Jessica B. Reddick '04 is a is a founding partner of Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group, LLC and KMR Legal Staffing, both based in Chicago. Her firm specializes in corporate, entertainment, and real estate law, while her staffing agency provides temporary and permanent legal support to law firms and corporations worldwide.
Actually, I didn't. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and really had no interest in law most of my life. I was a sociology major at Haverford and always had more of a mathematical mind, so I assumed that I would be going to business school. After graduating from Haverford I worked at Morgan Stanley, but it wasn't until after I decided that the financial field wasn't necessarily for me that I started to think about becoming a lawyer. There are several judges and lawyers in my family who encouraged me to apply to law school, and I was working as a junior paralegal at a D.C. law firm at the time, where I quickly realized that I have a legal mind.
Do you agree that you can choose any major in undergrad and still succeed in law school and as a lawyer?
Definitely. Many different personality traits, personal experiences, strengths, and weaknesses can contribute to making someone a great lawyer. Little things like organizational skills are important, and my sociology background is important in that it allows me to really connect with my clients and better understand them. Understanding how to connect is a really important skill.
How did you originally come up with the idea for Knight, Morris & Reddick Law Group?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial household where I saw my parents really hustling to build and grow their brand. So I always knew that whatever I did, it would be entrepreneurial. I met one of my law partners in a domestic exchange program that I participated in at a historically black college called Spelman College during my junior year at Haverford. I didn't meet our third partner until we had our first meeting in 2011. My college friend was frustrated with her job situation and tweeted that she wanted to start her own law firm. She and Keli, my partner whom I hadn't yet met, had a Twitter conversation about starting a firm. Very soon thereafter, the three of us sat down and wrote a loose game plan—things like our business name, the logo design—and we just kind of hit the ground running. It was unexpected for us, but our personalities matched and complemented each other really well.
How long did it take you to officially launch KMR?
After quickly deciding to move forward, we waited a year to hang our shingle. We each had different networks, and during that year we dove into those networks and met with designers, website builders, branding and marketing people, successful attorneys who had started their own firms, tax people, everyone. We met with anyone we could think of who could assist us in building a business. We had each been practicing as attorneys, but we did not know at all how to run a business, or how to start a business logistically. We were also young, female, and African American, so that made us triple minorities in terms of our competitors, so we really wanted to be taken seriously and really wanted to figure out our identity before we opened our doors. We officially launched KMR in September 2012.
What would you say is the biggest difference between owning your own firm and working under someone else?
Everything. I am in full control. And it's really important to us to know that our work and the way we run our business is a reflection of who we are as people. We really care about our clients. We work with a lot of entrepreneurs, so we're excited about standing behind our clients' work. Also, we are able to work from home if we need to, and if a client has some special event, we can be there. But it's also a lot to take on, especially when we were getting started. When you work for a law firm, you have an assistant, you have a paralegal, a full staff to support you and we didn't have that. We were running to the mailbox to send important documents and running to the bank to make deposits. So, there are definitely pros and cons.
I understand that KMR specializes in corporate, entertainment, and real estate law. Was that something that you brought with you from your previous law experience, or did that develop while you were at your new firm?
I had been practicing real estate law working for the City of Chicago since my second summer in law school. Effectively working in-house, I learned the corporate side, what running a business looked like from the legal standpoint in addition to the real estate work I was doing. I really have learned the entertainment side as I've gone along. One of my first clients was a musician and he kind of held my hand and taught me the industry. In addition, during our first year of practice at KMR we were approached by a law firm that needed some additional staffing help, which grew from a five-week engagement to a six-month engagement. We ended up forming a legal staffing agency, now called KMR Legal Staffing which is a subsidiary of our law firm.
I read that you are part of the Black Women Lawyers' Association. What has your experience been like being a part of this group, outside of the firm?
My law partners and I have been in the Black Law Students Association program and the Black Women Lawyers' Association, and it provides us with additional support. We learned when we first started practicing together that we can't spend too much time with other lawyers in trying to generate business, because we are competitors, so we turn to them really just more for support,resources, and knowledge. Mentorship is probably the biggest asset that those types of organizations bring to us.
What types of plans do you have for your business moving forward?
We are thrilled with how far we have come to date. We are celebrating our fourth anniversary this month. Most businesses don't make it beyond the first 18 months. In October 2015 we opened an office in L.A., and we hired an associate who does estate planning work and happens to be another black woman. We intend to grow that L.A. office, to grow our Chicago office, and to open an office in D.C. at some point. We want to grow our client base with our law firm and expand where and when it makes sense. We also want to grow our legal staffing agency. While legal services typically are tied to billable hours for the most part, with a legal staffing agency the sky is really the limit. We are also able to act as a minority vendor because we are black females who own our staffing agency; many corporations and law firms are required to have a certain minority quota, which we can provide.
We are still a work in progress. Education is extremely important us, and our ultimate goal is to start a foundation or charitable organization so that we can give back in the way we want to.
Would you say being in Chicago has affected you starting this career?
Yes. Chicago is a city where people work hard. I think it was a great place for me to start the business. There are a lot of lawyers here in Chicago. It just happened that there are not a lot of black female attorneys that have come together to start firms. So I think the fact that we are in the minority is definitely why we have gotten highlighted the way that we have. Chicago is just a great city. There is a lot of work to be done here. And within the real estate market, there is plenty of development going on here. I know that everything happens for a reason. For example, I wouldn't have connected with my partners if I hadn't come to Chicago for law school.
What advice would you give to a current Haverford student or any student considering going to law school, or who wants to start their own business like you did?
With regard to law school, really think about who you want to be and what you want that legal career to look like. It is a lot of hard work and it is very expensive to go just because someone thinks they need to get a higher degree. I think it is really important to think through what type of lawyer you want to be because it is a lot to take on if you don't end up using your degree.
As for starting a business, I think that you should go for it. Anything is possible when you are willing to work hard and build relationships. It's not about age or experience, because being an entrepreneur is about learning the lesson as it comes, staying on your toes, and being able to remain flexible as the market changes or as your client needs can potentially change. You have to be flexible and not get discouraged when things don't go your way. If you can be flexible, not get discouraged, and work hard, you really can create anything.
Would you say being a Haverford undergrad has affected your career or your life in anyway?
Yes, I think that with its Quaker tradition, Haverford didn't force me to remain in any box, but rather encouraged me to think about who I wanted to be and to use my skill set and my intelligence to figure that out for myself. For example, Haverford allowed students to create their own major when I was there and I think that spirit that Haverford embodies really encouraged me to think more about who I wanted to be rather than forcing me to accept what was presented to me as an option.
Taylor Cross '18 is a junior from Simi Valley, California. She is a member of the women's soccer team and the Pre-Law Society, and is majoring in economics