Welcome to our new blog series profiling lawyers who have struck out on their own and built successful law firms. We hope this series will provide helpful advice for those either thinking of going solo, or, for lawyers who already have their own firms but are looking for new ideas or information.
Our first profile features Ellen Low of Ellen Low Employment Law:
1. Tell me a little about your law firm/practice.
I am an employment and human rights lawyer. My practice runs the full panoply from contract review and exit terminations to specific questions about statutory compliance, etc. I also assist with general human resources questions as well, such as dealing with internal human resources departments, progressive discipline issues and providing advice on how to respond to internal disputes and other issues.
I work remotely for the most part, although I do have two physical locations in metro Toronto. I have an admin/law clerk and a couple of associates who work for me remotely.
2. Why did you start your own firm? How did you make this decision?
The decision to open my own firm was made over a few years and was certainly not a decision that I made lightly. At the beginning of my career, running my own firm was never on my radar. But as I became a senior associate and then a partner, I got to the point where I needed a different challenge. I felt very comfortable with the law and with legal strategy. I had the experience and I felt that I could do things a little bit differently. Not only did I want to do things a little bit differently, I wanted a little more control over the files that I was taking, the clients I was working with, and the way I was working with them. And, I wanted (what I thought at the time was ground-breaking) a practice that was predominately paperless and agile and to some degree remote. To be able to work anywhere and to serve clients from all over was a new thing for me.
3. What are some of the benefits of running your own firm?
One of the major benefits, for me, in running my own law firm is that I get to choose who I work with, both in terms of clients as well as staff, and that is a really important thing. Other benefits would include more flexibility, which I appreciate. But flexibility doesn’t necessarily mean I am working less - it means I get to be a little more creative in the way that I work.
I am also challenged and stimulated by the different things that I am working on. I now have a small business and I can relate more to my small business clients. It’s not just 100% law all the time. It also includes business strategy and developing and testing out different technology, which I’m finding really fun. I like the idea of figuring out what sort of software I can work with so that everything is automated. I can now generate electronic invoices which makes it easier for my clients. My clients can just click a link and pay the invoice. My clients can also book their meetings electronically. When working with contemporary clients, they expect that. They expect a faster turnaround. They expect to be able to book things immediately and not have to call an admin person who then must talk to me to check my availability. I like the idea of having control over how I run my business to best serve my clients.
4. What are some of the challenges of running your own firm? How have you tried to overcome them?
There is no one else to blame! There are moments where I have uncertainty, for example, over a strategy on a file, or, uncertainty over what is the most appropriate or expeditious docketing software. And all of that can be overwhelming when you are also running an active law practice at the same time.
In terms of how I overcome these challenges, I have to remind myself that I still have what I call my “Brain Trust” that I can reach out to - I have other people I can work with who are either doing the same thing because they have their own small law firm or are experts in their field. So, I remind myself that I can, and should, and do, reach out to those people for mentorship and guidance.
5. What advice would you give to a lawyer thinking about starting their own firm?
Write a business plan. Pretend like you are applying for a bank loan and you need to convince a bank to give you money based on your business plan. In my view, if you can think through all the issues in a business plan, then you will be in a better position to know what you are getting in to with respect to running your own firm. Without this plan, people can be a little overwhelmed by everything they need to do.
Another suggestion is to track your own self-generated files and collections for a little while before you decide go out on your own. This may give you a little more information on whether you are able to generate enough income to survive.
These two things, writing a business plan and looking critically at your own numbers may give you some additional peace of mind. I did both of these things, but I’ve always been very metric driven. This helped with my decision to start my own firm. I didn’t want to move firms, I liked the firm that I was at, and I didn’t want to go in-house because that didn’t appeal to me. Then a friend of mine asked “Why don’t you open your own firm?” My immediate reaction was “Ugh, I don’t want to do that.” But because I was always interested in metrics, and had always tracked my own data, one night I sat down and started crunching the numbers. Because I had this data,I could model year-over-year self-generated growth. That was helpful. This told me that even if I only had the files that I self-generated, I could be fine. If I could control things like my overhead and expenses because of the way I operate my firm, then based on numbers and data, things were going to be fine.
Also, talk to people. Talk to as many as you can who have started their own firmand really listen to what they are saying. There are upsides and downsides. Running your own business while practicing law is not for everyone. You have to know yourself and whether or not you are entrepreneurial. If you are, this may be a good fit for you. But if you are not necessarily entrepreneurial, and you’ve spoken with a bunch of people and you are of the view that the downsides outweigh the possible upsides, then running your own firm may not be for you.
Thank you Ellen for taking the time to participate in this blog series, we love your answers and are sure many lawyers will find them helpful.
Stay-tuned for some more profiles coming soon.....
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We've been working on something cool behind the scenes at Flex Legal. We are super excited to announce the start of our new blog series called: "Secrets of Success: Starting Your Own Law Firm".
The series will feature successful lawyers who have started their own solo practice or firm. Each profiled lawyer will explain why they chose to start their own firm, discuss the benefits and challenges of running their own practice, and provide tips and advice to any lawyer thinking of striking out on their own.
If you have ever been curious about going solo, or perhaps you are already on your own and are looking for some helpful advice, this is the blog series for you.
