Louis Goodman / Jodie Zerega – Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:03
Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk with attorneys about their lives and careers. I’m Louis Goodman. Today we’re going to talk with someone who’s not an attorney, but who works with attorneys on a regular basis. I have the privilege of speaking with Jodie Zerega. Jodie is a highly experienced legal recruiter and founder of a recruiting firm that specializes in placing attorneys in law firms, corporations, and nonprofits.
Jodie started her firm in 2003 and has filled hundreds of attorney positions in the United States, Canada, and Asia. Welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Jodie Zerega 00:47
Thank you, Louis. Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Louis Goodman 00:51
Where are you speaking to us from right now?
Jodie Zerega 00:54
I am physically located in Sarasota, Florida, which is a beautiful little spot in Florida in between Tampa and Naples on the Gulf Coast.
Louis Goodman 01:06
Can you explain to me what sort of business that you have and how it relates to the legal profession?
Jodie Zerega 01:13
My business is a legal recruiting business. So what we do is we focus on identifying talent for our clients, which are law firms and corporations throughout the United States and Canada, and like you said, Asia. And they hire us or engage with us to help them identify attorneys for a particular need. Let’s say they landed a new client when they need to hire a lawyer with, you know, seven years of derivatives experience that’s a tall order for some folks to go out and do on their own. So they’ll reach out to us, give us the specifics of what they’re looking for and we go out and identify the candidates who match the criteria they’re looking for, let them know about the position and hopefully provide a new opportunity for an existing and very well respected lawyer and also help our clients fill the needs that they have in order to continue to be successful in their business.
Louis Goodman 02:27
How many people are part of your team?
Jodie Zerega 02:30
Right now, we are up to 10 people. We have six full time recruiters, and then we have a few other administrative folks that help run the business for us so that we can do our jobs. So there’s there’s 10 of us right now.
Louis Goodman 02:51
But you’ve had this business for approximately 20 years. Did you have any experience in this field before you opened your own practice?
Jodie Zerega 03:00
I did. So, I was hired in as an internal recruiter for a large, it was a large Atlanta-based law firm at the time. When I started there, there was a 185 lawyers I was hired in as the director of recruiting. And I was there for almost 10 years, and I took the firm from 185 lawyers, and when I left in 2003, we had 525 lawyers.
Louis Goodman 03:34
Where are you from originally?
Jodie Zerega 03:36
Louis Goodman 03:37
Is that where you grew up, and did you go to high school in Atlanta?
Jodie Zerega 03:41
I did. I went to high school in Atlanta, and I went to the University of Georgia, Go Dawgs.
Louis Goodman 03:46
What sort of educational background do you have, and how did that lead into the legal recruiting business?
Jodie Zerega 03:54
I thought I wanted to go to law school, so that was actually my ultimate goal when I graduated from college, from Georgia. By the time I finished college, I wasn’t quite ready for that commitment. I wasn’t positive I wanted to jump right in into that. So I decided to go to work and I went to paralegal school at night. So I was actually working for a law firm. I put myself through college.
So, I worked for this particular law firm probably six years. I mean, when I was in high school, I started working with them.
Louis Goodman 04:30
You’ve been doing this for quite some time. What is it that you really like about working with lawyers and recruiting lawyers that’s kept you in the field?
Jodie Zerega 04:40
I really enjoy lawyers. They’re very smart individuals. They work really hard to be successful. They’ve worked very hard to even, you know, get into law school and then, you know, and to graduate, you know, top of your class and then become a specialist in a certain area. And to me, it’s just fascinating that these attorneys have all of these, they have to practice law, but they also have to be business people too.
So it’s an interesting dynamic that, that they are exposed to. And a lot of people don’t understand that, you know, how the law firm, the business of a law firm works and how the lawyer, what the lawyers have to do.
Louis Goodman 05:27
What do you understand about how the business of a law firm works? Because I think about that a lot as someone who has been in the business of running the business of a small law firm, and I’m wondering how the business of law looks to you.
Jodie Zerega 05:44
It’s really like any other business. It’s based on profitability and expenses, trying to figure out what your clients need in order to be able to get that business, be able to bill your time, be able to keep that client in order to have, you know, referrals for either internal referrals, more business for yourself, cross selling, that sort of thing.
It’s very expensive to bring on associates, especially at their first, second, third year. And then when you, because of the onboarding and all the training that it, it takes to get these associates up to speed where they actually are profitable and, you know, it’s unfortunate, but that’s kind of the sweet spot when they’re prime for us headhunters to come in and move them to another shop because they’ve been trained.
Louis Goodman 06:42
How important is it, do you think for an individual attorney to have their own book of business, even if they work in a larger environment?
Jodie Zerega 06:52
I will say the larger your book of business is, the more job security that you have, because if you want to become a partner, you want to be able to contribute to the bottom line. You don’t just want to be a service partner. You can be, but let’s say the economy changes and there’s not a need, you know, they have to cut corners and you’re just an expense. You don’t bring anything into the law firm in order to help justify your salary. It’s very much an economic game or I guess exercise as it is at any other business in terms of, you know, what are the products that they’re selling and how profitable can they be? It just happens to be the commodities are the people and the business that they bring in.
So yes, the, the bottom line is it, it breaks my heart when I get a call from a senior attorney, somebody that’s been, you know, maybe practicing 20 years and they’re at a firm where they’ve worked on all institutional clients and either haven’t had the opportunity to go build a book of business or haven’t wanted to go out and build a book of business, don’t even know how.
And all of a sudden, you know, let’s say the, the partners that their practice group that they’re working for moves to another firm and that other firm doesn’t need a service partner, kind of stuck, you know, what do you do?
So I don’t think attorneys are really taught that at the very beginning of their career, which I think is a mistake. I think that as a part of, you know, on the onboarding process, I think it’s important for firms to explain to them the expectations of what it takes to make a partner and how the business metrics of a law firm work.
Those kinds of things are. taught in law school, you’re taught how to be a lawyer. So it is very, it is very important. especially if you’re in a larger firm. It just gives you more job security and makes you more marketable as well. If you want to go somewhere.
Louis Goodman 09:04
What have you learned about building a book of business for Jodie Zeraga?
Jodie Zerega 09:11
For my company, or do you mean for my career?
Louis Goodman 09:13
For you, for your company.
Jodie Zerega 09:16
Yes, so that’s, I actually love that question because I’ve been doing this for so long and I’ve been around and I’ve seen different recruiting companies come and go. I’ve seen people come into the business and think, Oh, this is so easy. I can do that. I always operate under the strictest ethics possible. And I always. I always, everything that I do in every candidate that I represent, you know, there’s the confidentiality is one is, is just paramount in my business and my recruiters. That’s the number one thing that I tell them is that confidentiality is, is key and they have.
The attorneys have to understand that we are not going to divulge any sort of confidential information. But the most important thing I feel like is because we operate under those such strict ethics and so that our clients come back to us, they trust us because they know that we worked hard on their behalf, we listen to them, we really understand what they need, not only in terms of a tangible need, like I need a corporate lawyer that has, you know, securities experience or whatever, it’s not only that, it’s also the culture, you know, what type of lawyer is going to be successful in your firm?
Do you want somebody who’s going to sit behind their desk all day and just be quiet? Because some firms do, you know, or do you want somebody that’s going to walk around and chit chat, you know, and have it more of like a social type thing that that that’s really important too.
So back to your question, it’s about relationship building, it’s about providing results to our clients, and it’s about really trying to do the right thing.
Louis Goodman 11:13
If a young person were coming out of college thinking about a career, would you recommend legal recruiting as a field to get into?
Jodie Zerega 11:21
It takes a very special set of talents and a personality to do this because you have to have thick skin because you’re calling and you’re calling these attorneys who are super busy and don’t really want to have time to talk to us. And so if they hang up on you or, you know, yell at you, you can’t take a personal, you just move on.
