BABE #294: CANDICE COOK SIMMONS - Managing Partner, The Cook Law Group, PLLC
Candice is the managing partner at The Cook Law Group, PLLC where she’s spent almost a decade providing proactive and comprehensive business strategies for clients in the technology, entertainment and corporate sectors. With expertise ranging from litigation to intellectual property, media, telecommunications and beyond, she holds a deeply rooted belief in representing companies and individuals who operate with integrity, diversity and innovation at the forefront of their practice. Candice’s endless wisdom and insight are a direct reflection of years of hard work, dedication, and a whole lot of hustle.
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia (an area that is lovingly referred to as the S.W.A.T.S.)
Current city: New York City
Alma mater: The University of Virginia; Vanderbilt Law School
Degree: B.A.; Juris Doctorate
Very first job: I was an avid reader of “The Babysitters Club” series and was immediately drawn to the young female entrepreneurs. It came as no surprise that when I was in elementary school my first job was babysitting.
Hustle: Managing Partner, The Cook Law Group, PLLC
Babe you admire and why?
How much time do we have? I’m from the South, and the older I get the more understanding I have of the term “steel magnolias” as it pertains to this balance of natural internal beauty and stoic strength that is so often associated with the term. My mom, Dr. Betty Ann Cook, is amazing. She was raised by another extraordinary woman: my grandmother, Esther. My grandmother won medals in swimming in the Senior Olympics and was into wellness, moisturizing and women understanding finance before it was “on trend.” My mother and grandmother really did encourage me to go out and see the world and experience it in its complete fullness, and that has affected decisions I’ve made, ranging from adventures in solo travel, friendships I have fostered and the inner peace I work to protect. They encouraged “self-care” through finding joy in and from yourself, and also inspired me to care about community, kindness, honoring God (and honoring all of God’s children with humility) and family. In this world, with all we have going on around us, those lessons and the strength they encouraged mattered.
How do you spend your free time?
I spend my free time reading, writing, traveling and engaging in retreats that build my mind (Aspen Institute, Renaissance Weekend, Summit Series, NEXUS Global Summit). It’s so easy to fall into the trap of seeing the world the way your immediate community and peers see it, or as the media portrays things. Breaking away and using the spare time I have to challenge my perceptions and encourage a better understanding of the world around me has really proven to be meaningful, and I have never regretted it.
Favorite fictional female character?
Erica Kane, who was created by the brilliant Agnes Nixon and portrayed by the dynamic Susan Lucci on the ABC soap opera “All My Children,” remains my favorite fictional character (followed by the one and only Clair Huxtable).
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
Almond latte (medium or grande, depending on where I’m shopping). I’m a huge fan of Vigilante Coffee in Washington, D.C./Maryland, Everyday Espresso in New York City, and supporting the Rwandan company Kula Project.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Truthfully, if I knew it was my last meal I would probably be too anxious to eat. In the event I showed a willingness to consume anything, give me my grandmother’s berry dumpcake.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
Tell us about your hustle.
As the managing member of The Cook Law Group, PLLC, I have the opportunity to work with a variety of clients who are businesses, individuals and institutions looking for sharp, proactive and comprehensive business strategy along with innovative and prudent legal guidance across the business, technology and entertainment landscapes. My clients range from traditional brick-and-mortar stores, to national institutions, film, television, media executives and talent, Broadway stars, philanthropic organizations, B-corps and developers in FinTech, AI and blockchain. They are also solo entrepreneurs who are working to build businesses that matter and can effect change on a local, national and global scale, depending on the business. I’m passionate about intellectual property, so that often finds its way into my work in a variety of ways.
What does your typical workday look like?
The most important job an attorney can do is counsel. That’s the gig. [...] My process is more collaborative because I don’t traditionally do hourly billing, so I can truly spend time getting under the hood of an issue and whiteboard a strategy in the same way a think-tank would, without a client being concerned that every conversation is an expense, instead of a smart, strategic, exercise towards growth. Because of the diverse clientele I serve and the unique opportunity I’ve been afforded to delve deeply into those verticals, I can do predictive advisory services so many tend to overlook. I can discuss how films are being distributed on the blockchain or how sustainability measures can benefit from utilizing blockchain technology and the pros and cons, but I can also provide advice surrounding intellectual property and proactive measures that should be taken as we move deeper into artificial intelligence and 3D printing—changes that are occurring in our business landscape faster than our legislation can keep up with presently. Then of course, there are the privacy concerns every organization seems to face as data becomes currency in business. The world is moving swiftly and I’m not satisfied just having my clients keep up; I want them to remain ahead strategically. And, of course, there are days I’m drafting contracts, reviewing business strategy memos or attending a stage show with my client as the lead. There are no typical workdays.
Do you have any tips or advice for fellow babes at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey?
I want women who truly believe entrepreneurship is right for them (it’s not right for everyone, and that is 100 percent OK) to understand there is no such thing as an overnight success. The business of building a business is hard, and there’s no reason to fall for the myth that this is “easy,” “fun” or looks the way it does on television. It rarely does. Shonda Rhimes uses this imagery in her book and I love it: she describes creating as laying down the train tracks while the train is coming. That’s the perfect imagery of building a business. Just know that everyone has their opinion, but when it’s your business, these are your successes and your failures. You don’t have to make everyone else’s mistakes. Be brave. You’ll make your own, but you’ll make your own wins as well, and those victories are extremely sweet. Keep going and trust yourself.
What’s your advice for other women pursuing rigorous educational paths?
I had a very straightforward college and graduate school experience. I don’t regret my choice to go to law school directly after graduating from college (I graduated from college almost 20 years ago), but I do believe that depending on the focus of the degree one seeks to attain in graduate school, taking two years to work and travel is critically important. Graduate school should not be used as a holder to “figure things out.” That’s an expensive decision for indecision. The world does not need more [insert any type of professional title here]. The world, this country and your direct community needs more professionals with a worldview of empathy, compassion and understanding, along with perspective and respect. The world also needs you not to go into debt to save face while you figure it out. My advice to women with regard to education is to keep going and to embrace the journey of continued education. [...] Never stop learning and don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Run towards knowledge and take your friends with you on the journey when you can. Learning for the sake of learning and insisting on being open to learning about things that may not be obviously of interest to you is how we piece knowledge together.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
The only way we can create more equal, uplifting spaces for women is to acknowledge and dismantle the paradigms and systems that support, encourage and often reward inequality. There is no easy or quick fix, and I believe because work must be done to attain equity, far too many have resolved to do nothing or to have a brunch/picnic/weekend retreats for the marginalized groups and call it a day. The legal industry is going to face the same critical assessment other industries have faced, and if the institutionalized change does not happen independently, it will happen by uncomfortable client-led force. Millennials hire attorneys, too. The greatest transition of wealth is going to happen in the next few years and this demographic is asking the questions: Where are the women in leadership? What are your hiring practices? What is the culture when people work at your organization? Do you have a family leave policy and what is it? Is your leave policy used or are workers concerned about being fired for using what is arguably a part of their work agreement? Are women “faces” of your organization and if not, why? What is the ethos of your organization and is it reflected by the people that you hire? There is no reason—other than complacency—that these challenges aren’t being met head-on. Organizations are rightly asking the question, “If you can’t run your legal business and pivot in a way to face the world and landscape of today, why am I trusting you to advise me on what to do?” That’s a fair question.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
The legal community has so much work to do to achieve a gender ratio that is worth discussing, and the evolution of the ascension of women in the field of law is moving at a glacial speed. Actually, a little slower than that. Innovation requires innovators and innovators have to be in communities where that innovation can not only be heard, but executed. There are a variety of factors that affect women in the field of law and very few of the issues are directly related to the practice of law itself. It has to do with leadership (or lack thereof), the ability for organizations to pivot, an understanding of modern work, a recognition of talent and capitalizing on talent in real time and—while not every woman wants to get married and/or have children—gender equity in the field of law will have to recognize that some women may want those things, and so we can’t continue to encourage a society that wants women with families to work like they don’t have children and raise children like they don’t work. No one is winning this way. We must do better.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
I tend to look outside of my field for inspiration. I am consistently impressed with Lola West, Arlan Hamilton, Natalia Oberti Noguera, Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, Rachel Sklar, Debbie Allen, Tiffany Dufu, Rhonesha Byng, Rachel Cohen Gerrol and Ruth Ann Harnisch. They’ve all found ways to build and create organizations across a variety of industries that dismantle preconceived notions of “who can excel and why.” It’s fascinating to watch their leadership and ability to use community to drive, amplify and impact change. They each are their own masterclass in the way they build and develop business organizations and the way they build up and inspire other humans. I also love the tagline of entrepreneur Cindy Gallup: She describes herself as the “Michael Bay of business,” because she likes to blow things up. Yes! I love it. Can you beat that visual?
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Trust your instincts. Work ethic matters. There is no generic “final and best.” There is our own individual final and best, and it’s up for us to define it and for us to be true to it consistently. No one else has to understand. With that said, we must commit to our growth and development and not be afraid of change, loss, failure or one negative outcome in a landscape of possibility. We have to grow, and that comes from wins and losing and the best you can do is to keep going. When you screw up, own it and do better. When you win, celebrate. And if you’re in a place that is stifling your growth, recognize the saying says is true: “When a flower is not growing, we change the environment—not the flower.” Know when it’s time to move on so you can continue to grow.
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