Trial & Error: How lawyers can leverage LinkedIn (part 1)

Hey lawyers — it’s time to get on LinkedIn. Or, if you’re on it and barely use it, it’s time to get your act together. Your career will thank you.

For the uninitiated, LinkedIn is essentially an online CV — a summary of your experience and accomplishments, connected to a network of your contacts. Many associates erroneously believe that they only need a profile if they are looking for a job. However, LinkedIn can be a powerful business development and profile-building tool and need not be limited to those on the job hunt.

Here the top four ways I use LinkedIn:

  1. As a database of experts
    As part of my litigation practice, I often look for the leading experts in a particular field. LinkedIn is a great database for searching for individuals with specific expertise. I often find that potential experts are more responsive to a LinkedIn request because the expert will know that I am a lawyer, can review my background and experience, and can see if we have any common connections.
  2. As a tool to stay in touch
    LinkedIn helps me stay in touch with a broader network of people and helps me keep track of individuals as they move around. I aim to message someone I have not seen in a while or who I do not know very well once a month and suggest meeting for coffee or lunch. It may initially be intidimating to visit a profile, because LinkedIn tracks it — users can see who’s viewed their profile. However, there’s no real downside to a little LinkedIn “creeping.” After all, that’s kind of the point of making a  profile. I often look to who has viewed my profile as an inspiration for who I might reach out to for a coffee.
  3. As a way to help others in my network
    I also use LinkedIn proactively to help other people. For example, if I notice that a contact has moved to a company where I already have a friend, I will offer to make an introduction. Helping others in this way brings me joy and keeps me plugged into my network.
  4. As a vehicle to promote my writing
    I am always sure to post my latest Precedent column on LinkedIn. This allows me to keep my contacts updated on me and grow the reach of my writing.

The more you use LinkedIn, the more profile views you’ll generate. It doesn’t matter how impressive your resume is if no one sees it. The profile-building value of the LinkedIn profile lies in the number of times it’s viewed.

Coming next month, Part 2: Best practices for creating your LinkedIn profile.

Atrisha Lewis is a second-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis

Precedent re-launches its exclusive legal networking website

From the day it launched five years ago, the Precedent A-List has been a go-to source for partner announcements, associate hires and job listings in the legal world.

And it still is. But it also just got way better.

“Following a six-month re-design process, our legal networking website has a fresh look, making it easier to read and navigate,” says Melissa Kluger, the publisher and editor of Precedent magazine. “And, with a new emphasis on eye-catching photography, the A-List is now more fun to browse.”

Also, given that more lawyers are reading on tablets and phones, Kluger says “the new site is designed to look great no matter what device you use.”

The made-over A-List will, of course, continue to serve up news candy for Canadian lawyers. Readers can, for example, peruse the hottest job openings at firms and in-house departments. (More than ever, in fact: since re-launching, the number of job postings on the A-List has soared by 30 percent.) And lawyers can turn to the website to find out when a firm announces a slate of new partners — or lures one from a competitor.

Norbert Knutel“But it’s important to remember that reading up on your colleagues is more than just fun,” Kluger is quick to point out. “Keeping up with the latest industry news should also be part of every lawyer’s networking and business development strategy.”

In fact, she says, reading the A-List can help lawyers find new business.

“If you see that an old law-school friend just made partner, drop them a note to congratulate them,” says Kluger. “Then, you can set up a coffee or lunch to re-connect — and that could lead to referrals down the line.”

Those sorts of well-informed gestures, she notes, can make a big difference over the course of long career.

Since the re-vamp of the A-List, several prominent firms have already posted news. Blakes announced 15 new partners and Torys has announced four new partners and four counsel. In the same period, Torkin Manes, Lerners and Howie, Sacks & Henry have used the site to trumpet new lateral hires.

And in the jobs section, the A-List has featured opportunities in business law at Miller Thomson and in litigation at WeirFoulds — plus a posting for the next general counsel at General Motors.

Every new item published on the A-List is also announced on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and in an eNewsletter sent out twice a month.

