Making It Big in 30 Minutes

Transcript: Episode 1, Jaimee Hall

Making It Big in 30 Minutes

Transcript: Episode 4

Jaimee Hall


Terri:
What does it mean to make it big? Having money fame, worldwide acclaim, climbing the corporate ladder, or crushing it in your business. One thing's for sure. There isn't just one way to do it. Welcome to "Making It Big in 30 Minutes," a podcast for, by, and about the Emerson community. You're about to meet an Emersonian who's making it. Making a living, making a difference, and sometimes making it up as they go along. As far as we're concerned, if you're making something, you made it big time. I'm your host and Emerson alumni, Terri Trespicio, and we've got 30 minutes, so let's get started.

Terri:
Art imitates life, right? Or is it life imitates art? It's one of the two. Anyway, lots of people studied the arts, specifically performing arts without necessarily pursuing a career in it. But what you study, what calls to as a major may have more to do with who you are than just what job you'll end up with. Take Jamie hall, for instance. Originally from St. Louis, she graduated Emerson with a bachelor's in acting and directing for theater in 2003. But before that, she spent her sophomore year in Emerson's LA program, which was just long enough to decide that she wanted nothing to do with that industry. Still, her training in the arts has served her well in life. Today, she's the CEO and founder of legal back office, which helps legal professionals delegate the work that keeps them from serving their clients best. But if you look close, what she's really doing is what a director does. Align her cast of team members with a singular vision so that they can engage, serve, and satisfy their audience. And the reviews are great. I give you, Jaimee Hall on making it as an actor turned entrepreneur.

Terri:
You graduated with a bachelor's in theater acting and directing.

Jaimee:
Yes.

Terri:
So when you were going into school, your mental state was, "I'm going to have a life in the arts." Is that what you were thinking originally?

Jaimee:
Well it was, but what's kind of fascinating is that unlike many of my colleagues at Emerson, many of the students in the theater program, Emerson was one of a handful of schools that they applied for an auditioned for, because this was their lifes dream to be in the arts in some way. Emerson, for me, was my one dream school. Every other school I applied to was for business, general business, communications. But I really had this inner dream to be involved in acting because I liked the idea of being able to influence people and using characters and story to kind of mimic real life to help move people.

Jaimee:
And so it was really kind of a whim to apply to Emerson.

Terri:
Really?

Jaimee:
[crosstalk 00:02:53] Yeah, it's the only school I applied to actually for acting and directing for the theater. And I was like, "What the hell?" And so just the craziest story, because I auditioned and they only let in 50 people or whatever into the program. And I had already committed to University of Kansas, and turned in my housing deposit and all the things because I hadn't heard back from Emerson yet. And then I got my acceptance letter in the mail. I was almost shocked because I just thought ... I just assumed I didn't get in because it was late April. I'd already made the decision to go to the KU. I literally had to reread the letter three times because I was so shocked that I was one of the 50 people that got into the program.

Jaimee:
And so I just decided, oh well, to hell with the $200 housing deposit in KU. I got into my dream school. I always said, if I got in I would go.

Terri:
That was a total U-turn. You're like, "This is what I'm doing now." And so you had applied for other schools for business and communication. You were now coming to Emerson thinking, "Oh, I'm going to be an actor," or were you like, "Hey, why not?" That's a major switch, right?

Jaimee:
Yeah. It is a major switch. And I was there because I wanted to be an actor.

Terri:
Had you been doing a lot of acting? Tell me about ... That's a big, scary thing unless that's already what you've been doing.

Jaimee:
Have you seen Waiting for Guffman?

Terri:
Yes.

Jaimee:
Oh my God. One of my favorite movies.

Terri:
Yeah.

Jaimee:
So that's the type of acting I was doing was ...

Terri:
Okay.

Jaimee:
I lived in Waterloo, Illinois for Pete's sake.

Terri:
Community theater.

Jaimee:
Yeah, community theater, which is great. But that's about all I'd experienced and Emerson really opened up my eyes to the ideas of film and also of directing. I actually think I was a better director than I was an actor.

Terri:
And what do you attribute that to? What was it about directing that you're like, "Oh no, this is my jam."

Jaimee:
I tell this to people all the time because when they find out what my degree was in obviously there's some weird looks. Like, "What? How does that connect to what you're doing now?" And I say all the time, everything I learned at Emerson in being a director is about taking a lot of seemingly disconnected pieces and parts of either a story or a talent or resources and trying to get everyone headed in the same direction towards a common vision, a common path, and leading everyone through their own process in sort of bringing that team together to produce something incredibly beautiful. And that's just good leadership.

Jaimee:
And so I think there's something about, I had some natural leadership skills, but hadn't honed them in much or understood how to utilize them. Have you seen that funny meme that says, "I'm not bossy, I just have leadership skills"?

Terri:
Yes.

Jaimee:
And so I probably was just a little bossy for most of my life up until that point. And directing just showed me how I can be creative, still manage a budget, work with people, and just to pull out the best of everyone, but within a framework and a context where everyone can be louder together or more beautiful together than an individual part.

Terri:
It's really true. Because you were creating, it's something that you think, "Well people who go into directing are theater people," and we're so quick to be like, "Oh, that's that group." But the fact is, really any anyone who wants to be a leader of business, they would do well to have studied directing in theater because you're given shoestring budget and a vision and a thing to produce, and an audience. That is what businesses really are. A lot of overlaps there. So hearing you say that really brings it to light.

Jaimee:
Yeah. It teaches you how to be scrappy. It teaches you how to have hustle. And in order to be successful, you have to be able to work through the human experience with other humans.

Terri:
Well yes. Yes. And be united to a vision, not just hey ... If it's all about just, "Hey, we need to make money," that's just part of a vision. It's not a vision. In theater, people aren't doing it for money. So I feel like it teaches you to be focused on something besides the ROI.

Jaimee:
You got it. You got it. Yep.

Terri:
And so when you graduated, were you like, 'Now I'm going to Hollywood and I'm going to be an actor and a director." Or were you like, "Hey, how do I apply these skills now?" How did you think about it?

Jaimee:
Well, it's another really interesting, long story, but the short version is, after my freshman year I found myself in kind of a precarious position where I had to start paying for my own undergrad. Emerson is not the most inexpensive school in the country. And so I had to kind of reassess, but I didn't want to take time off. And so I think I always understood some level of being successful in life or getting what you want. Being able to achieve your goals requires persistence, persuasiveness, a can do attitude and just being resourceful. But it was at Emerson where that really challenged me, and my dad always taught me growing up that everything is negotiable. And my sophomore year I came into school with AP credits from high school. And so I decided, okay, I'm already moving in this direction. I'm going to get loans, go to Emerson my sophomore year and then probably transfer from there. So then I'm only paying for one year of this private school.

Jaimee:
And I was using persuasion, a can do attitude and resourcefulness. I was able to do the LA program the end of my sophomore year, because I was technically a junior by credit. And Maureen Shea, god love her, heard my story. She sat down with me, spent time with me and became my advocate in helping me to get to LA that sophomore year.

Terri:
Wow.

Jaimee:
And so I lived in LA doing the LA program with all of my best friends, incidentally that were seniors. And I was a sophomore and it was fantastic. And it gave me a glimpse into a world. I realized I didn't want to ever be a part of. And so I always say I loved being there while I was there, but then when I wasn't there anymore I realized how terrible I was there.

Terri:
Well, what do you attribute that to?

Jaimee:
I think that I've made it one of my life goals to always be a genuine person. And anytime I'm trying to fit in and not be me, I start to get uncomfortable in life. And I also really value having genuine relationships with other people.

Jaimee:
In the industry, there's a lot of political game playing to maneuver strategically your career and the direction you want it to go. And what I realized was that I really didn't want to play that political game and I didn't want to lose myself. And I saw my true self kind of melting away and trying to fit in. And I also found building relationships to be difficult because it seemed like there was just a real underlying, "Let's use people to get ahead for what they can do for me, and then not really care whether we have true relationship."

Jaimee:
So I really struggled with feeling like there was always this film or layer or screen, if you will, which you could never really see people for their true selves. And that always really bothered me.

