Seek out and learn from gritty mentors. I’m lucky to have found a number of leaders at large law firms who came from similar backgrounds to mine who have served as mentors to me. A number of them overcame tremendous hurdles before they achieved their current success and by observing how they face challenges and seeking out there guidance, I’ve been able to develop valuable skills that toughened me to handle difficult situations. Further, these leaders also offered a community of support, which is invaluable as you grow your business. For those who don’t yet have access to leaders in their field, books, podcasts and other resources can offer an inside look into those we admire and lessons to learn from the most resilient leaders.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Francine Friedman Griesing, the founder and Managing Member of Griesing Law, a women-owned and operated law firm, and the Co-Founder of Bossible, a marketing and business development consultancy for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Fran is a valued, strategic advisor to top executives and general counsel at the region’s and country’s largest corporations and institutions. In 2018, she was selected by the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Bank of America as the 2018 Woman Business Owner of the Year and by The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia as the 2018 Small Business Person of the Year.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
Throughout my legal career, I have often been one of a handful, if not the only, female attorney in the room. Given this disconcerting trend in the legal profession, my goal has always been to continuously advocate for the inclusion and promotion of women attorneys as I strongly believe that a more diverse legal profession is a more successful one. In the summer of 2009, I was contemplating two offers to join new law firms but in my gut I felt that neither was the right next step for me. At that time, I went on a walk with my daughter and we’re talking about my hesitation and she says to me, “Why don’t you start your own firm?” I told her that I couldn’t do that because I was afraid I wouldn’t have enough clients. She laughed and said that was ridiculous because I already had clients. I kept insisting that is wasn’t doable and she stops me and says, “What kind of role model would you be for me if you didn’t do something because you were afraid?” In that moment, the light bulb went off in my head and I decided I was going to take the plunge and open my own firm where attorneys, especially women, could be happy and successful practicing law.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I launched Griesing Law in January 2010, during one of the roughest economic downturns across all sectors, with a junior lawyer and an assistant and only a handful of clients. Today, the Firm has grown into a 15-person team, including 9 lawyers, 8 of which are women, handling more than 1000 matters for over 500 clients. While my focus when I launched was on generating new business and delivering exceptional legal advice and service to clients during a recession, I overlooked the difficulties that would come with leading my own team. Attracting, retaining and supervising a growing team, especially a tight-knit one, has been one of the most unexpected challenges of creating my firm. Like any entrepreneur will tell you, your blood, sweat and tears go into growing your business from the ground up, however, I had to realize that while my business is incredibly personal to me, it is not personal to everyone else. I was dedicating my financial and emotional reserves to my team, but I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted in return, which left me feeling depleted. Over the past nine years as a business owner, I had to learn to navigate the role of boss and friend in an intimate, boutique setting, both to better serve my employees and to make my work life easier as the head of the business. Communication has been crucial in protecting myself and my business by setting appropriate boundaries in my firm.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’m the child of two immigrants from Poland and my father was a Holocaust survivor. My mother came to the United States when she was three years old and my father immigrated after World War II. My parents weren’t particularly educated and my father only had an eighth grade education. Since neither of them had the opportunity to pursue higher education, getting an advanced degree was always a priority of mine. When I was young, I always had my head in a book and my father would ask why I was always reading. From that point on, he nicknamed me “The Judge” and that’s what my family called me when I was growing up. From that, combined with the strong focus on morality in our house, I have always been drawn to fighting injustice. This ultimately led me to pursue my career as an attorney (and it is so coincidence that my brother is an attorney as well, and a criminal defense prosecutor at that). Given the limited access that my parents had and the extreme hardship they experienced, I always had the drive to keep persisting and fighting even when faced with obstacles in my path.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
Throughout my education and career, I always felt the need to prove myself — that I didn’t necessarily belong or deserve to be in elite or prestigious environments or positions. But it is through my perseverance and focus on building a life for myself that surpasses where my parents came from that got me through all of the trying times as a student, a lawyer, a parent and a business owner. Life is always going to throw us curveballs and it is critical to be kind to yourself and surround yourself with those who support you so that you’re able to pick yourself up and keep moving.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
I opened my business nine years ago, and it has been one of the most challenging endeavors I have ever taken on. A leader must ride out the lows and the highs of the business, which can be a particularly difficult and isolating role to be in. However, my efforts to create a more diverse legal profession and inspiring women lawyers to pursue their goals has validated all of the time and effort I have put into the leap I took. I’m honored that my efforts have been acknowledged by my community, and I couldn’t be happier to encourage other women to become business owners and take charge of their careers. And as I always say, “nothing feels better than being your own boss!”
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
1. Turn disappointments into achievements.
Only two months after I started my firm, our landlord sought to break the lease. We had already bought furniture and stationery and have given everyone our address and advertised our location as part of our launch. We did not have time or energy to move and this news was terrible from a cost and morale perspective. We picked ourselves up and found a new space, which we loved and enjoyed for eight years, and it turned out to be an important move for us. However, at the time, it felt like a big setback, but instead of treating this as a disappointment, we touted the move as necessary because we were doing so well that we had quickly outgrown our initial space.
