48. Jennifer Harvala, Fireproof Performance — Indispensable: Stretch Goals and Growth

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SVP of Operations at Fireproof Performance, Jennifer Harvala, has helped accelerate the growth of firms nationwide. She began as a receptionist at the Mike Morse Law Firm. Over the past 17 years, she took every opportunity to grow and made herself indispensable. She shares how to expand your book of business, the goals that will actually move your firm forward, and how to become a more effective leader.

What’s In This Episode

  • Who is Jennifer Harvala?
  • What goals should firms set to move the firm forward truly?
  • How can firms hire before they hit a pain point?
  • At what point do visionaries need to hire implementors?
  • What is the biggest indicator that a hire will have success in the role?

Transcript

Jennifer Harvala:

When you start bringing in enough people where you are starting to see the stress cracks of accountability not happening, that’s probably a really good indicator for you that you need an integrator.

Sonya Palmer:

However you choose to grow your firm, hire implementers to execute on your vision and look for allies to create a more inclusive and diverse space.

Jennifer Harvala:

There’s a thought process that because opportunities at the top can be limited for certain groups of people, that there’s only room for one person. So instead of supporting each other and maybe seeking to change that reality, we fight against each other to essentially be the only one standing at the top. And I think there’s another way of approaching that.

Sonya Palmer:

In 2021, women made up of half all summer associates for the fourth year in a row. Yet equity partners in multi-tier law firms continue to be disproportionately white men. Only 22% of equity partners are women. We would like to see that change.
Hello and welcome to LawHer, the show where we celebrate the trailblazing attorneys and entrepreneurs who are changing the game for women in the legal field. Be inspired by their stories, learn from their mistakes, build community, and look forward to the future they’re helping build for the next generation of women in law. I am Sonya Palmer, your host and VP of Operations at Rankings, the digital agency of choice for personal injury lawyers. This is LawHer.
Mike Morse and his team at Fireproof have accelerated the growth of countless firms. Today, we catch up with SVP of Operations, Jennifer Harvala. She shares how to expand your book of business consistently, and the goals a firm should prioritize for accelerated growth, including the right skills to look for when hiring. We discuss effective empowering leadership and how women can become indispensable to their firm. Let’s dive in.

Jennifer Harvala:

So way back when, I was a licensed cosmetologist, I worked as a hairdresser. Didn’t love where I worked, wanted any job that wasn’t that, and I just started walking into places. I was like, “Are you hiring? Can I leave you my resume?” Not getting much success. And I ran into this small legal transcription service on the east side, and this lovely woman had nothing open but sat down and did like a pseudo interview with me. And she was like, “I really like you, but I have nothing. Are you okay with me going on the listserv and seeing if there’s anybody in the legal world that’s looking for an entry level person?” And I’m like, “Absolutely. Thank you for the help.” And she found Mike Morse.

Sonya Palmer:

Wow.

Jennifer Harvala:

So she sent him my resume and I interviewed as his receptionist, and that’s actually where I started in the legal world.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s incredible. So you’ve spent most of your time with Mike Morse. Many people will know him and the firm through the book Fireproof.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah.

Sonya Palmer:

So then you started, what was the-

Jennifer Harvala:

I started learning about the law. I was like, “This is really interesting,” and something I was really gravitating towards and thought that I could really make a career out of this. So at that time, I went back to school, and actually went to college for the first time and did an associates and applied science with a paralegal background, which at that time in Michigan is the highest level of education they offered for paralegals.

Sonya Palmer:

Wow.

Jennifer Harvala:

So I finished that and was lucky enough to get the opportunity to start working as a paralegal for Mike, and then I started… was a senior paralegal. I started training and managing other paralegals, and that’s kind of where everything snowballed from there. So I’ve held most positions in his law firm but that of an attorney because I am not. But back in, then 2016, I joined his leadership team again, still only having an associate’s degree at that time, and started managing his pre-litigation department of 20 to 30 people at that given time with no significant management background. But I had a lot of amazing mentors, Mike and John included. And then from there, I took another department the next year and another department, and at the highest end I was managing 60 people. And then at that point is when I actually went back and finished my undergrad. I started with my undergrad in 2018, finished that in 2019 and went right into my master’s program from that.

Sonya Palmer:

Amazing. So why have you stayed with Mike for 17 years?

Jennifer Harvala:

One of the things the law firm is amazing at doing is continuing to help people further their careers and sit in different seats, even if it’s different seat than what they were hired in to do. They’re always looking for capable, smart people who raise their hand and say, “I want more,” and that’s what I kept doing, and they kept carving out a path for me to do that even though my background was very not traditional for what you would expect a director of operations to have or to do or anything like that. They kept giving me a pathway to pursue more and handle more and drive myself forward, and that’s a huge reason I’ve been with them as long as I have.

Sonya Palmer:

And you are obviously an asset and have done very well for them because the law firm now has over 150 employees, correct?

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. Yeah, they’re close to 180 and going over that number pretty quickly. Yeah.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s nuts.

Jennifer Harvala:

It’s crazy.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s nuts. So where does your role as SVP of Ops fit in all of that?

Jennifer Harvala:

So back in 2020, I got the opportunity very randomly to pursue being an integrator for a staffing and recruiting company. John holds that seat for the law firm. That was not an available seat for me, and I really wanted to continue to stretch myself and my career. So I did make the really difficult decision of exiting the law firm at that time and went in to run a staffing and recruiting company here in Michigan, and they’re lovely and amazing and I’ve enjoyed all of my time with them.
But I got the call from John one day to, “Hey, Fireproof is taking off.” So Fireproof is the book that John and Mike wrote about the success of the law firm, and from there a consulting business happened. And so we now work with law firms all over the US and try to help them scale and grow their firms. And John was like, “There’s an opportunity here and I would really like for you to come back to the family and be a part of Fireproof exclusively.” And that’s where I came in and as senior VP of Ops and as a business coach, and that’s how I spend my time now.

Sonya Palmer:

So who are your direct reports? What does that look like on your org chart?

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah, so right now it’s mostly just… there’s one other full-time coach, Kate, and then I do do some work as far as with our marketing team, administrative work and things like that as Fireproof is growing and becoming a bigger, bigger presence in the legal industry. So that’s all kind of fluid at this point as this year has really evolved for us in a very exciting way.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes, very exciting. And then is part of that business development as well?

Jennifer Harvala:

It is. So I do do some work as far as the business development and the sales end of it. At this point, I kind of have my hands a little all over the place, which is super normal in the startup space, which is what I still consider Fireproof to be. So we’re still growing into that. So I kind of dabble across as many aspects of business as is needed for the company at any time.

Sonya Palmer:

So then Fireproof largely helps law firms grow, and so how can law firms consistently expand their book of business?

Jennifer Harvala:

So there’s so many different facets to that, but one of the main things that I find working with our clients and with our law firm owners and their leadership teams is that some of it is really about taking the time to sit down and set goals that stretch you, but that you can actually reasonably achieve, and then setting really the micro goal from there. What do you want to accomplish this year, and then what do you need to do in the next 90 days to get there? And for a lot of these firms and leadership teams, it’s the first time they’re approaching their business in that way. And if you’re not putting it out there, if you’re not truly setting a goal and you’re not holding yourself accountable to achieving it, are you really going to achieve it?

Sonya Palmer:

So then where do you see… you set goals and then sort of that macro, micro, how do you get to them, what are the steps you take? Where do you see the biggest returns for firms?

Jennifer Harvala:

Setting some of your financial goals really for the first time and focusing in on them is a huge return for them, but for a lot of people it is more about their systems and processes, or lack thereof, that I think they see the biggest return. They’re at a point where they started off as a small, sometimes family owned practice, everyone’s kind of doing their own thing and reaching that common goal because they’re small and there’s a lot of communication. But as you grow, those layers of communication kind of stretch thin and the communication doesn’t span as far as it once did. So then you get a lot of people doing these one-off things that aren’t really a best practice, isn’t really efficient, and you lose a lot in that process. And so by bringing them back together and helping them determine those best practices and policies, they actually can then start to focus on their production at a higher level and consistently doing the same thing to get the great results as opposed to those great results being more of a one-off.

Sonya Palmer:

Once systems and processes are in place and your firm begins to grow, market to expand and hire to take on the new load. As Jennifer points out, it is so important to hire with intention and look for the soft skills that fit your firm’s culture.

Jennifer Harvala:

So with hiring in general, I think one of the biggest things in hiring is hiring the people for your culture. You can train people to do what you need them to do. You can teach a paralegal to do paralegal work and teach them how to process a claim and how to look at a medical record. But what you can’t teach is that customer service background that’s so important for that role. You can’t teach them to want to interact with the clients in a compassionate and empathetic way. People either like that type of work or they really don’t, and so I really encourage people to focus more on what is your root… what is your foundation, what is your root culture? What is it that you’re trying to grow? What has made you successful to this point? And help them identify those traits and characteristics that have really set them apart from everybody else and made them unique in their own way, and then using those characteristics and traits to help them bring in people that will fit within that. And then help them build training systems from there.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s an excellent way of looking at it, because I do think that sometimes in hiring process, people get lost in technical ability. We need them to be able to do this, this, this, this, and this, have this certification, this degree. But when you would really step back and look at leaders of a firm or a business, an agency, you would never be like, “Well, that person’s very good at Adobe.” Some tools… it would always be, “They’re very resourceful, they’re very hardworking, they’ve got grit.” So that makes a ton of sense to evaluate the people that are the leaders that are growing it and then apply that to whoever you’re trying to bring in. Do you have some practical pieces of advice that you would give to a firm that’s growing from small to now midsize?

Jennifer Harvala:

I mean so many things, but a couple of things that I talk to clients about regularly. For example, I was talking to a firm a few weeks ago, and they want to hire a, they’re calling it their law firm administrator. Great. For many of us in the legal industry, I can make a reasonably educated guess as to what I think that person will do from day to day. But for someone who’s not in the space, that title doesn’t really mean anything and it doesn’t resonate with anyone. And this particular firm, what they were looking for was an HR professional, an HR generalist, somebody to do some office management and facilities management, you’re not going to find individuals with that background using that title.

Sonya Palmer:

No.

Jennifer Harvala:

You can call them internally law firm administrator, but when you’re placing an external search, an external ad, you need to use language that actually resonates with the market. So you need to call that HR, you need to call it office management or facilities management, because that’s how you’ll get candidates that actually have that experience. And I see a-

Sonya Palmer:

So looking for it.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. So I see a lot of firms kind of making some potential errors in that respect of focusing more on their internal titles as opposed to what would actually make sense for the people applying for the job.

Sonya Palmer:

That makes a lot of sense.

Jennifer Harvala:

So that’s definitely one big one.

Sonya Palmer:

Getting a job title, job description correct. It might seem easy, but has immense value, especially when it is a very competitive job market still.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yes. Yes, people will play, just pass through the ad. If they’re like, “Oh, well, I’ve never worked in a legal setting, I’ve never worked in a law firm, so I’m definitely not qualified.” Even if they’re a 10-year office manager, they’re probably just going to go right past it.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s very true because HR, it’s not the legal specific industry knowledge that’s required there. It’s office administrations, human resources facilitation. Lots of people would be required for that that have never worked in the legal industry.

Jennifer Harvala:

Correct.

Sonya Palmer:

Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. And then we know that in any organization, you can’t just have dreamers or visionaries. At what point do you have to bring in an implementer?

Jennifer Harvala:

Mike and John have kind of always sat around this 20 to 30 people mark. The visionary, really it’s hard for them. And Mike’s always said, and he says it in Fireproof, he had been encouraged to bring on an integrator sooner than he did, and he delayed. And in hindsight, he wished he had done it sooner. I think that for every visionary, it’s going to be a little bit different, but in general, visionary’s strength is not accountability, leadership and management. That is not where they tend to shine. So when you start bringing in enough people where you are starting to see the stress cracks of accountability not happening, that’s probably a really good indicator for you that you need an integrator, because that’s really what the integrators should do and where they shine is to lead and manage your workforce. So when you’re growing enough that you see those stress cracks and people aren’t following systems and processes, that’s when you should start really considering that role for your firm.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s interesting. I’ve read company culture before 20 employees is set by the CEO, the visionary. After 20 employees, it is set by the people. So that tracks a lot I think with that leading and accountability. When you get past 20 people, that gets very difficult to do if you’re on your own, and so bringing that integrator in to keep that company culture and to lead an accountable based on the leader’s vision. So it’s interesting, I think that 20 to 30 mark is kind of where rubber meets the road.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. Yeah.

Sonya Palmer:

And then of all the lawyers and admin staff you’ve interacted with and hired, what do you think are some of the biggest indicators that they’ll be successful?

Jennifer Harvala:

So I am a big believer in emotional intelligence being a huge indicator for workplace success, and in fact, there’s so many studies out there that support that IQ does not indicate success as much as EQ does. So I think individuals who can use all of the competencies of EI, so our self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, those are going to be the most successful people in the workplace across any position.

Sonya Palmer:

Being remote, rankings is fully distributed, and always has been. It’s one of those things where it’s like do you teach and train time management? Is this something that you need to train employees on? Or do you look for someone who has EQ and can manage their time as it is, versus those hard skills, technical skills? And to me, self-awareness on its own can indicate whether a person will be successful or not.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. And some of it is-

Sonya Palmer:

That makes a ton of sense.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. And people will, even people with high EQ, may need help with some of those time management or organizational skills. But what it ties into is they will be receptive to the fact that they need to learn something as opposed to resistant. And that goes into that self-awareness. People who are higher in self-awareness will say, “This isn’t really a strength of mine, and I can admit that. I can be vulnerable and I can say that, and I can seek the guidance and help I need to be successful.”

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. I think it becomes about coaching and being coachable versus training.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yes.

Sonya Palmer:

So it’s a skill that they… it needs polished, but it exists. And I think that’s where good management, good leadership comes in to be able to refine that.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yes.

Sonya Palmer:

So over 150 employees, what broke? What just totally broke as you began to grow? Cause it’s going to happen.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. The hardest thing in a accelerated growth, which so many of our clients, our Fireproof clients, are facing, is growing without the systems and processes in place. Because it feels like you’re constantly playing this catch up game and it feels like you’re always behind. You never have enough people. Those people aren’t trained up enough. They don’t know what to do. And there’s this stretch that sometimes lasts for years where you’re just like, “There aren’t enough trained resources to do the volume of work that we need to execute.” And those were some of the hardest years for us, for me specifically, working in that capacity. And then I’ve got several clients currently living in that space and I try to reassure them like, “I promise you it gets better.” But these are the hardest parts. These are the hardest years.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. I think there’s a break that we saw very evidently when firms or agencies, businesses go remote, they go fully distributed. Because I think you saw that during the pandemic where everybody immediately goes online. Nobody has systems or processes set up to operate that way. Some people did. And they’re like, “We have to hire. We have to hire. We don’t have enough people. We don’t have enough people.” And then a year goes by, two years go by, they had enough people, they didn’t have the right system. And it’s a different problem they now have.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah, I think a really amazing thing of the Mike Morse Law Firm was, and I was still in the firm, in the leadership team when the onset of the pandemic happened, we actually closed down and went remote a week before the shutdown in Michigan.

Sonya Palmer:

Wow.