Visit the Precedent A-List at

Editor’s Note: The lawyer’s pursuit of happiness

I don’t think there’s ever been a magazine filled with so many happy lawyers before. It all started with a theory: that in-house counsel love their jobs. It’s something we often hear in passing, but we wanted to test the theory for this special issue focused on in-house counsel. We put award-winning journalist John Lorinc on the case. And sure enough, the theory held. After speaking to a long list of lawyers at innovative and fast-growing companies, Lorinc confirmed that there are a lot of benefits to working in-house that lead to high levels of job satisfaction. Check out our feature story to learn about some very interesting lawyers and the keys to both their happiness and their success.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the winter issue. While I often hear that going in-house is the way to be happy as a lawyer, this issue of Precedent turned up all sorts of happy lawyers — many of whom don’t work in-house. You’ll meet employment lawyer Ryan Edmonds who was at Heenan Blaikie LLP when it collapsed, but he used that potentially devastating event to try something new, exciting and rewarding. You’ll also meet Nicole Corriero, who not only loves her work as a personal injury lawyer, but also manages to find the time to be a kick-ass hockey player. And you’ll meet two lawyers from Bennett Jones LLP who’ve been innovators at their firm, starting a new practice area in marijuana law. Indeed, almost every page of this issue features at least one happy lawyer. I count 16.

We often look to in-house jobs as the holy grail of lawyer happiness. And, indeed, our research confirms that in-house can be a very happy place to be. But let’s not forget that there are plenty of lawyers in private practice who love what they do and have built careers that suit their interests, personalities, skill-sets and schedules. And that’s what makes it so easy to fill our pages with smart, interesting, ambitious and happy lawyers from all walks of legal life.

If you aren’t feeling happy already, this issue should make you smile. If, instead, it fills you with jealousy, then perhaps it’s time to quit that job and get on with something fulfilling. Go find your happy.





Melissa Kluger
Publisher & Editor

Post Script: Great lawyers wanted

Precedent Setter Awards 2014

Speaking of smart, interesting, ambitious and happy lawyers, it’s time for the sixth annual Precedent Setter Awards. If you know any lawyers in their first 10 years of practice who excel in what they do both in their work and in their contributions to the community, please nominate them for a Precedent Setter Award. Winners will be featured in our 2015 summer issue.

Nominations close January 30.



More from the winter issue:

Darlene TonelliCheese plateRyan EdmondsBar CartNicole Corriero


Editor’s Note: The tension in law that keeps things interesting

I’m sending my daughter off to kindergarten this fall. And though I don’t get to go with her, fall always feels like a time for learning, for expanding horizons. Even for grown-ups.

Although you won’t be buying new shoes and a pencil case, this issue of Precedent is meant to get you thinking big about the state of law, and how we can make it better. So, we rounded up some top legal leaders to contemplate what lies ahead. I had the privilege of sitting in on the roundtable moderated by our news editor, Daniel Fish. We wanted to bring together a diverse group of leaders from local, national and international firms. Two in-house counsel lawyers also joined to really get a lively discussion started.

I learned a lot during that discussion: successful lawyers get up very early, no one actually eats breakfast at “breakfast meetings,” Twitter bewilders top lawyers, nobody likes OCIs and I want to be best friends with BMO’s deputy general counsel.

But what really stood out for me is the difficult position in which firms find themselves today. On one hand, law — especially at big firms — is conservative by its very nature. As lawyers, it’s usually our job to advise clients to proceed with caution, to protect themselves from liability and to initial every page. That extra care can win clients. On the other hand, firms are being pushed to innovate at every turn.

For starters, clients are asking firms to rethink the billable hour. With that comes a need to adopt new technology and to take a good, hard look at the current partnership structure. Meanwhile, firms are also being asked to track diversity numbers and report them to the client (BMO was the first financial institution in Canada to ask firms for diversity statistics). While everyone wants to see a more diverse face of law, the actual act of counting employees by skin colour or sexual orientation — which by its very nature can feel discriminatory — can also create tension and discomfort at a traditional law firm. There’s tension, now, at every turn.

So here’s what I think: law is all about tension. Indeed, the tension in law drives much of the content in Precedent. In this issue you’ll read about Jessyca Greenwood who balances the time-consuming demands of her clients with the need to make a living, and Greg Harris who finds a way to juggle work and the extraordinary goal of scaling the highest mountain on every continent. No matter what kind of law you do or where you work, it’s the tension that keeps things interesting. So make yourself a great cup of coffee and settle into our fall issue.





Melissa Kluger
Publisher & Editor

Post Script: Look up!Les Viner of Torys

As part of our roundtable discussion, Les Viner, managing partner at Torys LLP, shared one of the key strategies of his firm. At Torys, lawyers are encouraged to identify trends in the world and connect them to their own practice areas. Here’s what’s on his radar:

  • The commercialization of the far north
  • Canada’s aging population
  • The impact of technology on financial transactions
  • The growing importance of power, water and food as the global population swells

So, even when you’ve got your head down on one particular file, don’t forget how law must respond to the world around us. Take the time to see the big picture, and you’ll also see the future.

More from the fall issue:

How to make law a well-oiled machine Six ways to heighten your morning buzz Greg Harris is taking on Everest Criminal defence lawyer Jessyca GreenwoodLaura Baron of Yoga Be

Advice: The job-seeker’s guide to social media


“It’s the engine of the social internet,” says Lisa Stam, partner and founder of Toronto employment law firm Koldorf Stam LLP. On Twitter, news articles, cat videos and racy comments can go viral in a snap.

thumbs-upUse a casual but professional photo of yourself. Post a mix of ideas, stories, images and videos about your personal and professional interests.

thumbs-down“If you’re tweeting about every single subject under the sun 20 times a day, I don’t know who you are,” says Stam. Show some personality. Join conversations on topics you’re passionate about. But be careful with your words: everyone is watching. 



Your mother is on here! And so is your boss. The lines between private and public have blurred, so tread carefully. Adjust your privacy settings so that only people you’ve friended can see your activity. 

thumbs-upConsider making two profiles, suggests employment lawyer Sean Bawden. One for family and friends and the other for classmates and colleagues (your classmates will soon be your colleagues). 

thumbs-downDrunken party pics — not a great idea. Since you can’t control what your friends post and others might see, avoid having those pictures taken in the first place. 



Social media’s business networking site is great for making connections, getting your CV out there and browsing job postings. Don’t be surprised to see that your future employer viewed your profile before your interview. 

thumbs-upJoin groups in your practice area of interest and get in on the conversation. Stam suggests creating a group of your graduating class — a great source for future business. 

thumbs-downUpdating your profile just once and posting no picture (or an unprofessional one) will hurt more than it will help. Keep your profile up to date, linking it to any published papers or law-related club memberships. 

Read more about how to master the professional side of social media.

This story appears in our 2014 national Student Issue

Trial & Error: How to take a vacation like a boss

When I started as an associate, I’d just returned from a relaxing three-month backpacking trip across Europe and Asia. After a busy articling year, I needed to take time to travel so I could clear my mind before entering the next exciting chapter of my career.

Being an avid traveler, I couldn’t wait to plan my next adventure, but I wasn’t yet versed on vacation etiquette. So I asked lawyers across an array of practice groups and firms if there’s an ideal time or length for a vacation. Here, I’ve compiled some helpful best practices.

When to take a vacation

On this point, I heard a range of opinions. “I didn’t feel comfortable taking any vacation in my first year of practice,” one lawyer told me. Others said: “It’s taboo for juniors to take time off during March break or in August” and “you can only take one month off at time if it’s your honeymoon.”

Despite these comments, most lawyers I spoke to said life — not gossip — should dictate your vacation strategy. Be open and honest with everyone you work with. Doing so will allow you to find the best time to step away from the office for some much deserved R&R.

How to really enjoy your time off

With that reassuring tidbit, I planned my first vacation: to visit my sister in France during her spring break in April. While it’s often tough to step away from your workload, here are five tips I gleaned from my peers:

