May 25, 2021. The Monday after Victoria Day. The day that our firm was officially open for business. What a first year it has been. Allow me a moment to celebrate.
I woke up this morning feeling rested. Peaceful. Happy. Proud. A very long way from where I was when I made the decision to "go on my own."
As the firm name suggested, I did not expect to work alone for long. I am too social and enjoy having peers around. I had barely hung my virtual shingle when I received an email application from my first hire - lawyer Leslie Anne St. Amour. Leslie Anne may be a new lawyer, but she brought knowledge and experience beyond what I could have ever imagined and has already established herself as an excellent investigator and advocate who has her own client base and referral sources.
Not long afterwards we hired our first student Sarah DelVillano who will be joining us again shortly for articling. Wanda Michie, my former law clerk in Barrie, reached out to inquire about our virtual team and I hired her immediately as our law clerk and office manager. Wanda is an integral part of our team, a reliable partner for our clients and a WM for all of us.
Our most recent hire, Andrew Paterson, was another reunion of sorts. Andrew and I worked together extensively while he was an articling student and junior associate. I was his mentor. We had a number of "wins" as a team, including a big one in Federal Court for a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. Andrew and I had a Zoom chat in December of 2021 planning to generally discuss his career and options that he had when I ended up hiring him. I do not know how we would have handled the workload over the last 5 months without him.
We also started expanding our team in untraditional ways. We now can offer our clients and network assistance with Estates Litigation and Health Law thanks to bringing on John McIntyre and Ellen Brohm and their firms in association. We are all enjoying the flexibility that sharing resources, staff, associates and expertise brings to the table while maintaining low overheads and the associated lifestyle benefits.
We could not be where we are today without the outstanding trust and loyalty that our clients have in us. I never imagined that, in the first year, we would have opened 165 files. We not only expanded our number of files from my existing clients, but we brought in significant new clients and dramatically increased the referrals received from members of the legal community and have been hired by other law firms to assist with their complex cases. This venture has exceeded my expectations.
What have I learned from this first year? I think a few things that can be helpful to both lawyers struggling to find a path in this profession as well as law firms struggling to maintain their people. Here is a short list:
Put your own oxygen mask on first: You cannot assist your clients, provide mentorship to others, run a law firm or be there for your family if you are personally struggling. As lawyers, we are used to giving so much of ourselves to others. Being forced to briefly pause my career as I worked through significant mental health challenges was the best thing that I could have done for my career. I should have taken care of myself far sooner. The pause made me realize, soon after a brief return, that working the way that I had been in the past was never going to work. It was a terrible experience to go through but it has led to great things.
People second: Hire great people and the work will follow. Keep great people happy and they will tell their friends. Give great people space and they will grow their own practice.
Quality over quantity: We are not a high volume law firm. We focus our attention on servicing significant, repeat clients. We also take on files that are of interest to us and work for clients that we like. We build our relationships based on mutual respect. We have started rewarding our lawyers and staff for saying "no" to work that does not excite us.
Other law firms are not our competition: We have gained a lot by working collaboratively with other law firms to assist their clients. We get far more referrals now than I did when in Big Law - likely because we do not often have conflicts and we respect existing client relationships. Treat other law firms as your allies, not as your enemies.
You can create community and engagement remotely: We are 100% remote but I feel more connected with our team than I could have ever imagined. Law firms who are willing to embrace remote work and who adapt the way they work to enhance the remote work culture will win the current battle for talent. I am committed to hiring the best people - I do not care where they live.
The secret to happiness is low overhead: We do not have an expensive office, large library, an army of non-billable staff, fancy art, designer chairs in the lobby, or any number of things that most law firms spend money on. The advantage of low overhead is that we are able to pay our people fairly but without having to work the hours required to pay for all of the "stuff".
I would like to take a moment to thank Leslie Anne, Wanda, Andrew, and Sarah for their hard work since joining the Durant Barristers team. I also thank, from the bottom of my heart, our clients who trust us with their legal challenges and the members of the legal community for embracing us. I cannot wait to see what year 2 will bring.
May 25, 2022