Terri:
It is kind of interesting that you say film or screen, that's separating you from people, or separating people from who they are in each other, because that is the industry. That's what it's called. The film industry.

Jaimee:
I know.

Terri:
That's a little meta, but it's actually, the metaphor could not be more real that that's what you experienced. Now, of course, for every person who thinks that there's maybe someone who's always, "Oh it was a perfect fit for me." The bottom line is it wasn't aligned for you, and you felt that in order to fit that world, you had to change in ways that didn't feel authentic to you.

Jaimee:
Authentic. You got it.

Terri:
You did your time up there, you got to dip your toe in and say, "No, thank you," and then she shifts your head, right? Because you're like, "All right, I don't want to do that. And yet I have this bunch of skills and I'm perfecting. I'm only a sophomore. "Does that change your whole educational trajectory? Are you like, "Uh oh, now what?"

Jaimee:
Well, there was as much emotions going on as there was a logical decision. I still really loved my craft. And I applied for an audition at USC and got into USC. And after doing the math, I was like, "It's just going to be cheaper for me to just finish out at Emerson." So I got done with my senior year, just again, through persuasion, a positive can do attitude, and resourcefulness in which Emerson really worked with me over those, two years that I was there, building it all on my own. I got some tuition discounts. They stretched the rules a little bit for me and letting me do one final class at a different university. I really was grateful for the flexibility that Emerson provided for me. To be able to still get my Emerson education, but manage what I was going through personally at the same time, and that was incredibly impactful for me.

Jaimee:
So I left school having no idea what I was going to be doing. And just as my life and the universe, I guess, would have had it, I ended up in my first professional corporate American job because the CEO saw something in me that he thought could have value in his company. And he asked me, "Well, do you have your degree? Because it's required that you have your degree to work in my company." I said, "Yeah, it's in acting and directing for the theater." And he's like, "That doesn't matter. At least it's a bachelor's degree." They don't care.

Jaimee:
And so what's really fascinating is after Emerson, I went back to school to get my teaching certificate thinking I might teach high school speech and drama. And how I got a job opportunity was in the middle of that program, and really this corporate America job was building a corporate university that allowed me to apply my education of education. And all of their corporate events were all in person events that required a lot of production—

Terri:
Theater.

Jaimee:
A lot of production. I had event planning and my background in high school and throughout college. I was a wedding planner in the summers during Emerson. And so really everything came together for me in that job.

Terri:
Isn't that amazing?

Jaimee:
It's amazing. Yeah. It's ridiculously amazing. And I was particularly young at the time when I got that opportunity and I was fortunate to have, a 500 person company, direct interaction a lot with the CEO and senior leaders.

Terri:
Now you went back to school again and got your MBA.

Jaimee:
I did. And that was just a couple of years ago. That was just two years ago this month. Yeah.

Terri:
So now you're really cruising along in the business direction and let's jump ahead. You have your own company now. You are the CEO of your own company. How do you explain it to someone at a party when they're like, don't know if they care what you do?

Jaimee:
I say, "Most of America thinks attorneys are assholes and my job is to make their professional lives a little bit better, which we hope will improve their personal lives and make them a little less of an asshole for you as the client."

Terri:
And how do you prevent someone from becoming an asshole do you think?

Jaimee:
Well, we run the business of law. So many lawyers are running their small to midsize firms and they bill 300 to $500 an hour out to clients, and yet they're processing their own payroll. They're their own bookkeeper. They're managing their own marketing and social media campaigns when their highest and best value is serving their clients and practicing law. Not doing all those other things, not to mention, unfortunately, in law school they really don't teach lawyers how to run a business. So we power the business of law. We can run the business side of a small to midsize practice.

Terri:
But you're not a lawyer and you don't need to be a lawyer. You specialize in supporting legal offices by providing an extension of their services and taking care of things that they really shouldn't be spending time on.

Jaimee:
You got it. 100%. And so they end up actually paying more and not getting the results that they could be getting by pushing these tasks onto their internal team. And many of them welcomed the idea of being able to focus on the clients and just practice law.

Terri:
So you have done the thing that any smart entrepreneur would do. You see an opportunity and you rush to fill that up. Fill that service opportunity with something you can do. Tell me the order in which that happened. You were obviously involved in that industry and saw a need. How did you decide to do this and go out on your own?