2. Take risks and understand that some failure is inevitable.
All successful people face setbacks. Take Steve Jobs who was kicked out of his company and later returned to Apple and turned it into a groundbreaking company. Or virtually every politician who has reached a position in a higher office has faced devastating election losses before getting to that point. In my case, on numerous I have invested in many people who have broken promises, taken advantage of my support and benefits and then left my business abruptly. These are failures, but with each one I learned to better balance my personal and business relationships with my colleagues.
3. Stick up for yourself and ask for what you deserve.
Often my clients balk at paying their bills or second guess my professional advice. While I’ve given in to their requests earlier in my career, I had to learning how to stand up for what I am owed or else I face the financial consequences. Standing your ground is tough, however, if you back off when you are right, others will walk over you. To best protect your business, be ready to decline to work with difficult people or to fire clients who don’t pay or don’t follow your advice.
4. Take care of yourself first.
If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot run your business well or take care of your team or clients. Remember when you board a plane, the flight attendants remind you that in the event of an emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others, such as children. If you cannot breathe, how can you assist someone else? It is particularly important, for business owners to be in good physical and mental shape to set the tone for their teams and persevere through tough situations.
5. Seek out and learn from gritty mentors.
I’m lucky to have found a number of leaders at large law firms who came from similar backgrounds to mine who have served as mentors to me. A number of them overcame tremendous hurdles before they achieved their current success and by observing how they face challenges and seeking out there guidance, I’ve been able to develop valuable skills that toughened me to handle difficult situations. Further, these leaders also offered a community of support, which is invaluable as you grow your business. For those who don’t yet have access to leaders in their field, books, podcasts and other resources can offer an inside look into those we admire and lessons to learn from the most resilient leaders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
The COO of my firm, Jessica Mazzeo, have worked with me for 12 years, 9 of which were at Griesing Law. During this time, we have faced challenges together, working through disappointments and celebrated success. While other team members have come and gone, she has stuck with me, and has been crucial to the firm’s success and growth.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As one of the few women leaders in my field, I’ve always strived to opened doors for professional women through mentoring and expanding their professional networks. I aim to identify and offer opportunities for women lawyers to showcase their talents and skills, counseling women lawyers on negotiating their employment contracts and using my contacts to help them in their employment searches to obtain significant positions both in the public and private sectors. I also created an incubator at my firm for women lawyers to develop skills, build credentials and have the ability to move on to opportunities with clients or establish their own small firms in areas outside of the firm’s scope of practice. In my ideal world, these types of efforts targeting to women won’t be necessary, and instead everyone will have equal representation in all workplaces. But until then, I’ll always advocate for women’s equality in the workplace and in the home.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
During those few years in business, I began to notice an increasing amount of professionals and business owners coming to me for all sorts of business advice related to how Griesing Law achieved its success. After years of providing this service at no cost, I decided, along with my COO Jessica Mazzeo, to open the doors of Bossible, a marketing and business development consultancy to serve the needs of entrepreneurs and small businesses like ours. We want to encourage entrepreneurship in a wide array of industries and offer business owners the tools to strengthen their brand, develop business and get the acknowledgement they deserve.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
In terms of morale, there are many methods to show support for members of your team. Professional development and civic engagement have always been priorities for me, and I strongly encourage my team to partake in them as well. I support all my attorneys in building their own personal brand based on the areas of law that interest them. Nominating employees for awards, proposing leadership opportunities outside of the firm, as well as financing continuous legal and business development training have proven fruitful for my team and the firm as a while. Team members are recognized and congratulated across the firm for their successes, and I always try to attend events where they are honored for their accomplishments. Lastly, I want my employees to enjoy coming to work every day. Employee benefits and activities such as summer Fridays, lunch and learns and holiday parties are small tokens to show how much I value them and also bring about a sense of comradery. These are some of the critical steps I took to make managing my team a rewarding effort rather than a draining one, which creates a better work environment for everyone.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I have always aimed to combat the forces that keep women out of leadership roles and from staying in their profession. I try to embody this in Griesing Law’s culture, the long standing relationships I have built and maintained with other female professionals, and my commitment to institutions and organizations that foster inclusivity in the legal field and beyond. The movement is already underway and I wish to keep the momentum going with my efforts, but more importantly to encourage and inspire the next generation of women leaders coming up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
JFK’s famous quote, “a rising tide lifts all boats,” is at the root of how I do business. Griesing Law is a one of a kind law firm, locally and nationally, which focuses on a collaborative team approach and discourages internal competition that interferes with client service. With such a close knit team at our firm, I wanted to create a unique and open culture where the success of any one employee means overall greater success of the entire firm. Unlike traditional firms, we do not reward or compensate attorneys based on “origination credit” — the idea that whoever brings in new business gets credit for the work, regardless of the matter’s outcome or who actually works it. By removing this financial model, it allows for greater collaboration and deters intra-office competition that is found at most law firms. This also assures that everyone on our team is invested in providing clients with personal service and achieving the best results. Paying it forward is something I continue to live by and hope to instill in others as well.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Twitter @FranGriesing or connect with me on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/francine-griesing-21266911/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.