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Career Shift: Toyota Legal One’s Rich Robinson on Maneuvering Through Disruption

By Ari Kaplan

For a recent Reinventing Professionals podcast, I spoke with Rich Robinson, Director of Legal Operations and Litigation Support for Toyota Legal One, a part of Toyota Motor North America. Here are highlights from our conversation on maneuvering through disruption and adapting to a new kind of career shift.

Ari Kaplan: Tell us a bit about your background and your role at Toyota.

Rich Robinson: My degree is in psychology, from Georgetown, and I ran a group home for a number of years before I realized that it wasn’t going to make enough money to raise a family. So I transitioned into tech support. I worked at the help desk at a large law firm in Boston, then moved around a bit into help desk management, applications development, litigation support, e-discovery, information governance, and now legal operations.

At Toyota, I wear two primary hats. As the director of litigation support, I focus on e-discovery, collections and trial support; also, on the legal operations side, I manage technology for Toyota Legal One.

How have you been adapting to the current environment?

RR: If I had to grade myself, six weeks ago I would have said I was doing great. I saw the writing on the wall and before any of the shutdowns, I was engaging in conversations about business continuity and how to manage our legal applications remotely. We actually were a pilot for the company as the entire legal department decided to work from home for a week to see how it would work, and we never ended up coming back. While I was reacting to what was happening in our environment, I was still proactively staying ahead ensuring that everybody had the right equipment, that all of our applications worked, and that we were able to do our jobs sufficiently and efficiently.

What changes have you seen in this move from being reactive to proactive?

RR: We are starting to look at the bigger picture and think about how we prepare for what is next. I recently picked up “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D., and recognized that it is really relevant right now because many of us have seen our cheese move and are trying to respond to it.

Many peers in the discovery community, in particular, have lost their jobs or been furloughed. But for many of us who are still in the same roles, the cheese has not changed, the maze itself has moved or been completely reconfigured.

As a result, we all need to adapt in the current environment, which is changing beneath our feet.

How do we move forward?

RR: We need to be nimble and aware of the changes that are happening. We need to be ready to address discrete issues as they arise.

Remote depositions are a good example of revisiting efforts that you once rejected. Logistical issues associated with working from home and managing e-discovery pushed litigation into a bit of a backseat. While we were able to secure extensions from the courts, we now need to figure out how to move forward in this new environment, including which type of remote deposition technology we are going to use. We need to be open to these discussions and proactively speak with service and technology providers to get ahead of the curve.

Also, there has been a generous movement to offer support to peers who have been displaced, but people remain reluctant to reach out or take advantage of those offers. I have always felt that those personal connections are the best way to move your career forward, whether you find yourself furloughed, unemployed or simply dissatisfied with your current role. Too many people get stuck in the idea that they have to see a position posted and apply for it, rather than using their personal connections to create an opportunity.

Has managing career disruption changed?

RR: I think the maze has changed though we are still looking for the same goals, such as good salaries and job security with great companies that support us. As the entire environment around us has changed, I would not be surprised if peers are finding their careers disrupted or they are in a place of confusion. To counter those feelings, professionals should proactively reconnect with others in their industry. There is also an opportunity for people to learn about new areas within the discovery landscape that they may not have focused on before like information governance, privacy and security to help them reach the next step in their career.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change, and introduce new technology on his Reinventing Professionals podcast. Listen to the full interview with Rich Robinson, director of legal operations and litigation support for Toyota Legal One, here. 

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Ari Kaplan

Ari Kaplan is the author of “The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development,” 2nd Edition (West Academic) and “Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace” (Wiley). He provides training on dynamic networking, including “Advanced LinkedIn Strategies to Empower Your Networking and Transform Your Outreach.” Follow him @AriKaplan on Twitter and learn about Lawcountability here.

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