Lessons Learned From My Dad

Vanessa Hill

Father’s Day is this weekend. I got to thinking about my Dad’s life lessons for me growing up, and how they have affected the way I behave in the business world today.

I am a grown-up now, with a daughter of my own, and I try to teach her lessons that Dad and Mom taught me – basic lessons such as, say please and thank you, be nice to others, do not steal, and be truthful.  But some specific lessons I learned from Dad really have shaped the way I think and behave as a Marketing Coordinator for a busy Silicon Valley law firm.  Who would have thought the lessons he taught little me would have such a strong influence on my behavior as a professional adult? 

Here are the top six (6) lessons my Dad taught me in my childhood that have carried over into my professional life: 

I’m counting your “ums”

My Dad told me, “No ums.” His original way of handling “ums” is one of the most useful pieces of advice he has given to me. Most marketing and business development roles involve public speaking – presentations in front of the firm, speaking at non-profit events, and one-on-one meetings with attorneys.  When my colleagues mention how I don’t use the word “um” when I am speaking, I tell them the trick my dad used when I was growing up.  He would count out loud how often I would say “um” in conversation.  Every time I would say “um” he would count loudly, “One!” then, a minute later, “Two!”, and then, “Three!”.  It’s not that he wanted to interrupt me or to discourage me from speaking, (he would only do this when others were not around or if we were videotaping a speech for a school presentation or competition). Instead it was his way of teaching me to speak with purpose.  It’s perfectly acceptable when speaking, to take a moment to pause and collect your thoughts without sound, not insult the listener with useless words such as “um”.  It amazes me how often professional people rely on “um” or “like” to fill dead space. Give it a try – ask someone close to you to count your “um’s”, see how many you have.

Time is money, don’t waste it by talking ‘soft.’

My dad taught me, if you speak clearly, with solid volume, and to the point, it shows confidence.  I remember this every time I speak to my clients (who are attorneys) because their time is money, and I never want them to feel I am wasting their time. When I speak to them about business development and marketing, I try to present my ideas concisely, clearly, and yes – quickly. The longer I talk about a task, the more work it may seem like I am asking them to do, and the higher the chances are that the attorney will turn down my request.  Dad was right, if I don’t sound confident about what I’m asking attorneys to do, then how can I expect them to use precious, non-billable hours to fulfill my poorly-delivered marketing vision? Time is money and don’t waste it by talking ‘soft’.

Can you afford an opinion?

This piece of advice was a famous one for me growing up because I had a hard time knowing when it was the right time for speaking up and when it was better simply to listen.  The word “affording” in my dad’s statement does not necessarily mean money, it is more about looking for the best opportunity to provide insight on a certain topic – learning how to read the situation to know when it is the right time to approach someone with your opinion.  This rings true for me today when I want to introduce a new marketing software, event idea, or PR campaign to the management team.  I take care to look at time and budget – to have facts to back my opinion.  If I want to raise concerns about what I think is a problem, my boss, like my parents in my childhood, is willing to listen to me as long as I offer a possible solution to the problem. Offering your opinion in a constructive way can show you are thinking deeply and are truly concerned about the welfare of your firm or business. 

Emotions belong in the workplace. Whining does not!

As a young woman entering the workforce, I thought that emotions were equal to weakness, that they were disruptive to work product. I wanted to make sure I was not emotional at work. I remember, while working on a college paper about women in the workplace, I had a conversation about the subject with my Dad.  Out of the blue, he called me out and said “…you are only applying emotion as a negative.”  He continued, pointing out that we all – men and women – need emotion in our career to succeed.  You need to have passion, excitement, fear, love, and enthusiasm to put into your work, so it has personality with little to no errors.  Even those tears you may shed from time to time will show how deeply you are invested in your work product.  And, I should add, he always clarified that whining is not an emotion, it’s a blocker to success. 

Do something different, and do it better.

When working on marketing, public relations, and business development ideas, I am often asked, “What are other law firms doing?”.  Every time I hear that particular question, I hear my Dad saying, “Who cares? Do something different, and do it better!”

As a kid, when it came time for Science Fair projects to be chosen, I was never one to choose the usual project – no baking soda volcano for me. Instead, I learned to solder a communication board to show how sound travels through light with fiber optic cables.  My project went all the way to the State Science Fair. 

In my professional life now, I take the lessons I learned from my Science Fair experience, and I try to think outside the box in hopes that more unique opportunities may arise from the extra efforts. Although our marketing team looks at what other law firms have done, more important to us is what our clients and prospective clients are doing with their own marketing, business development, and public relations efforts.  With a little extra effort, we can tailor our ideas in a way which dovetails with what research shows us is the direction our clients want to go. 

Your brand is your business.

Marketing is all about branding. A law firm is a business with high standards and the brand that each law firm creates is only as good as the dedicated individuals who work there. My Dad taught me to treat each person with respect, no matter their title.  There are deadlines we all must meet, requests we all must prioritize, and decisions we will make every day that will affect the firm whether you are a partner, legal assistant, file clerk, or marketing professional. Following his advice, my personal brand is a combination of hard work and respect for the people I work with on a daily basis.   

Happy Father’s Day to all those Dads who have earned the title.  My Dad taught me that emotions in the workplace are good, time is valuable, research and opinions go hand-in-hand, and silence your “ums.”  What did your Dad teach you?

Please share! I would love to hear your favorite lesson your father or father figure taught you that helped shape your daily tasks as a marketing/business development/Public Relations role, or attorney. We may find a few new tips to share with our own children. 

About the author Vanessa Hill

Vanessa oversees and implements the firm’s marketing programs and keeps partners abreast of current trends and strategies in legal marketing.  She serves as event coordinator for all firm events at Levi Stadium and the SAP Center of San Jose.