LAwgragon.comAs part of its ongoing “Lawyer Limelight” series, Lawdragon.com interviewed Calibrate Legal CEO Jennifer Johnson.  In the interview, Jennifer discusses her career trajectory, the mission of her firm, Calibrate Legal, and the latest trends in recruiting for law firm business services professionals.

Jennifer Johnson is CEO and founder of Calibrate Legal, which offers recruiting and consulting services for law firms. Their signature is a focus on Revenue Enablers™, a trademarked term that they use to describe non-lawyer business professionals who support profitability. The firm also consults on technology investments and uses data analyses to boost the productiveness of various business development and administrative groups within law firms. 

Johnson, a graduate of Baylor University, is a natural networker who enjoys long-standing relationships with law firm management leaders. She is a member of the Lawdragon 100 Leading Legal Consultants and Strategists.


Lawdragon: Will you describe for our readers the types of services you provide within the legal industry?

Jennifer Johnson: We help law firms fill critical business services roles, including C-suite leaders, marketing and business development professionals, general management positions, competitive and business intelligence experts, and those focused on transformation/innovation.

Our consulting services are focused on empowering Revenue Enablers with the infrastructure they need to deliver results. We help law firms achieve superior results through the strategic use of metrics, alignment, processes, data, and technology.

LD: How did you first become interested in legal consulting and recruiting?

JJ: I fell into it accidentally after spending six years in lawyer recruitment and marketing at an Am Law 100 firm before joining a recruiting firm where I focused on recruiting for law firm marketing positions. I started my own firm, J. Johnson Executive Search, in 2011 and in 2017 we rebranded as Calibrate Legal to reflect our expanded scope of consulting and advisory services. I also wanted to take the focus off of me and take my name off of  ‘the door’ because there are some talented professionals on our team with their own brand equity that I wanted to shine a light on.

LD: So you’ve spent two decades inside, and as a consultant to, law firms. Can you share some lessons from the inside?

JJ: Over that time, I’ve learned the opportunities, challenges and nuances of law firm cultures. I continue to be deeply interested in working with law firms to improve their performance – whether through talent acquisition or through consulting. My team continuously scans the business world for trends and best practices that can help law firms innovate.

LD: What are some aspects about this work that you find professionally satisfying? What do you like about working with lawyers?

JJ: Lawyers and law firms provide an intellectually stimulating environment! The people are extremely smart, and the issues they face are highly complex. Having said that, most lawyers do not have formal business management training and we are working to infuse that into their cultures to help them run their firms more like a business.

LD: Do you have a recent challenge or interesting project you could tell us about?

JJ: In one recent project, we helped the head of Talent at an Am Law 100 firm with a search for a new C-suite leader for one of its key business services functions. The firm’s leadership wanted the selection process to be inclusive and responsive to the needs of more than 45 partners who would be involved. Gaining consensus from this many stakeholders proved challenging – but we worked with the firm to create a fact-based, inclusive, rigorous selection process designed to eliminate bias and drive shared agreement.

LD: What trends are you seeing in legal recruiting these days?

JJ: Law firms are recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion in their cultures, and this very much extends to the hiring of new team members. Firms have historically focused on the diversity of their attorneys but have not recognized that those who are not fee earners do serve in a crucial capacity to ensure business success. Part of our mission is to change that. We are advocating for law firms to pay greater attention to their business services team, which represent up to 50 percent of the total employee population of many firms. When we conduct a search on behalf of a client, we always endeavor to deliver a diverse slate of candidates.

LD: Will you tell us about the work you’re doing with The Tilt Institute?

JJ: Yes, we recently announced an alliance with The Tilt Institute to expand our capabilities in the recruitment of Business and Competitive Intelligence roles. Under this alliance, Tilt Institute professionals will augment Calibrate’s executive search team for recruitment projects involving BI and CI roles by providing insights into the background, skills, and training required for these professionals to succeed in law firms.

LD: Why did you decide to focus on this area?

JJ: We believe that Business and Competitive Intelligence is the next frontier for law firm business services teams. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for research analysts is projected to increase by 20 percent over the next 10 years, much faster than the average position. In legal, the trend is similar. Nearly 40 percent of law firms planned to add CI resources in 2018. That figure has only increased as data has become an increasingly vital part of gaining a competitive advantage in the law firm world. And, law firms need to be driven by data versus opinion and preference of the mostly highly paid partners, which historically has been how decisions are made.

LD: How would you describe your style or philosophy as a legal consultant and recruiter?

