Building a Long-Term Sustainable, Values-Driven Legal Practice

It has been a while since I shared a “mentorship-related” piece, but I feel right now is an appropriate time. Given that I have spent much more time being a mentee and in fact even with my mentees having them listen to me rather than vice versa (remind to work on this), I would call this more an experience sharing piece than anything else.

More than a few individuals have emailed and called me  recently – asking me about my move; why I switched Firms, and how I balance work with extra-curricular commitments, married life, and the whole nine-yards of trying to keep those around me from telling me I’m a failure (which they do constantly, by the way). Truthfully, I don’t balance it all very well yet – leading to why I was up and contemplating at 3am in the middle of the night (or early in the morning as is more factually correct). I think I’ve finally had my “got it” moment, so let me try and lay it out a little here.

For the last few years, I admit that the part of me wanting to grow my practice/recognition/accomplishments list became more dominant than that part of me that was eager to learn more about the law, the community, and ultimately I was losing track of my life focus on helping others. This is ultimately what led me to move. The people I worked with were great – but I needed a wake up call to get myself back in the proper mindset.  My legal practice was along the pathway of becoming more about “my wins, my loses, my billings” than the situation of my clients. I needed to start fresh, and I am very grateful I have.

Moving involves embracing a new work environment, culture and accepting (very humbly) that one needs to continue to work on one’s craft to improve. For the many things I thought I knew this Firm has exposed me to a million more I don’t.  Coming here has exposed me to a level of legal expertise on complex legal issues that has (I will admit) challenged my own self-confidence in what I thought I knew.  It made me question whether I have played it too safe. Through these challenging emotions, however, it has also inspired me to pick up academic articles, legal journals, and start studying new concepts of law, and re-think what I was previously doing (albeit we were quite successful) to accept my shortcomings and knowledge gaps.

This humility has also been balanced with a gratitude towards my existing skill set. What I thought was simply “common-knowledge” and “tricks of the trade” has also proved incredibly helpful and indeed in high demand. I now see balancing high level legal analysis with a client-level understanding of practical know-how as truly a legal harmony.

Delving into social justice issues in new ways has also exposed me to a debate that I am sure many young lawyers in Vancouver are having. This debate is not only between work-life balance but also between self and others. This question is: how  dowe balance, especially in a city like Vancouver, our underlying human desire to do good and help others (regardless of what we get in return) with the demands of a growing economic unstable city – where everything becomes a value-trade off/opportunity cost proposition.

I am going to share three practice tip from one of my new mentors here. It is how he views it (in a summarized nutshell, although I am sure my paraphrasing is imperfect);

1. Accept only files that meet three criteria: (1) converge with an area of your passion or interest; (2) tackle a legal issue you are interested in; and (3) can provide financial re-reimbursement commensurate with an amount you feel necessary to obtain your life goals.

2. Create a six month plan, a one year plan, and a five year plan for how you want to get to where you are and how the pieces and files you take on.

3. Learn to say no. Saying yes to something that you are not passionate about is like saying no to someone else or an existing basket item you are passionate about. 

This move hasn’t been all easy – but the practice of law and the process of self-improvement isn’t. Just like going to the gym again after years of lying around on the couch is – one has to make measurable goals, be patient, yet persistent in executing the million steps.

I have also had to make sacrifices. I’ve decided against entering into the housing market at this time, my spouse and I have downsized where we live, and we treat every dollar we spend (just like every dollar we collect) with a greater reverence. I don’t allow myself to study fancy cars, nice real estate (this one can still be a tough one), bitcoins, or investments. I am probably not allowing my money to grow the way it can but I’d rather not put my mind of something that brings me little value. Many of my closest friends are involved in real estate and investments. When they discuss how much they make on a yearly basis, I try and tune myself out of those conversations and think beyond my year to year income-earned.

I’ve also stopped thinking about life as getting to a “peak.” There is no peak, the are just experiences. I have created ambitions driven not on myself but on those around me, my loved ones, my clients, and those I care about.

This is just a bit of a reflection of where I am at. Now that my lunch break is over it is time to get back to my client work!

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