The Legal Intelligencer - Lessons Learned From Our Very Own Law Firm Management Master
Our paths first crossed 15 years ago on my first day at a new firm when I interviewed a candidate for executive assistant. With the HR screening, I knew the candidate had the requisite skills for working with a firm litigator—how to set up files, prepare pleadings, and deal with clients and the court but I was hoping for more. I wanted someone who had an entrepreneurial bent to support my efforts to grow my burgeoning practice. I had no idea this moment would mark the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey. With over 25 years of experience and my daughter almost grown, I was focused on expanding my client roster handling high-profile matters. Jessica Mazzeo was a big firm legal secretary and paralegal with over 10 years of experience dating back to her early teens when she worked part-time at a small firm after her paralegal mom placed an ad in a local legal newspaper. With an associate’s degree, unrivaled energy, and a stellar work ethic, Mazzeo knew that she could accomplish more than her current position allowed. That is how our story began.
Over the past 15 years, we launched and grew our woman-owned firm of diverse team members, launched two other woman-owned businesses, and created jobs and opportunities for dozens of others. Those who do not know us may assume that I have been Mazzeo’s mentor, as I am 25 years her senior, but that is not the case. From the outset, our collaboration has been a partnership of mutual benefit where the support is reciprocal. As regular readers of this column know, Mazzeo has authored countless articles on law firm management, co-authored several others, and motivated her colleagues to contribute articles as well. Through her writing and speaking, she created a deep body of work in this column and beyond. Many law firm leaders, including managing partners, have relied upon and credited Mazzeo for helping them address some of their most challenging operational issues. She has also been an unwavering volunteer to several professional and nonprofit organizations and the business and civic community. I share some of the principal areas in which Mazzeo has set the example for me, our team, and our other stakeholders. These are some of the lessons I have learned from her that are integral to exemplary law firm management: perseverance, entrepreneurship, mentorship, and belongingness.
Much has changed over the past 15 years. Mazzeo raised and supported her now-teenage daughter as a single parent while working full-time. During this time, she returned to school, earning her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Temple in 2015 and her J.D. from Widener in December 2021. Mazzeo passed the bar exam and is now completing the process for admission to practice in Pennsylvania. In addition, while meeting these responsibilities, Mazzeo also devoted considerable time to community and business endeavors. On the professional side, she has been active in the Association of Legal Administrators serving in multiple leadership roles on the national and regional level, including as chair of the diversity and inclusion committee and as both vice president and secretary of the board of directors of the Philadelphia chapter. Personally, she serves as president of the board of directors of her community association and on her township community day planning committee.
Along the way, Mazzeo has earned multiple accolades for her relentlessness and sacrifice to advance herself professionally and to encourage those around her to succeed as well. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce awarded Mazzeo the Paradigm Scholarship toward her undergraduate studies. In recognition of her academic achievement, leadership, and community service during law school, Mazzeo was awarded both the Zelda Herrmann Memorial Scholarship and the E. Wallace Chadwick Memorial Fund Scholarship.
As law firm leaders we juggle myriad responsibilities. It is easy to focus solely on the bottom line. One important leadership lesson that Mazzeo demonstrates is that with perseverance we can tackle tough challenges and accomplish more than we ever thought possible for our families, our colleagues, our community, and ourselves. Pushing forward without giving up despite unforeseen obstacles is a leadership lesson from Mazzeo to emulate.
Mazzeo is adroit at launching start-up ventures in the for-profit and nonprofit arenas. She is a natural at client service, team engagement, and overall operations. She has been integral to growing our firm from initially three people in a small sublet space, to a roster of 18 people with offices in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and Arizona. We now serve hundreds of clients including Fortune 500 companies, privately held businesses, nonprofits, government entities, higher education institutions, and individuals due to her leadership. Her creativity has allowed us to expand our substantive practice areas from commercial litigation to a broader, more robust scope and to implement innovative protocols to handle matters more efficiently and economically. Her business acumen was particularly displayed when COVID-19 struck. Mazzeo was pivotal in adapting Griesing Law to conduct business virtually to assure that everyone could work on the most challenging and time-sensitive matters, even with young and elderly family members at home.
Mazzeo also spearheaded the launch of two affiliated businesses: Bossible and GriesingMazzeo Leadership. Bossible is the go-to strategic partner for branding, marketing, and business development services. At Bossible, Mazzeo spends considerable time assisting diverse-owned businesses, including law firms, on obtaining diversity certification through such institutions including WBENC and NMSDC. GriesingMazzeo Leadership serves as an outsourced HR department with a strong emphasis on cultural belonging. Mazzeo trains clients across the country, including law firms, on DE&I principles and how to implement those initiatives.
Her entrepreneurial passion was also at work when she collaborated to establish The Joey Lee Fritz Memorial Foundation that raises money for suicide prevention to honor a longtime friend. For the past decade, Mazzeo has led an array of community events on behalf of the foundation.