You have to have somebody who can persevere through and just keep going. I always say every no you get is that much closer to a yes, so you just have to keep calling. I say, I call it smile and dial, just smile and dial. It’s just keep on going. You know, you’ll find the person.
So it’s, you know, it’s being tenacious. It’s not giving up to answer your question. I would highly recommend it to anybody that has those traits and who is driven, who loves talking to people, learning about people and developing relationships because there is very, very rewarding.
Louis Goodman 12:27
How is actually being in this business, especially as a founding partner of your firm met or differed from your expectations?
Jodie Zerega 12:39
When I started the business, I really didn’t have any expectations. So I think that that was, that’s been great because the business has been wonderful and successful.
Louis Goodman 12:48
Two-part question. What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And what advice would you give to a young person just starting out in a career?
Jodie Zerega 13:00
My biggest advice to a lawyer who’s just starting out is take a job five days a week in the office and work hard and you learn from your mentors and they want to help you. And I think that the attorneys who are so set on going to do this, you know, hybrid or remote opportunities are missing out.
And I’m a little nervous what’s going to happen in let’s say three, four or five years when those folks should be at the level of, you know, let’s say a sixth year associate, they’re not going to have the experience that a sixth year associate who’s been in the office has, as you know, as a sixth year associate that hasn’t been in the office, they’re going to probably be equivalent to a third year or fourth year.
So I would highly encourage the young people to work hard, go to the office, take advice, get mentored, be a sponge. Just soak it up and of course, develop a little bit of business along the way if you can.
Louis Goodman 14:09
I think that is good advice. And I also think that what you just said about going to an office and being around other professionals who are doing similar work is very important probably for all professionals, but I think especially for lawyers, because I think that as lawyers, we have so much to learn from each other, and I think that the notion of isolating oneself out of a sense of convenience is a mistake.
I mean, I think that it’s an, it’s a real lost opportunity, especially for younger attorneys who, you know, are coming out of law school with some skills and some education, but without any real exposure to the actual practice of law.
So I think that’s very good advice.
Jodie Zerega 15:00
Louis Goodman 15:00
I’m gonna shift gears here a little bit. Jodie, what’s your family life been like? And how has being in this business that’s adjacent to law affected your family life? How has your life fit into that? How’s your work-life balance been?
Jodie Zerega 15:17
That’s a really good question, thank you for asking that actually, nobody’s ever asked me that before so I appreciate that. When I started the company in 2003, I was seven months pregnant with my second child. There are two years and nine days apart. So I started this with, you know, two babies in diapers and I was able to set my hours. I was able to schedule phone calls around my family life. So that’s always, that’s something that was always super important to me. And especially with every single recruiter that I’ve hired, which happened to be women, all of them happened to be women, which was organic. It didn’t happen on purpose. But family is first and that is the absolute most important thing in my world and in my life.
If you asked my children if I worked when they were in school, they would probably say no because I took them to school every day. I picked him up every day. I was able to, you know, be on the PTA or PTO and, you know, help with fundraisers and do all that kind of stuff because I had control over my schedule.
Louis Goodman 16:27
What sort of recreational pursuits do you have, things that you do to get your mind off of work once in a while?
Jodie Zerega 16:35
Well, let’s see. I love to do yoga. I love to garden. That’s kind of one of my new passions over the past couple of years. I have a great network of girlfriends, and I think it’s important to stay connected with girlfriends, even though you’re married and you have children. I feel like that relationship with other women is just super important.
And so I like to spend time with them. You know, we cook dinner. We’d love the Georgia Bulldogs. We have season tickets and fly up to Athens and go to the games, all the home games we go to. I have two dogs that now I’ve become my children since mine are gone, spend a lot of time with them and, you know, just really, you know, try to have a balanced life.
I love to walk too. I walk, I’ve run three half marathons in over the past few years. So yeah.