Have you started your own firm? Do you have some advice to give? Please reach out to be profiled in our series: firstname.lastname@example.org (please use the subject line - "Blog Series")
Are you looking for some law student help with your busy law firm but not necessarily a full-time law student? We have a solution for you.
While Flex Legal provides advanced freelance legal services (our freelance lawyers have between 5-20 years of post-call experience) we wanted to introduce you to a new freelance service by law students at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law (Common Law). With the global pandemic many students lost their summer jobs or had their hours reduced significantly. To assist these students, the University has created a program to connect law firms and students through freelance opportunities. According to the University:
“This initiative pairs employers in need of short-term support with students eager to build on their practical experiences. The Career and Professional Development Centre will post freelance or short-term contract opportunities for law students. These contracts could, for example, be for a single piece of research, remunerated on an hourly basis, with a set number of hours allocated to the work.”
A student can also assist a lawyer or law firm with: social medial marketing, blog post drafting, website updates, client outreach, customer satisfaction surveys, etc.
We thought this would be a great opportunity to introduce our clients to this initiative and encourage you to take advantage of it if you have student level work to outsource.
You can find more information on the initiative here.
If you would like to post a short-term opportunity for students, you can fill out the form at the following link. The University then makes the information available to their students. The University will not post unpaid positions.
For any questions, please feel free to contact Chantal Riendeau (email@example.com) at the Career and Professional Development Centre.
This service is provided directly through the University of Ottawa. Flex Legal is not profiting from this initiative. We are happy to do our part, give back to the community, and support these students who need our help. Flex's founder, Erin Cowling, is also the Regional Alumni Advisor (Toronto) for the University of Ottawa (Faculty of Law).
Not sure how to be a better ally? Not sure where to start? Start with educating yourself.
The Law Times has published a great list of Resources for Lawyers on How to Be an Ally to Racialized Colleagues.
We also recommend this article by lawyer Meg Chinelo Egbunonu: "Dear Workplace Ally...From Your Black Colleague on Racism Lite".
Sign up for the (free for members) upcoming Ontario Bar Association webinar "How to be a Better Ally by Design" on June 22, 2020. The webinar will include hands-on self assessment exercises which are designed "to deepen and build our capacity to be Allies for Diversity and Inclusion within the legal profession". Those who attend will "[b]enefit from the experience and insight of our faculty as you broaden your knowledge base and start implementing practical tools into your firm or practice that support you as a champion of diversity and inclusion."
If you are looking to donate and support organizations that fight anti-Black racism and police brutality in Canada check out this list and article by Huffington Post Canada.
Here is a working document of scaffolded anti-racism resources, compiled by Anna Stamborski, Nikki Zimmermann, and Bailie Gregory.
Review some of the legal organizations' statements released in response to anti-Black violence (thank you to Juliet Knapton for compiling the list):
Canadian Association of Black Lawyers
South Asian Bar Association
Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers
Women's Legal Education and Action Fund
Ontario Bar Association
Canadian Bar Association
Arab Canadian Lawyers Association
Roundtable of Diversity Associations
American Bar Association
American Immigration Lawyers Association
National Asian Pacific American Bar Associations
(American) National Bar Association
Instagram post below from @candacereels and @femalecollective.
We are bringing back our curated monthly lists of lawyer networking events for you!
It probably goes without saying that all of these events are now "virtual". Despite the lack of in-person events, it is still important for lawyers to keep up their relationships and networking skills. Increasing your connections and networks helps with finding referral sources, mentors, new jobs, and building your personal brand. Check out the virtual social events below:
VIRTUAL EVENTS JUNE 2020
JUNE 5, 2020 – 12:00pm-12:45pm. (Occurring every Friday) Toronto Lawyers Association, Friday Colleague Connections. FREE for members. Lawyers, licensing candidates and law school students are welcome.
JUNE 9, 2020 – 5:00pm-6:00pm. Ontario Bar Association, Labour & Employment Law Social Tuesday on Zoom Event. Registration required. FREE.
JUNE 11, 2020 – 6:00pm. The Advocates’ Society, End of Term Dinner at Home, (plus virtual “After Party”), Members Only. $25.00 (Proceeds to Pro Bono Canada)
JUNE 13, 2020 – 2:00pm. Ontario Bar Association, The Grape: Online Virtual Wine Tasting. Must register by June 5th to ensure wine is delivered in time! Members Only: $180 + $14.50 shipping.
JUNE 16, 2020 – 12:00pm-1:00pm. The Women’s Law Association of Ontario, Ladies Who Still Lunch – A Virtual Check-In. Register in advance. FREE for Members.
JUNE 16, 2020 – 12:30pm-1:30pm. Ontario Trial Lawyers Association: Lawyer Virtual Roundtable, Members Only. FREE.
JUNE 25, 2020 – 6:00pm-8:00pm. Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) Annual Speed Mentoring Event. Free. Must register by June 22.
Know of any other upcoming virtual social or networking events for lawyers? Let us know! And we hope to "see" you at some of these events soon.
(Please double check dates/times/prices directly on the associations’ websites as this information may change).
Are you a busy lawyer looking for experienced help?