Jaimee:
Yeah. So in 2012, I started working for a large law firm. And what was really fascinating about that firm was their corporate function was a separate entity from the law firm. And it was built on that principle that let the lawyers practice law and the business people manage the business. And what I started seeing, three years into my six year gig there, I became ... I stepped into the CEO role of that entity, and we had about 110 people in the firms in 40 states in the UK. So it was a pretty big operation.

Jaimee:
And I started seeing a need in the industry. I wonder if we could do this same thing for other law firms? And at some point while I was there, we started to go down that trajectory. How do we take this brand and start marketing it? And what I realized is that lawyers are naturally mistrusting. In the back office of a really large firm, it was going to be really hard to sell it. For other lawyers to say, "Okay, yeah, I'm comfortable with this competitor law firm's back office running my back office. Yeah." [crosstalk 00:17:06].

Terri:
Yeah I did not see that as working for them.

Jaimee:
What I also saw it was as much operationally going to be challenging as it was philosophically. Because even though we were two different entities on paper, we were very much one big team working together. And I can see the angst of feeling like we're getting torn apart from this law firm in our key client in this relationship [inaudible 00:17:27] to have for them—

Terri:
Yeah. I can totally see. You basically were like, "How about we be polygamous now?"

Jaimee:
Basically, yes. And people were like, "Whoa, that's not my bag."

Terri:
No. You were married for years and now you're going to bring other people in? You're going to service them? Nope.

Jaimee:
You got it. That's exactly what was going on. And it was really challenging. And about the same time that I was having these insecurities and uncertainties about being able to move the company in that direction, which we were already going in that direction, but as can we be successful, my current business partner who owns a 12 lawyer firm here in St. Louis met me, found out what I was doing, and she was struggling through the same things. She has her JDMBA, and yet she's struggling to run the business side of her practice. And she says, "I think we should start a company together." I was like, "I don't know. I'm going to have to think about that."

Jaimee:
And so we built out the model for about six months. And let me just share some statistics with you, because they're fascinating for people that aren't in this industry. There are 1.4 million lawyers in America. There are 47,000 law firms in America, and 95% of the law firms are 20 or less lawyers. So that's a lot of law firms that are small to midsize law firms. And what's really crazy to me too, is 50% of all Americans think that we need less lawyers. 60% of Americans think lawyers only care about money, and not about their clients. And I can tell you ... And another thing, lawyers are, on average, losing about $300,000 a year in revenue because they're doing the work that they shouldn't be doing. That's why my company exists. And 30% of them, roughly, struggle with addiction and depression.

Terri:
Oh my goodness.

Jaimee:
So can you make the connection here? Lawyers are working their asses off to serve people that don't think they care about them at all.

Terri:
What if they had more bandwidth to care about and let someone else count the money, right?

Jaimee:
Yeah. And they're not even getting ... Most American lawyers are not getting the money that Americans think they're getting.

Terri:
No. Right.

Jaimee:
One of the biggest surprises of the work I'm doing now is that attorneys really aren't total assholes like we think they are. Really, media and big firm attorneys, I think have garnered a lot of attention with the big egos and the bravado of the courtroom.

Terri:
But the individual, small lawyers, not.

Jaimee:
No, my clients are owners of small to mid sized firms. And many of them started their firms because they wanted something different. They wanted a positive culture and we really have some of the most good hearted lawyers as clients. And in my experience, most small law firms across the US have been consistently positive. And they're just the salt of the earth people.

Jaimee:
I wrote a blog in the last couple of months called Why I Love Lawyers and You Should Too, and it's just really fascinating, sort of juxtaposing how we feel about them versus how they actually are.

Terri:
All these things clicking together. I can imagine that this is not a tough sell to legal offices, especially smaller ones. The 95% of them that are small. I bet this must've been an easy sell. Has it been? You're obviously in business. How did that go when you started pitching this?

Jaimee:
I wish I could say it's an easy sell, but I'm going to say it's mixed, and here's why. Because they don't, most of the time, think like business people, they don't understand opportunity costs. They only understand cash. So if they feel like it's cash out the door, but they think they're free, they're much better at valuing their time externally than internally.

