Unleash Your Inner Salmon

When you meet Jennifer Bertoglio, one of the first things that strikes you is her warmth, authentic kindness, and engaging personality. I had the fortunate opportunity to be introduced to her by a business colleague at a conference. In just a few minutes of conversation with this recovering litigator, serial entrepreneur, investor, and avid traveler, I knew I had met a world changer. At 42 years old, she is what author Joe Calloway calls a “category of one.” Jennifer is the oldest of eight children and grew up in the blue-collar town of Streator, Ill., where people rarely went to college and upward mobility was a distant thought. She vividly remembers waiting in government subsidy lines and wearing second-hand clothes. She attributes this challenging upbringing to what drove her to succeed against all odds.

As I listened to Jennifer tell me her story at the über-cool Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco, she lit up as she recounted paying her way through college. Her first job out of college was as a contract employee for Amoco, where her strong work ethic and desire to deliver more than what was expected landed her a full-time job. After advancing quickly, she decided that she wanted to go to law school. Her employer believed in her, and gladly paid for it.

Once she finished law school, Jennifer was offered a secure law firm job as a litigator. The more she began to explore this option, the more she discovered that the traditional opportunity was not aligning with her soul and she walked away from it.

Jennifer went on to become a director of business development and recruiter for a legal staffing company in Chicago. As she poured herself into this opportunity, she noticed that lawyers with incredible credentials were becoming marginalized, barely making any money, and sitting on park benches wondering about their next move. Many were downsized by fluctuations in corporate America and kissed their six-figure salaries and bonuses goodbye.

After watching and listening to their plight and observing firsthand the inefficiencies and excessive spend in litigation, she decided to create LawyerLink, which combined three industries—e-discovery services, legal processes on-shoring, and temporary legal staffing. From the humble beginnings of an office in a spare bedroom with a folding table for a desk and $30,000 in personal savings, she grew the company in five years to 125 people, $10 million in gross revenue, and offices that occupied two floors of the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) in Chicago.

The secret sauce to the success of LawyerLink was teaching project management skills and six sigma principles to attorneys. After producing a better work product and attracting regular work from corporate legal departments, her company was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Axiom, a legal services marketplace disruptor.

Here are three lessons I took away from my time with Jennifer:

  1. Transcend Your Environment – Jennifer grew up in poverty, but she didn’t let it define or determine who she could become. She decided to pull herself up by the bootstraps, pay her way through college by working a job, and pursue the dream of making herself better. This is not unlike any other successful person. However, what I believe differentiates Jennifer is her spirit of philanthropy, which is rooted in living to give instead of living only to get more. It’s rare for someone so young to realize that it’s more fulfilling to give than to receive. She is doing more than just living; she and her husband are thriving by sharing. What will you do to rise above your surroundings and soar to new heights? You have a daily choice to create the future or react to the one created for you.
  2. Swim Upstream Against Popular Opinion – Men and women who are wired differently recognize opportunity early and often. Their divergent way of thinking causes them to ask questions and create solutions that others think are impossible. Refusing to be marginalized by insecure thinking, Jennifer disrupted the wingtip, buttoned-up, boys-dominated-club legal profession by identifying a pain point and solving it. She ignored the rules of engagement and swam in another lane without anyone’s permission. This liberated way of thinking should encourage you to realize that the days of waiting for things to happen are over. In his poem “Invictus,” English poet William Ernest Henley declares, “It matters not how strait the gate,/ How charged with punishments the scroll,/ I am the master of my fate,/ I am the captain of my soul.”
  3. Stay Thirsty – Jennifer has an unquenchable thirst to learn through adventure travel. She and her husband have visited over 20 countries. Each destination became a living classroom that shaped their thinking about making a global impact through their business ventures. Jennifer is constantly exploring the next industry to disrupt and applying the lessons she’s learned to maximize present opportunities. Are you unlearning, relearning, and learning what will empower you to be relevant in the new global economy? It starts with a thirst to discover the unknown, the uncommon, and that which is seemingly out of the ordinary.

I hope that Jennifer’s story will inspire you to think about your life path and how you intend to live brilliantly. May I suggest that you consider swimming upstream against what everyone else is doing? In his book An Enemy Called Average, author John Mason says, “People are born originals, but most die copies.” Jennifer is an original and so are you.