The Army Lawyer | Issue 2 2021View PDF

null Court Is Assembled: Stewarding the Workplace of Tomorrow

Members of 22d Judge Advocate Warrant Officer Advanced Course graduate from The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School in March 2021. (Credit: Jason Wilkerson/TJAGLCS)

Court Is Assembled

Stewarding the Workplace of Tomorrow


The constants of Principled Counsel, Stewardship, Mastery of the Law, and Servant Leadership help members of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps navigate immediate issues and guide our actions in shaping the future. For those supporting the practice of law, the constant that most resonates is Stewardship. Stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. As stewards of the legal profession and the JAG Corps, we are responsible to our subordinates, our peers, our leaders, and our clients. Our individual priority is to demonstrate care for the people and resources entrusted to us and to ensure the organization we bequeath is better than the one we inherit. Simply put, it is working to improve our organizations beyond our tenure, so that they are better for our successors.

When I contemplate stewardship, I consider Will Allen Dromgoole’s The Bridge Builder . 1 The poem relates the story of an old man who, having crossed a vast, deep chasm on a cold evening, stopped, even though he did not need to, and built a bridge for a young man who would soon follow. To support the practice of law, I charge legal administrators to steward the profession and bolster legal practice by improving organizations and systems—to build a bridge for those who will soon follow. In the business component of our legal practice, this means ensuring that future manning documents have the right mix and number of personnel to effectively deliver legal services. It means ensuring that organizational requirements for Future Year’s Defense Program funding are communicated to higher headquarters. It means producing training plans that capture the legal education and developmental requirements of our teammates. And, it means developing automation lifecycle replacement plans, and information management and knowledge management collaboration plans, that make the organization agile and adaptable.

The rapid shift in operations that resulted from COVID-19 exposed the value of adequate inventories of computing equipment, continuity of operation plans, and an attitude of “being ready” for the “fight tonight.” Suddenly, mobile computer systems that would facilitate operations in a telework environment were a necessity and, due to the foresight of our personnel, we rapidly adapted, though not seamlessly, to our new reality. Similarly, we realized the value of collaboration platforms that could be accessed from outside of the office. We embraced technology, flattened communications, disseminated information freely and rapidly, and solved problems collaboratively. Many of us even became experts at various virtual meeting software platforms—using them to host meetings, conduct boards, collaborate on projects, and check in on teammates.

Nearly overnight, we accomplished many of the things that we were struggling to accomplish as a Corps (i.e., pushing people to better embrace digital platforms). In terms of infrastructure, much of the initial push to navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 environment was facilitated by legal administrators, legal professionals, and other support personnel who distributed equipment, set up collaboration spaces, and liaised with our G6 and Network Enterprise Center personnel to manage and preempt user issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted all of us; it changed the way we interact with each other, and it transformed our thoughts on a number of issues—telework perhaps being the most impactful and transformational. I think that many of us learned—while balancing other challenging situations (e.g., ensuring kids sharing our spaces were doing their work, playing the role of the teacher aide, and performing “cafeteria duty”)—that working from home did not mean not working; it certainly did not mean being disengaged. Perhaps, it meant being too engaged. Many of us struggled to bring an end to the duty day as we pored over email coming in at 1900, 2000, or 2100 (it seems our teammates struggled too). We were also unable to let email sit unanswered—during the traditional duty day, for more than five minutes—for fear perhaps that it would communicate that we were not working. Having lived the reality of telework, however, I appreciate the value in ensuring that we invest in network infrastructure and fully embrace an organizational philosophy that supports information sharing and collaboration, which will allow us to be equally as effective at the dining room table as we are in the office.

We all embrace Chief of Staff of the Army General James McConville’s philosophy that the Army cannot telecommute to combat. 2 Further, if you have listened to The Judge Advocate General (TJAG), Lieutenant General Charles Pede, over the last four years, you know that there is no substitute for face-to-face client interaction. Lieutenant General Pede’s views are unmistakable as he, for example, makes every Judge Advocate Officer Basic Course class repeat the mantra, “I will not practice law by text.” We understand intuitively that many relationships are built via in-person interaction, and we recognize TJAG’s other maxim that “we can’t surge relationships.” We do recognize, however, that there is quite a bit of work that can be accomplished in the quiet of the office, or in the quiet of the morning before the chaos of readying three school-aged kids and a toddler for their day erupts.

As leaders who seek to be good organizational stewards, it is imperative that we contemplate the environment and the workplace of the future just like we think about the next battlefield. We must plan, prepare, and take appropriate steps to ensure that our work environments contribute to organizational success. If we embrace the findings in the Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General (IG) report, we recognize that 88 percent of respondents (54,665 employees) who were in a telework status from March through August 2020 stated that “their productivity level remained the same or increased during maximum telework, regardless of . . . initial telework challenges.” 3 Consequently, we recognize that telework is, at times, an adequate substitute for working from the office.

The DoD IG report also highlighted that many of the initial challenges that the DoD faced at the start of the pandemic arose because we (the DoD) had never conducted telework exercises or tested our networks to determine if they could support largescale telework. As we think about our globally-connected planet, we recognize that the frequency of the current “once in a century” pandemic will likely occur more frequently than once in a century. 4 Further, we could face traditional attacks or cyberattacks that disrupt our ability to come into the workplace. Being prepared for an uncertain future and stewarding the organization means, in keeping with the DoD IG recommendations, that we update plans to revise telework assumptions and continue to invest in the infrastructure and resources that can improve collaboration and sustain the efficiency of a distributed workforce.

I hope that operations during COVID-19 have reinforced the value of embracing technology and improving our organizations for our successors. I challenge us to capture and share our lessons learned, to suggest areas where we can improve, and to steward our Corps for the next challenge. Like the old bridge builder, let’s build, improve, and refine our many bridges, and steward our organizations for the legal professionals who will follow.

Be safe, stay healthy, and keep ready! TAL


CW5 Prescott is the Chief Warrant Officer of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.


Notes

1. Will Allen Dromgoole, The Bridge Builder , Poetry Found., https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52702/the-bridge-builder (last visited May 17, 2021).

2. Abraham Mahshie, ‘ We Can’t Telecommute to Combat’: Army Calls Cadets Back to West Point for Graduation , Wash. Exam’r (Apr. 30, 2020, 5:53 PM), www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/we-cant-telecommute-to-combat-army-calls-cadets-back-to-west-point-for-graduation.

3. U.S. Dep’t of Def., Inspector Gen., Evaluation of Access to Department of Defense Information Technology and Communications During the Coronavirus Disease-2019 Pandemic ii (30 Mar. 2021) (survey of 54,665 employees who were in a telework status from March through August 2020).

4. See Walter Dodds , Disease Now and Potential Future Pandemics , in The World’s Worst Problems 31 (2019).

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