Meet today's featured solo lawyer, Shamim Ara. I met Shamim through a Facebook group for Solo and Small Firm Canadian Women Lawyers started by my friend and fellow Flex lawyer Amy Grubb.
Shamim's profile will be helpful for newly called lawyers thinking of starting their own law firm early in their legal career. Read on for Shamim's story and advice:
1. Tell me a little about your law firm/practice.
My practice, Ara Law Professional Corporation, focuses on real estate, immigration, and wills & estates. I started my solo practice on October 21, 2019, less than a year after being called to the Bar in January of 2019. I currently share space with a more senior lawyer. Prior to opening my own firm, I was a legal assistant and then associate at a small firm that also practiced in these areas.
2. Why did you start your own firm? How did you make this decision?
There are so many factors for why I started my own firm. There were many challenges while working with others in association prior to going out on my own. There were different mind sets, systemic discrimination, billable hours, and splitting of fees. Most of all, it was not possible to work independently, and it was stressful as well. I had higher expectations than the position I was in as an associate and I knew I could obtain a better income on my own. The senior lawyer that I share space with approached me and encouraged me to start my own firm. She offered to assist me, not only with offering to share her office, but also as a mentor. This provided me with more confidence as a new sole practitioner. She gave me a lot of guidance on setting up my business, my practice, my trust account, etc.
At the beginning I did not have any clients, but day by day I am getting new clients and my practice is slowly building up. I was not able to invest a lot into my firm at first. I’ve purposefully not spent a lot of money. I was not able to buy all the stuff that some people would buy, for example, I didn’t pay a designer for a logo or a website. But now that I have clients coming in the door I can focus on these things.
I am still organizing and growing my practice, but after seven months, I know I made the right decision, even though others may think it is a risky one!
3. What are some of the benefits of running your own firm?
I like that I can work from anywhere and at anytime. I can also plan my work free of interference. I have more control over my time. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and running my own firms helps to build my confidence. Also, your clients can be inspired by you and have more confidence in you when you are running your firm yourself.
4. What are some of the challenges of running your own firm? How have you tried to overcome them?
Sometimes issues come up that I have no prior experience with, and it takes time to figure them out.
Also, financial insecurity can be a challenge. I have to carefully track my expenses due to a limited budget. I try to work on a priority basis to secure my client’s interest and need basic expenses.
Getting clients can be a challenge. To overcome this challenge, I am working on my marketing strategy so people will get to know me more and refer more clients my way. I try to network in my community. Also, because I focus on real estate I am trying to connect with realtors and keep in touch with them, so they remember me, and hopefully refer clients to me. You have to go to where your clients are.
5. What advice would you give to a lawyer thinking about starting their own firm?
I recommend starting with a checklist. Sit down and plan out everything you need to do and set up before you start your practice. Specifically, think about business location, software, accounting, practice management and marketing strategy. I think theses are the basic things one should consider before they can start their own firm. I contacted Practice Management at the Law Society of Ontario and they were able to point me to a lot of resources.
You have to be mentally prepared to have no clients and no income at first. But think of it as an investment that will eventually pay off. You will see the fruits of your labour. You will find those paying clients. Just have patience and work relentlessly.
Overall, I would recommend going out on your own to any lawyer who is interested. You can explore and discover what area of law you are best suited to. You have flexibility to explore other areas if the ones you choose are not working out. If you work for a firm, you have to do the type of work or files that they give you. On your own you can choose what interests you. You know what you want to do, and you know what you don’t want to do. For example, I tried family law, but I found that to be very stressful for me, so I decided not to practice that in my own firm. Instead I can focus on what I am good at and enjoy, real estate, immigration and wills and estates.
Thank you Shamim for taking the time to participate in this series. While Shamim works on her website, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 647.895.7975.
ICYMI our previous posts featured Mitchell Rose, Lisa Feldstein, and Ellen Low. Stay tuned for more profiles coming soon....
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