As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Shawn Lehocky, the Chief Strategy Officer at Pond Lehocky Giordano, LLP.
Mr. Lehocky has led the firm’s embrace of technology and analytics. He directed the firm’s migration to Litify — a cloud-based case management and business operations platform. He is the Chief Executive Officer of LegalOps, a joint venture between Pond Lehocky and Brio Solutions that develops applications to integrate Litify with other back-office solutions and systems. Mr. Lehocky has helped grow our firm’s referral network, which has referred over 86,000 cases — with more than 59,000 of those referrals coming in the last two years.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My father was a third-generation pipe fitter and my mother worked in a local hospital. I was very involved in sports growing up and played collegiate football at Westminster College. I always had an interest in science and technology. My first physics professor, Dr. Wargo from Freedom High School, was the person early in life that guided me in the direction of my career and passion.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
My parents made sure I focused on education from an early age. They worked hard to make sure I could go to college. I have been inspired by many people, however, the most influential person in my life is Elon Musk. I was impressed by his willingness to revolutionize industries that have not had many innovations in decades. I have adopted his way of breaking problems down with first principles thinking. I aspire to revolutionize the legal industry with technology and efficiencies that historically have not been adopted by law firms in the US.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The first report I ever created to share to the Firm’s Partners was for a new department that was taking off. I wanted to symbolize this with a picture showing a spaceship launching into the air on the front cover. I turned in the report, and then realized I had used a picture of the Challenger spaceship that tragically blew up right after launching. I was so embarrassed by this mistake! Reflecting on this now, I realized it is important to not take yourself or your mistakes too seriously. A mistake is only a failure if you do not learn from it make yourself better.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have a phenomenal team at Pond Lehocky. From our three founding Partners — Samuel H. Pond, Jerry M. Lehocky, or Thomas J. Giordano — to my fellow Executive team members — Jackie Donovan, Bryan Reilly, or Jenn Heinz — they have all played a role in holding me accountable, pushing me through hard times, supporting me in my career or affording me the opportunity to further my education. Sam Pond has been the biggest influence in my career. He has been a guiding light both in my professional life but also in my personal life, guiding me through tough health situations, my marriage, and becoming a father. He saw something in me as a 21-year-old and made sure to always push me achieve my potential. I respect Sam because he does not let complacency in anything. He is always making sure that we fight for those who need help. He has taught me the importance of making sure every relationship we have, not just in business, is fair and to never become greedy.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The hardest times any start up faces is the lagging revenue stream. It means you have to make sure you make the best decisions you can without having all of the data you need to make those decisions. There were times where we thought results would happen within a certain time frame. We learned over and over again this was not always fully realized.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
We are big on belief at the firm. We never lose faith in our mission, we continue to always believe we can do things better, and that we can innovate to take it to the next level. We developed KPIs and early indicators so that despite not always having our full data, we have certain metrics identified that allow us to catch trends early. This allows us to make sure that as the departments mature, we are hitting the variables that will lead us to success.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
The firm has become very successful, but we continue to treat the business as a startup; we analyze everything. No matter how large we become, we never want to become complacent. We want to stay efficient, and we want to make sure our clients receive the best possible representation they can.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our Firm always fights injustice. We stay involved politically to make sure our clients always have a voice in issues that impact their cases and life. The law is the great equalizer for individuals to have a level playing field against large corporations. We take pride in fighting for the people who live in our neighborhoods trying to simply work hard and make a good life for their family. We never put our own bottom-line first. We have a saying at the firm, “if you take care of the client everything else will take care of itself.” We use this as a basis in any decision we make.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would recommend always trying to find ways to make your company better. We face challenges in our industry that are not uncommon in other industries. I try to learn how other businesses solve their problems and how I can apply that to our business. We also bring in experts from these other industries and do not limit our hiring to within the industry.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe what we do everyday helps bring good to the world. Our clients come to us at the lowest times of their life, and by fighting for them in every possible way, we do our best to help them move forward and get back to their normal lives. We have a large community presence in the firm and making sure we give back not just financially but also with our time. We can be a positive partner within our communities and industry.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes- mistakes are some of the best learning opportunities you can have, and as long as your failures are contained and you catch them quick, they will catapult your business forward. If you are not making mistakes you are not innovating.
- There is such a thing as growing too fast- Everyone wants to have exponential growth in their business but there are many challenges that come with hyper growth. Whether that is hiring, training, inefficiencies, overhead etc.
- You can’t always do it better — you have to learn what your company is good at and what it isn’t. Don’t be afraid to work with a vendor or business partner that will ultimately give your clients a better experience. Our clients have many legal needs; however we have realized there are cases that we aren’t the best firm to represent the client in. We have created a network of partner law firms that we refer cases to in an effort to do what’s in the client’s best interest.
- Your best workers are not always the best managers — just because a person is the best paralegal at your firm, does not mean that you should elevate them into a management position. You have to make sure you are playing to your employee’s strengths and understand what the needs are in a new position and don’t set up your best employees for failure.
- You have to make hard decisions — as a leader it’s your duty to make the hard decisions for your business. Over the years your company will evolve, and especially with the introduction of technology, you will have employees that either can’t change or even worse be a resistance to change. Some of the hardest challenges you will have as a leader is making the decision on one of these individuals but its imperative for yourself, your organization, your other employees, and even that individual themselves.
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
I continue to grow and evolve as a leader and I don’t doubt any decision I make because I have no fear of failure. I embrace challenges because I know that with the fundamentals we have established, there is nothing we cannot overcome as a team. I feel I have also found balance in being fair to both the company and the employees and making sure that this relationship never becomes one sided in either direction. All of these lessons have shaped our company in many ways, and by no means are we perfect. We continue to learn and make mistakes daily. However, we will continue to innovate and make sure that we always do what’s in the best interest of our clients. Having this as our guiding light will ensure that we will continue helping those in need for decades to come.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
I do feel that there are mistakes made by others that you can learn lessons from. However, I don’t feel its 100 percent gained by learning nor is it 100 percent gained in experience. You should learn as much as you can from history and others’ mistakes, but also don’t dwell on it too much. As a leader, you need to not allow fear to enter your own mindset or into your company. I would encourage you to solve a problem that others have tried and failed. Know that there are going to be some that you can’t solve, but I truly believe in innovation and new ways of doing things.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would start an incubator where successful business leaders could support start-ups or people who have a dream but don’t know a way to get started.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn.