Lawyer 2.0 // Best Practices

Ottawa lawyer Bryan Delaney strikes out on his own and founds a progressive, paperless and profitable law firm

By Julia Belluz

On Monday December 13th, 2010


DelaneyBryan Delaney is not reticent when it comes to talking about the firm he established in Ottawa in 2006, just two years after being called to the bar. “I set out to create a law firm that would kick ass and take names,” he says. He doesn’t stop there. The unabashed optimist explains that with Delaney’s Law Firm, he may have stumbled upon the model for the firm of the future: the paperless practice.
“I thought that if I could master the paperless office,” he says, “then I could attract and retain some of the talent that was being drained from the profession.” For Delaney, an office that isn’t bogged down with files means lawyers can work from anywhere — particularly those with young families. The firm represents individuals and small businesses in the areas of civil litigation, family and real estate law.

The University of Windsor graduate established his paperless venture after articling for a small trial law firm in Midland, Ontario, and then working for a sole practitioner for about a year. He took a grassroots approach, reaching out to community organizations and introducing himself via mass mailing. Soon enough, he explains, “I got invited into shelters, the Salvation Army, even the City of Ottawa.” He’d offer to put on workshops about family law, establishing himself as a go-to guy. “I met people and handed out cards and hustled.”

Today Delaney’s has 12 employees, but attracting them to join a one-man band wasn’t easy. Russ Molot, who has practiced family law and civil litigation at Delaney’s since 2008, says he was skeptical at first. He had nearly 20 years of files in storage and could not imagine going paperless. But he now he embraces the lifestyle, which has allowed him to expand his client base globally. “It provides a wonderful flexibility which I doubt would be offered anywhere else.”

Delaney’s lawyers can work from anywhere: the office, their homes around Ottawa — or even from as far away as Nicaragua, where one part-time lawyer is based. Lawyers set their own hours — there are no billable targets — and compensation is based on a 50-50 split. “You can work as much or as little as you want,” says Delaney, who’s a strong believer in balancing work and family life. “I don’t think you get the best out of people if you don’t maintain that balance.”

Still, Delaney finds achieving the work-life balance isn’t always easy. “The practice of law is a jealous mistress,” he says. “It’s hard to shut it off and focus on being a good husband and father.” He manages by sticking to a routine, working from 9 a.m. to about 5:30 p.m. Once home, he focuses on family, often making home movies of his daughter Madelaine, 3, and his wife, Toosje, which he posts on YouTube.

Delaney sees few boundaries for his way of practising law. Annual revenue grew from $70,000 to $750,000 in just four years and he hopes his network will continue to expand. He plans on retaining an office and condo for staff in Toronto and Barbados. “The Barbados office would offer businesses corporate, commercial and tax planning services,” he says. “You meet the clients in Ottawa and Toronto and then feed the office in Barbados the work.” His lawyers could spend a few months working in any location. “I think it’s something that would really stand out for potential clients and staff.” Plus, he adds: “My wife seems to think it’s a good idea, which is huge.”

The Lowdown: Bryan Delaney

  • Year of Call: 2004
  • Current Job: Founder, Delaney’s Law Firm
  • First Job: Delivering flyers in grade four
  • Worst Course in Law School: Property law
  • Greatest Frustration: People who ruin good things
  • Proudest Moment: The birth of his daughter
  • Favourite Law Movie: The Verdict with Paul Newman
  • Personal Style: Clean

Photography by David Kawai