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Welcome to the power of connections with Rich Woo, the podcast where we work with leaders looking to achieve personal and professional success by unlocking the power within their connections and relationships.
Now our host, rich.
Welcome to the power of Connections podcast of your host Rich Woo.
Today we have a great guest in store for you.
Jennifer Novak is the principal of an all female law firm that focuses on environmental law based in Southern California.
She's been practicing law for 30 years and is helped clients from International and Fortune 500 companies to farmers and family owned businesses.
So she's done it all in her spare time.
Jennifer has served as the chair of the California Lawyers Associations, Environmental Law Section and and it's also been a non numerous nonprofit boards, including the California YMCA, Youth and Government Program.
And with that, Jennifer, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much.
I'm excited to be here.
Well, it turns out we have friends in common.
We did before connecting with you on the podcast.
I I found out about and have you grown up in California in your whole life?
I did grow up here.
I was actually born in Berkeley.
My parents met in school and got married and had me.
We then moved down to Southern California, where I spent most of my youth, went back up to Northern California for college and law school, and met a guy who wanted to live in LA.
So we came back and we've been in the LA area ever since.
Your life is all about just traveling up the down the coast.
I love that.
I love that.
Well, I know relationships are an important part of your life, your practice.
And I I'm curious, maybe you can start off by sharing with us and it could be anyone, but maybe maybe one person that's made a really meaningful impact in your on your life and and why the first person who comes to mind was my father's mother.
So my grandma, who, despite being born at the beginning of the 1900s and growing up a little bit of a southern belle growing up in New Orleans with a father who was a businessman and and the kids you had some well Despite that, she went to college.
She was offered the opportunity to go study psychology and Graduate School, chose instead to join the waves during the war where she was in Lieutenant in the Navy, and then, even after she met my grandfather and started her own family, she taught school.
She taught piano.
She was very active mentally and it it was a lifelong learner and you it was a much more independent woman than you would imagine at that time and highly educated and was a huge influence on my line.
But you know, my parents used to ship me out to spend every summer with my grandparents, so I I had years of my life spent with my grandparents.
By the time I was an adult and it definitely had an impact on my morality, my sense of people, my sense of my place in this world, and she was in big influence on me.
Wow, if you could tell her one thing is she.
Is she still alive?
Is she still?
She is not.
She passed away around 2012 is just before.
Just after I'd started my own family with my shared a chance to meet my daughter as a baby, you know?
And then kind of continue on generalization generationally from there.
Yeah, if you if you could tell her one thing now you know today and how you impacted or what would you tell her now?
Ohh my goodness I I think she gave me some strength and confidence to think differently, to believe in myself.
And probably would not have had the strength to start a business without people like her at the back of my mind telling me that I was, you know, special and extraordinary and capable of achieving great things even in those days where I didn't feel it all like that.
So that's I would thank her for giving me that strength.
That's right.
That's right, it sounds like obviously you've accomplished much and have built a great law practice, but there's probably some challenges and obstacles along the way.
Can you recall one or two really key critical obstacles that you had to overcome?
You know what did that look like?
I think people who aren't business owners or entrepreneurs may not realize the extent to which you yourself are your biggest obstacle to any sort of achievement and to have a business means that you have to understand yourself and the the weaknesses and the place where you might want to gain support, gain expertise and learn that you then take and carry into your business and making it stronger too.
Otherwise, your business is really just an extension of you personally, so that's one obstacle somewhat related to that is I didn't have any entrepreneurs in my family, so I had no one to draw upon or to observe in my own journey as a business owner.
And it's only by making connections and speaking with people and becoming a sponge around anyone I could that I could finally start to understand what it meant to be an entrepreneur as opposed to a lawyer, because those are two very different personalities and very different things, right?
That's right.
You know, it's it's interesting.
And I know one of the things that that is a part of the work that you do, you built in all female law firm.
Can you tell me about that?
Where did that come from?
Was that kind of did you fall into that?
Was that from the start?
What you wanted to build?
You know, I'm not discriminating against men.
I don't think we actually you know we we have reached out to men from time to time to see if they wanted to join it.
I think that part of it is again, your business is an extension of you.
And so within our law firm, we do spend a lot of time on personal and professional growth, you know, not just having team meetings where we're discussing business, but we actually really do focus on people as a whole by give them the opportunity to work with a coach.