Jennifer Harvala:

Because we saw the trends coming, so in the days leading up to that period of time, I was actually part of the group that started cycling employees out. We cycled everyone in the firm out for a day, forced them to go home and work to make sure all of their systems were up-to-date, all of their technology was still functional for our remote world. We did that, and then that weekend, the executive team did multiple meetings over the weekend and we made the decision to just shut down in advance. That Sunday night, we pulled the entire company into a Zoom call. We said, “Effective tomorrow, you are now remote employees. Your lead will be in touch with you. You guys all know how to use your systems and operate,” and we shut down a week before the actual shutdown happened.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s incredible, and I think important because you were able to practice.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. Yeah. We had most of the systems and functionality in place, but again, when you’re working in office most of the time, it could have been six months or more before people had actually tried using it. So we were like, “Let’s just… the writing’s kind of on the wall. This is not looking great. Let’s make sure we’re set up for success.” And we took that approach, and with that, we were then able to cycle everybody out earlier and really focus on trying to make sure our population was safe cause we already had the systems and tech in place to accommodate that. So we were one of the lucky ones, I think in that respect because Michael’s always been so focused on technology and innovation that we had most of those systems that allowed us to be as nimble and versatile as we were.

Sonya Palmer:

And I think you’re seeing more of that with firms who are willing to embrace that, largely because clients, they want to be able to hire a lawyer the same way that they order pizza. They want to be met and experience that stuff in the same way that they’re utilizing so many other things. So I do think that the firms that were willing to adopt a virtual, whether it’s a team or partially virtual with clients, will benefit greatly, and probably already have.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. And I just want to encourage firms to keep some of that mentality going. What we’re seeing now, almost three years post-pandemic, is this push to be like, “Well, we have to go back in person and we can’t use Zoom for these things anymore or embrace that technology.” We proved we could do it. We did it for two years plus. So some of it is like I want to encourage firms to continue to be forward thinking in their technology and how to use technology to better support their clients and their staff because I think it’s here to stay. There’s some degree of it where we have to continue to be flexible with all of that.

Sonya Palmer:

What do you think the hesitation is?

Jennifer Harvala:

I think it’s that, in the legal industry in particular, I think there has been kind of a focus on maybe the prior ways of doing things, holding the brief-

Sonya Palmer:

Traditional.

Jennifer Harvala:

… holding the case evaluation, holding the papers in your hand, and for a lot of individuals, switching to, “How do I do some of those reviews and do those things online,” is uncomfortable. So I think, particularly when we look at the litigation scope of work, I think there is less embrace into technology as I think pre-litigation or intake. Even before the pandemic, intake was I think a lot of virtual services between phone systems and soft phones and DocuSign. But I think the further you get into the litigation process or the legal process, that becomes further and further removed. So I think now that we’re not forced to do it, now that it’s not a mandate to do it, people want to do what’s more comfortable for them.

Sonya Palmer:

Everyone can define success in their own way, but as Jennifer explains, whatever your vision may be, getting clear on effective leadership is the biggest indicator of reaching those goals. Jennifer?

Jennifer Harvala:

So my version, or my personal belief on success, I think has changed a lot as I’ve evolved as a person. I will be the first one to admit some of the first times I started as a manager or started leading people, I would say I failed as a leader, and I think some of it was because I did not understand what it meant to be a leader and I focused more on ego and power as opposed to development and coaching and training other people. A huge moment for me was actually my dad’s funeral, and I talk to people about this pretty openly.
He was a long-term, long-time manager throughout most of his life, and at his funeral, there were employees, so many employees of his spanning back 20 years who would share stories with me about how he helped shape their lives and how he helped them grow in their careers and themselves and do all of these things. And truly, it was kind of a light bulb moment for me where I was like, “That’s what it means to be a leader.” My goal is that I would love for there to be people who have said that I’ve helped them grow and that I’ve helped their careers. That to me means I’ve been successful in my career and as a manager. It’s more about propping up the people around me than it is for me specifically achieving any one thing.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. I will follow fantastic leadership. I have zero issue doing that, but if there’s bad leadership, I’m likely to buck. And I think that before I was in that position, I would do things so much differently. If I was the boss, I would do it so differently. I would do this, I would do that. Things would operate this way. And then of course, to graduate to that and to realize that’s not your job at all, but it’s to get your team, the people around you to figure it out, and for them to be able to put those things into place and for them to influence it. It’s very different, but significantly more effective, and truthfully what the bad leaders were neglecting in the first place. So I agree. I think that to measure success by the people around you. That’s exactly kind of where I sit as well. So I love that. So then do you feel like you’ve reached it? What’s left to do?

