Jessica Dean attended Boston University, where she received her BA in Economics and her BA in Political Science in 1999. She graduated Magna cum laude. From there, she moved onto the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. She graduated Cum laude in 2003. She began practicing law the same year. As one of eight siblings, Jessica Dean was always driven by the example her hardworking parents set for her. Her father had a time-consuming job building planes for McDonnell-Douglas, which meant that he would be away from the home for upwards of 80 hours per week. Her mom stayed home to raise the family and it was in observing her hardworking, motivated mother that she set out on the path that she finds herself on today. Jessica Dean enjoyed law school as it allowed her to not only meet interesting people, but to think and evaluate problems in ways that she hadn’t had the opportunity to do before. She met Amin Omar – initially her mock trial partner and someone she would eventually start a firm with, although it would take more than a decade to get to that point. All told, Jessica Dean is someone who understands the struggle that regular people go through on a daily basis – people who, like her, weren’t born of means and who faced adversity at every corner. This is a big part of why she’s so involved in Dean Omar Branham Shirley – she and her colleagues fight tirelessly to make sure that communities (and jobs) are as safe as possible for the people who work and live there. People work hard. They follow the laws. They pay their taxes. Yet still, corporations who flaunt safety laws can cause a considerable amount of pain and heartache in these communities – sometimes knowingly. Through everything that she’s worked so hard to build up to this point, Jessica Dean is dedicated to fighting for the rights of those individuals.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
As a young lawyer, I interviewed with a firm that specialized in representing people who had cancer after working around or with asbestos. I remembered the passion of those who ended up hiring me – they wanted to take on corporate greed and fight for individuals who for the most part were strangers to the legal system. I had so much to learn but fell in love with the practice of law where I was on the side of those who had terrible things happen to them and where their losses were preventable. When I started a firm with two of my friends I wanted to continue that work but find a way to focus on fewer cases.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My job is variable. Rarely do two days look alike. During trials, I typically work 18-20 hours per day. You are in court 8 or 9 hours, meeting with an expert or family member in the evening and preparing in between those hours. Outside of trials, you may have a deposition, a hearing with a new judge, or a meeting with a new family who has never been part of this process. This is while managing hundreds of e-mails and trying to organize the firm.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Through working with an amazing team of people who all are driven by the same goals as I am. We work with talented experts who are the best in their fields who teach us the science. We have a group of lawyers who have diverse backgrounds and are able to look at a problem from different perspectives. Listening and digesting lots of information and then figuring out how to use that information in a way that is true to your voice is a huge part of this job.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I am an extravert to my core, so the pandemic has been difficult. I miss human contact. I miss hugging the people I represent and meeting people in person. Despite that, I do think that the adjustments we have made in the last two years have made it so people are able to meet remotely. While I can’t wait for this to be an option instead of what we have to do, I think this opens up time and resources that will help everyone.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Take inventory of the week at the end of each week. I do this to make sure I did not miss anything and plan for the next week.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Patience. I remember my law partner telling me when he first hired me that this litigation is a marathon and to pace myself. It was good advice that I did not always take.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That adults should have a favorite color.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Check-in on the people who hire you and not just when you need something. I am not sure this applies to all people in this profession but if you work with people that have been hurt or people that don’t regularly deal with lawyers I think it means the world to call and see how they are doing.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Realizing that people have very different talents and just because a person is not a good fit for one part of the practice doesn’t mean that they are not a good fit for the firm. Having the right heart and work ethic are essential and most of the rest can be worked out.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I was often overzealous and assumed that actions taken by the other side were done for the worst reasons. Unfortunately, this is sometimes true but often it is not. Learning to get context, build relationships with people on the other side and apologize and own your mistakes when you have misread a situation was invaluable to my growth as a lawyer.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Put pictures of your clients on the wall. It reminds you of why you do the work you do.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
My brother has had a rough year and loves his giant cat and has always loved chess. I got him a chess set when I was 19 and went to Russia. I was in some leadership program with 50 Americans and 50 Russians. We got to meet Gorbachev. I remember I bartered for a chess set there that he cherished. This Christmas, I found a set of cats vs. dogs that was hand-painted and thought it was time for a new set.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. The movie they made is OK but really told the legal story of one man who was innocent but imprisoned. The rest of the book told the stories of many others, most of who were not innocent but still not treated as we should treat people. The author’s ability to tell stories of imperfect people was powerful.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.