Spousal support // Best Practices

Marriage is about teamwork; so is starting your own firm.

By Jordan Himelfarb

On Tuesday May 26th, 2009


Ismail and Nadine still like each other after being floor-mates, classmates, study buddies, sweethearts, newlyweds, parents, colleagues, travel companions, and partners at their own small firm

It was a sudden decision, made on the Greek Isles in 2007, and enacted within six weeks: Ismail and Nadine Barmania, the first married couple ever employed by Aylesworth LLP, would leave their enviable jobs there and start their own firm.

For the Barmanias, the storied perils of working with one’s spouse are utter myth. They met as 19-year-olds, living in the same Trent University dormitory, studied for the LSATs together, went through University of Toronto law school together, and were called to the bar together. In 2002, faced with a daunting string of trials and having just recently lost his junior, Ismail, a personal injury and estates litigator, asked Nadine, then a family law specialist, to leave her boutique litigation firm and join Aylesworth to assist him with his caseload. The last of those trials concluded just in time for the couple’s Greek getaway.

Quitting Aylesworth, one of Canada’s oldest firms, was especially difficult for Ismail, who had articled at the Bay Street firm and practised there since being called to the bar in 1993.

“I had great experiences on Bay Street, says Ismail. “It’s just that I reached my mid-forties and I already had a red convertible and I liked my wife. I needed a change — and it has certainly been reinvigorating.”

The Barmanias are quick to point out that their departure from Aylesworth was amicable and that they remain on good terms with the firm. Still, in the nearly two years since they founded Barmania Lawyers, they’ve come to believe that, in myriad ways, their departure was the right thing. “We now can set up our practice any way we want,” says Ismail. “I can organize my files the way I want, get the colour of paper clips I want. I can make it a better environment for us, and, more importantly, for our clients.”

The perks don’t end with the colour of the paper clips. As the single best feature of having her own firm, Nadine lists the opportunity to offer “Bay Street service” at a vastly reduced rate — of particular importance considering the often-volatile financial and emotional states of their clients. (A distant second, she adds, is the firm’s deluxe coffee machine.) The continental ambiance of their bright, lovely office space at Berkeley and Front in downtown Toronto is another perk, which reminds Ismail of his favourite vacation spot, France.

That Ismail’s mid-life crisis would manifest itself as a sort of professional wanderlust is no surprise: the man is possessed of particularly itchy feet. “The day he gets back from a trip, he’s already planning the next one,” says Nadine, a little wearily, of Ismail’s intense approach to travel. Ismail plans trips as one might undertake post-graduate work: he prepares elaborate, book-length itineraries with detailed historical background and carefully curated visuals (“to the chagrin of our 15-year-old daughter,” jokes Nadine).

For Ismail and Nadine, who are so consumed by work during the weeks, travel has become an important means of bonding with their two children. A family of self-proclaimed “weekend warriors,” the Barmanias travel often and ambitiously, scuba-diving at the sites of James Bond’s underwater battles in the Bahamas (the couple’s 11-year-old son is among the youngest certified divers in the world), or hiking up Silver Peak, the highest peak in Ontario’s Killarney Provincial Park.

“Many lawyers work too hard, and they do burn themselves out,” says Ismail. “That’s something I’ve been conscious of for a long time, and have tried to avoid. We have to work in a sustainable way — do a good job, but make time for life, for family, for vacation.”

The Lowdown

Name: Nadine Barmania
Firm: Barmania Lawyers
Year of Call: 1993
First Job: Summer student at Ministry of Natural Resources
Proudest moment: Opening our own law firm
Worst subject at law school: Property
Greatest frustration: People who think they are always right
Favourite law movie: The Holiday (or any other movie starring Jude Law)
Personal Style: Urban casual

Name: Ismail Barmania
Firm: Barmania Lawyers
Year of Call: 1993
First Job: Travel agent
Proudest moment: Completing an 18km hike through the Samaria Gorge
Worst subject at law school: Civil procedure
Greatest frustration: People who fail to recognize that I am always right
Favourite law movie: Devil’s Advocate
Personal Style: Urban professional

Photography by Vanessa Heins
Hair and makeup: Victoria Fedosoff