Jennifer Harvala:

I personally believe that we all have room to grow throughout our entire lives. I think every decade in my life is a new point in time for me, and a new point in time for so many people. I consider myself to be a continuous learner, continuing to engage in smart discussions with other people, reading articles, doing things like that. So for me, there’s always something left to do because I don’t know everything.

Sonya Palmer:

I think curiosity is one of those undervalued traits in teams and leaders, to wonder and to want to learn.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. And I love that phrasing. I might use that in the future, curiosity. I like that.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. I think I took it from Adam Grant.

Jennifer Harvala:

We’ll just keep passing it along. It’s fine.

Sonya Palmer:

Yeah, we’ll just keep passing it. Exactly. So then, how can women in particular think about standing out and becoming indispensable to their employer?

Jennifer Harvala:

In the legal industry specifically, it can be very challenging for women or individuals of color to really move forward in this industry, and I think there’s a lot of mixed messages that sometimes get sent. You have to interject and have an opinion, but you can’t say it too loudly. So I think for women, a really powerful thing can be to spend time with individuals who are allies, individuals who can see those issues within the industry and align with these individuals, because when there’s one person saying something, sometimes that can be dismissed. When there’s two people saying it, people might listen. When there’s more than that, people tend to stop and pause and think. And so I think it’s important for women to support each other and I also think that it’s important for men who are allies who see the hurdles that are faced in this industry to partner up with individuals, to be collaborative, to be supportive, and to raise their own hand when something isn’t right, when something could be better and truly step up and be a part of the community in that way.

Sonya Palmer:

That’s excellent advice, and I think that naturally happens in organizations. You see the alignment. People will group together, they’ll work together based on shared interests. They both have kids, they have families, they’re from the same place. But to be intentional about who you align with based on that allyship. Instead of, “Oh, we both love Survivor, we both understand or appreciate equality in the workplace.” So I feel like that’s very tangible, very actionable advice. Find the allies and then align yourself with them. There’s a ton of mixed messages, and we’ve had a ton of really good discussions about being a hard worker and what does it mean to be indispensable? So I really like that. That’s not necessarily having to do more, it’s just very intentional.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. And I think sometimes people misinterpret being intentional in the workplace with people playing games or politicking.

Sonya Palmer:

So true.

Jennifer Harvala:

And people do. Don’t get me wrong, people absolutely do that. But sometimes being intentional is kind of the underlying work smarter, not harder. Don’t run into a wall continuously and expect the wall to move. Open your mind, work with people around you that again, have that allyship in mind, and use the people around you to help create a movement forward.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. And I liked the word that you used in the beginning, and I think you probably chose it intentionally, which was support. Women should support other women. Cause I do think sometimes you find groups, there’s politics, there can be drama, and it becomes very you tearing other people down in order to make a better impact. Sometimes people feel like that might be necessary, it might be the easier way, but to intentionally align to then support I think would be very, very powerful.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. I think sometimes there’s a thought process that because opportunities at the top can be limited for certain groups of people, that there’s only room for one person. So instead of supporting each other and maybe seeking to change that reality, we fight against each other to essentially be the only one standing at the top, and I think there’s another way of approaching that.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes, I completely agree, and I think it is sometimes also about the organization you’re at. I think Fireproof, Mike Morse, good leaders, great company, I have that benefit as well. Rankings, good leadership. There’s no canopy above me or anyone else on my team. If someone is doing well and they’re producing and they’re growing, we’re going to find more for them. There is not one spot to be filled. And I know that you’re an operations person, and I love processes. What are some systems that you could not live without?

