This CEO was Jay-Z’s lawyer for 17 years—her best advice for women at work: 'Always try to get to the top'
Jennifer Justice, CEO of legal and startup services company the Justice Department, did not come from a family of high-powered CEOs herself.
"Grandfather was a logger, my dad worked at a store," she says. "All the women in my family were homemakers." But she knew she wanted more. Justice attended the University of Washington for undergrad and eventually decided of all of the professions she'd heard about (on TV, for example), lawyer seemed the most intriguing. Just before attending Cornell Law School, Justice realized she could lean into her love of the arts within the field.
"The grunge years were kind of popping off and I was really into music," she says. She realized she could become a music lawyer, negotiating publishing or sponsorship deals for artists, for example.
Justice ended up becoming rapper Jay-Z's lawyer in 1998 and representing him for 17 years. She also started negotiating contracts for executives, men and women alike. And it was doing that work where she saw firsthand the disparities between how the two are treated. An entry-level male director could be offered $130,000, while a senior level female director in the same department $90,000. Justice would hear excuses like "she's fine with it" or "well, her husband makes money. He's John Mayer's manager."
"That's really where my passion for representing women came from," she says.
Today, the Justice Department is a three-part business in which she offers legal services to big names like Salt-N-Pepa, invests in female-funded companies and sits on advisory boards and hosts a podcast called "Takin' Care of Lady Business," where she gives female founders advice. She preferred not to share her age as she's seen that kind of openness hurt women in business in the past.
As someone who's represented people at various levels of the corporate ladder, Justice has a wealth of knowledge about work. Here's her best career advice.
Find the tribe that will 'give you real career advice'
First, Justice recommends finding your support group within the work world.
"Find the tribe of people around you that will actually give you real career advice," she says. "Not your friends that you grew up with, not people you just want to have a drink with, but people who will challenge you and be your biggest cheerleaders."
These can be people at your workplace or mentors from school, for example. Justice also recommends joining professional networking groups like Ladies Get Paid, The What Alliance, the Wie Suite, HeyMama or the Female Founder Collective. Each caters to different age groups or types of help women need and offers opportunities to meet people with experience.
'Always try to get the top, always'
When it comes to getting job offers, whether they be one-off gigs or long-term, take your time responding, says Justice.
"You don't have to respond right then," she says about the moment you get the offer. "You can go, like, 'you know what, I'm going to think about this.'" Then take a day, consider what your priorities are, and do some research if you haven't already about what's a typical offer for this kind of job.
When it comes to getting back to them, "Always try to get the top, always," she says. By the time an employer is ready to make you an offer, they already know they want you. If you're giving them a sense that you yourself are still considering other options, it places more pressure on them to potentially sweeten up the offer.
Suddenly, for them, "It's like, wait, we have to get this person," she says.
'Remember, this is business'
Finally, Justice would remind women to try not to get emotionally attached to your job.
"Remember, this is business," she says. "You're not the founder. You can be replaced at any time." You don't owe them overtime and if you ask for a raise or are interviewing for a job and they don't have the budget for the salary you've asked for, "that's not your problem," she says. It might be time to move on.
Thinking in this way can be difficult to do, so Justice recommends trying an exercise. Think about the thing you love most in the world. "If you have kids, then it's your kids, if it's your pet, it's your pet, if it's your boyfriend, your partner, whatever that is," she says, "your job is taking time away from them."
"Use it, literally, as just the place that you're making money until you find your next place," she says.
'Emily in Paris' actor Ashley Park's career advice: 'You're allowed to dream big'
Self-made millionaire Bethenny Frankel's top career advice: Focus on 'working hard' in your 20s, not relationships
Entrepreneur and TED Talks speaker's best career advice: 'Suck slightly less than everyone else'
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter