Last night I worked on a trademark file. It was a disaster. The application had been filed incorrectly and the Trademarks Office had cited a long list of issues and demanded a response 9 years ago. It seems that for some reason no one had looked at the file for quite some time. I needed to figure out if the application was even still alive. It was beyond stressful.
When I practiced law, I was fairly good at doing the many things that a lawyer has to do in order to deliver great client service. I always offered to meet at the client’s office. I listened carefully to the clients to ascertain their goals and concerns. I insisted that I work to a deadline and if the client did not volunteer a deadline, I prompted them to set one. I frequently made the deadline on Monday so if I got overwhelmed with work, I could finish the project up on the weekend. I almost always met my deadline, and on the rare occasion that I was having difficulty doing so, I would call and explain the situation and give the client options, such as having me work all night to meet the original deadline, extending the deadline or having an associate take over the project.
I met Maria when she landed her first job as an associate at a medium sized law firm in the Toronto area. She was capable, intelligent, and eager to learn. However, just how hard lawyers work in law firms seemed to catch her by surprise. I guess that they don’t tell you about that in law school.
There is a steep learning curve in the area of law in which Maria commenced her practice. A great deal of training takes place in the first year or two, after which a good associate will hit their stride and become downright useful. Maria was a good associate. She persevered and right on schedule as she approached her second anniversary at the firm, Maria was becoming downright productive.
As often seems to happen, just as she was becoming valuable to her firm, Maria chose to leave. She departed for greener pastures just shy of her third anniversary at the firm.
Some forty years ago, I knew a young lawyer in her third year of practice. My acquaintance had just given birth to her first child. She took what was then considered to be a lengthy maternity leave of 6 months (3 months being standard) before returning to work at a mid-sized downtown Toronto law firm, where she was the only female associate in her department and one of only three female lawyers in the firm. Having taken such a long maternity leave, the firm looked at her as a slacker.
I used to be the type of lawyer who woke up early and headed into the office. On my commute, my head would be full of ideas about my files, firm management, and marketing. I would call and leave messages for my staff and associates or call clients and referral sources to say hello and stay ‘top of mind.’ My commute was part of my workday, and I tried to make it as productive as possible. When the calls were about files, I would be sure to remember to docket the time when I got back to the office. I would do the same on the way home and put my dockets in remotely when I arrived.
I first met Lauren when he was a partner in a large Buffalo law firm which had a significant cross-border practice with an office in Toronto. Lauren practiced business law, although by the time that I met him he was spending a great deal of time on business development. His job involved significant travel between Buffalo and Toronto. Lauren was also quite active in an international legal association and travelled internationally as well.
I once had a partner who I will call Marvin. Marvin was a capable lawyer who had a specialty in a particular area of litigation. Marvin was personable. He could bring in lots of work in his specialty and hold onto clients. Marvin was also smart. He could look at a complex problem, boil it down to its essentials and identify the most practical solution. Marvin was particularly good at developing litigation strategies and he was also very good at negotiating with other counsel and at persuading judges to rule in his favour on all sorts of issues.
(A Cautionary Tale For Lawyers of All Ages)
Back quite a while ago somewhere in Ontario, a fellow who I will call Sam started a law firm, which he quickly grew to be a decent firm of about 20 lawyers.
Sam was a fairly progressive guy for his time, in a number of ways.
One of Sam’s philosophies was that it takes all types of personalities to build a successful law firm. When other partners would complain that some partners brought in more clients or produced more billable hours than other partners, Sam would say “we need to have diverse personalities and skills to build a strong firm. We can adjust for differences in productivity in compensation.”
Erin Durant of Durant Barristers recently posted the following on LinkedIn:
“A pain point for women who create firms is the narrative that they have quit rather than have built something. I did not quit my practice. I took my practice and built something better for my clients. I agree with a mentor who says that male founders do not face that assumption.”
Whenever someone makes a pop culture reference to the 80’s, 90’s or 2000’s which I don’t get, I always say, “I was busy working.”