Jennifer Harvala:

So one in particular that we just talked about at a conference in Arizona really relates to recruiting and onboarding, and onboarding being a key to engagement and retention in the workplace. So for me, how I’ve brought people into the firm, again, using the word intentional, the intentional steps that are taken to create an experience for that individual, to bring them into the culture, bring them into the company in a way that is thoughtful and supports, and show support to them as an employee, I think those are hugely important systems that sometimes get overlooked as a firm or any company grows. We’re in a place where we’re always, again, behind the mark. It feels like you can’t catch up. And when we can’t catch up, it’s really hard to hit the pause button and stop and think, “How can I create a really thoughtful and deliberate experience for this person coming into the company as opposed to just putting them in a cubicle and giving them a stack of paperwork to start working through?”

Sonya Palmer:

I feel like you just defined something that I like to do, because I always like to do orientation with anyone that’s coming into my team, whether they’re a direct report or not. If they’re going to be part of the operations, I like to do their orientation. And I do sometimes think people think system means checklist, or it means a resource, a guide, but it is also an experience, how you set that up, and that’s exactly what I’m aiming to do. I want their initial experience as part of the operations team at Rankings to be what I experienced and how our culture is defined. That’s something that you can put in place. So I love that.

Jennifer Harvala:

And it’s the little things. I mean, I think people, when we say the phrase experience and all of this, they’re like, “What exactly are you talking about?” And it really can just be simple things like making sure that their workplace is cleaned and set up, making sure that their technology works. Have someone take them out to lunch on the first day. Little simple things will go a very long way to somebody feeling that you truly are happy to have them and want them as a part of your team.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes. I think making key introductions as well, particularly if you’re in a distributed company that is that 20 to 30 or bigger even. Here are the people that are good to know, they’re fun to work with, and then here are the people you need to know. If you have a question, you think it’s stupid, ask this person, and then actually introduce them. I think that’s super key, helping them to form relationships with other people on the team as soon as possible outside of just their immediate team or coworkers.

Jennifer Harvala:

Mentorship is huge for people, and if you look at studies done of different generations in the workplace, for our younger generations in particular, mentorship is huge for them. And so they do need to know who those key people in the organization are so that they can develop relationships with these people. And those people then, those senior people, those notable people, need to understand what their role is in developing next level leaders and next level members of the community.

Sonya Palmer:

Yes, a hundred percent. I’m going to use a very old Baptist Bible term, but passing the mantle. I grew up Baptists, and that’s exactly what they talk about. They talk about passing the mantle, and then the next person passes the mantle and then passes the mantle. What are you optimistic about in the field and beyond?

Jennifer Harvala:

In the field, I mean, I’m optimistic that we can continue to make strides in improving the numbers, the ratios of women and individuals of color in senior level positions in this industry. It continues to be a deficit for this industry, and I’m optimistic that by continuing to talk about it, by instituting mentorship programs and ally programs, that we can continue to make strides on changing the levels of diversity at the highest levels within the legal industry.

Sonya Palmer:

Optimism surrounding the advancement of women and people of color in the legal field spills into the growth she sees as essential for Mike Morse and the Fireproof team.

Jennifer Harvala:

So this year really marked us taking a presence at legal conferences, both from interacting with people and talking about our goods and services, but also speaking and engaging with the community in that way. Myself, John, Mike, another John, who’s our CIO, we all just spoke at a conference in Arizona earlier this month, and I’m really hopeful that there is a lot more of that to come for Fireproof in the team in 2023 and really getting to… it’s not just about selling Fireproof, but I think it’s really about education, which is the foundation of Fireproof, is that education and coaching other people.
And it’s a spot that we’re all so passionate about. We’re all really lifetime coaches, lifetime mentors, so getting to be able to spend more time in that space and work with people directly in the industry and help the industry grow at a higher level and talk about some of the things like we’ve talked about today as far as diversity at higher levels and things like that, I mean, that’s putting those conversations out there and helping people determine actionable steps to getting there is the first steps to actually changing the dynamic.

