate what they're sharing? They're running marathons on a treadmill and trust me, this isn't a state-of-the-art brand new high tech thing, in front of, I wouldn't say a window, my memory is it was the window, and it is about the size of maybe a large pizza pan. It's just a circle and you're looking out at volcanic rock. There's nothing out there. So, just trying to put that in perspective. Crazy kinds of stuff. Did you want to share? Go ahead. I think I cut you off.

CARMEL:

Oh, you're okay. Sometimes there were clouds so that really broke it up and made it a little change of scenery. But yeah, it was pretty monotonous the whole time when you're running, but at the same time, that's the thing that's breaking the other monotonous cycle of your life, which is research and cooking food and being around the same people all day every day, and so that's actually kind of an escape is doing something pretty monotonous. It's funny that way.

MARK:

Let's shift gears just a little bit. These stay-in-place orders really are having an impact on people. I've been talking with some lawyers in recent weeks, several of whom work in the domestic relations space and they're reporting tremendous increase in families, whether it's just some abuse kinds of things going on to just divorce. People are getting a little crazy and stir crazy. A lot of people I heard in Paris for instance, you're not allowed to exercise outside now and I'd love for you guys to talk about what going outside meant for you, both in terms of how it was done and what it meant for you, but Michigan has just issued an order forbidding contact now with friends and family in terms of extended, you are not to go out and visit with anybody. You can only interact with people that are in your physical home.

MARK:

Now, of course, I guess you can say hi or smile at somebody at the grocery store. But that's a different thing. So, in light of the challenges, so many are having to face, that have never dealt with anything like this, and for some it's going to be four to six weeks. Others, it might be eight to 10 weeks, nothing like 366 days. But perhaps through the context of sharing your stories, how you survived and things, you could share some tips and insights into how people going through these stay-at-home, stay-in-place orders can again, come out the other side without too many bruises and nobody's killed each other. So, I'll let you guys chat here for a little bit on that.

TRISTAN:

Yeah well, I mean part of it is this is being forced on everyone, where as we got to volunteer. So we had to begin ours with slightly different mindset, which helps out. But I think, when you go into something like this, the problems that occur sort of, I mean you, you can imagine them being created because you're stuck inside and can't leave and there's no communication, whatever. But really, wherever you go, like when you go on a vacation, your problems are waiting for you when you get back because you were just on vacation. And when you go into isolation. You're just taking your life and your problems with you. So, I would argue that the people who are getting to spend a month with their spouse and then realize they can't stand the way they chew food and they get divorced, probably had other issues, it was likely not the the quarantine them split them all up.

TRISTAN:

So if you're going to be stuck somewhere and you can't go to the bars and hang with all your friends and do the normal life distraction stuff that defined your existence before all of this, you're going to, whether you realize it or not, meet yourself in some ways and realize where your priorities lay, the character traits that you actually enjoy and hate about the people you're living with. Even start to ask existential questions maybe. I know in the last like couple of weeks I've been like, what am I doing with my life and trying to just figure some of that stuff out again because I've got the time now.

MARK:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's great. You're so spot on. Carmel.

CARMEL:

Yeah, I think that's really well put, especially because we did choose to be isolated and so, it takes a special kind of special to even want to do that. And I mean honestly, isolation isn't for everyone and we know that because there are only certain people that volunteer for isolation studies or to go to other planets or to live on the ISS or go to Antarctica. Not everyone's volunteering to do that because it just doesn't mesh well with them, and you see people who choose to overwinter in Antarctica year after year. They enjoy it or they are at least able to get through it because that matches with that personality. So, having this forced upon everyone in the world right now really is kind of taking a lifestyle choice for some people and making it a mandatory lifestyle. So, finding coping mechanisms, things that help you make your life as easy as possible for where you are at right now is probably the best step for a lot of people because they might enjoy certain aspects of it, but they definitely aren't going to enjoy everything about it, as we did as well. There are certain things I miss terribly about the dome and then there are some things I'm like, I never need to go back there again for others.

MARK:

What would you say you missed? I find that interesting.

TRISTAN:

Oh, the food.

CARMEL:

The food. I actually kind of do miss the isolation because we were up there and you could just get so much work done and you didn't have a lot of distractions in some ways and I had a treadmill that I could run on most of the time because a couple of weeks ago they took away the gym at work and so now you're forced to exercise outside except for that it's snowing all the time, and they closed the park and they closed the reservation and you literally can't leave a one mile square radius anymore. And so, I'm going a little crazy for other reasons right now.

MARK:

You raised the term coping mechanisms and I think that's a good, can we explore that a little bit and just have both of you talk, what were your coping mechanisms? What really worked for you and if there was something that you tried and didn't, I'd love to hear that as well.

TRISTAN:

Yeah, I mean, I would say, part of the reason that we had said food was such a great thing is because Carmel's mom actually taught her to cook very well and I got to be sous chef two days out of the week inventing new things or learning how to make old favorites, whatever. We actually pulled off a super respectable salmon eggs Benedict, a double layer chocolate cake, the aforementioned pizza cupcakes. We made Swedish meat, no, not Swedish meatballs, oh, what were the meatballs we made? Italian meatballs or something and they were actually better than the meatballs at the restaurant we went to when we all got out. So it was a bit of a playing around and creative aspect there.

MARK:

I was working on my dissertation while I was there so I had some of my personal work as well. Some of my best selling tee shirts, I came up with the ideas and drew them while I was up there because I had the time. You sort of have the option between say, for people going through isolation now, you can do something that is numbing like getting through your favorite series or watching Battlestar, all four seasons, over the course of two weeks and you're sort of pausing yourself as a person in your life while you enjoy something. Or you could say, well I'm going to do something productive or creative and actually find ways to engage the part of yourself that wants to learn the language or an instrument or start doing art or becoming an incredible bonsai Shaffer person. One of those will actually let you survive a year and one of them will let you get through a couple of weeks.

TRISTAN:

So, I think we're actually going to start to see as these stay- at-home orders carry on, more problems, because a lot of people are doing the numbing route, where they're investing heavily in say, television or whatever, something that's sort of a passive hobby, instead of something that actually lends meaning to what they're doing and helps them feel like they are progressing.

MARK:

Following up on that, I get concerned, too, about alcohol abuse. If there's not, the numbing kind of thing, just to kind of get through it and it's so easy to just casually increase and increase and increase and what becomes after dinner or before dinner beverage or two, you have a little bit at lunch, you have some in the afternoon. What the heck? I've got another beer or so in the fridge to get the nine o'clock movie and on and on. Carmel, how about you? Your thoughts.

CARMEL:

Yeah, I think, I have lots of thoughts. I've been thinking about this for five years now. I think right now it's okay to acknowledge that it sucks. Nobody's really having a great time right now and it's okay to say, this is not where we wanted to be and it's changing everything and it's hard, but what can we gain out of it? And it's okay to live in the grumpy mood for a little bit, but then the thing that's going to bring you out of it is planning and having a goal for the day, or I had one person who was retired, they told me the other week, I have at least one thing I have to accomplish every day, even if it's just making my bed or it's stacking firewood or something else. I have to write on the list, I did one thing every day because then once you do one, it'll be find, you'll start doing a bunch of other things, but if you sit in bed first thing in the morning and start watching a show, then it's six shows later, you're like, hmm, I guess I'm kind of hungry now and I might make something or I might just eat leftovers. And so having things to do in your day that need to be done that day is actually helpful because you have a drive and a reason to go.

CARMEL:

And I'm so thankful that I am still working right now because I have something that makes me, I mean, I would be not getting out of bed otherwise, but you know I have a purpose and I am contributing every single day right now and that gives me a lot of fulfillment knowing that I am still able to do this and I'm not forced to be at home because that would be extremely challenging for anyone to be told, you can't go to work, you're still getting paid, but then you're like, well heck, what am I even contributing right now? So, as Tristan said, coming up with workouts or a craft or a hobby or something you want to master that gives you a purpose for every single day. It's very easy for all your days to run together and to not know what day of the week it is, but if you have something that keeps you going forward every single day, that's a longterm game plan versus a short term plan.

MARK:

I obviously vicariously went through this experience just as a parent and trying to stay in touch and so I kind of lived the experiment as an earthling. It seemed apparent to me that two coping mechanisms that were very, very effective, and I think not only for the two of you, but that became effective and helped others in the dome, and that would be the use of humor and the ability to get outside. Now, I want to underscore for people listening, getting outside of the dome is not like you get to walk through the air lock and take your tee shirt off and get a little sun and go for a run up the hill. You're in spacesuits, you don't get the fresh air, the sun isn't on your skin for 366 days. Either both of you, if you would just share some thoughts about the importance of, did that matter? How did it matter, in terms of humor or just a change of scenery?

TRISTAN:

Yeah, I mean the big thing is it's a new stimulus. So, instead of the treadmill to try and escape from whatever's going on or doing our work or our hobbies, you actually can go over the landscape. The physical exertion is, while it has the same unpleasantness as jogging for a long time, it can at the same time feel cathartic and like you're moving your body because you are, so it can help meet some of your exercise goals and help you workout some stress.

TRISTAN:

But we were lucky enough that, I don't know if it's on the entire mountain, but we had several in the local area we were allowed to explore, but we had lava tubes so you could schedule an EVA, and do all this paperwork and get everything set up, and then the next day, you suit up and go outside and your teams and everything. And instead of just walking around on a barren landscape, which can be beautiful for its own aesthetic reasons, you're getting to wiggle through strange holes and cracks and find giant house-sized volumes under the lava that are totally empty or have a little skylight at the top with a shaft of light and trees and it's dark and a little scary but super pretty, and just this really wonderful fun exploring thing. And that was a massive stimulus and change of pace compared to whatever was going on inside the dome because we had dozens of these lava tubes and pits and everything that you could explore.

MARK:

Very cool. Carmel.

CARMEL:

Yeah, I agree that those are probably, I'd say humor, going outside, and exercise are the top three mechanisms for keeping yourself sane while you're there. Tristan was the diffuser of almost all situations we had when anything would get tense, he'd crack a joke about something and we'd be laughing and then everything would be better or at least, it would be better than it was before. And so, one of the most valuable roles you have in a crew is to have humor, to maintain humor around a situation. You can be serious and get your work done, but being lighthearted for certain things is absolutely necessary because if you can't laugh about it then you're going to be in a world of hurt later.

CARMEL:

And I agree, going outside was huge and we did have, most of our EVAs were, our extra vehicular activities, [inaudible 00:30:28] outside. We put on our space suit and most of them were meant for doing geology research or lava tubes or the different tasks that the research team had for us to do out there. But sometimes it was just to go have fun because things would be so tense. You're like, I just need to go outside and maybe walk in a straight line because you can only do like 21 steps in the dome before you have to turn and round a corner, and you can't just keep doing laps. You have to go back and forth and just go outside and use your long distance vision and stretch all your muscles and you can even just run down the road if you wanted to, just totally different than being inside, and so mixing up that, like Tristan said, the stimuli of being indoors versus outdoors was really, really important.

MARK:

Yeah, I'm finding that's what's helping me right now. Now I telecommute so a stay-at-home order isn't quite the same impact for my wife and I than with other family situations perhaps, but I've been getting out. Since the stay-at-home, Tristan, you might be impressed here with your old man. I put 150 miles on my bike since the stay-at-home, just get outside, you can still socially distance. Nobody's within six feet of me, but I'm pedaling like crazy, and it's just been good. It really does make a difference, even just in mood.

CARMEL:

Fresh air is super good for everyone. That's got to be good for, if you are sick, having some fresh air go through your lungs and if you're not sick, helping keep yourself healthy and moving strong.

MARK:

Well, I feel like I've taken a lot of your time here and I so, so appreciate your willingness of both of you to share a little bit with the ALPS audience. Before I let you go, do you have one final tip or comment you'd like to share in terms of just, this is your chance to say it again, people that are just trying to make it work and figure out how not to go stir crazy. A final thought from each of you.

TRISTAN:

Yeah, I mean, I'd say the biggest is you've got the time down to let your vices squeeze you. So try and balance that out with less immediately fun but more longterm productive goals because it sucks now. Nobody wants to go and work out for two hours a day or do that paperwork that's lying around but actually producing something instead of just indulging in something will make four weeks feel a lot more like four and less like 10.

MARK:

Yeah, yeah. Carmel.

CARMEL:

I like that. I like that a lot. I also think, finding more than one thing, because one of my downfalls in the dome was that running was my thing and then anytime the treadmill wasn't available, whether it was power or it was broken or whatever, I was a wreck because I just didn't have the ability to do my one coping mechanism, and so having a whole suite of them, whether it's painting or you have some online videos you could do or a whole variety of things that make you happy and are helping you and can be productive at the same time, that would be good because if all of a sudden the gym closes and then it's bad weather outside. Then now you're like, well, what am I supposed to do? And you have all this stress or anxiety built up that I can't get rid of. You need to have a whole suite of things you can do in order to be able to relieve that.

MARK:

Yeah. To that, I would like to add in terms of the comments both of you shared. Just as a family member that was on earth during this whole experience, I would like to underscore the importance of social connectivity that both Carmel and Tristan talked about earlier in this podcast. We can't necessarily go out and meet friends at the local brew pub or something and have a nice evening, but there are alternatives, and to try to just call a little bit more, talk on the phone, do some Zoom meetings with family. We've done a little bit of this with some of the kids and that's been a lot of fun.

MARK:

So, don't underestimate as well, the value of staying socially connected. I think that can make a big difference. Well, that brings the podcast to an end. To those of you listening, thank you very much for taking the time. I hope you found something of value and please don't hesitate to reach out to me at ALPS. It's m bass, mbass, B-A-S-S @alpsinsurance.com. Happy to try and help in terms of any questions, concerns you might have on ethics, risk management, or even just getting through a stay-at-home order. That's it, folks. Have a good one. Bye bye.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 43: The Problem Lies with the Culture

ALPS In Brief — Episode 43: The Problem Lies with the Culture

February 24, 2020

ALPS Risk Manager Mark Bassingthwaighte shares two real-world stories of attorneys struggling with behaviors that often lead to malpractice claims. As a legal community, it is our duty to lift each other up and to provide hope and support to one another. It is time for us to concede that addiction, depression, and burnout are symptoms of a problematic legal culture, not a “problem lawyer.”

Transcript: 

Mark Bassingthwaigthe:

Welcome. You're listening to ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte. I'm the Risk Manager here at ALPS and today I'm going to return to the storytelling format. I have two stories that I'd like to share that I think have some real value, hopefully, to at least some of you. A number of years ago I received a phone call from a solo attorney and it was a very interesting conversation. You could tell at the outset that the attorney was, for lack of a better word, troubled. And in short, he was calling to let me know that he was about to commit malpractice and that kind of struck me as odd a little bit. In a way, the malpractice hasn't happened yet. You're telling me you... and you just kind of listen.

And what I learned was that he had reached a point in his career where he simply could not do anything else. He could make no more decisions, just nothing left. And he had a statute of limitations date that it was about to run and was calling to let me know that he was going to walk out of his office and quit and never return and just was giving us a heads up. Now thankfully we were able to... We can't send somebody out and take care of this, but we were able to work with a local bar and have that matter addressed. But this gentleman actually did shortly after hanging up the phone with me, walk out of the office, never returned. He was done. And I can share, I've heard that story or situations like this I should say, more than one or two times in my 22 years here at ALPS. This does happen from time to time.

Now a second story that I would like to share has to do with a small firm. And in this situation we learned through a number of claims and I will fill you in in a moment on that, but what basically happened, one of the lawyers really reached a point similar to the attorney in the first story. He just got to a point where he too could not make any more decisions. Now, he didn't walk out, he didn't walk away, but he was unable to practice anymore. He enjoyed coming into the firm every day, was very interactive and polite, enjoyed visiting with staff, having his cup of coffee in the morning and visiting with the attorneys and just his normal self or so it appeared. Unfortunately, as he was bringing in new clients and surprisingly he still was bringing in a few clients, he was hiding files. Some were in the trunk of his car. Some were under the carpet. Some were behind furniture in the office.

He just couldn't make any more decisions and he didn't know what else to do. Now in that situation, we did have some claims arise out of that and actually the number of claims went into the double digits as a result of this. It's a small... My memory is, I think, a four or five lawyer firm. Why do I want to talk about these stories or share these stories? Wellness is as I'm sure most, if not all of you, are well aware, is a significant topic in the bar today. There's an emphasis on wellbeing and I fully support it, but I want to share how failing to address the health issues that can arise can lead to very, very significant outcomes.

And we really do need to take the topic seriously. Now impairments we can broadly define. Today I'm kind of focusing a bit here on depression, but there are all kinds of impairments from burnout, stress, over-work, alcoholism, chemical dependency, gambling addictions. I mean, the list goes on. But let me just share a couple of comments based on these two stories and place it in the context of wellness and wellbeing.

In the first situation, we have a solo attorney here obviously, but I want to underscore if you see someone who is feeling, or I should say demonstrating some signs of depression, reach out to them. And if you are someone dealing with depression, please, please do not just sit and ignore the problem. And I do understand that we don't want to be labeled as being weak or something like that. I just think that's not the experience of most people that reach out and try to deal with becoming healthy again and try to work through the problem, deal with depression. But please understand, thinking about the fallout in the second story, depression, we have fatigue, feeling worthless, helpless, all those kinds of things, sort of the normal stuff that people feel. But in some it's not uncommon.

Depression can lead to impaired concentration. It absolutely can lead to indecisiveness, a loss of interest in pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed, such as practicing law. Insomnia is often there and in all of this, it adds up to poor judgment. Failing to address, even if you're a solo and isolated from others, can have some significant consequences, not only for you but for your clients. So I encourage you to reach out, find a friend, a loved one, some support system. Heck, if you need to call me and I'm here for you. We need to try to find a way to move forward for your best interest and the interest of your clients.

In terms of the second story, I just want to share another sad reality of what happened here. Fortunately I think it's not extremely common, but I can say this was not by any means the first time I've ever come across a situation like this. I shared that a number of claims came up as a result of the attorney's depression and the firm's response was one of, "ALPS, why are you penalizing us? As soon as we found out about the depression, got rid of the problem lawyer and the rest of us did nothing wrong, why are we being punished in terms of the fallout of these claims?" Obviously deductibles are in play, defense, losses, the normal things that happened in malpractice claims were in play here, and that struck me.

I did share in many situations, trying to deal with depression is something that is not shameful. And many times people will step up and are supportive, but occasionally that doesn't happen and I understand the conundrum there and I don't have the answer. But I do want to say if any of you are ever find yourselves in a situation where you're dealing with a staff person or a fellow colleague who is depressed, the choice to say, "It's not our fault," is absolutely the wrong choice. I mean, put yourself in the shoes of the individual going through the difficult time.

Is this how you would want to be treated? And please understand when you form a firm, thinking about our ethical rules, 5.1 responsibilities of supervisory lawyers, managing partners, that role we are, it's what I call the partners keepers rule. We are our partners keepers. We sink or swim together. And honestly that's the way it should be. So I encourage you, again, impairments are a significant source in terms of the underlying true cause of malpractice claims. They really are. The industry doesn't track it. We'll sit here and say, "Okay, we tracked. The date got blown," whatever it might be. It's the, "What happened?" We don't track the why. I'm telling you I've been in this business for 22 years. This is one of the major why's that a significant number of claims happen. So we need to be sensitive.

Our rules do not require us to be physicians and to be able to diagnose depression or to identify someone and say, "You do have a chemical addiction." That's not our role. But in the context of depression, what can you look for? What can you think about? How can you catch this early so that you don't ever find yourselves having to deal with multiple claims because depression went unrecognized, undiagnosed? You cannot bury your head in the sand. So be aware of just some of the warning signs. Depressed individuals often become isolated. They can become sarcastic or withdrawn. There may be sudden changes in behaviors such as absenteeism, loss of interest in family and friends, an increased need for sleep, the onset of insomnia, and sometimes you even see self destructive behavior.

Changes in appearance actually are also quite common. There could be a significant change in weight or a loss of interest in personal appearance and what quite severe. Obviously depression can lead to suicidal thoughts and I will just take one brief aside and say, if someone, again, one of your peers that in a firm or a staff member, if there's ever an expression of a suicidal thought, please take that very seriously and seek help immediately. Okay. Particularly if there's any kind of plan expressed or they start to give away possessions. Take that very, very seriously. Get help, help them get help. But at the end, I guess my takeaway is depression really is a significant problem in our profession. I have worked with, talked with, more lawyers struggling with depression than I ever thought I would before I got into this.

It's not a mark of shame. It's not something that we should be shamed, shameful in terms of feeling depressed. Just please accept it for what it is. It's a human being going, struggling with life, going through something difficult and let's be there. Let's be the support system to try to help, to have attorney return if that's what he or she ultimately decides to do to the practice and get back up and go on full steam or perhaps they really have come to the point where they say, "This isn't for me," and that's okay too. So they... We help them exit gracefully and move on to bigger and better things, whatever that might mean for them. I think, in my mind, it's one of the hallmarks in terms of doing the kinds of things I'm talking about here of just being professional. Let's rise to the occasion and help our colleagues and help our peers and help ourselves if it's us that are struggling. There's no shame here.

So those are my stories. I'm just trying to do whatever I can in whatever small ways I am able to give a little hope and to just give a message. You can get through this and that we are our partners keepers, even if it's a solo down the street. I mean after all, we have a local community professional. So that's my two cents for today. Folks, I hope you found something of value out of my brief podcast here and if have any questions, concerns, want to talk about this topic a little bit more in depth or just need a little additional information, please don't hesitate to reach out. I would be happy to help in any way that I can. You may reach me at mbass@alpsinsurance.com or call our 800 number, 800-367-2577 and ask for Mark, the risk manager. Hey, it's been a pleasure. So long.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 42: 5 Things That Blur Your Company’s 2020 Vision

ALPS In Brief — Episode 42: 5 Things That Blur Your Company’s 2020 Vision

February 13, 2020

ALPS Risk Manager Mark Bassingthwaighte sits down with ALPS CEO David Bell to discuss David’s past, ALPS future, why every company should have a vision for their core cultural values (and what shouldn’t be in it).

Transcript: 

MARK BASSINGTHWAIGHTE:      

Welcome. This is ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte, the risk manager here at ALPS and joining me today is David Bell, our CEO. David, maybe can we take just one minute or so here for listeners that may not know a bit about who you are, what your background is. I'd love to have you just share a little bit because I think your background and experience is relevant to where we're going to go today in our conversation.

DAVID BELL:       

Sure. Well thanks, Mark first and it's a pleasure to be speaking with you. I guess the short version of my short history is I started my career in insurance out of college with Chubb and with that in a large company with a long history and a long vision for the future. Then after moving up through various roles at Chubb, after 9/11 Chubb, AIG and Goldman Sachs started a joint venture and I went with Chubb's capital to start that. And over the course of the next decade plus, we took that organization independent from its founding shareholders public and it was ultimately sold.

