February 15, 2010
by Emi Endo
Jennifer Cona, managing partner of an elder law firm, says her staff sometimes needs to get out of its Melville office and spend time with the people “we’re serving every day.” Last summer, for instance, she says they helped residents at a nursing home string beads and make suncatchers. “It helps us work together as a group,” she says of the firm, Cona Elder Law PLLC. Cona, 40, has two children. She serves on the legal advisory board of the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation.
What are your plans to grow the business? “Slow and steady – that’s been my plan. That’s what’s really worked well for us. Part of that, from a management perspective, is making sure that we have enough staff to handle the growth. I’ve always been trying to stay ahead by hiring people to handle the new business a little bit ahead of the game.” What do you look for in hiring? “We look for a team player, always – that’s important. We look for someone who’s tenacious. We look for people who are going to be creative with legal strategies. We also look for people with sensitivity, because we’re dealing with a lot of sensitive issues: family finances or family dynamics. So we need people who can communicate very well with clients, listen well to clients.”
What’s your strategy for taking on the competition? “Serve clients really well. Be responsive. Our clients say they like how we are very accessible, we break things down, we take out the legalese, we don’t talk over anybody. We do a lot of the hand-holding and social work part of it. Especially with the elder law work, there’s so much more that goes into it – whether it’s helping someone identify the right nursing home for them or taking care of some of the emotional issues.”
What lessons have you learned about leadership? “Open communication is really the key. I worked at another firm where you had to make an appointment to talk to whoever your supervisor was. And it would take several weeks to get an appointment. So when I started my own practice, I said, that is not the way it’s going to be. Sometimes it’s hard because sometimes you have a lot of interruptions and can’t get your own work done, but I just think it’s got to be that way.”
What’s your approach to managing? “Open-door and of the people. I strive to have a really good team atmosphere, and so the same goes for me, obviously. So if somebody is bogged down and they need to get something into FedEx by 7 o’clock, I’ll make copies for them. We don’t have any hierarchy whatsoever. Everybody’s just on the same team, working for the client. So you’ll never hear someone in this office say, ‘Oh, that’s not my job.’”
How do you try to get honest feedback from employees? “I think the best place where we get feedback is our once-a-month ‘happy hour,’” she says, referring to a casual gathering in the conference room.