As law firms compete for clients and team members, her entrepreneurial inventiveness provides a model for others. She is always honing her skills including earning a White Belt Certification in Legal Lean Sigma & Project Management and participating in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business. A committed volunteer for Women’s Business Enterprise Center East, Mazzeo received the Shining Star Award for her voluntary support of and commitment to supplier-development initiatives and enhanced business opportunities for certified women business enterprises. Her exemplary leadership in promoting local businesses, with a focus on women and diverse owned enterprises has also been acknowledged by SmartCEO, with its Philadelphia Brava Executive Award.
Through our close relationship, we grew our firm, expanded our relationships, grew our practice, and launched new endeavors. As the world is changing, firm managers need to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset to stay ahead. Failing to take risks and adapt nimbly can result in being left behind. Mazzeo is always anticipating opportunities, which distinguishes her from those who follow the pack rather than trailblaze new paths.
I have written many times about how mentorship is not a one-way street and mentors often have as much to learn from their proteges as the reverse. This article offers just a snapshot of the lessons I have learned from Mazzeo. Even more important is her mentoring many of our colleagues.
According to Rasheda Stewart, Griesing Law’s operations manager:
“When I think about someone who inspires me, Jessica is the one person who comes to mind. Her hard work, drive, and passion for the success of the firm is not only unmatched it’s contagious. Watching Jessica over the last two and a half years juggle many challenges with ease encourages me to keep going through adversity and never give up.”
Former Griesing Law member Ed Fisher also shares his perspective:
“Even while running Griesing Law and going to law school, Ms. Mazzeo always took time to mentor the attorneys at the firm, from the partners to the first-year associates. She provided invaluable assistance to me in my practice and as I trained the firm’s young lawyers and law clerks. She always sees the big picture, and focuses on helping the firm’s attorneys learn how to generate business and market themselves and the firm, and to do so in an ethical, efficient and productive manner.”
From Bossible co-owner and chief strategy officer Emily Griesing:
“There is no task too big or too small for Jessica. She is always willing to lend a helping hand, come up with a game plan, and collaborate to find strategic solutions. Her creativity and ability to multi-task are unparalleled—no one can get more done than Jessica. She inspires me to push myself and do more for myself and for others every day.”
Mazzeo also mentors many outside our firm including previously for the Community College of Philadelphia Paralegal Program and Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. As leaders in the legal profession, it is hard to find time to take others under your wing, whether they are part of your team or outside. Our firm is routinely bombarded with requests to serve as mentors, advisors, and sponsors to a broad array ranging from aspiring lawyers to seasoned professionals. Although we cannot accommodate every invitation to serve, as a law firm leader, Mazzeo does not merely delegate mentorship to colleagues. She leads by example, providing guidance to many seeking to advance in the legal and business fields.
Mazzeo has been an outspoken advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusiveness long before it was popularized. She strives to assure that all stakeholders in the legal and business community feel welcome and that they show up as their authentic selves. She demonstrates her relentless commitment to elimination of bias through her many articles and presentations. Mazzeo has worked tirelessly to fulfill our firm’s mission of building a diverse team where each member is encouraged to reach their full potential. One of the most compelling examples of Mazzeo’s DE&I advocacy is her decade-plus service to the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Firms (NAMWOLF). No one can say it better than NAMWOLF’s recently retired president and CEO Joel Stern:
“From the moment Jessica attended her first NAMWOLF meeting several years ago representing Griesing Law, she made a huge positive impact on NAMWOLF. Jessica volunteered her time at our meetings helping with the registration process, meeting coordination, and other tasks as requested by the NAMWOLF team. She was a delight to work with and always had a smile on her face and ‘can-do attitude’ regarding any task we threw her way. Her professionalism not only enhanced the Griesing Law brand but NAMWOLF’s brand as well. I can’t thank Jessica enough for being such an invaluable piece of our team at meetings every year. I am so proud of Jessica’s growth and maturation over the years and look forward to watching Jessica do great things in our legal profession in the future. I am also honored to call Jessica a good friend.”
She has also nurtured newcomers to our team by sponsoring them for leadership positions in professional and civic organizations where their talents can shine through and enhance their reputation and stature in the broader community. As a law firm leader, Mazzeo does more than talk the talk of diversity and inclusion. Her actions exemplify the important lesson that when leaders set the tone so all constituents feel valued and on a level playing field, the organization will thrive.
There are many other ways in which Mazzeo exemplifies the best qualities of a leader in the legal profession and beyond. She is a devoted parent, daughter, and sister. She is a loyal and steadfast friend. She is a courageous and outspoken advocate. Some people are a “[person] of all trades, but a master of none.” It is hard to find something that Mazzeo has not or cannot master if she puts her mind to it. She will be an extraordinary leader in our profession as she embarks on the next stage of her career and hopefully will inspire others to do the same.
Reprinted with permission from the April 21, 2022 issue of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2022 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.