DAVID:                

In 2012, we moved back to Montana where I had gone to college and my wife had been raised and had the good fortune of joining ALPS in 2012 and a very different type of organization, very different size. My career before that had been in a big multinational company. ALPS is a smaller domestic only company and really a fascinating juxtaposition of different types of cultural priorities and different types of opportunities. So, just I feel fortunate and blessed to have had this journey and to have the point in my journey be right here in this moment.

MARK:                 

Very good. You recall we sat down about two years ago and spent some time discussing the ALPS corporate vision at the time. I thought it'd be fun to kind of revisit that topic today. If I may, I'd like to start by asking a few questions about the process that you go through with us in terms of the company, with the hope of having this discussion and example serve as a concrete example to others wanting to learn sort of the how to, so putting their own vision in place. Before we really even start to dig into this, would I be correct in assuming that the success that you in the large multinational setting as well as the ALPS setting, you're contrasting these two, is very different, but does vision have a role? Do you feel that that was significant in terms of your success in both spaces?

DAVID:                

100%. Even when the vision is quite different, as they have been over the course of my journey, not having one is dangerous and I think would lead to a rudderless ship type of approach organizationally, even if you feel like you're generally going in the right direction. If you have a community of people, whether that community is two or three or two or 3,000, if they're not rowing in the same direction with some sense of rhythm, then success would only come by accident and that's not a really good plan.

MARK:                 

I like that. I really do. I want to come back to that here in just a moment. Can we start just by having you share some of the highlights, whatever you feel comfortable sharing in terms of the ALPS vision for 2020?

DAVID:                

Sure. Well the ALPS vision for 2020 is more of our strategic operational objectives. When you have a vision for the short term, this 12 month duration, it's more actionable, quantifiable, executable milestones. So, I would describe the vision as how do the success of those fold up more broadly into an intermediate and longer term vision? And that pertains to the vision as respects where the organization is going. I mean, why are we laboring as hard as we are and making sacrifices personally with time and otherwise to be here to try to strive to be better? There has to be a reason and it has to be beyond monetary in order to affect people, particularly people at all levels because you're going to have folks at the managerial level who are very much privy to the discussion around the why and the vision. Then you're going to have people who are just doing their job every day and they don't have the benefit of the philosophical discussions as to why. So, the vision needs to be as relevant for them as it is for the vision creators.

DAVID:                

So, the 2020 vision is a puzzle piece that is simply the beginning of the equation for the intermediate and longer term vision of why are we doing what we're doing. We're all conditioned as humans to first and foremost think, how does this affect me? What's in it for me? So, I think from a managerial perspective, we would be wise and probably have an obligation to go to that place first. We're really going to think about this as it is seen through the filter of everybody else individually as why is this relevant to everybody who's here, and why should they care and sacrifice in order to realize this vision? And how bought in are they to the vision, and how much is the vision a function of their own engagement and involvement and contribution?

MARK:                 

What I hear, and I love that, it seems to me that part of this is really kind of trying to give some meaning and purpose at the individual level all the way to the corporate level in terms of these whys. I like that. Very, very good. I think this next question kind of relates to what you've been sharing, but I would like to be very specific about it in terms of some clarity. What is the value from a business sense and perhaps personal sense of having a corporate vision? I think we've hit that some, but I'd like sort of a concrete statement.

DAVID:                

Sure. Well, I would break that down into two different categories.

MARK:                 

Okay.

DAVID:                

The value of having a vision about the core values, meaning the cultural values of an organization, I think is essential. In fact that frankly, it's more important than the financial and operational vision because if you get the cultural values vision right, the rest of it will more naturally fall in place. If you don't get it right, it'd be very difficult to successfully execute on operational and financial objectives if at its core the culture has a cancer in it. So, you have to start with the cultural side. I think never more so than now when the labor force is increasingly made up of purpose-driven people, people who have an absolute expectation that there is something broader than a paycheck that's part of this compact.

DAVID:                

So, the cultural vision, the cultural value that we've established at ALPS is intentionally very simple. We ask ourselves four questions and these questions, they are prominently placed around our environment but it's not kind of a sentence written on a wall for the purposes of marketing. It is really supposed to serve as the litmus test through which not just the words that we speak but ideally the thoughts that we have are filtered through that litmus test. They are quite simply, is it the truth, is it fair, does it benefit our people and the company and does it help us make a profit? Right. We didn't hire a fancy consultant to help us come up with those. I'm sure they could be worded more eloquently in some ways.

DAVID:                

But it is, at its basic level, the most honest, intentional approach to say what are some things that we want to exhibit as individuals working in community that if we strive towards these four things, will life be better for all of us? I think we think the answer is yes. If we're committed to telling one another the truth and we are committed as an organization to speaking the truth externally, even when it's uncomfortable, then it doesn't mean that every day will be rainbows and unicorns, but every day will be a day that we can feel proud about what we've done.

MARK:                 

Yes.

DAVID:                

That type of thing is important to people to have worth in their role. The second is, is it fair? Fairness is a subjective measurement. So one person's idea of fair is not the same as the other person's idea of fair. So, what the question of is it fair means is, do you as an employee of this company have confidence that the underlying motivation of the decision maker is to strive for fairness? It doesn't mean that we're always perfect or that we get it right all the time as it pertains to decisions about our own people internally or the endeavors that we have with our constituents and the people around us. We don't claim to be right 100% of the time, but we are always trying to be fair and we aren't afraid to pull back and correct ourselves if we feel we've jumped off course. So, it's the pursuit of fairness.

DAVID:                

Then the third and fourth are somewhat kind of unapologetic affirmations of the reality. The third one is, does it benefit our people and the company? I mean, there is an unapologetic self interest that we have as an organization. Is what we're spending our time and money on going to benefit the people here and this organization because if it's not, then we should be thoughtful about how we allocate those resources. Then fourth, doesn't it help us make a profit? I think the need to make a profit can't be understated. It's very intentionally on the list and it's also intentionally not first.

DAVID:                

It is there and we shouldn't gloss over the reality that without financial solvency and financial strength, we are not able to accomplish all of our other goals. So, we should keep a really sharp eye on that question. But we also don't wake up and work our days simply and solely for the purpose of making a profit because there's candidly no inspiration longterm for anybody. So, those are four of the cultural values. In our recent vision meeting, we asked what we don't want just so we can keep an idea of what we do want by acknowledging characteristics that many of us have seen exhibited at other companies or read about or watched.

DAVID:                

I think it's healthy to spend just a few moments in discussion about what we don't want just so we call it for what it is. We put a label on it, don't want that, right. And some of those, there's just five of them that we talked about in the most recent meeting, which was "corporate" culture where you're just a job. You're a number. You're a commodity. You can be unplugged and somebody else plugged in there. That's not inspiring if you feel like you are commoditized. So, we don't want that. We don't want uncertainty from the fear or concern of financial instability. But it's one of the reasons why making a profit and financial success is on our top four that we do because it gives people a sense of calm and confidence in everything else that they're doing knowing that we do this from a position of strength.

DAVID:                

Third, we don't want me people. We want we people. We acknowledged in our discussion that, I'll just speak for myself, as human beings, I am an inherently selfish person, right. My default position is one of self interest and selfishness. I believe that that's just the way that we were created. So, in order to not be a me and be a we, we have to consciously fight against that and be thinking first and foremost about the people around us. Then another is, we don't want to have a kind of that's not my job mentality. I mean, if the coffee needs to be changed, I should change the coffee. It doesn't matter who you are, if you come across it and it needs to be done, then you should do it. You should do it comfortable that other people do the same thing.

DAVID:                

Then finally, and this is really important, gossip. I mean, gossip is a cancer that can debilitate companies. So, we are almost transparent to a fault, and in large part, in an effort to preempt any type of gossip. So those are things that you don't want, and then that quickly leads you to the type of cultural vision that you do want. You want folks that just take initiative. When people see a problem, they address it. When people have an idea about something that can be done better than the way we're doing it today, the first instinct should be action. The first thought should be empowerment that I have an idea that I think would benefit others, and I know that I work for a company that that idea can be put in motion in a relatively short period of time.

DAVID:                

You want to be a solution provider both for our folks internally and for our customers. We have a business where we have a finance department and other and a HR department. We have legal departments where their constituents, their consumers are internal. They're our own people or our customer. Then we have departments, the business development and account managers and others and claims who are external facing. Their clients are our policy holders, our customers. So, we want to be solution providers for everybody.

DAVID:

Finally, we're just wrapping up here on the cultural what you do want, you want this to be a fun place to work. I'm not suggesting for a second that this is Disney World and that every day is like a vacation. I know the adage, if you find a job that you love, you'll never not work another day in your life. I personally don't subscribe to that. I think we can be honest about the fact that we come to our jobs because it's a living and we get paid for it. And hopefully it provides the means through which we can pursue some of our other passions in life. Hopefully, it is not the singular interest in your life. I think that would be unhealthy, but we are involved in a serious business. We take risks. We make promises.

DAVID:                

There's lots of law and finance in what we do, but we should still be able to have fun. We should not take ourselves too seriously. We should be self-deprecating and people should not feel guarded. I think as we talked about this in the all company meeting, I think the sense amongst our staff is that we do a pretty good job at that. You want people around you to want you to win. I think whether it's who we're working next to or our marriage or our friendships, you want to be in community with people who are "for you", who genuinely want to see you succeed and to enter your success with you.

DAVID:                

Then again, just from a vision perspective, size through diversification, right. I mean in our business there is strength in size and there is strength and protection in diversification. So that is something that we're quite intentional about. We want everybody finally to just know that they're supported, whether they're in our home office in Missoula or in any one of our number of remote locations around the country. I mean, whether I get to see you physically, regularly on a day to day basis or whether you're in Atlanta, Georgia or Richmond, Virginia or any of the other places, you should feel like you are as a valued and that the resources you're giving to succeed are as high a priority as anyone else.

DAVID:                

So, those are cultural vision checkpoints. I would suggest that if we are wildly successful on making all of those real in the lives of everybody that work here, we will be and continue to be the best legal malpractice carrier in the country. Candidly, we would be the best in anything we were doing. If we, for whatever reason, stopped doing this and started doing something else as an organization full of people working together, we would do that well too.

MARK:                 

Yeah, I agree. I agree. Let me sort of share, just speaking personally for a moment. I have participated as all of us at ALPS have at the all company meetings and talking about these things. I like you're sharing the point of the discussion where folks, what don't we want? I think taking risks like that to invite these kinds of discussions really enables people to make it real. I describe our culture, what we do, and I think at an individual level as well as at the company wide level, we are really striving to be, and I think we accomplish this, authentic and intentional in our actions. Even in terms of just how we interrelate with each other, how we interrelate with our customers.

MARK:                 

I'll share David, for many years I would sign my email as you're emailing with different customers, internal and external, Mark and things like that. But in more recent years, I have a signature. I'll say, "Please don't hesitate to reach out if there's anything else I can do," but I'm more and more adding if I can be of service to you. I really take great pride in, and I think I am not alone or unique in this, I take pride in that's my experience of who and what ALPS is. That we do take joy and pride in being in service to others in what we do.

MARK:                 

So, I'm just trying to give our listeners a sense of what you're talking about is being internalized and taken up by those that you're trying to share the vision with. But can I ask, what is your process? When you sit down and think about vision, any thoughts to share or insights? Is this something that's very organic? How do you go about it?

DAVID:                

Sure. Well, the cultural vision is an exercise of really drawing on both my personal experiences with positive cultures and destructive cultures. Then being in discussion with others internally in this company and just externally people who you just benefit from talking about their experiences and taking the good and the bad, and then coming up with a vision of what you want to pursue. So, I think it is generally in a constant state of evolution in that it's kind of being refined but at its heart, the truth and fairness, those are kind of time-tested, immovable virtues for a company.

