Meet this week's talented law firm founder, Laura Chaves Paz of Chaves Paz Legal and read about her advice on how to successfully start your own law firm:
1. Tell me a little about your law firm/practice.
Chaves Paz Legal is a boutique law practice based in Ottawa, Canada. We help our clients navigate the challenges of crossing cultures and legal systems with ease. We provide legal advice to professionals, businesses, families and students on all matters relating to the immigration and citizenship process in Canada. We also have expertise in contract law, public and private international law, corporate governance, public procurement and legal research for lawyers.
2. Why did you start your own firm? How did you make this decision?
As an immigrant who arrived in Montreal in 2006, I faced several hurdles to establishing my law career in Canada. Overcoming the challenges of going back to law school after having practiced for more than decade in Argentina and in Washington D.C. made me a more resilient, and empathetic, lawyer. Both qualities that are essential in starting your own firm.
After finishing my articling and maternity leave, I found that establishing myself in the job market was easier said than done. Not everyone recognized what a Latina lawyer with many years of international experience and an accent could bring to the table.
So partly due to these challenges, and my own desire to do something that would give me flexibility and allow me to help others like me, I felt it was best to start my own firm.
I’m not afraid to say that at first, it was scary. I was anxious about all the same questions anybody who starts a business is consumed by: Will I have clients? If I have doubts about something, who do I consult? Do I have the experience to be on my own?
After several years on my own, I now know that I made the right decision, even though these questions never truly go away. With the experience I’ve gained, I’ve learnt to enjoy being my own boss and to work on files that I like.
3. What are some of the benefits of running your own firm?
The biggest benefit is the flexibility. The possibility of working from home—or from Argentina when I visit my parents—really gives me peace of mind. The flexibility in choosing the files that I want, and to be able to focus on the areas that I am most passionate about, is certainly the biggest benefit for me.
While I have very busy periods where I work many hours to support my clients, I also have down times where I can focus on my family and my hobbies.
4. What are some of the challenges of running your own firm? How have you tried to overcome them?
As a service provider, the biggest challenging is client relationships. As you build a reputation and learn from experience, you can’t be very selective. But over time, it’s important to ensure there is a good right fit with the clients you’re working with. As a sole practitioner, "who is your client and how do you get along with them" is much more important than when you work in-house or for a big firm with many lawyers who contribute to a file.
I was fortunate to benefit from the advice of a mentor, who was a senior attorney at one of the largest firms in Canada. Although his reality was different, he helped me define who my clients should be given my personality, experience and way of working. This has helped me build trusted relationships with my clients which is critical to obtaining positive results.
Another challenge for independent lawyers is the administration, invoicing, and the numerous obligations we have as members of the Law Society. Paperwork is certainly not my favourite part of my job! Best way to overcome this is building a strong network to share tips about practice management, and even just to share frustrations and fears and how we manage the self-doubt that inevitably pops up.
As lawyers, we can tend to be perfectionists, and to set high expectations for ourselves that often don’t match the reality of our daily lives. It is important to be able to talk about these issues with other lawyers.
One of the best things I did was to serve on the Board of the Canadian Hispanic Bar Association. It gave me confidence, brought me together with peers who had a similar background and helped me find my place in the Canadian legal world.
5. What advice would you give to a lawyer thinking about starting their own firm?
My advice is to take some time to think about whether you understand the pros and cons to be an independent lawyer and practice on your own. Talk to other sole practitioners, build a support network and make conscious efforts to keep in touch. This is more important now as we’re living through a pandemic.
And I can’t stress this enough—keep the cost of your practice as low as a you can so you can focus on client relationships. You’ll get so much more return on investment from the time you spend on nurturing your network and going the extra mile for your initial clients, than you will from an office with an expensive address and high overhead.
Thank you Laura for taking the time to share some of your valuable advice.
ICYMI our previous posts featured Diane Ulman, Sara Forte, Darielle Teitelbaum Darlene Tonelli, Amy Grubb, Emilia Coto, Karen Kwan Anderson, Shamim Ara, Mitchell Rose, Lisa Feldstein, and Ellen Low. Stay tuned for more profiles coming soon....
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