  • Announce it from the rooftop. With so much on the go, it’s difficult to track your colleagues’ schedules. I repeatedly reminded co-workers that I’d be out of the office and unavailable. The week before my vacation, I added a line to all emails I sent to say: “Please note, I will be on vacation out of the country from X date to Y date.”
  • Book buffer days. Even though I only left the country for eight days, I booked a buffer day on both ends of the trip that I could use to tie up any loose ends and deal with issues that erupted on my return. Only my assistant knew I was in the country during the buffer days, which allowed me to focus on what needed to get done before and after my trip.
  • One hour a day. While this tip is a matter of preference, I found it helpful to spend up to — and no more than — one hour a day to comb through my emails. This small step gave me peace-of-mind and made my return a lot less daunting.
  • Have a backup. During my vacation, I left a major file behind. So it helped to have another associate on the ground to assist with the file while I was away. My backup was a trusted colleague and she really allowed me to enjoy my vacation. Bonus points for a backup who scolds you for checking in while you’re away.
  • #urgent. Set up an email filter. I haven’t done this before, but I’ve seen it used by other lawyers. For instance, a litigation partner at my firm tells everyone he is working with to add “#urgent” to the subject line of any email that requires his immediate attention. Then, he uses an email filter to route those emails to his phone. This ensures he only reviews emails which are truly urgent.

Having returned from my vacation, I am convinced more than ever that they are vital to finding success in your career. Indeed, in her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points out that people who quit their jobs because they’re exhausted often have a significant number of unused vacation days. I know it might seem difficult in the short term, but going on vacation is necessary for long-term success. 

Atrisha Lewis is a first-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis

Photo: Moyan Brenn

Let’s be real — it’s hard out there for a working mother

Another Mother’s Day is over. And while it’s great to have a day to celebrate the people who bring life into the world, it doesn’t change the fact that being a mother is no walk in the park — especially a mother who works. Pregnancy and motherhood are still perceived as incompatible with career and professional success, and the result is that women are still regularly penalized for their decision to become parents.

While researching my recent book The MomShift which tells stories of women navigating around this cultural bias and actually achieving greater career success after children — I still heard countless stories of female lawyers in private practice, in government and in small or mid-size firms, who had lost opportunities or faced challenges as a result of pregnancy. 

These ranged from openly hostile remarks (yes, still) to the gradual re-assignment of key files and openly voiced questions from their colleagues about their professional commitment.

It’s clear that despite collective initiatives such as the Justicia Project and in-house programs designed to support greater gender equity and leadership, the legal industry continues to struggle with how to retain and promote female talent.

So perhaps it’s time to try a new approach: most law firms recognize and invest in programs designed to promote female talent, but they rarely address the specific challenges that motherhood present to building a legal career.

And yet, this is where the opportunity for real change exists.

In our recently released corporate report, Mom’s The Word: How Organizations Can Change The Impact Of Motherhood On Long Term Career Success (PDF), my colleague Lisa Mattam and I argue that the collective reluctance of professional firms to call out the specific challenges of Motherhood are one of the reasons that the current slate of gender and diversity initiatives have yet to achieve the predicted and desired outcomes.

Contrary to how the legal industry still tends to view motherhood, it is not an impediment to professional success — but biological and sociological factors do mean that mothers frequently face circumstances or pressures that are not the same as their childless colleagues or even by fathers. 

So what can firms do to reverse the trends and help make law firms more friendly to working mothers?

1) Give mothers (and future mothers) real role models. Women want to hear less from the executive suite and more from women who they can relate with. Create forums where mothers can talk to other moms who have found professional success, to help them create their own accessible path to opportunity. 

2) See your culture through the eyes of a woman. We forget that culture trumps strategy every time. Firms should assess their office culture from the perspective of mothers. In doing so, they will have a better understanding of the challenges women face at work, and then can create strategies and policies to address these challenges. 

3) Address unconscious bias. Create an environment where women can talk about their desires and challenges associated to motherhood. A truly inclusive office is one where the concept of bias is socialized so both associates and partners can spot how to recognize and stop it.

What we have seen in our work is that when firms recognize the unique challenges that mothers face and align their initiatives to the actual needs of the women in their firms, firms have a better chance of successfully reaching the goal of truly engaging, retaining and promoting their female lawyers in greater numbers.

Reva Seth

Reva Seth is a lawyer and the author of the bestselling book, The MomShift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success After Children  (Random House: Feb 2014).