Sonya Palmer:

Yeah. I’ve read Fireproof three or four times, and what I love about it and what I think is beneficial for female lawyers specifically is there’s a lot of women lawyers who are starting their own firms. I love it. I love it. They’re starting it, they’re the owners, and there’s a ton of resources available to these women on how to start your own firm.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yes.

Sonya Palmer:

You need this, you need this, you need this. I don’t think that growth gets talked about enough. So you’re a female lawyer, you got your firm, you’re killing it, now it’s time to grow, and I think that’s where a framework like Fireproof becomes incredibly beneficial and necessary. So maybe we’ll see you at some of the conferences. I’m excited.

Jennifer Harvala:

I hope so. Yeah.

Sonya Palmer:

We see the same thing with marketing. It’s the exact same thing. Now it’s time to grow. Now you need to amp your marketing. So read Fireproof and then look at marketing.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yes.

Sonya Palmer:

Are you a reader? Do you read? Do you like to read?

Jennifer Harvala:

I do, but I will say following my master’s program, I really feel like my reading brain got broken, and so I’m just working-

Sonya Palmer:

Understandable.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yeah. I’m just working on trying to get back into a space where I am actively reading. But I do have a book that I’m slowly working through right now as a part of that journey.

Sonya Palmer:

Is there anything else that you use to get inspiration, any media or anything that you really enjoy?

Jennifer Harvala:

I like reading articles and I’m a great fan of LinkedIn learning where I can put micro-learning videos on in the background and just go through a bunch of topics that are relevant to what my clients are talking about. One of them I love is HR Brew. It’s a small online newsletter letter. They have their HR Brew too that I think really covers a wide range of topics on human capital. So I love reading that, and they’ll hyperlink different articles to it if you want to dive into things more. So I’m always clicking on another link over here and looking at other articles. So things like that help me stay current.

Sonya Palmer:

I finally embraced Blinkist, which is summaries of books. They break it down into like 20 to 40 minutes, and I was really sort of against it cause I was like a purist. You have to read the book. But my list was… I was over a hundred of books that I wanted to read. So I started doing that first thing in the morning, and it’s easier, especially when you’re in front of a computer all day and you’re digesting so much information, to break it up, it’s been really, really useful. And yes, I love HR Brew and Morning Brew. They’ve become pretty much my sole news source at this point. So it’s a fantastic newsletter.

Jennifer Harvala:

Yes.

Sonya Palmer:

And then what do you do to decompress or take time for yourself?

Jennifer Harvala:

So one of the biggest things in my life as far as managing stress and things like that is running. I really consider that to be my own personal form of meditation, and that was really hard when I was working full-time and finishing school at a full-time schedule. So I’ve actually been able to get back into that this year. I just completed in October the Dublin Ireland marathon.

Sonya Palmer:

How was that?

Jennifer Harvala:

That was an experience. It was awesome. They call it the friendly course, and I truly understand why the crowds, the spectators cheering people on is nothing I’ve ever seen in any of the other races that I’ve done. It was truly remarkable.

Sonya Palmer:

When looking to expand your business, set obtainable goals that will stretch what you think is possible, then work backwards from there with mini goals, reachable in the next 90 days. As you begin to expand the team, look for soft skills with big impact, like emotional intelligence. Spend time with your allies and remember that there is room for more than one person at the top.
A huge thank you to Jennifer for sharing her story and unbelievable insights with us today. You have been listening to LawHer, with me, Sonya Palmer. If you found this content insightful, inspiring, or it just made you smile, please share this episode with the trailblazer in your life. For more about Jennifer, check out our show notes, and while you’re there, please leave us a review or a five-star rating. It really goes a long way for others to discover the show. And I will see you next week on LawHer, where we’ll shed light on how another of the brightest and boldest women in the legal industry climbed to the top of her field.

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