DAVID:                

So, when you hear people... When you do some of these things well, and we are by no means perfect. In fact, we make mistakes regularly and we strive to be better. The fact that we feel like we get better means that we've always got room to improve. But when you do these things well and as you hire people and they're exposed to this culture for the first time as an employee and they come from reputable companies, competitors or otherwise. And you listen to them as they describe their experiences here, it's really inspiring. It makes you want to make it better, refine it more because you kind of feel like you're really onto something. It does tap into a part of the psychology for all of us that just numbers alone I don't think can tap into.

MARK:                 

I think you and I have seen this over the years in terms of our professional experiences and looking at competitors and whatnot, but I think businesses, corporations, small law firms, you can come up and create a good vision. I think have something that's pretty solid and yet it doesn't go anywhere. The vision fails for lack of a better reason. Just it never gets implemented perhaps. Why do you think that is? What gets in the way of, in terms of your experiences, success with a vision? Any thoughts about that?

DAVID:                

Well, that's a great one. I suppose there are risks that a vision is established, but it's not a core conviction, and so it's not front of mind. When we first started this discussion, Mark, I talked about the four cultural vision points, the truth and fairness. I described those as the litmus test, the lens through which all things should be filtered. You really have to, whatever your vision is for your small firm or your family or your nonprofit, if it's not important enough that it will resonate with you and with everyone else such that it's front of mind in all thoughts and actions, then there's a real danger that you drift away from it. I think that's one risk because you can have a strategy session with the people who you work with and two weeks later no one could even quote a single sentence of what was discussed in that.

MARK:                 

I have been through that more than once. Yes.

DAVID:                

I'm sure there is value in those types of days, but it really needs to be something that people are genuinely bought into. So, I think drifting away from it as is one risk. A second risk that I suggest and I've experienced this in my various failures to pursue certain vision elements, I think a vision, like most other things, can be distilled down to a project needing project management. If you have a certain vision characteristic, you need to disaggregate it into its pieces, put it in align sequentially of what needs to be done and then manage it towards that goal.

DAVID:                

A vision is a point that if you slice it into 10 sub points and then line them up from where you are right now to what would realize that vision, then you kind of methodically and actionably check off on those things. I think sometimes we think of visions in the softer context. So, we're not as disciplined at project managing our way, methodically checking off certain actions or behaviors that are marching towards realizing that vision. Then we wake up one day disappointed that we haven't realized the vision.

MARK:                 

Yeah. Yeah. I think when I look back on my own career over the years where it has failed, there tends to be we come up with this vision and then you sort of say it at the front line to the bulk of the company, "Implement this and do it." There's no tools. It's not a bottom-up kind of process in my mind. When you try the bottom-up, it fails. It has to be a top-down in the sense that, in the ALPS example here, you and upper management really do genuinely live and exemplify the vision just in the day to day interactions with everybody you interact with, again, internally and externally. I think that is also key to some of this. You have to walk the talk. That's been my experience anyway.

DAVID:

Yeah. Well thank you. I appreciate that observation. There are aspects of a vision that need to be top-down because in some ways that's the charge of leadership is to be spending time thinking and deciding about vision. But the vision is carried out by everyone else. So, if you just, in an autocratic kind of way, instruct people on what they're going to do when, that generally is not a recipe for success. But if you go to the folks who are going to be executing and say, "This is the vision. Can you do this? Do you have the resources necessary for you to accomplish this? And how long do you think reasonably it will take under an aggressive timeline for you to get it done?"

DAVID:                

If the people are engaged and just being asked if they're prepared to sign up for this vision, being asked if they have been armed with the resources to fulfill what they've just committed to and just being asked how long they realistically they think it's going to take. Those are not particularly complex questions, but it's amazing the difference of whether or not you go through those other steps and ask those questions. Versus just barking out an instruction to people who then look at you as though you're hopelessly unrealistic about what it actually takes to get these things done.

MARK:                 

I absolutely agree with you. The way I describe that is there is a difference between allowing the workforce, however you want to define that, allowing them the opportunity to own the vision, giving them tools, explaining, those kinds of things. Versus having sort of the dictator approach, this is the vision, make it happen and I'm out. It has to be owned from top to bottom. Again, I think that's another key reason why ALPS has been successful at this. I'd like to switch just a little bit. Wellness and wellbeing has been a significant issue, as you're well aware, particularly in legal profession in recent years.

MARK:                 

ALPS has been involved in the national movement to put together some emphasis on wellbeing and some resources. It's been an exciting time. I think ALPS has done internally a good job focusing on wellbeing. Do you see, is there a connection, is there a relationship between the vision that you have, the vision that ALPS has embraced here and wellness, a wellness, a wellbeing component? Is there a connection there at all or in your mind is that sort of separate topics?

DAVID:                

No, I think there's very much a connection between the division and the cultural priorities and wellness in general because whether it's at ALPS specifically where we happen to employ a lot of people who are attorneys and have been in their prior lives practicing attorneys and the legal community that we insure. That's obviously the wellness category is, at the legal profession, pretty well documented. I mean mental health, substance abuse, physical wellbeing, stress in the job. I mean, the role of the attorney is one where people can quite literally and often do work themselves to death because there really is not a governor on when it becomes an unhealthy. I think the small firms and solo practitioners or perhaps even most susceptible to it. They don't really have the check and balance of a lot of other people in an organizational structure.

DAVID:                

So, I think there's similarities between the community of people of 20,000 people that we insure all around the country and the people that are within this organization itself. I think wellness it is really important. It's a tricky one because the cause and effect of what you spend time on and what you spend money on and how that correlates directly to measurable wellness outcomes is very difficult. So I'm a big metric fan and I tend to rely much of my decision making on data of some sort. The data there is a little bit harder to pin down, but you just know that there is a correlation and that that correlation is necessary even if it's not as mathematical as some of the other decision points that drive our business.

MARK:                 

One final little question I'd like to throw your way, before I ask it, I need to explain something to the listening audience here. In recent years, David has taken the time to meet individually with every single employee in the company. It is what we call a coffee talk. It's just sit down for however long that the conversation goes. There's no rules on the conversation. You talk about anything you want. So, I'm going to ask the question. Why do you do or what is the value of coffee talk to you?

DAVID:                

That's a great question. Something as simple as a 45 minute conversation shouldn't have as many and as complicated benefit and reason as it does, but I get the benefit of a lot of information from those discussions. It's also a great opportunity for me to help demonstrate in our flat managerial structure that we aren't a hierarchy. That everybody has access to everybody else and that no manager should have any apprehension about me having a discussion. I should have an appropriate level of deference in the role that the manager's tasked with not to do anything to undermine them by having this direct one on one conversation with their staff member. But I learn a ton about what makes people tick, what's important to them. I get a ton of information about where there are obstacles in the day to day aspects of people's jobs, obstacles that are not that difficult to remove, but for whatever reason, it kind of helps to talk about it and enlist some assistance.

DAVID:                

I pick up a lot of personal context of the journey that people go through, and this is perhaps the most valuable aspect of this. In my old life in the role that I had before, I was the COO of a large publicly traded multinational insurance company. So, I just didn't have the benefit of knowing people personally. I didn't want people to be a number, but there just wasn't really another option. I didn't have context of the life of that person in London or in New York in the decisions that I was making.

DAVID:                

So, there's a real blessing to being in an organization of this size where you really get to put your thumb on the pulse of these people and the journey that they're going through and how their profession intersects with that, where it intersects positively, where it creates challenges. So, it really makes the whole game more of a human one but it is a pain to schedule. If we just be honest about the challenge, I had two coffee talks today and they're so different and they were both great. But when I'm traveling, and so these are generally done, unless I'm in one of our other locations with another employee, I'm generally doing these when I'm here. So, it is not an insignificant commitment of time, but it is a commitment that yields a result and return that makes it well worth it in my mind.

MARK:                 

Yeah, I would agree. Let me share again for our listening audience here why I think coffee talk is valuable. At the end of the day, it really just boils down to when you couple it with emphasis on wellbeing, the corporate meetings we have, we get together and have these discussions. But there's a two way street in play here and it's when a corporation through management and even you, David as the CEO, take the time to personally invest in the employees. It creates the opportunity again for the employees to reciprocate and invest personally in the vision and the mission of what the corporation is doing, what ALPS is doing. In my mind, I think that's just a huge invitation. I see that as fundamental to the success of implementing the vision and really keeping things moving forward so that we're not drifting to use your word. You're keeping the pulse on us, but we're also keeping the pulse on you as representative of the corporation. It's really good stuff.

MARK:

Well folks, we are out of time. David, I really appreciate the opportunity to sit down and visit a little bit. It's always a pleasure when we get together. I hope for those of you listening that you can appreciate. I thought this would be valuable because it's a real world example of how when a thought leader creates a vision and has the ability and a desire, intent, energy to implement this, you really can have some tremendous success. I don't think that these kinds of processes aren't limited to a corporation. This can happen in a three man law firm. So, I hope you found something of value. Thanks for listening folks. It's a good one. So long.

ALPS In Brief — Episode 41: The Perils of Bad Follow Through

ALPS In Brief — Episode 41: The Perils of Bad Follow Through

January 22, 2020

In this episode of ALPS In Brief, ALPS Risk Manager Mark Bassingthwaighte shares an insightful story of a dream cruise, a freak accident, and an attorney whose casual favor for a friend became a malpractice nightmare.

Transcript:

Welcome. You're listening to ALPS In Brief. The podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula, Montana. I'm Mark Bassingthwaighte, and I'm the Risk Manager here at ALPS. And today, I thought it'd be fun to go in a slightly different direction. Rather than sitting down with a guest, I thought it'd be fun to share a story of a situation that I learned about during a risk management call that came in. And I think going forward, I'm going to periodically share some stories from calls when they are particularly interesting in terms of the learning they provide.

This particular story is a good one, from my perspective, because it's a reminder about the perils that can arise from a failure to follow through. So let me share a short version. I'll interpret the story that was shared with me, and then I will follow-up with a few takeaways, things that I felt were important, in terms of the learning, that we all can take away from the story.

So here's the story. A longterm client reached out to his attorney to ask for a favor regarding the client's daughter. While away on a cruise, the daughter had been struck in the face by a falling object and apparently that resulted in some substantial damage to her teeth. Although the daughter was working with an insurance adjuster, the client would feel much better having his attorney look into the matter and the attorney agreed. Shortly thereafter, the attorney was able to obtain an offer of $3000. Of course, before any offer could be accepted, he needed to check in with his client's daughter. By way of an email, he let her know about the offer and reminded her that the total costs of all injury-related dental work would need to be known before any offer could be accepted.

He went on to tell her that once she had a final number she could check back with him if she wanted to and he would let her know if the current offer was sufficient. With that accomplished, the attorney returned to his normal work routine. Now a year goes by without any contact from the daughter, and this is when the attorney's phone rang. The long-term client was calling on behalf of his daughter who had just reached out to the insurance adjuster, only to learn that the statute of limitations date had run on her claim, so no recovery would be forthcoming. In light of this development, the daughter had immediately asked her dad to contact his attorney in order to have the problem fixed and this is when the attorney finally realized he had a problem because it was becoming rather clear that the daughter believed he was her attorney too.

This is when the call to me occurred, and its purpose was to discuss the ins and outs of this attorney trying to settle a likely forthcoming malpractice claim on his own. After the call ended, I was left wondering why this attorney never took the time to simply replace a reminder in his calendar to contact his client's daughter, maybe 60 to 90 days before the statute ran. He was certainly aware that a deadline was in play, and following through with this one simple step could have prevented all of this from happening.

