The woman behind Center City Philadelphia’s premiere notary company
Judith Lawrence started her entrepreneurial journey as the founder of Center City Notary, after working decades in the legal field.
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Losing your job unexpectedly can be a very difficult period in a person’s life.
That was the situation Judith Lawrence found herself in more than a decade ago. And looking back, it also became a very pivotal moment in her life.
After spending decades working as a legal secretary and paralegal in Philadelphia, she figured that was going to be her career path forever.
But in 2007, a big downsizing by the law firm she worked for resulted in her being let go.
“I was devastated,” Lawrence said during an interview with AL DÍA. “I had no life plan other than to be there.”
Working in the legal profession was where her focus was, it was the area where she spent years honing her craft, picking up information and she anticipated working in the field indefinitely. But all of a sudden, she had to pivot.
“It was a pretty bleak time for me because I just didn’t know what I was going to do with the rest of my life,” she noted.
About eight months later, Lawrence needed some papers signed and notarized and called a notary company to complete the job for her.
A notary was sent to handle all the paperwork, and after paying the notary for her services, an idea was sparked in Lawrence’s mind.
“I said, ‘if I just paid all this money, why can’t somebody be paying me?’” she recalled, having had prior experience notarizing papers at the law firms she previously worked for.
The following day, Lawrence printed out a business card and made the decision to become a notary.
Initially, she anticipated just being a “notary in the neighborhood,” but soon grew to become much more.
In 2015, Lawrence founded Center City Notary, LLC, a notary company that provides a wide array of services that include general notarizations, apostilles, remote notarization, auto tags, deeds, wills and much more.
“And the rest is history,” she said. “In the second half of my life, I found this great career.”
Moving from one career field to another was not easy, but Lawrence credits the law firm experience for helping make the transition easier.
Originally from Camden, New Jersey, before moving to Cherry Hill, Lawrence was always a hard worker and someone who had a reputation as a trustworthy employee.
During her years of experience as a legal secretary and paralegal, Lawrence picked up a ton of experience and information that proved to be very valuable in the long run.
“I developed a very savvy sense of business,” she said.
Lawrence noted how working in a law firm for so long before the prominence of computers really aided her level of savviness. It’s an experience that she feels that young women entering the field today will never be able to endure in the same way because of the reliance of computers.
“Working in a law firm was a college education,” she said. “I have a very good business sense, and I learned it from listening and learning... sitting in conference rooms and listening to the attorneys.”
Despite having more than 30 years of working experience, a solid resume and great references, Lawrence knew it was unlikely she’d get another job at a law firm when she was initially let go.
However, her values of hard work and good decision-making, as well as her traits of being very friendly and helpful, have paid huge dividends as she entered into this new field of work, and later into entrepreneurship.
Being able to work on her own and be her own boss has taught Lawrence many things.
“It has taught me that it’s never too late,” she said. “You just have to be out there and you have to make things happen for yourself.”
Whether it was having to walk a customer through the process step-by-step, or adjusting to the ongoing pandemic, Lawrence always makes sure to get the job done efficiently and to the highest of standards.
“I am very smart. But I am also not afraid of hard work. I work all the time, and I am willing and have been willing since the very beginning to put my whole self into this business,” she said.
Since becoming a notary, Lawrence has also dedicated herself to the notary community, both locally and nationally.
Over the years, Lawrence has felt very fortunate to learn a lot of things and develop many great skills.
“I decided that it would be good to share it, and it would be good to help people,” she said.
In 2018, Lawrence created the Lawrence Institute for Notaries, a teaching institute and mentoring program for aspiring notaries and apostilles.
The same year, she co-authored a book entitled, “Make Your Business Our Business,” a step-by-step guideline to starting a notary business. The book was recently re-written with the changed standards that have occurred in the years since it was first published.
Lawrence’s belief is that there is enough business out there for everyone to succeed, and she enjoys playing a role in helping others reach their goals.
In addition to those endeavors, Lawrence is also an ambassador to the National Notary Association and has spoken at events all across the country. She is also a member of the Pennsylvania Notary Association and the American Association of Notaries.
A common piece of advice Lawrence often gives to others who may want to start a business or change career paths is to do their research.
It’s also very important for the individual to be in tune with their personal lives and their situation.
As someone who is single and without children, Lawrence is able to work long hours or on weekends without having to account for someone else. Others with a family to care for will have to be able to weigh and consider that when making tough business decisions.
“You need to figure out what kind of time you can put in, what kind of money you could put in,” she said. “You need to be absolutely sure and willing to make a commitment of time and money.”
While she never planned or envisioned owning or starting a business, Lawrence has learned a lot during this journey and is always willing to lend a helping hand to those who may be looking into that path.
“The moral of this story is that if you’re willing to work hard, and you’re willing to put your whole self into it, there are wonderful opportunities out there. You just have to find them,” she said.
“You have to be smart enough that if the opportunity comes, you have to let it in.”