And there's, you know, mindfulness and meditation that goes along with some of this.
And I think it attracts a certain type of person, which is to say, it is necessarily a female person, but where we're creating, you know, I like to stand trying to create the perfect law firm.
And that is 1 where we're not about judgment.
We're not about just focusing on mistakes.
We really are about giving you the freedom to learn and be the best that you can be, even if it means ultimately don't work here for forever.
But creating an atmosphere that does seem very different from the other types of lawyers I've worked with, other types of law firms I've seen, and I don't know.
So far we have yet to find the secret sauce to see if there's a really well suited man, both in terms of subject matter as well and temperament to join us.
So I may not be able to say that for forever and wrong with, you know, right now that's what we are and it's I think it's important to support each other in that way as well.
Create the safe space.
Yeah, it sounds like it getting a lot of things we're talking about.
Thus far you've had a very growth oriented mindset towards things.
Is that have you always have that or is that more of a recent thing?
I think it's a recent thing, or even if I was intellectually curious, I don't know that I would have labeled it the same way.
My more recent philosophy that I give to people is if you just look at nature, everything in nature is either growing or it's dying.
Even even mountains, rivers, everything that seems permanent is in one or more another in terms of those two states.
So which would I rather be?
Would I rather be evolving and growing, or would I rather just be waiting to die?
I'd pick the former and I think there's so much we have to learn about the world about each other, about ourselves.
You could spend every waking moment of every day for the rest of your life learning and and experiencing, and so it would be.
Do you have that in front of you?
It's fantastic.
It's nothing but opportunities.
And you did you mentioned your you have a family.
You have two kids too.
I do.
I've got two kids.
They are both now officially out of the house, so I'm I'm actually going through this very weird thing right now where all these influences from earlier in my career as a lawyer have suddenly popped up even after decades of not seeing them or having them in my life.
And so it's been interesting and the kids are out to go back to a situation that I was in, in my, you know, early to mid 20s only.
Yeah, with that kind of old world of experience, I now have.
And that different mindset that I now have.
So it's it talk about a great challenge and a great opportunity to have the rest of my life in front of me that way.
What's something that in more recent years like you mentioned, are the kids now in college or post high school?
They are both in college, ones about to finish and one has just started, so you know more in recent years, let's say in the last four years while they were in high school.
What's something that you really learn from or about your kids, that that was kind of important for you to learn during that period of time, you spend a a lifetime for them trying to set a good example, trying to teach them certain lessons.
And I just remember lecturing them over and over again that sometimes life does not present you with easy choices.
You've got to make choices that feel right to who you are, and even if it's difficult in that moment or there's short term consequences in the long term, you will always feel good about who you are and where you are in life.
And we did see that play out with the kids and they think they had to experience and go through.
But to look at who they are today, which I would say both subjectively and objectively speaking, they are phenomenal people and it means that they are being true to who they are and understanding that you don't take, don't take the easy way, take the right way.
No, it's good.
I some of this I'm asking just for myself, cause I've I've I gotta forward a 2 year old.
Ohh yeah, they're like in the cute states or that stays within, you know, a lot of attention.
And they're really cute.
But it's also very challenging too, because, like you, can't always have and sit down and have the like logical conversation and have them understand things.
But I'm I'm curious, it sounds like your kids have turned out great and you really happy with where they're at and like, what do you think if you had to point to one or two things, what do you, what do you think led to that development cause not from, you know, that doesn't happen for everybody.
You know, there's a lot of stories we're going to say.
You know, hey, I made some mistakes or kids didn't turn out the way that I was hoping.
And so it sounds like, you know, something went right.
What do you tribute that to?
Well, there's probably a lot of influences, but one thing people have commented on throughout my kids life is that I always tried to be fairly open and honest with them.
I mean, I didn't tell them everything about everything.
I did try to keep conversations age appropriate and obviously don't want to tell them everything you've experienced in your life or that could happen to them in the world.
But I also wasn't trying to overly shelter, and so giving them that context about why we would make certain decisions or impose certain rules and and framing it in terms of the safety of our own world.
But how life gets progressively more difficult and scarier the older you get.
I think that helped them to gauge situations, helped them to understand, you know, why?
Why there are certain rules it helped them to look at their own friends behaviors as well as their own, and do a compare and contrast over good decisions.
Bad decisions in that way.
And of course, you were both lawyers.
So being you're so full of like, all the bad things in life that could happen to you and that whole progression of if you do X, then you will end up Y.
So they couldn't help but, but get that into their eyes.
So that was part of it.
And I think the other thing is and it's not just for my kids, it's certainly something I try to just have in life.
But the safety of just being able to be a human being, you know flaws and all, and not feel judged or put down or ashamed, but to just understand that that's part of who we are as people.
That's just part of life.
I think that helps too, to allow you the freedom to go forward in life with some confidence and with the feeling of constant support, all so that you, you know, you aren't out there by yourself.
Yeah, that's right.
That's something actually, as a parent, I'm trying to work on right now.
I think that my default for whatever reason is when they don't do something right is to get frustrated and show a lot of emotion and not that showing emotion is always a bad thing.
But I think there is a way to let people know that there are consequences and it doesn't have to accompany a lot of emotion or dad getting upset or angry.
It's like, hey, you didn't do X, so you're not going to get Y or and that in and of itself is more than enough to deliver a very clear message.
And so I'm.
I'm I'm learning that personally right now that it doesn't have to be this dad yelling at me for something to get the point across.
There's ways to deliver the message without without the emotion, right?
And and, but it's also the difference between being a parent and a friend, right?
Also understanding your role and and not always getting in because that's easier or nicer.
Yeah, but but I also found that we just have to be aware of the contradictions as well.
So if you are, if you do have a certain feeling about what your kids should be doing or the consequences of of an action being able to ask yourself, like, OK, why am I saying this?
Why do I feel this way?
And is it about me or is it about a life lesson?
Is it about and?
I would try to recognize those places where I was being a little ridiculous because I just had this thing in my head and it does.
A total aside made us remember a situation where my daughter was maybe two and she was standing up on the couch, but she had wedged herself into a corner.
I mean, she was going nowhere, and yet my first instinct was like, ohh don't do that.
That's so unsafe.
And then I had to take a step back.
Going what am I teaching her right that she was so careful and like supporting herself?
You know, maybe encouraged her like, good for you.
You're trying something new, but you're doing it safely.
I appreciate that and not imposing my own hang ups, since been fears on this little child. Right?
So that was just one silly example.
No, I love that.
I love that.
Are you?
So I mean, obviously you're very thoughtful in your approach about family and raising kids.
What sorts of things have you encountered and kind of building your own practice?
Obviously you know you have your clients, but you have other attorneys that you're working with and they're conflicts arise and obstacles come up and what sorts of things have you encountered there that have been kind of challenging and, you know, what would have what's been the result of penny that you're addressing those things.
So in terms of our own internal process and and the firm, yeah, we're just, we're just, maybe even.
I'm just thinking like in your day to day working with folks at your firm and you know there there's obstacles and challenges that come up with communication or, you know, emotions and frustrations.
And I'm just curious, you know, I I find that most people have, you know, you know, different, different ways of approaching things, whether if it's like personal or if it's work.
But there's also, like some consistencies that come up in the way that you address people.
And so I'm curious how that plays out.
Like your work, right.
I mean, there's there's so many different answers here, but you're part of it is, again recognizing who you are as a person.
And when it comes to a business meeting or work, I had a tendency.
It may still be my default tendency to just be about like, get things done right.
If the job get it done and and don't goof off, so part of it has been to recognize in myself the need to recognize the human aspect of work and it's important for people to bond.
It's important for people to feel like they're on the same team, and if they do feel like they're on the same team and people care about them, then it actually enhances the work.
It enhances the ability to communicate.
I mentioned the fact that I try to create a safe space, so yeah, of course we're lawyers and and legal professionals and things happen.
And so to be able to comment on it and explain like, OK, you didn't know because practicing law is hard, right?
You could do it for your entire life and still be screwing up from time to time.
I feel out of my depth all the time, even though I'm a very confident attorney's been doing this a long time.
But that being said, let's learn from this.
What can we do better?
How do we avoid this?
I always say I'm not going to come down on somebody for making a mistake.
I'm gonna come down on you if you keep making the same mistake that part of the communication is also recognizing that we all come into life with our own history and experiences and assumptions and a lot of communication is about two people with different assumptions trying to together or talk together.