Another important takeaway here is that an attorney never gets an accountability pass just because the representation is framed as a favor. One can't casually look into a legal matter, pass along a little legal advice and expect there to be no fallout if something goes wrong later on. As an attorney, you are either in or out. There really isn't much of a middle ground here.

Finally, never try to settle a potential malpractice claim on your own before reporting the matter to your malpractice carrier. While specific policy language will differ between insurers, as an insured, you do have a contractual obligation to report all actual and potential claims. So just know that failing to do so can have serious repercussions down the road. So that's my story for today. I hope you found that a bit interesting. And I hope you really will take the takeaways to heart. The failure to follow through is a common problem, and we really do see attorneys finding themselves at times in what I would call the accidental client situation. And this favor setting is not uncommon as well.

And finally, lawyers do at times want to try to settle what they would consider perhaps smaller matters, frivolous matters maybe, I don't know, on their own. And carriers, at times, are actually okay with that. But you really need to report this and have the carrier sign off if you will, or agree that they're comfortable having you handle something on your own. The failure to do this really can turn out to have a consequence that is not going to be something you want. It could be the claim could be denied, and worse things can happen. It's unusual and uncommon, but it can. Even to include rescinding coverage for failure to report if the carrier learns that this is something more common. And have I seen that situation in my 20 plus years at ALPS? Absolutely, I have.

So, I hope you found something of value today. And please, if you have any thoughts of topics that you would like to hear discussed on the podcast, a guest that you'd like to hear from, please don't hesitate to reach out and share your thought. You may reach me at mbass@aplsinsurance. So, that's it, folks. Have a good one. Bye-bye.

 

ALPS In Brief — Episode 40: How to Have a Family and Stay Active in Your Practice

ALPS In Brief — Episode 40: How to Have a Family and Stay Active in Your Practice

December 2, 2019

By instituting newer concepts prioritizing work-life balance like flexible hours and an in-house, certified childcare center, one firm has found a way to attract (and keep) great talent that’s often overlooked: new moms who would prefer not to work full time. ALPS Underwriting Manager Leah Gooley and Brooke Barney, a founding member of Barney & Graham in Sheridan, Wyoming, go over some tips and practical advice for firms interested in supporting their employees’ commitment to their families.

 

Transcript:

LEAH GOOLEY:                

Okay. Welcome to another episode of ALPS In Brief, coming to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful downtown Missoula. My name is Leah Gooley, and I'm the underwriting manager here at ALPS. On the personal side, I'm also a new mom to a now four month old daughter. And every day is really a learning experience in the delicate balance between work and family. There are two things that I passionately love, but that creates some very challenging days and prompt some very challenging decisions. So to explore one of this part of this topic, today we have Brooke Barney, a founding member at Barney & Graham in Sheridan, Wyoming. So welcome Brooke. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today.

BROOKE BARNEY:            

Thank you for having me, Leah.

LEAH:                

Brooke has an impressive track record in her practice in bankruptcy and family law, helping her community and positioning herself as a leader in the profession. But today she's here to talk about those impressive work accomplishments and how she blended those with personal ambitions. So Brooke, to get us started, would you tell us a little bit about your own journey into law?

BROOKE:            

Sure. I think my journey probably began just as long ago as I can remember, I've always wanted to be an attorney. My father is an attorney and so I just grew up with that. Obviously I wasn't discouraged to go into the legal profession by my dad. I don't know that he pushed it on me at all. That's just as long as I can remember it's been in my head that I wanted to be an attorney. So that was always a goal of mine. I grew up in a law office. I remember my dad meeting with clients and I'd be in his other conference room. And so it's just probably something subconsciously that rubbed off on me. But no, I always had the goal of becoming an attorney, not necessarily what particular type of attorney. I kind of found through law school what things I was interested in. And of course, you really don't know what you enjoy until you're actually practicing, actually taking on real clients. And so, kind of found my field that way once I actually began practicing.

LEAH:                 

Did you at the time entering into the profession, whether in law school or after starting your own practice, start to think about that in combination with a family?

BROOKE:          

So really I think that when I thought about having a legal career, I don't know that I factored in how I would balance that with being a mom or to have a family because when you're 19, I think you're very focused on next step is getting my bachelor's. Then the next step is getting into law school and then passing the bar. But of course, once you find your significant other, you get married, that definitely becomes more into focus. And I have two children, I have a four year old daughter and you just have your four month old daughter. I have a two month old son that I've just had.

LEAH:                 

Brand new, very good.

BROOKE:        

So I have two kiddos, both of which were very much planned and anticipated. And so I really tried to mold my practice and make that conducive to the time that I was going to be having kids.

BROOKE:          

And so I focused the majority of my early practice, probably 10, 11 years on primarily family law or domestic relations. I've always been a guardian ad litem, so I represented children in abuse, neglect cases and had a contract with the state for juvenile work. And then I've also practiced bankruptcies when I was anticipating that I was going to try for our first child. I really had to plan that about a year in advance because when you're in litigation, trials around here in our docket, they get scheduled nine months a year out. So I didn't want to have a trial, if possible, when I was also going to be having a baby. So I purposely started scaling back on taking consultations for cases that I didn't want to accept and then be committed to having trials all stacked up right when I was going to be having a baby.

BROOKE:         

So that was how I did it, that was my planning to try to balance that litigation. And then of course resumed taking cases again once the baby was actually here. With my second child, I tended to kind of shift the type of practice that I've had because I've found that with family law, it's just a different type of clientele. They're more high maintenance. The clients just just need you to be more accessible. So I've really tried to shift in the last couple of years, my type of practice to more of bankruptcy because I found that that lends a little bit more to having a family. So again, anticipating having a second child, and it's taken years to kind of shift and phase out. I, I still have domestic cases, but not primarily, which is what I had when I had my first child. So now with the bankruptcy work, it's a little bit easier with two kids.

LEAH:                      

That's so interesting. And just something you don't consider, certainly outside of the law profession, I don't think folks realize the amount of planning and strategy that then goes into to starting your family.

BROOKE:          

I don't know if everybody's like that, but that's how I did it. I'm very much a planner and so I knew that I couldn't have that type of caseload or litigation practice at the same time that I was trying to have... At least I wanted to be able to focus on myself, my health. I didn't want that extra stress at the time that I was trying to conceive or trying to have a healthy baby.

LEAH:                     

Right.

Brooke Barney:            

So that's how I did.

LEAH:                   

Yeah. Well, and one of the other interesting things, so tell me I guess how Barney & Graham got started and kind of your approach to work life in that aspect as well.

BROOKE:          

Sure. So I moved to Sheridan and because I accepted an associate position out of law school and I practiced with an attorney here for probably about four years. And then my husband was working for a title attorney in town doing oil and gas work. We actually ended up practicing in the same office with my former employer.

BROOKE:          

And so we actually decided to start our own firm. So we've been in business I think seven or eight years now. So we decided to start it. So I'm the Barney and my husband's the Graham of the Barney & Graham. We've now been in business, yeah, I think probably going on eight years. And since that time we've opened up a satellite office. So we are located primarily in Sheridan. There's another office that we have about an hour and a half away in Gillette, Wyoming. And we've hired two associates and we just actually hired two more associates. So we're going to have six total attorneys in our firm.

BROOKE:          

And so we've kind of grown from just Weston and I, my husband and I, to to now having four other employees. So we're excited about our new hires. They actually are new moms as well. One just had a baby in September. Yeah, one had a baby in September, the other had a baby in October. So we're going to have two new babies come in with my two month old. And I think part of the [inaudible 00:10:19] suppose to our firm is we have a childcare center in our firm. So these new associates are new moms and they are kind of looking to work part-time and still be moms. And I don't think that a lot of firms looking for new associates are interested in part-time, new moms.

BROOKE:          

So we are extremely flexible in our firm. We really highly value the balance of home life, prioritizing your family and being able to work. This is what we do, it's not who we are, it doesn't define us. I very much enjoy my practice and really value working with my clients. But I also understand that really what is important is family and my kids. And so I don't know if anyone ever achieves the perfect balance. I feel like it's more juggling most of the time than balancing anything.

BROOKE:            

I once heard someone say, really there is no way to balance it all. Being a mom and being a practice, you feel like your failing on one end and so you overcompensate and you're going heavy that end. Then you overcompensate on [crosstalk 00:11:39] and that's why I see more of kind of the juggle then than really a balance. But yeah, so that's something that we're excited about.

BROOKE:          

We're having two new associates here starting and what we have in place in our firm is an infinite work program. And so employees can bring their children to work, essentially their babies and they can be in their office with them up until six months. And so that's kind of a step below of the childcare center. So new moms might not want to put their baby with someone full time and so they can bring their baby to work, have them in the office as long as they're not a disruption to the office or to other people working. And how it works with the infinite work program is they can designate an alternate care provider and the alternate care provider, as long as they agree, can watch baby while maybe they need to take a phone call or need to go down and meet with clients. They just need to have baby free time so they can work. But really mom is the designated primary caregiver when they're at work under this program. So I, for example, have a little momaRoo rocker set up in my office and so I can bring in baby and he rocks while I get my work done at the office and we're going to have swings and things available for new associates, for them to have their babies. We're starting.

LEAH:                        

What an awesome concept. Then past that six months, do you then have an actual childcare facility?

BROOKE:         

Yes, yes we do. So we have a licensed and certified childcare center. So we have that available. I mean that's available as well. Really the state doesn't allow infants younger than six weeks to come in and be part of the childcare centers. So anytime after six weeks up until kindergarten we can have kiddos down and it's actually located onsite in our building. Clients don't know that we have this going on and we don't advertise it. But you know, well right now below me in my conference room is our childcare center and so we can have kiddos below us and moms and parents because my husband's here too. So dad's too, can go down and check on their kids and be able to see them during the day, which has been really nice.

BROOKE:           

We really kind of ventured into that when we moved into this building about four years ago and I was having my first child, we checked in with staff and other attorneys that we had at that time about what would be the best benefit to them, because we're still a younger firm and identifying what people would like, retirement or health care. And really resoundingly everybody responded childcare. We had two staff with one or two year olds at that time. We had another associate attorney who also had a young child, and then we had our new child coming. So we decided to, we had the space, and it was a need of both staff and attorneys in our firms, so we decided to create the childcare center.

LEAH:                     

That is such a unique and differentiating way to attract great talent and take advantage of those folks who want some more balance as we like to call it or juggling, but not want to be full-time, 60, 80 hour a week attorneys. Which kind of leads me into my next question. We've talked about in the past that law school classes are roughly 50:50 male:female these days, but overall there's just a large excess of women leaving the legal profession. Do you have any thoughts on to what's playing into that specifically?

BROOKE:           

Yes, I mean I [inaudible 00:15:37] for women. And I know that society is very different. The fathers, I think of our dads, their contribution I suppose to childcare was very different than I think our husbands these days. Dads are very involved in helping, but I think it still falls to women to be the default primary caretaker. What I've observed is even with my female attorneys, they have a better paying job than their spouses. They have probably more flexibility. But if the child is sick, it's them who's going to be taking work off. It's not husband. That personally what I've observed as an employer. I've seen that with my staff. I've seen that with my attorney associates. It just always seems to fall to mom to take care of kid and that's regardless of their status or their job position.

BROOKE:            

So that's very difficult. So when we're talking about balancing or prioritizing, you have two roles, you have two responsibilities. You're an attorney, you need to service your clients, but you also have the responsibility of being a parent. And when you're trying to run your practice and service your clients, but your kid gets sick or daycare ends at five o'clock or 5:30, you have to check out. You have to go take care of your second job, your next responsibility because there's no one else who's going to cover for you. And so what I found again was talking about planning for what type of practice I would have that would lend to having a family. What I've found is your time is so much more limited when you have children. When you don't have a kid, you can put in as many hours as you want, and I did. I would work late, I would come in early, I would come in on the weekends. And it's just because that's what it took to keep up with the practice.

