Tara Cook is Proskauer’s Chief Information Officer. As a results-oriented information technology management professional, Tara identifies and executes measurable, effective end-to-end strategies, delivers positive change, growth and business solutions to the Firm.
Read below for excerpts transcribed from our in-person interview with Tara Cook.
As the Chief Information Officer for Proskauer, tell us about some of the biggest factors and practices that have enabled your career to flourish?
Tara Cook: I started my career as a consultant during the dot.com era and that experience taught me some invaluable lessons. I was put into many challenging situations where I was considered the expert and had to adapt to different technologies, clients, and industries. In order to succeed, I had to instill and project confidence in my abilities. This is a running theme as part of my leadership role at Proskauer. I have to make strategic decisions to ensure we have the right technology and that people know how to use it. Developing and fostering strong teams is critical, and over the last decade at Proskauer, this is what I’m most proud of.
I’m a big advocate of “showing up.” It’s crucial to fully show up for the important stuff, whether it’s a commitment to a project or it means being there for an employee or a colleague when they’re going through a difficult time. I’ve worked full-time for as long as I can remember and, honestly, nothing came easy. There were no free passes. I believe I got to where I am today because I always made sure that my words and actions lined up and that I led with integrity. Being seen as knowledgeable, reliable, and trustworthy were key factors in my career development.
On that note, how do you find and gain confidence in your career?
Tara Cook: Throughout my career there have been peaks and valleys in my confidence. As you begin your career and as you continually level up, your confidence takes a hit each time, and you have to level up to what your confidence needs to be in your current role. It’s something that you have to thoughtfully work on as you move into each new role.
What did you set out to do in your career, and how would you describe your path to aligning your purpose with your professional endeavors?
Tara Cook: When I was getting my degree, back when the Internet was just becoming a thing, information technology fascinated me, and I always felt a calling to be a leader in the field. Although I was successful in that endeavor, my real passion lies in team-building and developing relationships. My purpose in life is making a difference in someone else’s. I am passionate about empowering young women to find their confidence professionally in the technology field and about developing strong relationships across diverse groups and ages.
What is the most powerful advice you’ve ever been given?
Tara Cook: There are two pieces of advice that have been equally powerful to me. One was given to me by my father, who told me to keep my sense of humor no matter the situation. This was particularly useful during the last few years! Being lighthearted during the uncharted pandemic helped me make the most out of the intensely challenging circumstances both personally and professionally. The second piece of advice came from my grandmother, who told me to have my own life and to be whatever I wanted to be. She lived until she was 98 and had a successful career at Xerox back in a time when most women stayed at home and didn’t work at all. I was inspired by the way she lived and I hope she would be proud of me today.
Well you’ve certainly followed her advice in carving out your own path! And how would you advise the next generation interested in pursuing technology in Big Law?
Tara Cook: I would absolutely encourage future technologists to consider Big Law, particularly because Big Law makes significant investments in new technologies and in their people. In particular, working for Proskauer has been a phenomenal experience for me. Its culture and reputation supersede most organizations. It is a progressive Firm and has many women in high-level roles. As CIO for almost the past decade, Proskauer has been endlessly supportive of me, my team, and our initiatives.
So with that, if you could go back in time and give your younger self advice, what would you say?
Tara Cook: Trust yourself more. When I was young and in nursery school, I was bored because I wanted to play less and learn more, so I asked my teacher to promote me to kindergarten. They did. I think back to this as my first promotion.
I would tell my younger self to be more confident, although I think I realized the value of that even at an early age. Confidence and presence play a bigger part than most of us realize. Optics count, too. I would also give the same advice my grandmother gave me. Ask for a seat at the table because it’s not always offered. Earlier in my career, I recall going to meetings and being the only woman. A woman in the technology field was a rare occurrence then. I’m glad that’s changing in today’s world. Don’t be afraid to make decisions. Trust in yourself and in the knowledge you’ve acquired.
What advice would you give a more junior person on developing client relationships?
Tara Cook: Client relationships are similar to all other relationships. They’re built on trust, reliability, and credibility. Be honest and be direct. Be human, which may require showing some vulnerability. But most of all, follow through on everything you say you’re going to do.
In what ways do you pay it forward, and how do you mentor the next generation?
Tara Cook: It’s important to maintain relationships with all generations so we can learn from each other. Having coffee conversations even without a structured program are effective when it comes to instilling guidance and giving advice. I make it a point to network with women in other technology firms who may or may not be younger than me. I continuously empower women to find their confidence because we all have our own talents, and it’s important to build upon them.
What are you most hopeful and inspired about today?
Tara Cook: I strive to live a fulfilling life and ensure that my coworkers, friends, and family are doing well. I want to continue to work on balancing my career and my health. I’m a runner, and I plan to run my first marathon next year. I want to ensure that I have time to train alongside my career. Travel also inspires me because it enables me to have new experiences and learn about new cultures. I continuously like to learn. Technologies are changing rapidly, and it’s so important for me to stay current.
Where do you learn the most about these new emerging technologies or how to up your game at what you do?
Tara Cook: I learn in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s networking with my peers, whether it’s in the same industry or different industries. Obviously reading articles and talking to analysts who are specialists is helpful. I’m always thinking about what areas I want to develop, and once I identify what they are, I focus my time and energy into learning more about them.
What is the most exciting part about your job?
Tara Cook: Do you mean exciting or terrifying?! Nothing makes my heart pound more than a 2:00 a.m. phone call that there was potentially a big technology problem. Every day is different, and we depend on technology so much in our work and personal lives. I can’t imagine having a job where every day is the same, or a lifestyle where I could turn off my phone on nights and weekends. Technology never stops, never sleeps, and is always changing.