Monica Phillips is the President of Spark Plug Labs. Monica has been working with lawyers for 20+ years, and leads keynote and coaching programs on wellness, equity and inclusion. She brings key topics to the forefront of law firms and legal departments. Join her on Clubhouse to discuss Legal Wellness & Innovation, Tuesdays at 6pm pacific (@BodegaBay1).
Learn more about Monica in this Women Who Wow profile and follow her on LinkedIn
Why did you choose your profession?
It definitely chose me. I was working in marketing and communications at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and received some positive press in a local business magazine for launching a new website. A law firm was looking for someone who knew all of the reporters in the area and I thought it sounded interesting so I applied and got the job. It was 1998 and the law firm didn’t have a website yet so it was the right place, right time for me and I led the firm into the digital age with a website and CRM.
The website more than paid for itself within the first week when a new client found us online. I hadn’t yet heard of the Legal Marketing Association and had no idea this decision would turn into a career of leading teams in law firms, creating strategic initiatives including a law firm merger and a subsidiary for cross-cultural training, developing client feedback programs, and business development coaching for lawyers. I am grateful that in that first law firm, the partners saw me for my talent and not for my title.
I moved from Minnesota to DC to New York and then back to California where I have had some incredible experiences working at global law firms and now building my coaching business since 2013.
Early in my working life as a college student, I had a job as a career counselor at the Career Services Center at Cal Poly. Students would come in to meet with me and I would help them learn how to write a resume and find scholarship opportunities. We were designing this experience together as I was learning about all of it, too, so it was really like coaching and championing them on their journeys – listening to what they wanted and then finding opportunities that would be a good match. There was something for everyone. It was incredible to notice that the more specific we get, our opportunities expand. That always stuck with me and helped me develop a coaching strategy.
In leading teams, I always wanted my team members to feel like they belonged there and if it wasn’t a good fit I wanted to empower them to find something else. In the 1990s I would share “What color is your parachute” to those who came to me for career advice.
What drives me in my business now is my mission to create space for everyone to be seen, heard, and valued; for everyone to belong; and for everyone to be paid and promoted equitably. Especially in law firms, talent is the thing everyone wants and law firms spend a lot of money recruiting top talent. But what happens after those new partners arrive? I create custom strategies for teams that connect with the team culture, business objectives, and well-being of the organization using communications that help all team members thrive.
Tell us about a woman you look up to and why.
Hands down, my mom. She worked hard raising two kids as a single mom. It’s not easy doing things in a different way. She had resilience and grit before Brené Brown made it popular. She raised my brother and me with her feminist sensibilities and with records like “Free to be, you and me.”
In the 1970s she would criticize the growing use of plastic and the “faster, cheaper” way of doing things. It took the rest of the world quite a while to get on board with doing things differently. We are still trying to figure it out.
She’s incredibly positive and encouraging. I didn’t know girls weren’t supposed to be good at math or science. (I originally went to college to study physics.) She always championed me and encouraged me to find my path.
Now in her retirement she is working to raise visibility for clean power and generating energy from the roads. She’s active on Clubhouse (the new social media, audio only app) and not afraid to meet people where it matters and be part of the conversation.
What advice would you give to women in your field?
I am a coach in the legal industry and with startups, neither of which field is particularly kind to women though they continue to make progress.
- Trust your gut. We have more neurons in our guts than we do in our spinal cords. If it doesn’t feel right, listen to your body, and believe in yourself. Your intuition comes from your wisdom center.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find your fans, friends and allies and share openly with them.
- Be present. Enjoy the ride and be present for the opportunities. It will all work out. Each day is a new day. Making mistakes is part of being human.
- Be a reflector. Don’t be Velcro. You don’t need to carry the weight of the haters around with you. When we can be more like reflectors, we light up the way, reflect back to others to help them see clearly, and create safety for ourselves.
- Respect your boundaries. Know your limits. Sleep.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the feeling I get when I see someone else connect to their true power. Sometimes it is when they give themselves permission to get out of their heads and think with their hearts. Sometimes it is when they strip away the layers and connect to more of who they are. Often it is a shift in mindset that allows them to get out of their own way and be present for life with more ease and flow.
Once, while coaching a group of women lawyers, I did a visualization exercise. Some were not into the idea, but most people tried it. At the end, one of the women said, “Monica, for the first time you gave me permission to think with my heart.” That moment meant everything to me. If I don’t show up fully, I will keep others from the opportunity to experience connecting to more of who they are.
After she shared her experience, others started to share, too – very personal moments of noticing something deep inside of themselves. It is a gift to be able to hold space that allows people to be vulnerable.