1. Tell me a little about your law firm/practice.
AWE Legal is a business law firm focused on Athletes/Artists, Wellness Professionals and Entrepreneurs (AWE). We offer some intellectual property, but primarily we work to help support and set up solo entrepreneurs and small to medium sized businesses. My goal was to make law accessible and approach legal services in a way that people in these creative spaces would feel comfortable with. Everything is drafted in plain English, I work to brand my client’s agreements and we are paperless. I have worked in these spaces for several years now and know the pain-points and realities within the industries, and so I am able to truly tailor contracts to my clients’ needs. I really want people to feel comfortable speaking with their lawyer, while providing quality service. I also do a lot of education, workshops, podcasts and blogs in order to provide resources to my community.
2. Why did you start your own firm? How did you make this decision?
I never thought I’d start my own firm, but I didn’t find a space for me in any traditional law firm. I knew I wanted to work with like-minded people and my clients truly are my community. I’m a fitness instructor, an entrepreneur and a creative, and so it brings me a lot of joy to be able to serve my community knowing the ins and outs of these industries. It was important for me to be authentic and I wanted to create a legal practice that I would want if I needed a lawyer. Since this didn’t exist from what I had seen, I was forced to create my own version. No suits, no confusing legalese, but genuine human connection and professional execution. I also have a background in strategy and marketing and so being able to brand a new law firm was exciting to me, plus the freedom of pursuing my side-passions and being in charge of my schedule.
3. What are some of the benefits of running your own firm?
For me, having the freedom to work from anywhere is very appealing along with being able to set my own schedule. Of course, being the boss means you’re always on call, but at least I can set my hours, go for a run mid-day if I need that, and I just love the freedom it’s allowed me. Not having to ask permission about new ideas is also great, but I do have mentors, colleagues and an amazing assistant and do think it’s important to keep some sort of ‘team’ element so that you’re getting feedback from other people too.
4. What are some of the challenges of running your own firm? How have you tried to overcome them?
It can be very overwhelming running your own firm because you’re responsible for everything, not just the client work. I’ve found the business-side is that aspect nobody teaches you in law school, and so having proper systems in place has been a game changer. Having client management and accounting in place is hugely important to manage billing, client files, document storage and time tracking to name a few. It can also be lonely to run your own firm if you work from home and don’t have any colleagues, which was my case for the first two years. I would recommend having mentors and colleagues to discuss things with and doing other social activities (if possible) to maintain the social interactions. That’s why for me, teaching fitness classes in the evening was such a great balance. The other challenges are the usual ones that come with running a business; dealing with difficult clients, chasing payments, staying on top of book-keeping, managing your time properly, etc. I’ve definitely learned to set expectations early and having an assistant has been hugely helpful to off-load some of those tasks and administrative work that became so time consuming.
5. What advice would you give to a lawyer thinking about starting their own firm?
I would advise them to consider why they want to start their own firm and to get a good understanding of the back-end of running a law firm, so, the business set-up. And I would have systems in place from the get-go in order to keep things running smoothly.
I really love Clio, which I just started using last year, for client management and billing. I also rely on a lot of technology to make my life and my clients’ lives easier, such as electronic signature software for my retainers.
It’s also been fun to use social media, particularly my Instagram @awelegal, to connect with my community and share tips and blogs and any speaking engagements I’m part of.
I would also say be patient and expect highs and lows in business. It definitely takes time to build a reputation and a firm, but just maintain your core values and quality service and it will grow. There’s also no shame in having a few streams of income and taking on other work while your own firm takes off. Don’t give up if you’re offering a unique service because your authenticity will resonate with the right clients!
**September 2, 2020 UPDATE*** Darielle has also just started a new business called AWE Contracts. AWE Contracts is "an online shop that makes lawyer-drafted reliable contract templates accessible to entrepreneurs across Canada. It's a simple download and customization process, and there are contracts tailored for many industries (no lawyers involved)."
Thank you Darielle for taking the time to participate in this series and for sharing what you have learned!
ICYMI our previous posts featured Darlene Tonelli, Amy Grubb, Emilia Coto, Karen Kwan Anderson, Shamim Ara, Mitchell Rose, Lisa Feldstein, and Ellen Low.
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