TJ Lisa

Be nice and answer your e-mail—wisdom that has carried Lisa’s legal career of more than 20 years

TJ Lisa, Maxim Healthcare Services, Vice President & General Counsel

My first job was serving pizza on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. My boss at the time told all of the workers that being nice to everyone, from customers to coworkers, is the most important part of any job. I learned to adopt this as a philosophy in life. It’s stuck with me and taught me how to engage with people. It doesn’t matter who you’re dealing with—the top of the chain, the bottom, or somewhere in between. Respect is the key.

It’s so important to have some go-to external firms. In a crisis situation, you want to be able to call a lawyer who understands your business, knows the industry, and can name your key players. You want them to jump in right away to help you.

We have a rule in my department that we answer calls and e-mails in a timely manner. It’s simply unacceptable to ignore correspondence. You are entitled to balance in your life, but there’s no excuse for failing to acknowledge contact.

No one wants to deal with something scary in life or business.I’ve learned, though, that those scary times are often when we learn the most. At an early point in my career, I defended a company under a government investigation. Having that experience has really changed the way I think about my work, and I’m always extra diligent to make sure we are in compliance in all areas.

A general counsel has to be the voice of reason.Part of my job is to educate this company’s leaders about what they can and cannot do. CEOs and GCs in our space have been indicted. It’s a heavily regulated industry. I’m not going to be a roadblock. Our department is there to provide answers within the letter of the law. Our CEO, Brad Bennett, gets that. He knows that I’m here with him. We’ve worked in this space together for more than 18 years, and I think he’s the best health-care CEO out there.

As a general counsel, you wear different hats. You have to make sure the company always complies with the law, but you also have to move the business forward. The reply of “no” to a businessperson’s question doesn’t work. We like to say, “Yes, but …” You need to advise your business partners on what approaches they can take to still achieve their goal. This way, they will return for counsel and you know the right decisions are being made safely.

My career changed when I went in-house after being a litigator. I never knew this is where I would wind up. I had lawyers in my family when I was a girl and I loved hearing their stories. That’s how I first got interested in law, and I had the picture in my mind of trying cases and working as a litigator. In-house work is different, but I love being a contributing part of a company like Maxim that has a positive impact on people’s lives.

I’ve heard lots of advice that’s shaped my career, but one of the most important tips is to treat customer service as paramount.It doesn’t matter if you’re a GC or in private practice—your client wants an answer. If you don’t have the answer, let them know that you are working on it. Be responsive and engaging.

When it comes to hiring, culture is important. Of course I evaluate skills and experiences, but I want to know if a candidate will fit in culturally as well. They have to have energy, passion, and they have to be nice.

I actually don’t even have to consciously think about how to motivate my team. That’s because we’ve done the work to build something great here. Customer service is key. We remind each other of that often, and we all do our jobs as well as we can. We have good mutual respect, and we like coming to work each day. I am proud to be part of this team.