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Leading Questions: Baker McKenzie’s Colin Murray Helms From Home

May 29, 2020, 9:40 AM

Lawyers are great at asking questions, but how are they at answering them? Bloomberg Law is talking with lawyers and other legal industry players to find out what their lives look like in the age of work from home.

Colin Murray has served as Baker McKenzie’s CEO for North America for the past three years. Murray, a seasoned litigator, is responsible for managing the firm’s practices in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Based in San Francisco, his business litigation and arbitration practice focuses on cross-border disputes in California.

Bloomberg Law spoke to Murray about how clients’ needs have changed, his swims in San Francisco Bay, and how he juggles working from home with a wife, two teenagers, and three rescue dogs.

(Editor’s note: Remarks have been edited for clarity and length)

Bloomberg Law: Describe your day to day routine.

Colin Murray: Every morning starts with strong Peet’s coffee. I’m addicted. I spend most of the work day attending virtual meetings: some are standing weekly meetings but many of them are scheduled on the fly as we adapt to the constantly changing Covid-19 landscape. I try to set aside some time every day to just think. I know that sounds simple but with all of the back-to-back Zoom calls, it takes discipline to allocate time each day to think through where we are as a law firm, where we can improve as a leadership team, and how we can better serve our clients. I also make time daily to write down my thoughts, often drawing sketches of complex issues, which is particularly helpful when having to communicate ideas remotely. I am a visual thinker, and the exercise of framing messages graphically is thought provoking. Finally, I have two teenage sons, and we have been having family dinners just about every night, which is a great way to cap off the day. They make me laugh, but they also bring an interesting and fresh perspective to this new world order.

Colin Murray
Courtesy of Baker McKenzie

BL: What is the hardest thing about working from home?

CM: The hardest thing for me is the lack of in-person contact with our people. We have 15 offices in North America, and I normally visit each office on a regular basis. I spend lots of time on airplanes and find myself day-dreaming about my last series of visits which included spending time with Team Baker in Washington, D.C., Guadalajara, and Mexico City in early March. I never thought I would say this, but I actually find myself longing to hop on a plane. The other challenges of working from home, which I am sure everyone faces, are managing the never ending distractions. Besides our two teenagers, one of whom is in his senior year, we have three rescue dogs who love to bark. They all feed off of each other’s craziness, and have a keen sense of bad timing.

BL: What is something your firm is doing that has been really helpful?

CM: In early March, we closed all of our offices in the United States and Canada, and moved virtually all of our employees to remote working. On Friday, March 13, I led our first ever All North America Virtual Town Hall, with over 2,500 attendees across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. We have held these video conferences every Friday since then. Our primary objective is always to communicate important information to our people quickly, openly, and transparently. We have received a lot of feedback, which has been consistently positive, even for difficult messages such as temporary reductions in pay.

BL: How have your clients’ needs changed because of the pandemic and the economic downturn?

CM: In recent weeks, many of our clients have raised questions about what reopening will look like. We’ve developed the Reopening Playbook, and we held a webinar recently with more than 800 attendees, mostly clients. Trade continues to be an issue for some of our corporate clients as they manage their supply chains, and we have been advising our drug and device manufacturing clients, who have been pivoting their businesses where possible to try to help, on compliance with the related regulatory aspects. Our employment and data privacy groups have been extremely busy, and they have been working with clients on workforce issues, such as privacy rights in regards to taking employees’ temperatures, how to respond when employees may not feel safe coming to work, and how to ensure the physical work space keeps workers safe with proper physical distance. Our clients have also tapped our M&A teams for major strategic deal support, and we continue to handle disputes for clients with virtual depositions and court proceedings.

BL: What is your number one piece of advice about working from home?

CM: This sounds basic, but I suggest creating some separation between meetings to walk around the block a few times, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Otherwise, the calls just pile-up one on top of another, which can have a seriously negative impact on your attention span and your overall outlook. It’s easy to say you will do this, and quite another to actually do it. Also, since this entire experience has blurred the lines between our work life and home life, I suggest creating a clear sense of separation between day and night, which for me is marked by family dinners.

BL: What’s your favorite working from home story that made you laugh, shake your head, or just throw up your hands?

CM: Two weeks ago, our smoke alarms decided to rebel against the Murrays and our concurrent Zoom calls in unison. After dismantling one of the alarms—while standing precariously on the very top of a step ladder after having made the risky decision to use a pair of scissors to cut electrical wires, thus causing sparks— another set of alarms sounded off in a chorus of disruptive blaring. This culminated with my elder son screaming obscenities—at the wrong alarm mind you—at the top of his lungs, hopeful that his enthusiasm might make a difference. It didn’t. The house is still standing, and dismantled smoke alarms are still dangling in disrepair.

BL: What do you do to de-stress or take your mind off work when you’re trapped inside (or limited in where you can go)?

CM: Exercise is a priority of mine; I exercise every day and love to swim, but with the closing of athletic facilities including swimming pools, I have to be creative which includes swimming in the San Francisco Bay. I haven’t seen any sharks yet, but I know they’re out there…. And I like to tinker in the garden a little, sometimes with a cold beer in my hand. Mother Nature is a wonderful antidote to work stress. Also, I like to listen to the Bach cello suites, especially when the alarms are sounding.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Ellen Egan in New York at maryellenegan1@gmail.com
To contact the editors on this story: Rebekah Mintzer in New York at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com , Tom Taylor in Washington at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com

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