BROOKE:           

When you have children, unless you're going to completely put your kid on the couch and ignore them all night. But infants, they need more time, they need all of the attention.

LEAH:                    

They do.

BROOKE:            

It's so much more difficult. So it can still be done, but you have to find the hours elsewhere. You're up all night with the baby, but then you're going to have to keep staying up to get in those four or five hours in the morning to work on your laptop or stay up late after the baby goes down, or your kids go down. So you can find the hours, but they're going to be cutting into maybe sleep time or whatever.

BROOKE:        

I've responded to emails with this new baby at 1:45 in the morning and clients think that's odd, or I'm very dedicated to their case because I'm up 1:45 responding to emails. But I'm up anyway and that's when I found a few extra hours and the extra time to work. So when we're talking about, to get back to your question, we're talking about why we see that. I think that it's a challenge I think for women, especially with the expectation for billable hours.

BROOKE:            

Like I say, I think our firm is very unique in that we're extremely flexible. We prioritize the work-life balance. I mean we still expect everybody to get their work done and to provide quality work for our clients. But I think for the traditional law firm, that model is very hard. Especially for women with pre-K kids. Once they're in school, I think that kind of changes a little bit. But childcare is a huge obstacle I think. And I've heard stories from classmates of mine who, and this is applies to dads too. I hear about dads in bigger cities, right? We're in Wyoming and you're in Montana. We don't experience the commuting issue, right? The extra hour or two it takes to get home. But you hear stories about people working late at night and then they drive their hour or two to get home just in time maybe to catch reading a book before bed? And that's all the time that they really get with their kids.

BROOKE:          

I've heard of that even in Montana, in some of these bigger firms with the expectations of how much they have to work, they're really isn't any time with their kids. And you're essentially just paying for someone else to raise your children for you in childcare. And that's hard. And I think that again, men and dads are much more involved I think with the raising of children. But it seems that it still, I think, falls to women and to mothers to be primary caretakers. And so that challenge is once they start having kids, how do they still practice? And for these two new associates that we have, it's because we're going to allow them to have a part-time position and to- And eventually they may go full time and they can phase that practice back more into their lives. But yeah, I think that childcare, having a family, and continuing to keep up with the expectations of the billable hour, that is probably a huge reason for lack of advancement for women in law firms. And also for women deciding to leave the profession.

LEAH:                       

Right. So that does lead also then into kind of my next question. In this experience, through your business model in blending it with a childcare center and a law firm practice. Acknowledging these challenges that women specifically, and you have mentioned absolutely there's dads in the mix and it's a family juggle, but specifically women do face a little bit more of that burden or what I've heard called the mental load. Making sure that people have the appointments on the calendar they need to have for shots, making sure there's groceries in the fridge type of thing that typically falls to the females in the relationship. In looking at your business model and trying to solve that from the piece of childcare, what have you learned out of that experience?

BROOKE:          

Well, I found that us offering that benefit has definitely contributed to having employees stay longer. So I think it's been a benefit to the firm to offer childcare because I think there's more job satisfaction. Parents are able to focus on their work because they know their children are being cared for. They can personally go down and see their kids and check in on them, make sure they're doing fine and get that gratification of seeing their kiddo. Maybe when they're feeling burnt out, they could go down and get refreshed, give your kid a hug and then be able to come back up. So I think it helps the job performance. It's helped with longevity, with keeping employees here. And I think that people are happier because again, they have that flexibility where they can bring in their infants, or infants can be with them in their office and then when they get old enough that they need a different type of care, we have an onsite care so they can go down and do that. So I think that's the benefit that I've seen with implementing that benefit in our firm is it's has helped the firm in our performance and with our employees. So it's been a good thing for us to do.

LEAH:                        

Fantastic. Last and just kind of a closing thought here, it's definitely clear that starting or growing a family comes with these challenges. So for those thinking about kind of the future balance and or those juggling their way through it now, any advice?

BROOKE:            

Well, I think if you're planning on having a family and you want to stay actively in your practice, I think it does take some planning. I mean it will help the transition I suppose if you plan. You need to have a childcare plan, a solid childcare plan. So I know that there's, at least in our community, and I'm reading about in other communities in the state of just the difficulty of even getting childcare, getting into a center. So get wait-listed as soon as you're expecting to try to conceive. That way you can have the peace of mind of having childcare in place. Have a support system, have backups. If you can utilize family or friends so that you might have your child in childcare, but then they send them home because they're sick. You still have courts and so you have to have a backup. You need to have someone lined up that's going to help support you.

BROOKE:          

So when they say it takes a village to raise child, it really does. So some people are fortunate than others to have a family and a big support system, extended family. If you have that, then that's wonderful to utilize. But if not, really try to facilitate and have those backups ready to go. So having a solid childcare plan is one.

BROOKE:           

But I think also really evaluate what type of practice that you want to have. Certain areas lend a little bit more to being able to have a little more flexibility, I suppose, with having a family. If you're a transactional attorney, I think that's a lot easier. Or I guess it will facilitate I guess a balance a little bit easier.

BROOKE:            

You can still litigate. You can definitely still have a practice where you're going to go to court but again, I think at least personally I've been able to find the balance a little bit more by transitioning and shifting the type of practice I've had. At least while I'm having younger children. I mean I see being able to phase back in when I can put in more hours because my children are older and can sustain themselves a little bit more. They're not so dependent on me but so when you're planning, I think, just how are you going to do it? What are logistically, how are you going to continue to practice, but when you have these other responsibilities? So having a solid childcare plan is key. And then thinking about also just what do you want? And does your current law firm facilitate that?

BROOKE:          

Do you still want to have the same level of practice that you have with as many clients and same case load and keep that plus having your kid? Or do you want to have a little more balance with more home time and so you just need to be honest with your employer so that they know what to expect of you after the fact. And hopefully that will [inaudible 00:26:45] in satisfaction on both ends so they're not upset because you're not having the same level of performance after you've come back from having baby. And having satisfaction with your job and still being able to factor in this new piece of your life and being able to have a family. So it's not easy. That's why they call it the balance, you know? No one has the the answer to really how do you do it. But at least personally how we've made that transition for myself, our staff and our other associate attorneys isto offer the flexibility and then to give them the peace of mind by having quality childcare onsite.

LEAH:                     

Well those are truly words of wisdom I think to ask yourself what you really want and then see what options are out there. Or in your case, create those options to meet the need and to support your firm. That's fantastic. I again, thank you so much for spending your time with us this morning. We think you're a rock star and we appreciate everything that you've provided for us today.

BROOKE:            

Well thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak about it and if anyone's interested in how to implement this similar program, you may be happy to visit with them. There are a lot of different ways you can do this. It doesn't have to be a full-on, onsite childcare facility. Even other ways of maybe providing that as a benefit to your staff is working with other local childcare facilities, maybe subsidizing their own childcare. Helping them, helping staff by being able to afford child care. I know we had staff who have been with us a long time, she's about to have her second child. And financially, it didn't make sense for her to continue to work because she's going to be paying for childcare with two children. And so we were looking at losing her again because we transitioned to having this on-site child care benefit, she was able to stay with us. But if we didn't have that, like other employers, perhaps considering that as a benefit of helping contribute financially to their childcare as a benefit, a way to keep staff. So that's an easier way maybe to implement that into someone's firm.

LEAH:                     

Excellent.

BROOKE:            

All right, well thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it.

LEAH:                       

Yes, great to have you. Thanks to everyone for listening and we will see you again next time for ALPS In Brief.

 

 

ALPS In Brief — Episode 39: It’s Okay to Hit the Pause Button on Work

ALPS In Brief — Episode 39: It’s Okay to Hit the Pause Button on Work

October 17, 2019

A women-owned law firm in Fredericksburg, Virginia committed to accommodating family priorities into their work schedules. When a partner left the firm after her maternity leave and was asked back months later, a potential gap in her malpractice insurance coverage led the firm to ALPS Parental Leave Coverage. ALPS Underwriting Manager and new mom Leah Gooley sits down with Elizabeth LeDoux and Leah Dubuisson from the firm Strentz & Greene to discuss how this new coverage played a role in reducing stress and worry for one new mother as she returned to the practice of law as well as other ways firms can be supportive of working parents.

Transcript:

LEAH GOOLEY:

All right. Welcome to the latest edition of ALPS In Brief, coming to you from the historic Florence Building in beautiful downtown Missoula on this truly beautiful but very cold day. We are talking about the new parental leave coverage now available from ALPS.

As you may have noticed, I'm not your usual podcaster extraordinaire, Mark B. My name is Leah Gooley, and I'm the Underwriting Manager here at ALPS. In addition to that, I have recently become a parent to possibly the world's cutest baby girl this last July. I might be biased. It's been about a month since I returned to work from maternity leave, and I find myself constantly learning this new work/life balance routine.

I know our two guests today, as well as many of our listeners, can really relate to the challenges that come with balancing the family and career, and so that's why we're here to talk about the parental leave coverage. It's a way that ALPS has really helped address one of those balancing points.

First I'd really like to introduce our guests. From the firm Strentz & Greene in Fredericksburg, Virginia, we have Elizabeth LeDoux and Leah Dubuisson. Welcome.

ELIZABETH LEDOUX:

Hello.

LEAH DUBUISSON:

Hiya.

LEAH G:

I really want to thank you guys ahead of time here just for spending some time to talk about this coverage and how it's fit into your lives. Elizabeth, would you start us out talking about how you learned about this and what it's meant to you guys?

ELIZABETH:

Sure. I'm the office manager at Strentz & Greene, and we're a two-partner women-owned law firm in Downtown Fredericksburg. When our associate, Leah, went out on maternity leave, she eventually said, "You know what, I'm going to stay home with my baby, I'm not going to come back," and we hired a new associate to take her place. At that point I canceled her ALPS insurance because she didn't work here anymore, and signed our new associate up.

Then within a few months, I think about the nine-month point, we invited Leah to come back to work, and she was happy to come and we were so happy to have her back. Because we have these two partners who are moms and concerned about all the parts of attorney life and being a mom and mom life too, one of them said, "Be sure when you talk to ALPS and sign Leah back up that you get coverage for this gap in her time here."

I sent you guys a note and said, "I need to sign Leah back up, and I really want to make sure that she doesn't have a gap in coverage. Can you fill this in?" Shonda is our rep, and she wrote back and said, "I guess I'm going to send that back to the underwriters, and I'll get back to you." That was how we started this path.

LEAH G:

I actually remember learning about that from our underwriter at the time, who came to me and said, "This doesn't exist," this ability to add. Essentially what we're talking about are prior acts coverage for individual attorneys, who really want to maintain that control of the past work that they've done and make sure that they have coverage for that.

The way the industry functions now, that's typically not an option, if you've left a firm and you've broken that date and created a gap. What we looked at was actually going back and then being able to provide that retroactive coverage for those individual attorneys who qualify. You guys really laid the groundwork for us to be able to put this into action.

I'm curious, Leah, specifically from your point of view, when you decided to come back to work, was this a concern of yours, or just as being an attorney in general, was this something you had thought about also as a mom?

LEAH D:

I think as an attorney we're always, in the back of our minds, concerned about malpractice, but it's definitely not something that was at the forefront of my mind. When I did decide to come back and the firm offered me a modified schedule to make that possible, it was something that Elizabeth brought to my attention and said, "We're looking at getting you some coverage."

When she said that, I said, "Well, of course," because that would definitely be a concern for me coming back into the firm, and being sure that the transition is smooth. It's one less thing to worry about, among the many things that we worry about as new moms coming back into the workforce and as somewhat new attorneys

LEAH G:

It is. It is a big thing that fits into the bigger picture of as you start to put your pieces together for being a parent and fitting it into this career. I am curious also, tell me about, Leah, how you became an attorney. What went into that decision to start the career?

LEAH D:

I took not what you would call the traditional path. I started out thinking that I wanted to go to law school. I did political science undergrad, took the LSAT, and then I decided to try a couple of other things. I did a year's worth of master's work in public administration. I worked pretty much every different type of job you can think of. It took about five years before I got back on the law school path, and really realized that if I didn't do it, I would always look back and wonder.

This job really checks a lot of boxes for me, things that I like to do in my day-to-day life and the impacts that I see myself making as a professional. I went to law school and was lucky enough to get a clerkship. During that clerkship, I was fortunate enough to meet the partners that I work for now, and they hired me right out of my clerkship and have been my home for several years now.

LEAH G:

Wonderful. I always find that so fascinating, how folks end up where they ultimately are, and that's a wonderful thing that you took some extra time to get where you are now as an attorney, and that you have that additional experience. I think that also speaks to the work/life balance as a parent, because you bring all of those skills to the job in addition to just the work piece of it. Tell me again then about your decision. Not to make you talk the whole time, but when you decided to leave the firm and be a stay-at-home mom, what brought you back into the practice?

LEAH D:

I really missed being an attorney. I really enjoyed the time that I had with my daughter and it was really important to me. I wouldn't trade it for the world, but there is a commute involved with my position. I live about an hour away from the office. The idea of commuting five days a week with an infant was not in the plans for my family at that time. When I reached out to the firm and had a conversation about what it might look like if I did come back, they were willing to be flexible and offer me a modified schedule, to where I was only coming in three days a week and then working from home the other two days.

It removed some of that commuting strain, and also left open the possibility for me to be the parent that still gets to do the doctor's appointments and gets to still be involved with drop-offs and pickup and all of those day-to-day things that keep us connected to our child's lives.

LEAH G:

How true, so important. Absolutely. Elizabeth, I'd love to hear from you as well. You had mentioned originally when we opened this podcast that it's a female-owned firm. How does that work into your business model and how you view the firm, in the greater role that we see a lot of female attorneys coming to the practice, but then also leaving for reasons having to do with family or just a general disenchantment with the larger firm culture?

ELIZABETH:

Right. I am a part-time office manager in this office. I come a long career as a law firm librarian, and I've worked in a lot of big law firms across the country in my professional life. Once my daughter was born and I knew I wanted to be home with her, I wanted something close to home and I wanted somebody with a lot of flexibility. I'm friends with Stacey Strentz and she knew I was looking for a job.

She said, "Listen, I know there are all of these educated, super high-functioning, really smart engaging women in our town who need to be home at 3:30 to meet the school bus. It's my goal to try to co-op some of that talent. Why don't you think about coming and working for us? I can offer you this job as an office manager." I run the bills and the client bills. I pay the firm bills. I do the payroll, order supplies, that kind of stuff and it's the greatest job. I'm here two days a week, and I couldn't be happier to have something that I love and a place I love coming to. Then when I say, "I've got to go, I got to meet Josie," nobody ever flinches. Nobody blinks an eye. I'm here to work and then I'm out the door in the afternoon, because I've got mom duties to do also.

I'm sure there are lots of places that are supportive of working moms, but there's nobody more supportive than another working mom. To have two attorneys who are parents ... Stacey also has school-aged children, and then Brenda is ... she's got a granddaughter and a grandson who are school age, and we're all in this together, and we're an office full of moms with young children. Then we do have a male associate also, who is young and doesn't have a family yet, but we know that there's real talent in women, educated women, who then also have the responsibility of keeping all the balls in the air at home too.

LEAH G:

That is so true, and that is exactly right that it becomes a balls-in-the-air, who's got the the project management of the home and also the project management of the work life. It's so wonderful to hear that you guys are tuned into that aspect of the workforce, really, because there is a huge amount of just super smart awesome men and women who want to have a family balance, and you're providing that. That's fantastic. What other challenges do you see as parents in the law practice that you would like to see fixed in the next few years?

LEAH D:

I think that professional development career growth can be difficult to achieve, just given the nature of going out on maternity leave and then coming back. You see colleagues who either have chosen not to have children or not had children yet, or have maybe not taken as much time off. It starts to feel like it can be passing you by a little bit.

It can be stressful to not only come back into a position that you're comfortable with, but obviously the law is always changing. There are always new developments. You're catching up on that, and you're also trying to make make sure that you are moving forward in your career at the same time, doing those extra things that you have to do in order to continue advancing, outside of just your daily workload. It would be nice to see that be a little bit easier.

LEAH G:

Right, yeah. You then have to start making those decisions about where you allocate your time, and that's part of that decision, is do I spend more time with the family or do I spend more of that on the continuing advancement and professional development. That's a hard choice.

LEAH D:

Yep. I've gone to events, usually in the evenings. Bar events, bar meetings, all of that.

LEAH G:

Yeah. One thing I'm finding now is that I really value those evenings. During maternity leave I had the whole day to spend with my daughter, and now it's buckled down to that three hours between when I get home and when I put her down to sleep. There's just such a high value placed on that time now, it's hard to say yes to other networking events or other activities. It's a new bar.

LEAH D:

Yes.

LEAH G:

Well, I'd like to thank you ladies both for your time. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about as far as this parental leave coverage goes for you?

LEAH D:

I think it's great that you guys are doing it. It definitely made my journey a little bit easier, and I hope that this conversation continues in this industry and other industries as well.

LEAH G:

That's really what it is, is continuing that conversation and finding out ways that we as ALPS or the industry in general, the practice of law, can really help support women, support men, and that absolute necessary balance between life and then the value of work that people provide.

A big thank you to our guests today. I'm really thankful for the time that you were able to spend with us. I've enjoyed the conversation. I hope you have too. For our listeners, if anybody would like to know more, just please visit our website at alpsnet.com, or certainly feel free to reach out to me directly. My email address is lgooley, L-G-O-O-L-E-Y, at alpsnet, which is A-L-P-S-N-E-T, dot com. Thank you, and have a great day.

ELIZABETH:

Thanks, Leah. Bye bye.

LEAH D:

Thank you.

LEAH G:

Okay.

ALPS In Brief – Episode 38: Empower Your Employees to Make Smart Security Decisions

ALPS In Brief – Episode 38: Empower Your Employees to Make Smart Security Decisions

October 10, 2019

As an organization or law firm of any size looking to build a cybersecurity plan, your first step should be training your staff — making everyone aware of cybersecurity threats and how to spot them. Mark Bassingthwaighte sits down with Erich Kron of KnowBe4: Security Awareness Training to talk cyber risks threatening your firm and approachable steps to combat them.  

Transcript:

MARK BASSINGTHWAIGHTE:

We're going to break here for a second. Hello, and good morning, podcast listeners. This is Mark Bassingthwaighte, the Risk Manager with ALPS, and welcome to another episode of ALPS In Brief, the podcast that comes to you from the historic Florence building in beautiful Missoula, Montana, and what a gorgeous day it is. I am so pleased to have as my guest today, Erich Kron, and he is a security awareness advocate with a company called KnowBe4 and I have been a fan of KnowBe4 for many years and really am just excited to have the opportunity to talk with Erich.

Let me share just a little bit of information about Eric. Eric is a veteran information security professional with over 20 years experience in the medical, aerospace manufacturing, and defense fields. He is a former security manager for the US Army's second regional cyber center, Western hemisphere and holds ... I'm just telling you, folks. There's a long list of certifications here that, I got to tell you, Eric. That's pretty impressive. Eric has worked with information security professionals around the world to provide the tools, training, and educational opportunities to succeed in information security. So Eric, it is such a pleasure. Welcome to the podcast.

ERICH KRON:

I'm thrilled to be here. Always happy to be on things like this where we can share a little bit of information. It's funny, you mentioned the certifications but what's more important is just all of that experience and being around the different areas. It's something that I love to share with other people.

MARK:

Well before we jump into the topic at hand, I think it would be helpful if you could share with our audience a little bit about just sort of who and what KnowBe4 is about.

ERICH:

Right, okay.

MARK:

Can you fill us in sort of on the mission?

ERICH:

Yeah. So KnowBe4, what we really are, we provide a security awareness training and simulated phishing platform, right? So what that means is we really focus on the user problem in security these days. And we do that by helping to train the employees or give organizations an easy way to train their employees on cybersecurity issues and things like password hygiene, all of that kind of stuff that's important to do these days that oftentimes gets neglected in normal training. But then we also give the organization a chance to follow up on that training with some simulated phishing exercises. And what that really, that's kind of the idea is, if you've ever taken a course where you've gone in, watched an instructor teach or seen something online, you've learned a little bit from that, right?

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

But when you do some lab sort of things afterwards like you actually do some hands-on work, it really sticks more and that's part of the simulated phishing. You get a chance to actually learn to spot these.

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

Simulated emails.

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

That's the idea there.

MARK:

Okay, I love it. As you're aware, we're an insurance company and exclusively in the legal malpractice space, although we in addition to writing legal malpractice insurance policies we do write cyber insurance, again exclusively for law firms. Our space is primarily, we are nationwide, but primarily the solo small firm market. We branch out of that a little bit, but that's sort of the core business for us. And when I visit with lawyers all over the country, one of the things that I often hear is, "You know, Mark. We're just a small law firm here on Poughkeepsie or Ames, Iowa," or whatever it might be. "We're not going to be on anybody's radar, and we really just don't need to worried about becoming a victim. Who's going to be interested in us?" Is there anything to that?

ERICH:

Yeah, you know it's interesting. It's not just from your industry. I hear that a bit in other industries as well, but here's the thing. We got to understand that they may not necessarily always be after you specifically when it comes to trying to breach information, but there's a couple things to consider. Number one, who are your customers?

MARK:

Yes.

ERICH:

Many times they've attacked organizations to get to their customers. Look at Target and the HVAC vendor-

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

That got them in trouble there. Hancock Health was, they got hit with ransomware recently based on, the bad guys went after the vendor, got into the vendor and used the vendor portal then to get into Hancock Health and cost them a lot of issues. And the other thing is, we have stuff out there called ransomware, right?

MARK:

Yes.

ERICH:

And the thing about ransomware is, it doesn't really matter if your information is important to anyone else, it's important to you, so there's value to that, right? They lock it down. They keep you from getting to it. You can't continue doing what you're doing. It's valuable to you, and really that doesn't matter whether you're a single person practice or even at home, right? People at home have had their photographs and kids' pictures and all that kind of stuff encrypted by ransomware. It doesn't matter what size you are. If you have data, it's important to you and you're willing to pay for it. That's all they care about.

MARK:

Yeah. And am I correct in saying that a significant percent of the, for lack of a better description, attack factors are automated are being pushed out to hit anybody that sort of happens to fall victim, as opposed to very specific targeting? Is that accurate?

ERICH:

Yeah I mean the bulk of it is definitely just kind of a spray and pray if you will sort of will.

MARK:

Yes.

ERICH:

I mean it's phishing. You put the line in the water and you hope somebody comes by and catches it. They do this in bulk. I mean, just tons of emails a day, it's mind-boggling. However what's happening is, as things are getting more advanced, and they are getting more advanced, right? You got to understand, these are kids in their mom's basement drinking Mountain Dew, eating pizza, all right? This is organized groups and in some cases organized crime, even up to nation-states and things like that, that are automating the processes. So imagine this, right? There's a breach that gives you some of your information is out there and it seems like no big deal now; but they take automated methods to pull that together, put that information in there, and actually make it much more targeted without a lot of work because they're employing automation just like we are. So although the bulk of it is very, very generalized, what we're seeing is definitely an improved trend and at least some customization towards the individuals, just because your information's out there.

