Member Profile - Denise Carkhuff


Denise Carkhuff, Partner, Jones Day

denise with her family

More family time has been a welcome silver lining to the shutdown/quarantine for Denise Carkhuff.

ACG Member Since: 2007
ACG Involvement: Past Board Member; first ACG Cleveland Women in Transactions Chair

How have you had to adapt your business model during the shutdown? What has worked and what hasn’t?

Like many others, Jones Day had to find a way to work remotely and still provide a level of professionalism to clients. We also had to meet our clients where they were, which was crisis-mode for many. We quickly mobilized a multi-practice and jurisdiction COVID task force to get smart on all the new legislation that would impact our clients wherever they were located. It became clear that information overload would be an issue for our clients. We looked for ways to provide relevant and customized advice. We offered (and continue to offer) webinars on topics from stay at home orders to back to work issues and everything in between. Our goal was to think of, and solve, the issues before our clients had thought of them themselves.

When sending information to clients, we learned quickly that less is more. We had to build a level of trust with our clients that we would not be sending them unnecessary information. If we reached out, it would be thoughtful, customized, and relevant to them in particular. We also were careful to provide more than just legal advice. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should. For example, our lawyers who were previously in government positions had special insight into the CARES Act offerings. They were able to predict the fall-out that would come, which allowed us to give practical advice with perspective for the bigger picture.

For me personally, while my kids were still in school, there was always the risk that they might interrupt a call asking for a snack. I had to set boundaries for when they could interrupt me. For Zoom, I developed some simple shirts or dresses to throw on. I tried to get the added benefit/extra time from not having to get fully ready to go into the office. I also learned that I should keep my phone on mute whenever I wasn’t talking to avoid sharing my dog barking at FedEx deliveries!

What has surprised you most during this period?

I was surprised how quickly Jones Day was able to pivot and adapt to a remote environment. It really was quite seamless. I suppose I surprised myself by how quickly I learned the technology that I had previously avoided. I am grateful that I was forced to do it. I genuinely believe that Jones Day and its lawyers have grown from this experience. In an effort to stay connected remotely, I believe that we have actually connected more effectively. We learned that intentional behaviors are much more impactful and effective than "in-person" contact that is not thoughtful.

How are you staying connected with your network?

With social distancing and the disappearance of in-person business development meetings, I found myself looking for every opportunity to catch up by phone or Zoom with clients and client prospects. Business calls all seemed to morph into personal discussions. Everyone seemed more willing to start and end every call with personal discussions. I also looked for ways to make clients’ lives easier and provide them with helpful information on COVID-related legislation. With all of the information overload, I could provide value by sifting through it, digesting it, and giving them the few pieces that they needed.

Do you think we will see lasting changes to how we do business as a result of this?

I do. We cannot unlearn the lessons and perspectives gained from this experience. Going forward, we will not take "human touch" for granted. While there will be fewer gatherings, the ones that occur will be more impactful. The standards will be higher. In order to get someone to attend a meeting or event in person, it will have to exceed a higher threshold of effectiveness and efficiency. The invite will have to be far more compelling than prior to COVID.

Has there been a "silver lining" for you and if so, what is it?

As mentioned above, I believe that the absence of human touch has made all of us so much more appreciative. Being remote and alone more often has made most of us more self- aware. Of course, whenever confronted with mortality, it provides perspective and makes it much easier to not sweat the small stuff. As the owner of Adrenaline Monkey (which was closed for a few months), I gained a good deal of empathy for all business owners and their daily struggles.

What is your favorite ACG Cleveland event and why?

I enjoy every event hosted by Women in Transactions. As the former leader of that group for over 10 years, I know the level of thoughtfulness and effort that goes into each event to ensure that it is "worth" attending by professional women who will not attend an event that is merely a happy hour.