The Legal Marketing Market – Jennifer Johnson Scalzi (J. Johnson Executive Search, Inc.)

by Catherine Hausman on September 29, 2015

Johnson Scalzi Jennifer 2014From Austin to Boston, Jennifer Johnson Scalzi has moved her career upward – and helped many other legal marketers advance their own careers. Jennifer, a former NYLMA chapter president, is the founder and president of J. Johnson Executive Search, Inc. (JJES), a global executive search firm focused on highly-targeted marketing, communications and business development searches for law firms.

The Texas native now lives in Boston with her husband Jeff Scalzi – himself a former NYLMA chapter president – and four children (including a set of twin toddlers). But Jennifer continues to have a major impact on the New York legal market by producing candidates in key marketing and business development positions for many of our area’s top firms.

Jenn’s insider experience in lawyer recruitment and marketing, and extensive network of contacts developed through her involvement in LMA, make her one of the best at placing the right people in the right places. Jennifer spent six years in lawyer recruitment and marketing at a prominent Am Law 100 firm before starting her own firm, JJES, in 2011.

Jennifer discussed her outlook on the legal marketing marketplace and her own personal career journey with Catherine Hausman.

Where did you begin your legal Marketing career? 

After college, my father urged me to go to law school, but I realized that it wasn’t a good fit for me, so I went to work for a political campaign, which I loved. Through a contact, I landed a position as a human resources assistant at a Texas-based law firm in its Austin office. I got involved in recruiting and marketing which led to my coordinating a couple of client teams (and did billing for 16 partners which was eye-opening, to say the least). The perspective I got from working across service lines within the firm has served me well. I also learned that as long as you are open to new opportunities, and willing to learn and work hard, you can go places that you never thought you could. Curiosity is key.

Speaking of going places, I read that you travelled to Kenya. Tell me about that experience and how it changed you? 

My trip to Kenya was life changing. You gain perspective on your own life when you are among people who don’t have access to basic necessities like running water, shoes, or enough food. I was traveling with friends who worked for the United Nations World Food Program. It really opened my eyes to how politically difficult, and often exceedingly dangerous, it is for relief workers to help people in need.

How did you get from Austin to New York City? 

After nearly six years with the Texas law firm, I decided to apply for jobs in New York City, just to try something different. I didn’t know a soul in the city, but I received a great offer from Eva Wisnik of Wisnik Career Enterprises, where I worked for almost six years. Eva was a magnificent mentor and; ultimately, an inspiration for opening my own business.

What was the hardest part of going out on your own? 

Wondering if anyone was going to hire me! What happens on Day One when you turn on the lights? Will the phone ring? Thankfully, it did, and then I had to figure out how to handle the workload on my own as a start-up. Now we have a three-person team and a full infrastructure that rivals the biggest recruiting shops out there. I had to focus on incremental growth or I would have been overwhelmed.

What makes you good at what you do? 

I am genuinely interested in people and getting to know them on a personal as well as a professional level; hearing about their families, their interests and their goals. One thing I learned along the way is to make note of people’s birthdays, the names of their children, their work anniversaries and achievements – some of the same networking techniques we teach our lawyers. I find helping people succeed and being the architect of successful careers extremely rewarding work.

Your company has really taken off. What is the secret to your success and how many people do you currently employ? 

JJES has a team in place in New York, Boston and Chicago and we recently expanded our New York presence with the addition of Annie Berger. I designed the business to be virtual – no bricks and mortar. I hire people who love what they do and allow them space to do it on their own terms.

Our team just had a video meeting together this morning via Skype – no one had to deal with a commute or fret over getting dressed up for a big meeting. We were talking about a contract negotiation with a big firm on a national, multi-placement project and how to tackle it most efficiently. Don’t get me wrong; we travel a lot because we like to see candidates and clients (and each other!) in person. But for the day-to-day, I like to honor the fact that we are all professionally-focused people who have lives. We work smart, which ultimately provides benefits to our clients who get us at our best.

Careers take twists and turns. Should there be a “thread” running through it? 

You need to pinpoint your core strengths and play to those, but every now and again, you should step out of your comfort zone and try something new. You might experience the thrill of unexpected success – or you might stumble. But people will support you. I like to help candidates figure out where his or her highest and best is – not everyone is destined to be at the top. We each have our own career trajectory.