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

I mean, let's face it.

MARK:

Right. I like that. What it makes me think about, not only do we have this increase in automation but lawyers will also say, "I'm a smart guy. I wouldn't be fooled by these things," and they're thinking the sort of old, early Nigerian prince kind of scams, you now, that are so just crazy and obvious, pouring [glashan 00:07:52] on and on. Did the scams today, are they as easily identifiable? Are we getting to be more sophisticated there as well? Do you see where I'm going in terms of proper English, that kind of thing? Can you affirm or deny for me as to where we're going with that?

ERICH:

Yeah. This honestly certainly has nothing to do with intelligence. These groups have gotten very, very good at their trade. We see physicians, we see all kinds of very educated people get hit by these because they are so good at what they're doing. And it's interesting, we have this dark web, kind of the underbelly markets that are out there, right, that support some of the cybercrime. There's actually services that will take what these people want to do as phishing emails. They will correct the grammar, they'll correct the spelling. They'll improve them for a fee and guarantee increased click rates, okay? So there's a whole market behind this, right. And that's what I think people a lot of times, they underestimate just how good they are. And again, this isn't about being intelligent. It's not about how smart you are. It's about being aware of the attacks that are coming and having a focus on watching for them. Because really, you're not too small and they're just so good at what they're doing these days, they really are.

MARK:

Right. And sort of what that underscores for me, with the exception of possibly the true solo who even has no staff, one of the other things we need to think about is that if I was ... I practice at a small firm. Let's say there's three or four lawyers and we have four or five staff, maybe even hire a high school kid during the summer, do a little running, a little filing or something. We are exposed in terms of all these users. So even though I may, as a guy that's very interested in security and I keep on all of this stuff, I may not fall prey but I do have to understand others in my employ, others that access to these systems, also represent a very real risk. In light of that, what kinds of steps can I take as a small business owner to try to limit becoming the next victim?

ERICH:

Yeah, it's tough. It's not easy.

MARK:

Yes.

ERICH:

There's no denying that, right?

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

It is something that is difficult to do. However, when it comes to being a small organization the first thing that I say, and I mean this sincerely, not just because it's what we do, but training people, getting people aware of what's going on. At least if you make them aware of the threats that are out there, that's very, very helpful, right? Because we see all of these different types that are all very slick. Some are after gift cards.

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

We've seen ones where they're redirecting payroll, you know? All of these things are very, very slick, how they're doing this. And making sure that people are at least paying attention to what's coming in is really, really important. What I find is a lot of people, it just slips their mind to even think about these as attacks. Now, generally speaking, email systems, watch for those flags that say, "This may be spam." Make sure that when you get something that has a link in it, you actually hover that link and make sure, put your mouse over it for a second, and make sure it's going where it says it's going. Whenever you're in a place where you're logging in, this is a trick that they use, they'll send you to a link that looks like you're logging into the email, but it's actually their own website and so they're pulling your username and password out of that. Look up in the URL bar up there and make sure it's actually going to Microsoft or Google or, you know, not something else because those are the tricks that they use, is when people don't look for those it makes them very susceptible to that. So that's some of the key things that you can do to, just the small things that you can do, when you're doing this. But again, we need to let people know to do that.

MARK:

Right. You mentioned earlier in our conversation here about ransomware, and maybe we should take a quick moment and just make sure everybody even understands what that is. What are we seeing in our cybercrime? What are lawyers becoming victims of sort of most frequently? One, it's just device theft. You either are good about handling your equipment, you know, your smartphone or whatever it might be. But the other two biggies, really we are seeing a lot of ransomware and we are seeing a lot of wire fraud and business email compromise. I mean there's all sort of different acronyms for how we get to wire fraud. Can you just sort of underscore, for businesses that become victims of these kinds of crimes, can you just underscore. What is the number one attack vector, for lack of a better term. How is it most likely? Is it really going to be email or are there other types of things? Could I get in trouble with a text message? Could I get in trouble with a voicemail? I kind of what to explore the lead vectors, but can you just confirm for the audience again, what is the number one vector? Do you have any idea sort of how, I mean is it 90 percent, 50 percent? You know, that kind of thing.

ERICH:

Yeah. So what we know is that 91 percent of successful data breaches start with spear phishing, okay?

MARK:

Okay.

ERICH:

That's the key thing. And 98 percent of attacks have some sort of a social engineering angle to it, which is tricking people. Basically the scams, the tricking people into doing something, right?

MARK:

Right. Right.

ERICH:

Text messages are absolutely something that's big out there. We all know somebody that's gotten a text message from the IRS saying, "If you don't send us a bunch of iTunes gift cards right away you're going to jail," right, okay?

MARK:

Yeah.

ERICH:

And it's funny because we see that and we kind of laugh about that, but we can do that from the outside. When they're putting the pressure on the person a lot of times, it kind of messes our thinking up, right? So those are actually still pretty successful. We see phone calls. And what's even more dangerous is I've seen cases of hybrid attacks. And what that means is, you may get an email in your inbox and a few minutes later you may get a text message that says, "I just sent you a very important email," and it looks like it's from somebody you know. "Please go check this email." Well now they've validated the email through text and the email's really a very targeted phishing email.

MARK:

Right. Right. Got it.

ERICH:

So, very dangerous. It puts your guard down because you think, "Oh they obviously know who I am." But really, it's not that hard.

MARK:

Yeah, yeah. Oh, wow. There are days when I heard stuff like this. I want to go some remote island, go off-grid, and just sell juice or something. Just completely disconnect.

ERICH:

My plans are to come up there in Montana with you and I'm going to have a little place and dig a moat around it. I'm going to retire back there. No electricity, no nothing, man. I just, yeah.

MARK:

Okay. You and I are absolute in agreement on a lot of this stuff. You've been at this far longer than I have, but I really do believe that awareness and training is key. Regardless of what IT can do in terms of firewalls and patches, the user can circumvent those defenses and we can still be attacked and become a victim in ways that can be really devastating. So with that in mind, how often do you feel some type, have there been any studies? How often do we need to kind of put these reminders, this training, out there? Is there some guidance in that? Is it the kind of thing, oh we talk about this once a year at a firm meeting, a get a little pizza? "Please, everybody. Don't click here!" Do you have any thoughts on that?

ERICH:

Yeah, I mean that's obviously very successful, right? No. If you think about it just think about it from that standpoint. Yeah, you give somebody training in January and you expect December they're still thinking about it. That just doesn't happen, so what's really important is that you get some training out there. Now what I really advocate for is yes, once a year you do a big training. And especially if you're in a organization that's large enough, you got to deal with compliance, you do have to check those boxes. But you do the big training once a year, okay? Make a big hub bub about it, longer stuff. And then at least quarterly put out four to five minutes of training. And what I like to see people do is make it something that's relevant, especially to that time of year or what's coming up, right? We know first quarter's always going to be tax fraud. It's tax, tax, tax.

MARK:

Yes, right.

ERICH:

So why not start reminding people, maybe in December that, hey this is coming up. Or maybe in early January, hey, just keep an eye on these things. We know that the tax attacks are higher this year. Or during the holidays we see that kind of thing going on, so remind people going into that with relevant training to what's happening there, you know? And then it's also important to do spot stuff, right? So any time there's a natural disaster, any time there's something major news breaking, you know the bad guys are going to turn around and turn this into an attack because they rely on emotions. They really do rely on emotions to make these successful, so if there's something that has you emotionally wound up they're going to use it to get you to click on things. They're going to use it to get you to donate to fake charities. They're going to do all of that kind of stuff, so if you see something like that put something out about it.

MARK:

Yeah. And what I like about that, and thanks for that comment, that's great. We at times think about these emotional responses as fear. A judge is going to send somebody out because you missed your jury duty or you're late on the IRS or behind. But there's this other side, too, playing on our generosity. "Oh, these poor kids in Haiti." And I think even political kinds of things. "I am so upset with the Democrats or the Republicans or whatever," so I just want to underscore. Don't fall victim to scams. It's not just about fear. There are all kinds of emotions people can play on and we just need to keep that in mind. This has been great, Eric. I really love what you're telling us. I would like to give you a little time, if you have a closing thought or two. But I'd also like you to share, because I so believe in the value of what KnowBe4 is doing. I mean, I really, really feel that this is an essential kind of an investment that businesses of all size should be making. So I would love if you'd like to take just a little bit of time and share with our listeners, if they have any interest how they can additional information? What kinds of services can you provide the solo small firm kind of market? And so I'll just turn it over to you.

ERICH:

Yeah, so you and I do share in that definitely. I'm a security guy. I'm where I'm at right now because I'm super passionate about this part and I've seen, for so many years technologists have really, or IT people have really focused on technology not on the human side.

MARK:

Right.

ERICH:

And I totally get that because honestly, most of us technical people, we don't want to have to train people. We don't want to, that's not why we got into technology, right?

MARK:

Right, right.

ERICH:

And so it's not easy for us to do that. And frankly we're not always effective at it. If you've ever been trained by a technical person and you're not necessarily [crosstalk 00:20:26]

MARK:

Maybe from one or two.

ERICH:

Yeah it can be painful, right?

MARK:

Yes.

ERICH:

So that's really where we kind of bridge that gap. We come in there and we provide the training. We make it easy to do, that's what I really love about it. The platform for the people on the backend, really really easy to do. It doesn't take a lot of time and it's just very, very effective, right? When it comes to the smaller markets, one or two-person shops, we generally don't start out that low. We usually start, I think it's around 25 seats. However, what we do have is we have a great channel program or MSP, manage service providers, right?

MARK:

Yes.

ERICH:

Some of the people that are already doing your IT work, a lot of them resell us or offer us an option, and that is where you can really turn to when it comes to the one or two-person shops is go to those folks and they can definitely get it out there for you as well.

MARK:

Okay. Good to know.

ERICH:

Yeah. It's a great thing to look at and ask the folks that already providing your IT services. "Hey, what do you know about this?" Because they can buy those blocks and then turn around and take care of it all for you, it makes it nice and easy.

MARK:

Yeah.

ERICH:

But again, regardless of your size, you really do need to be doing some sort of training with your folks. We put on a lot of webinars, and you go to KnowBe4.com and then there's a resource, oh no there's an events are there I think that does the webinars. We also have a resources place where you can learn a lot of this stuff if you want. If you feel like you want to learn and you want to put one or two people through it, that's all free. And it's good information.

MARK:

Yeah.

ERICH:

I talk about the scams. We have, Roger Grimes here talks about things, so we try to give a lot of information like that that we can, even if you're in a position that you can't necessarily or aren't in a position to afford it or have somebody to get it to you, we really do try to give you some stuff.

MARK:

Perfect. And for folks listening, I want to underscore, KnowBe4.com is K-N-O-W-B-E-and then the number four. The number four, so KnowBe4. And we'll put a link up on our site. Eric, thank you so much. It has indeed been a pleasure. I really appreciate your taking the time to visit with me a little bit today. To those of you in the listening ... I'm getting tongue tied, it's Monday. To those of you in the listening audience, I hope you found something of value today. I strongly encourage you to reach out and take a look at this website. This company, I have been very, very impressed and I've personally taken some of their training and it is good stuff. But in addition, if you have any thoughts or ideas about other topics or guests that you'd like us to visit with, please don't hesitate to reach out to me. You may reach me at mbass@alpsnet.com. Thanks, folks. I hope you found something of value. Have a good one, bye-bye.