Terri:
So you're forever positioning your messaging to them to make this point. Because you're not just saying, "Hey, we're a great service, you need us." You're trying to change the way they see their business. And the plus side is not making them do something they don't want to do, but helping them do something they do want to do.

Jaimee:
You got it.

Terri:
So I imagine that it's a lot of the selling that must be the hardest part, because once you're doing the job, it's easy for you to do the job. The job isn't the hard part. You're doing your job, and covering people's needs, right?

Jaimee:
And here's what I've learned is that there's a perceived ROI on strategy and consulting in marketing, versus accounting that's really not sexy. Accounting and payroll I just want to pay as little as possible, and for it to be done correctly, even though it can be the source of your biggest stressor. We do your marketing, we do your accounting, we do your HR, and we truly are a business partner helping you to be successful. Even if at times that means our services might be peeling back. Because at some point it might make sense for you to hire a full time person to do your invoicing, right? Sometimes that might [crosstalk 00:22:03]

Terri:
Right, of course. That might make sense, but who wouldn't want it if it's going well? Once they build those costs in, then it's part of how they do business. What you've had to do is change the way they think about the business and think about that cost and investment. And then once they've made that shift, now how can they see life without you? You've done it, your polygamous, your a business polygamist. That's what all entrepreneurs are.

Jaimee:
Exactly, exactly. Our vision is to revolutionize the legal industry and positively impact the world. And we have to constantly keep that in front of us, because that is how we make decisions for ourselves and how we guide our clients is over the longterm.

Terri:
Now when you go back and look at the you years ago, that was graduating Emerson, what would you say to yourself at Emerson now, if you could go zip back through a time machine and send a message?

Jaimee:
I would give myself advice, but I wouldn't change my journey for anything because all of it led to where I was. But my advice is I would say do all the things. Because I look back and feel like I wasted too much time not experiencing what I could have been experiencing.

Terri:
Like what? What do you mean? It sounds like you do everything.

Jaimee:
Well like, okay, going to house parties and drinking and having fun with your friends or going to a club or whatever. That's fine. But I didn't do all the things. I went to the MFA a couple of times, but there's so many student discounts to go to concerts or shows, or ... I never went to Fenway. I never went to Fenway the entire time I lived there. What the hell is wrong with me?

Terri:
It wasn't a priority, but I hear you.

Jaimee:
That's what I mean, do all the things. I have no regrets. I think pretty much I've lived my life that way, but I would reiterate to myself to have no regrets and to chill out. I really think anxiety usually only leads to fear and entrapment instead of experiencing true freedom. And I had so much anxieties my years there, that if I would have just kind of chilled out and just did all the things and experienced life and let it come as it may, I would have been able to accept the lessons along the way, but I would have enjoyed my time a little bit more instead of spending so much time in fear, or with a broken heart, or just holed up in a house or a room somewhere. So that's the advice I would give to myself.

Terri:
You're being hard on yourself. I think that ... I hear you. We can't do anything about the broken hearts. But in the meantime you have since, in recently expressed interest in the leadership level of potentially launching an alumni chapter for Emerson in St. Louis. Talk to me about what has spurred that thinking even.

Jaimee:
Well, I've been wanting to do something, because I just wasn't sure how many alumni we had here in the area. And I've bumped into some people along the way. And especially whenever I was getting ready to launch this business, I was like, "I'm going to be doing more networking. I'm already going to be coordinating these get togethers. So I got the list of people from LinkedIn, connected with the alumni office, and it's just so funny because then I ended up just getting so busy, started my MBA, started the company. I have four kids.

Terri:
You have four kids?

Jaimee:
I do.

Terri:
We skipped that piece of this. You have four children?

Jaimee:
I do. 11, nine, six, and two and a half.

Terri:
God bless you.

Jaimee:
I know. Yes, all the wine. Send all the wine.

Terri:
Wow. How did we miss that? She's got her on ensemble. Her own theater production happening in there.