And this thing right or you're not really listening because you're already starting to think about how to apply what they're saying or how to rebut what they're saying, or you're confused about what they're saying.
But you don't ask the question, so we do really try to emphasize clear communication and for some people that's a face to face point conversation.
For some people, that's writing it down so they can digest it over a long period of time, and I can't say I'm 100% rate at this.
There's certainly have been times where I felt I I can feel that I'm not communicating well with somebody I'm trying to explore how to do it better and I may or may not get there.
But you do have to recognize we all are are different that way and we we've done personality tests in the office to try to demonstrate who's a risk taker, who is a communicator, who needs to think out loud at Jennifer's, just not the kind of person who can sit there listening to you think all day and and accepting those things about ourselves.
But then also trying to learn how to work together better as a result of it.
That's right.
Can you think of an important connection with someone made for you that helped you either build or grow your business in the last 30 years?
And how did that come about?
Who introduced you and what was the impact of that connection that was made?
It's a great question.
I mean, there's so many people who have come into my life that had any impact, whether they recognized it or not.
And maybe if I could answer it more generally and to say it had never been my life goal to have my own law firm.
So when I opened the doors in 2013 and did like I said, it was not an entrepreneur.
I didn't know entrepreneurs.
I knew how to practice law and that was pretty much it.
There were a lot of people who cropped up who had not been major influences in my life up to that point in time.
But who were there to provide moral support to encouragement?
Who would tell me things like this is gonna be amazing.
You're gonna be so successful again.
OK, where?
I just didn't feel like that at all, but also offering to introduce me to people that I did not know who had no reason to me or help me, but who were gracious enough to talk to me about how they had opened their own law practices or the mistakes they had learned.
Or here are some tips or here's a book to read and that that was fantastic to have people willing to invest that kind of time.
And I'm still meeting people who are really gracious, and I'll send them book references.
They'll send me book references.
Well, commiserate about things.
We'll build each other up and every day there are people to learn from in that regard.
How do how do you think about the importance of making new connections at this stage you have a established law practice.
You know, a lot of people already, yet you're still meeting people.
So what?
What keeps you going instead of saying, hey, I already know everyone.
I need to know like ohh I definitely don't know everybody.
I need to know and I I learned that every single day.
Yeah, I would say just even even in the last year, being exposed to new people and having conversations about with them.
Often they're not lawyers, but learning what they do and how they help people has helped me to help my clients because I can refer clients or even people like I don't want to represent because it's not my field giving them a resource in that way.
And it's been interesting to see other people's experiences as far as changing my own mindset about things, especially about money, about risk taking without those conversations and without knowing those people and liking those people.
You know, I I wouldn't have something to work toward or to supplement.
What what I've learned on my own, it's hard to go through life in general.
You're always gonna rely on somebody for something.
And the more people out there you have who are rooting for you and there to support you, the greater you can be.
So keep meeting more people.
Is the moral of the story. What?
I'm always curious.
You know, you're it sounds like you're a life long learner.
I'm always curious as to book recently.
Have you read or podcast?
Have you listened to?
That's been expiring or challenging.
To think in different ways.
Really interesting question and this is someone I only discovered last week actually seeing tell how influential she was.
There's a former attorney now certified coach named Carol Loan Thiel who is a big feminist and has a couple of podcasts.
But there and is an author, but a lot of what she talks about really does speak to someone who's an attorney and dealing with communication, imposter syndrome.
You know, being the best person you can be getting over some of the hangups that we have, the need for perfectionism is really rampant in lawyers, and it prevents you from actually being the best you can be.
And I I liked her so much.
I've noticed the hours of her podcast in last week and I think I'm at a point in life where the message lands a lot more easily and a lot better.
What's one last lesson you could impart on our audience as it relates to what you've learned about relationships?
The power of connections, you know and and kind of the past 30 years.
I would say care about people.
I mean, truly care about people.
And if you do, then it opens up the ability to have a compassionate conversation it from a business perspective, allows you to look for opportunities to help people.
People can sense your good intentions.
People gravitate toward people who they feel has no agenda and is just another person is out there making their way in the world that we can find out.
And I think we missed a lot of the time when we get focused on other things.
So definitely just just truly care.
Yeah, that's great.
I appreciate it.
Well, Jennifer, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Jennifer's contact info will be give the show notes.
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