Louis Goodman 17:37
What keeps you up at night?
Jodie Zerega 17:39
Oh, gosh, right now it is scaling my business appropriately, to be honest with you, and developing business in the right ways, keeping business in the right ways, making our clients happy, making placements, doing the right thing.
All of that stuff. That has kept me up. Yes. Right, right now. That’s it.
Louis Goodman 18:01
What if you came into some real money, like three or four billion dollars? What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Jodie Zerega 18:11
Oh, gosh. So, right now, I live five miles from the beach. I would just want to move on the beach. That would probably be about it, to be honest.
I love working. I don’t see myself stopping to work because I love what I do. And so that wouldn’t change. Yeah, I really just think I would just kind of move closer to the beach. I love the sand and the ocean and would love to wake up every day to seeing that. That’s really what I would do, honestly.
Louis Goodman 18:40
I’ll tell you one other thing that you would do.
Jodie Zerega 18:42
Oh, what’s that?
Louis Goodman 18:44
You’d fly you and your girlfriends to the Bulldogs games in Athens in your private jet.
Jodie Zerega 18:51
You are spot on, Louis. Exactly what I would do. That’s the first thing I would do. Yes.
Louis Goodman 18:58
Well, let’s say that you had a Super Bowl ad. Somebody gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl. You could say whatever you want to this really big audience. What would you like to say?
Jodie Zerega 19:13
In your business life and in life in general, just be a good person. Do the right thing. Don’t get, don’t sweat the small stuff. I know that sounds so trite, but you know, remember that you have one life. Try to live the best life that you possibly can under the most honest and forthright pretenses, because if you do that, then you have nothing to regret.
Louis Goodman 19:41
If someone wants to get in touch with you, Jodie, what is the best way to do that?
Jodie Zerega 19:50
The best way to reach out to me is to go to my website, and that’s spelled Z as in Zebra, E R E G A, consulting, and it’s all one word, dot com.
And you can find on the About Us page, you can find all of the ways you can contact us.
Louis Goodman 20:15
Great. Jodi, is there anything that you want to talk about that we haven’t covered, that you were hoping to discuss? Anything at all that you wanted to bring up?
Jodie Zerega 20:27
We have created a tool for attorneys. It’s an app. It’s called the Attorney Jobs app. It’s free, it is exclusively for attorneys, so when you log, if you’re interested in downloading it, you have to be approved as a user by putting in your bar number and that sort of thing, and basically it’s an app that lists, we take all the jobs, all the attorney jobs from the different search engines from all over the Internet and also some jobs that aren’t necessarily posted and we’ve put them in one place to make it easy for the attorneys to search for jobs so they don’t have to go to LinkedIn and go to, you know, this website and that website and search firms’ websites, everything’s there.
Right now we have over 1000 jobs listed nationwide and you can search the jobs. And if you’re interested in anything that you see, then you just push a little button and we’ll call you and we’ll talk to you about it. And if you’re interested, we can move forward. So it’s just a really neat tool.
Louis Goodman 21:37
And we can find that tool at the website that you just gave us?
Jodie Zerega 21:40
It’s actually in the Apple store and in the Google Play store. It’s called the Attorney Jobs app. So you can find it on my website as well, but yes, you can, you can, any of those ways. Yes.
Louis Goodman 21:52
And in the App store again, it’s the Attorneys?
Jodie Zerega 21:55
Louis Goodman 21:56
Attorney Jobs app.
Jodie Zerega 21:59
Louis Goodman 22:00
Great. Jodie Zerega, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
Jodie Zerega 22:10
Well, thank you so much for having me, Louis. It’s been wonderful to speak with you.
Louis Goodman 22:15
That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com, where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs and information.
Thanks to my guests, and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.
Jodie Zerega 22:55
Oh gosh, that’s a great question. And so I think I forgot your question. I forgot your question. Oh, my goodness. That’s a, that’s a hard question.