Jaimee:
There's a lot going on. And then finally I was like, "You know what? I'm just pulling the trigger. I'm just going to get everyone together." And so we started there, I'd say maybe a year ago or so was our very first get together. And it's so interesting. So far, most of the alumni in the area got their master's degree from Emerson. It's also so interesting. Last time we got together, we had a few people that came, but we had one alumni who she's actually from St. Louis, but she lives in New York right now, and just happened to be in St. Louis visiting her family during our get together. And she saw the announcement of it and decided that she would come join us.

Jaimee:
We've been having a great time every time we get together. It's great telling stories of Boston. It's always fun to share stories about living in the city. And so it's been great to get connected with local people here, but that have that Emerson tie.

Terri:
Yeah, I would think so. And so you're ... Yes, of course. Going back and talking to people who reminisce and feel connected to a place that you feel connected to. But not everyone spearheads their own chapter. So again, you just show yourself to be a real leader in that regard, and there must be ... You have enough to keep you busy. Why would it be worth it to you, if we're calling out to people who think, "Oh, no one needs me to lead a chapter." We do want people to do that. What would be one of the best reasons you could think of to step up into leadership and bring Emerson people together?

Jaimee:
You know how when a life experience has touched your soul, it will just always be a part of you. And I think the same thing about Boston, in that it has something special. There's something special about the spirit of Boston. There is something incredibly special about Emerson. And I feel like most students that go through the Emerson experience, they get that little flicker of light attached to their soul and it just kind of stays there. And there's something about being seen and being known that makes you feel right with the world. And when Emerson people come together, that little individual flickering of light that was the Emerson experience is just brightened by all the other people that had that shared experience with you. And when you step into the presence of people that have gone through that special experience, you're all brighter because of it, and you can all be seen and be known and feel at peace in the world.

Jaimee:
And so I wanted to start this chapter because I felt like if I could play a part in bringing all those little flickering lights together, that it would impact all of our lives in a more positive way. This wasn't about networking or what I could get out of it or what other people could get out of it in terms of money or connections. Although certainly those things happen. It was more about how can we bring people together that have this shared experience that would then send them out into the world to be a positive impact. So that's really what it was all about for me.

Terri:
Thank you. That was really beautifully put. And lastly, what does it mean for you, Jaimee Hall, to make it? And how will you know when you get there? Or maybe you are there.

Jaimee:
If I feel like I have arrived, then I feel like I've missed the boat. So for me, it's not about arrival so much as it is about how I live along the journey of life. And I think the vision of our company is very indicative of my own personal vision, and that's how can I leave a positive impact on the world? And that's one person at a time. How can I be the most positive and genuine and transparent with people that leaves them better off? I want people to leave my presence feeling better than when they arrived. And whether that's through encouragement or challenging them to think differently, or just making them laugh. And I think that our company is seeking to revolutionize an industry, my own personal brand is how can we revolutionize humanity by actually having a positive impact on those around us? And not spending so much time in fear or criticism, and how can we just be more encouraging and lifting people up?

Jaimee:
So I don't want to ever arrive, but when people give me positive feedback and that they felt better after talking to me, or feel like they're driven to do something different or something better, or ... That to me, makes my heart sing. When people leave my presence better than when they arrived.

Terri:
I feel better. I feel better having talked to you.

Jaimee:
Good, I'm so glad. Oh, and lord knows I'm as imperfect as they come. I think that's part of birding relationship is through transparency and being honest about how imperfect we are and how we're all kind of in this together.

Terri:
Jaimee Hall. Thank you so much.

Jaimee:
Oh my gosh, thank you. This has been great. I'm so grateful for the opportunity.

Terri:
You are a real tribute to the Emerson spirit.

Jaimee:
Oh, thank you. I owed a lot to my years at Emerson and the experience that I had there. So I will always be an Emerson fan.

Terri:
"Making It Big in 30 Minutes" is a production of Emerson College, bringing innovation to communication and the arts. Sponsored by the Emerson College office of alumni engagement, and supported by the alumni board of directors. Our theme music was written by Phantoms and Avocado Junkie. For more information about the alumni association, please visit emerson.edu/alumni, where you can also find bonus material from the show. I'm Terri Trespicio. Thanks for listening.