When I first met Monica Bay, I thought I was getting laid off.
It was 2013, and ALM had hired some high-powered “management consultants” to help “streamline” productivity and identify “redundancies” within the newsroom. In other words: they were there to conduct mass layoffs.
So when the executive editor called me and asked me to come to his office, I suspected the worst. After all, it was the first and only time he had ever called me. And he had spent most of that morning laying people off. I figured I was just next on the list.
But then I saw Monica, who was editor in chief of Law Technology News, sitting with him in his office and I relaxed a little. He wasn’t going to fire me in front of her, right? Not unless she was now in charge of off-boarding people (which was a possibility — I’m sure he had to lay off a bunch of people that day — maybe there was a vacancy in that job now).
Sure enough, while my position as a staff reporter with The American Lawyer was getting eliminated, the company had decided to throw me a lifeline. I’m not sure about the details, but Law Technology News needed a dedicated daily reporter and Monica was asked if she’d be willing to take me on. I had written a couple of articles about law and tech but it was hardly my specialty. Looking back, I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had said: “Thanks but no thanks — I need an experienced reporter, not someone that I’ll have to babysit and train.”
Instead, she decided to take a chance on me and saved me from the unemployment line. In fact, she seemed genuinely happy to have me on her team, praising my writing and even looking at my blog (she enjoyed my review of John Fogerty’s Wrote a Song for Everyone — only later did I find out she had a career in music journalism before joining ALM).
She also put me at ease, telling me that she had every confidence in the world that I would be able to learn the beat and develop into a fine legal tech reporter and that she would help me as much as I needed it.
That was Monica in a nutshell. Capable of making you feel like a million bucks and reassuring you that everything would be okay. And let’s be honest — no one understood or knew the legal tech beat better than her. She was one of the people who made it into what it is today. As long as she was watching over me, there was really no way for me to mess up.
Monica passed away on Friday after a long illness. She’s been rightly remembered as an icon in legal tech journalism. She knew and was respected by everyone who was anyone in the field. A pioneering journalist and editor who understood her power and influence and did as much as she could to give back and open doors for others, especially under-represented groups such as women in legal tech.
She was all of these things and so much more. For me, she was a fantastic boss and mentor who was very patient with me and gave me time to learn the beat and develop as a legal tech reporter. She taught me a lot about how to approach tech stories — things I still rely to this day whenever I’m writing or editing things. I still use one of her favorite quotes: “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”
She could be intense and demanding, but if you did a good job for her, she’d make sure you knew it. Meanwhile, if you missed the mark, she’d let you know but offer constructive criticism and make you want to do better the next time. Simply put, you always knew where you stood with her, and I really respected her for that.
She was a lot of fun, too. A Yankees season ticket holder, she would, inevitably miss a few games here and there and would always offer her reporters first dibs on her tickets. I took advantage of this a couple of times. A great way to piss her off was to say that A-Rod was under appreciated as a Yankee or that he was a better player than Derek Jeter. It angered her almost as much as legal tech vendors talking about their “solutions.”
And most importantly, she inspired me to embrace a beat that I hadn’t chosen. I always enjoyed watching how excited she would get to talk to a federal judge about e-discovery or a pioneering lawyer about productivity software or how she would explain the significance of a certain court ruling or law firm hiring. Her passion was contagious, and combine that with her natural inclination to be a mentor and protector, and you have someone who was a perfect role model for a then-young reporter like myself.
Indeed, even though I only worked for her for six months (I had already started applying for other jobs prior to joining LTN — including the ABA Journal), she made a profound impact on me and continued to do so even after I left. We kept in touch, something I rarely ever do with former bosses, and she continued to give me advice as I transitioned to my current job as assistant managing editor.
The last time I spoke with her, it was right at the beginning of the pandemic and she, like me, had just lost her dog and was utterly devastated. Her health and memory were also starting to decline and she was having trouble remembering things and expressing her thoughts.
It was bittersweet — and after I hung up, I dawned on me that it would probably be the last time we’d speak. I wish I could have told her how much of an impact she had made on me, how I still try to follow her example and how I much I appreciated everything she had done for me. Being a prisoner of your own mind is a terrible ordeal for anyone, but for someone as smart, knowledgeable and articulate as her, it must have been a constant nightmare. I hope she’s at peace now.
Thanks for lighting the way for the rest of us, boss. I’ll miss you.
[UPDATE, 11/06/2023]: Our weekly virtual roundtable last week was dedicated to Monica’s memory. Check it out: