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Listen, Learn, Face Change & Find Your Balance

October 02, 2020

From its inception, Whitney, Thompson & Jeffcoach has been a women-owned firm. Fresno business litigation attorneys Mandy Jeffcoach, Niki Cunningham, Marshall Whitney, and Tim Thompson joined together in 2018 with the intention of building a firm dedicated to serving clients with the highest quality of legal representation, while still maintaining a culture that encourages teamwork and a healthy work-life balance.

Two years later, the WTJ team has added a new owner, Carl Refuerzo, and grown from four to 15 attorneys who share the same core values from the start: teamwork, excellence, collaboration, integrity, and dedication. Being a majority-woman-owned business and emphasizing balance and flexibility has remained a priority for the leadership at WTJ, particularly as the community encounters and overcomes unprecedented challenges.

The women at WTJ continue to excel in 2020, despite unusual circumstances and unforeseen challenges. Mandy Jeffcoach was named on the list of 2020 Top 50 Women Super Lawyers, and Niki Cunningham was selected as a 2020 Rising Star. Partners Courtney McKeever and Kristi Marshall were also included on the 2020 Rising Stars list. WTJ’s emphasis on collaboration has created an environment of excellence, and the female leaders at the firm consistently uphold this standard.

Insights from Mandy Jeffcoach

One of the biggest challenges females face is balance—particularly now, as we adjust to online schooling and the many other demands of our “new normal.” Females are generally expected to succeed in all things—family, business, friends, community involvement—the list goes on. However, we cannot be everywhere at once. It is necessary now, more than ever before, to find balance and accept that you may not be able to go to every school function or community event (when they resume again) or take every case presented to you. I will admit that as a leader, as an attorney, and as a mom, this has been a very real, personal struggle for me.

Fortunately, my partners and I have always agreed that finding a balance and making family a priority is key to long-term success. When we started WTJ, we made sure to set up our system so that people can work remotely. We also focused on making sure people knew that “one size does not fit all”—our team may need to work different schedules, have unique arrangements, or step away unexpectedly, and we strive to accommodate them and help them succeed.

My partners at WTJ continue to be my most significant professional influence. I have been blessed to work with many of my partners for my entire career. They taught me not only how to be a lawyer, but also how to be a leader. They were always there to answer any question I may have, introduce me to clients and members of the community at events, celebrate my victories, and “brainstorm” my failures so we could make sure they did not happen again. They also showed me the importance of teamwork and how, without a team, you will inevitably fail. Law is organic and always changing, and without a team to work with and bounce ideas off of, I believe there is no growth. That is why our company focuses so much on teamwork—every single member of our team is critical to our clients’ success.

Leadership is likely going to look different in the years to come, as we are asked to adapt to new challenges and solve unique problems. It is going to require flexibility and a willingness to approach things in different ways. The nation is currently in crisis, and it will require leaders who are flexible and willing to see both sides of every issue for things to improve. A true leader understands that there is no right or wrong answer—the best response is usually somewhere in the middle.

I hope that the push for transparency in business will influence people to realize that open communication is crucial. Most issues can be resolved if people just sit down, recognize all sides, and make a decision together. As Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Leadership, particularly as we embark on this journey in our “new reality,” will undoubtedly require a fundamental change in how we address issues and resolve them. I am grateful for my fellow leaders at WTJ, who never shy away from change. When you have a great team, anything is possible.

Insights from Niki Cunningham

As a business owner, attorney, and mother, I have learned so much about leadership, and yet I still learn new things every day. I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to grow and become an even better leader for my partners at WTJ, our clients, and my family. Leadership is hard work, and you will stumble and make mistakes—but that is part of the process. Some of my greatest learning moments have been in my failures. The lessons I carry with me help me every day, and I hope they can help other aspiring leaders, as well.

Surround yourself with good people, and never be afraid to push the envelope. In my experience, taking the easy road is not always the best road. Without good people in your everyday environment, whether that is coworkers, clients, friends, or family, you will not succeed. If there are things that you want to change, push the envelope and see if you can change them. If you realize that things cannot change, do not be afraid to say, “This is not working for me,” and move on. Change can be terrifying, but without it, growth is impossible.

All leaders have different traits and experiences they bring to the table, but three characteristics resonate for me: listen, be patient and treat people the way you want to be treated.

Listen. One of my favorite quotes is, “Listen to understand, not to respond.” With our fast-paced society, many people simply want to get a response out and fail to listen to what the issue really is. A good leader is able to listen and understand, then respond. Something that may seem trivial to you may mean a lot to someone else, and effective listening ensures that people who are important to you always feel heard and understood.

Be patient. Being a leader requires you to slow down and see the bigger picture. A quick reaction can be disastrous if it is solely driven by emotion. Part of being a leader is stepping back and looking at the issue from all angles, reflecting on the potential consequences, and then making a decision. Patience is also part of the mentoring process, as someone new to the industry is not going to have the institutional knowledge others may have. If you do not take the time to teach them what they need to know, they will never succeed.

Treat people the way you want to be treated. I learned this lesson as a child and it has carried with me throughout life. You are bound to encounter people in life that may make decisions that you disagree with, for a variety of reasons. However, that does not necessarily make the decision wrong. Even if the decision was wrong, having empathy for that person and making it known that mistakes are okay will go a lot further than making someone feel bad. (Remember, leaders make mistakes, too!) Above all, it is critical to treat people with respect, listen to them, and recognize that different opinions make our community great.

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