Let's go ahead and call her rise meteoric. The description wouldn't be that far off.
Eleven years ago, Lori DiCesare started Legal Placements with $5,000 and the help of just one other person. Today, the placement firm has 35 in-house staff and more than 350 contractors, along with offices in DC, the Dulles corridor, Chicago and New York, and revenues growing by $2M to $3M a year. The firm opened its first document production office last month, and DiCesare is busy grooming VP Jodi Feinman to take over daily operations. We caught up with DiCesare, named a Top Female Executive by Smart CEO Magazine.
Lori with System Administrator Peter Lucas and Executive Assistant Linda Franklin at DC headquarters. Lori and her staff nibbled some of the goodies left from a meeting with Gilda's Club, a charity the firm supports.
How did you start your legal placement firm?
After graduate school, I worked as a paralegal. One day, I walked into a placement agency to seek employment as a paralegal coordinator. I ended up working at the agency. After 10 years, I felt I could offer things to my clients that I was unable to as an employee.
Where did that entrepreneurial spirit come from? Your family?
No, my family was not entrepreneurial: My mother was a homemaker and my father was an office manager. I wanted to start my own company because I knew I had a good relationship with clients, and if the company grew, I could offer flexibility to my employees.
If you were starting your company today, what would you do differently?
I wish someone had told me that when you start a company it is 12-hour days, seven days a week.
And your work schedule now is.?
It's lessened a lot-I have a 14-year-old daughter and an 8-year-old son-but when you have your own company, you're always connected. I work every day, but I work from home often. I've never taken a vacation without my Blackberry and laptop so I can maintain a handle on daily revenue.
Any anxieties about handing over daily operations to your VP?
I'm not a control freak. You can't be. You've got to let go of things in order to grow a company. You can't know how much is involved in running a business until you're doing it, and some of this has been a big surprise to Jodi, but I have full confidence in her. We just moved and expanded our DC office and reorganized our accounting department, which was a lot of work. But I've never felt that she couldn't do it. I took a long time in finding the right person.
Lori with Sherrell Briscoe, front desk coordinator in DC.
Any plans for another location?
Maybe. I can't tell you where, but I've got a city in mind.
Fill in the blanks: Ten years ago your clients needed _______; now they need _______.
Ten years ago, we sent out a lot of temporary paralegals. Now, the firms need contract attorneys to come in for document production and document review. We also place IT professionals, and that's been a very big revenue-producing division.
You're on two boards and active in myriad charities-breast cancer, heart disease, children's groups. Why is philanthropic work so important to you?
I've worked since I was 16, and I put myself through graduate school. I couldn't afford to volunteer before, and now I have the means. There are things I want to do.
How do you choose which ones to get involved imn?
Children are our future, so I feel it is important to focus on them. And I have friends who have either died from breast cancer or are survivors. My father died of heart disease, so this year, Legal Placements was the top sponsor for the group Lawyers Have Heart, which raises money for the American Heart Association. My next task is to take on Alzheimer's, which my mother died of in 2006. I also plan to become an advocate for the elderly because of my parents' experiences.
Do you worry that the time you gain by delegating daily operations will be eaten up by philanthropic work?
You can never do enough philanthropic work. It's something I feel very strongly about. I have my daughter involved in various activities as well; it's a good example for children. It can be hard to balance everything, though. I can't go to functions every night. I've got to be home. My daughter's 14, a very critical time.
With son Brendan and daughter Gabrielle earlier this month at home.
Tell us about a long-suppressed dream or passion.
My biggest dream in life was to be an ER doctor.
That's it? Really?
I wish I had more hobbies! But when you're building your own company that's all you can do. You can't do five things well at once. Well, I can't do five things well at once.
Words you live by?
My father said, Always be honest and remember where you came from. I've done every job in my company. Nothing's beneath me, and I expect the same from employees. If job candidates flinch when I tell them that, it's not going to work.