The Precedent guide to looking polished: Know the difference between fashion and style

Being fashionable and having style are related, but they aren’t the same. Fashion is the business of runways, of collections, of clothes and the people who sell them. Personal style is an outward expression of one’s inward conviction. This is why it’s so crucial for lawyers to consider: it’s the fastest way to communicate your commitment to a case or a client, or even your job. Style is one’s personal reaction to, and distillation of, fashion.

Being fashionable is good. But career-wise, having good style is better. Whereas fashion broadcasts the brand identity of whatever label you’re wearing, style communicates your personal brand. Which do you want to project to your clients, partners and co-workers?

“Women and men alike need to project their personal brand: the stature of their firm, and the professionalism and confidence that come with the position of offering advice to their clients,” says Will Stewart, a consultant at public relations firm Navigator. And while Stewart most often works with politicians, helping them define their personal style, he says the same principles apply to lawyers.

“It’s not just about how your clients see you,” he says. “The same confidence, attention to detail and professionalism should be projected to your colleagues, both superior and junior. It can help you manage staff, assist in your advancement and navigate office politics. Every day is a reason to dress suitably well.”

Michael Nguyen, owner of Toronto clothier Garrison Bespoke, works with lawyers regularly to develop their own style.

“Looking great lets their colleagues and senior management know that they care about their appearance, and therefore they care about the work they do,” he says. “It also makes them a lot more memorable, and more approachable.”

But there is danger in the pursuit of personal style, especially for lawyers. It’s possible to look too good: to give the impression that, just maybe, you’re overpaid.

“As with everything, you should dress for your audience,” says Stewart. “Know your clients, understand how they would view you with too much or too little emphasis on your attire. Dress as an extension of your work with them.”

Again, it’s about style over fashion. But it’s a slippery sartorial slope. The way to navigate it is by knowing, then knowingly breaking, certain rules. Mix patterns in surprising and personal ways. Add flashes of colour that might, at first, seem to clash. Pay attention to the details: the right pen, cufflinks, pocket squares, even jacket linings. Most importantly, find what you like, then make sure it fits. Nearly every fashion faux pas can be overlooked if the clothes fit right.

“The last thing any serious professional should strive for is shock value in their clothes,” says Stewart. “Think of your personal touches as a highlight, not the focal point. And don’t try to cram every accessory into every outfit.”

It’s good advice. And good advice never goes out of style.

This story is part of The Precedent guide to looking polished.

Illustration by Min Gyo Chung

Brief: Hireback Watch turns five

In 2009, the economic crisis hit the legal industry hard. But no one knew just how hard. So Precedent started surveying the 17 largest law offices in Toronto to see if hiring practices — specifically articling hirebacks — had changed. They had.

Now, five years later, the annual Hireback Watch has become one of the most popular features on Precedent’s website (find it at

A lot has been learned about student hiring in the last half-decade, and the news has not all been good. 2009 had a dismal 66 percent hireback rate, the lowest Precedent has ever recorded. The hirebacks then bounced back, peaking at 78 percent in 2011, but have been decreasing for two consecutive years, landing at 72 percent this year. Over this period, more than a quarter of articling students on Bay Street did not return as associates, a far cry from the days of guaranteed hirebacks. While this year’s hireback percentage is higher than 2009’s, the actual number of articling students at these firms has decreased seven percent from 338 in 2009 to 315 in 2013. In other words, the Bay Street pie is shrinking — meanwhile, the number of law grads looking for work in Ontario has been rising.

John Ohnjec, division director for lawyer-staffing firm Robert Half Legal (RHL), says firms are still cautious about hiring inexperienced lawyers, and predicts that hireback rates won’t change much in the next few years while the economy recovers.

“The best-case scenario is that we level off again at the 75–76 [percent] level for a year or two and then hope that within three years we break through into the 80s,” says Ohnjec. While the future doesn’t look as promising for recent grads, a 2013 study by RHL indicates that the current job market has placed a high demand on those who have a few years of experience in areas such as corporate law, litigation and corporate governance.

“Firms do expect to see an increase in hiring this year,” says Ohnjec. “But they will primarily be looking for individuals who are around the five-year level with strong business development skills.” 

Top Toronto Hireback Firms
Hireback totals from 2009–2013 for the five firms with the best overall percentages 

*Opt-outs were subtracted from the total number of articling students before hireback percentages were calculated