Legal Marketing is a small and collegial world but it is important never to burn a bridge. Do you agree? 

Absolutely. You never know who knows whom, or who will wind up where. I encourage people to get involved in LMA, or another organization, and if you do volunteer, then you should make sure that you follow through and make a contribution. When I showed up in New York City in 2004, I went to my first LMA luncheon, walked up to the nametag table, where Bob Robertson, Cortney Nathanson and Michele Chaffin were standing, and introduced myself. Then I asked, “Would you like some help with the nametag table?” At the next luncheon I found myself in charge of the nametag table, and it just built from there. Luckily I did what I said I was going to do and became a reliable go-to for the group. So it’s important to follow through and make good on your word.

What hiring trends are you seeing? 

The importance of analytics. Candidates should have a strong understanding of how law firms make money, and how they compete in the marketplace. Another trend is firms are hiring leaders with industry expertise outside of legal; often from the financial services and consumer products sector.

Platinum credentials aren’t essential to making it to the top, but at every level, you need to take responsibility for your career development. Those who get promoted take initiative internally as part of the team, and externally in their own professional development.

Firms are realizing that, to attract the talent they want, they must proactively recruit. How do you help law firms do that? 

We save them time, which equals money. Instead of having to sort through dozens of resumes and schedule interviews, we bring a curated group of candidates for their consideration. What we often hear is “this group is so great I don’t know how to choose just one.”

What is the state of the “legal marketing market?” 

The candidates are driving the market right now. There is stiff competition for the best people. If you look at the LMA job board – everyone is looking for the same person. Firms have to be clear, decisive and swift, or they will lose a good candidate to another firm.

How does a mid-level marketer know when it’s time to move on?  

It’s time to start looking if you:

1) have a true interest in something, but are not getting the opportunity to work in that area, despite offering to help; or

2) have been in your role for 3-4 years and the person above you isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; or

3) see that your firm is losing marquee clients or practices en masse.

JJES recently conducted a survey on industry trends. What surprised you the most? 

We conducted research on the top marketing roles in the Am Law 200 and found that today’s current CMOs are in their role an average of 5.8 years. That’s quite a departure from the headlines nearly a decade ago. The top 100 firms showed even greater continuity with CMOs holding steady for an average of 6.1 years. The bottom line for current and aspiring CMOs is that this is an attractive industry in which to build a career. It’s still growing, there’s job stability and you will have the ability to do cutting-edge work.

JJES is publishing another important survey this month on legal marketing salaries. (Results – and updated job listings will be available on the JJES blog, or follow JJES on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.) How important a consideration should compensation be when seeking a new position?

Compensation should never be the sole reason for seeking a new role. You’ll never find long-term happiness if you’re focused on the money – or on the title for that matter. There has to be a holistic viewpoint for every new endeavor. Ask yourself: “Does this provide me with an opportunity to grow professionally, to take on more responsibility, to allow me to travel, or to foster a specialization? These are what you should think about first. If it’s meant to be, then the money piece will fall into place.

It’s important to take any salary data that’s out there as one piece of evidence – not as the absolute. There are many variables that play into each role, each firm and each person’s expertise. Would you rather have a boss who is micro-managing your every move but pays you at the highest end of a range or a boss who respects you and appreciates your contribution and pays you in the middle of the range? In my mind there is a price that can be associated with every intangible of a job. Happiness is worth money to me.

What are your five top tips for potential candidates? 

1. Keep your resume updated even when you’re not looking.

2. Set a calendar invite for the last working day of the month and look back at the work you’ve done. Add accomplishments.

3. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is pithy and accurate. You are a marketing professional, right?

4. Never stop learning.

5. Make sure your boss knows what you’re doing – toot your own horn!

What’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, and why do you need one, or both? 

A mentor is someone who gives general career feedback and advice; a cheerleader and coach. A sponsor is a highly placed influencer who is invested in your success but isn’t necessarily a “friend.” A sponsor will expend his or her political capital to help you get ahead. I was absolutely terrified of my sponsor, who was very senior to me, and who seemed unapproachable. I’m still a little intimidated by him, but if I reached out he would take my call and say “how are you doing kid?”

What is the best book on career development you’ve read? 

I have two: “Crazy is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags” by Linda Rottenberg; and “Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live” by Martha Beck.

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