JJ: We seek to place candidates who are true “Revenue Enablers” for their firms. We’ve defined some characteristics of Revenue Enablers, and our team works to ensure these characteristics are front and center in the talent we present to our law firm clients.

The first is, they are “Business Partners.” Today’s Revenue Enablers are sophisticated and commercially aware business partners to their lawyers. They understand how law firms work, how they make money, and the challenges and pressure points that partnership environments face.

Next, they’re “Relationship Builders.” The most successful Revenue Enablers truly put client service ahead of everything else. They quickly come up to speed on who the firm’s internal and external clients are and find ways to meet and exceed expectations.

The best candidates are also “Analytical Thinkers.” Far from being purveyors of brochures and organizers of events, today’s Revenue Enablers understand how to translate complex data into themes with measurables and will give this data meaning to lawyers to guide them on where to go to generate new revenue.

These people are “Innate Leaders.” Revenue Enablers display leadership capabilities early in their careers. They recognize that leadership takes practice and fine-tuning. They capitalize on and shape people on their team to become true value-add, visionary thinkers, and don’t hesitate to give credit where credit is due.

They have a “Bias Toward Action.” Revenue Enablers are masters at juggling the ability to provide both strategic input and tactical execution. While thinking strategically and leading the firm towards higher profitability is a must, our clients do not want someone who will rest on their laurels; they expect continuous activity, action, and results. Period.

Another characteristic is that they “Invest in Themselves.” Revenue Enablers are focused on getting proper skills and career development training to stay fresh and current, which will ensure they provide regular and fresh perspectives to their firm.

They tend to be “People Managers.” Revenue Enablers are experts at managing up, down, and sideways, on a regular and intentional basis. This helps manage expectations and keeps people engaged and working at their highest and best.

Finally, they are “Highly Collaborative.” Revenue Enablers know how to build and leverage internal relationships. They recognize the need for support from of all of the other professional departments in the firm to get their job done successfully. They recognize that tomorrow’s law firm will not succeed in the old siloed format; they are very smart about developing and nurturing strong alliances with internal business units.

LD: This is such a useful roadmap for anyone looking to add value to their firms. And it speaks highly to the level of work coming out of Calibrate! Can you tell us more about the work ethos at your firm?

JJ: Clients’ insight and goals provide the fundamentals of our search or advice. Before any project begins, we gather input from key stakeholders to educate ourselves on the dynamics and to observe and absorb our client’s culture. With that background, we tailor our candidate search or operations counsel to match the distinct personality of the firm.

Clients’ time is a precious commodity. Because we specialize in this space, we can work efficiently and effectively. In search campaigns, we can execute and provide results to our clients within four weeks of the search launch. In consulting engagements, we work expeditiously so the client can see results – and enjoy early wins.

One of the advantages of retaining Calibrate Legal is that the client projects a sophisticated message to the marketplace that says they recognize the value of its business functions and are willing to invest in their talent, technology and success.

When it comes to recruiting, many true impact players are not actively seeking new roles. We serve as a client’s industry insider, identifying talent that aligns with their goals, getting their attention and successfully marketing the opportunity on the firm’s behalf.

We tailor our work to the client’s needs and culture. In recruiting, our partnership is only valuable if we can cultivate an impressive short list of true talent, not simply those with the obvious background. Similarly, in consulting, we curate ideas that can truly work at the firm. We’ll stand behind our recommendations that most closely align with the firm’s goals, and we’ll be prepared to explain our logic.

LD: Do you have advice for current students or young professionals who might wish to have a similar type of career?

JJ: Get serious about purposeful networking! For example, when an industry event has an educational component, it’s pretty easy to slide into a chair and learn and then scoot out without engaging. One thing I learned quickly is that nobody wants to work the name tag table at an industry event. So, I volunteered to arrive early and check people in. It offered me three things: first, a purpose for attending; next, an opportunity to put faces with names; and third, visibility to leadership who otherwise would be manning the table themselves. It was a win-win. I helped them and the role helped me. I was consistent in my offer to help (and I showed up!) and members of leadership suggested I vie for a role on the Board. About a year after attending my first industry event I was attending a Board leadership retreat.

LD: Are you involved in any community or public interest activities?

JJ: I am passionate about service to the law firm marketing community. I’ve held numerous leadership positions within the Legal Marketing Association, including currently serving as Secretary of the International Board of Directors. In 2017 I was inducted into the College of Law Practice Management, which recognizes distinguished leaders in the profession. I’m also a Fellow of the ALM Intelligence Program. Outside of the industry, I have been very actively involved with Dress for Success and, in 2012, I received a Gordy Award from the CEO for my service and dedication.

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