Trial & Error: Practice resolutions for the junior lawyer

Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. So why not include a practice resolution on your list? After canvassing resolution recommendations from peers in various practice groups, firms and practice settings, here are my top 5 practice resolutions for the junior lawyer — or any lawyer looking to improve her practice in the new year. 

  1. Implement a Bring Forward (BF) system. 
    Many litigators already have a BF/tickler system in place, but why let them have all the organizational fun? This habit can also extend to a transactional practice. I “bring forward,” or put in my calendar, a future reminder to do something, ensuring all of my deliverables are diarized and nothing falls through the cracks. Consider extending your BF system for business development purposes. For example, if you meet a new connection at a networking event, use a BF system as a reminder to reconnect in a few months. Better yet, set up a Google alert for news related to your connection’s employer so you get both a reminder and a conversation starter.
  2. Create a personal plan.
    A personal plan outlines your professional goals and specific ways to achieve them. If you do not have one, write down your professional goals and be accountable to them throughout the year. You can BF a quarterly review of your plan to make sure you are on track. Ask other lawyers or your human resources department for precedents. If you already have a plan, consider showing it to a more senior lawyer and ask for feedback.
  3. Join a new industry group. 
    There are a plethora of practice groups to join in your area. Resolve to join a new OBA section, or a group like Women in Capital Markets, and commit to attending at least three events throughout 2015. It’s a great way to expand your network.
  4. Make social media your friend. 
    Do you have a LinkedIn page? When was the last time you updated it? Do you have a Twitter account? How often do you tweet? This year, resolve to break into, update or expand your presence into one social media outlet. Chris Horkins, an associate at Cassels Brock LLP, wisely told me that social media is a strategic advantage that juniors can have over our more senior counterparts in building our practice. Why not use it? (Of course, always be sure to respect your firm’s social media policy.)
  5. Spend time strategically.
    So how will you make time for these resolutions? Resolve to be strategic in how you spend your valuable time. Examine your plate with a critical eye and consider what work can be better served by another colleague, articling or summer student who would be eager for the learning opportunity.  Consider reducing the amount of work you take on and re-allocate that time to digesting the work you are doing and to investing in your professional development.  

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

Special thanks to Rachel Allred for all the help with this column in 2014.

Trial & Error: Essential reading for the junior lawyer

Are you seeking inspiration, insights or talking points? Check out my list of essential reads for the junior lawyer —four that have profoundly impacted my practice: 

1. Chris Hadfield’s an Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

It’s not a book about law, but there are many takeaways that apply to any ambitious lawyer, such as the value of working hard and parking your ego. The biggest lesson I gleaned from this book was to plan for every contingency. I found myself reflecting on this advice earlier this year as I geared up for my first trial. I considered all possible permeations and equipped myself appropriately. I came prepared with materials that my team may need in the face of possible objections and while I did not think of everything, I was able to plan for most contingencies and add a great deal of value to the trial team. 

2. The Rules of Civil Procedure (or whatever legislation is most relevant to your practice)

Phil Moore, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TD Bank Group, advised me as an articling student to read the Canadian Business Corporations Act cover to cover… in one sitting. He explained that in so doing, I would obtain insight into the contents and structure of the statute. Regardless of your area of practice, I firmly believe his advice holds true. I recently familiarized myself with the most relevant legislation to my practice, Rules of Civil Procedure, which has helped me immensely. With a thorough understanding of the Rules, I know exactly where to turn when I face new issues in my practice. 

3. Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In

This one is worth the buzz. The messaging in this book is essential for all junior lawyers. There are many useful nuggets in this book, and I’ve previously shared one in my article on how to properly take a vacation. Lean In is packed with so much practical wisdom that I could write an entire column about this book alone.

4. Daily news

You’ll hear it often in your career that reading the news is important. It took me a few road trips with colleagues and a handful of awkward elevator rides to truly understand the necessity of being current with the daily news. Being current not only provides you with a litany of talking points to fill elevator silences, but it also deepens your perspective of the world around you. 

Notable mentions:

While I haven’t yet carved the time out to read these books, they came highly recommended by my colleagues and sit on my current “to-read” list:

  • Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer by Grover Cleveland. This book was provided by Osler to all of its first year associates.
  • Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future by Richard Susskin. This one describes what the future of technology has in store for lawyers.

Got any other great must-reads? Let me know

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

Opinion: Crowdfunding law is about to become the next hot practice area

For the young (and even the not-so-young) lawyers looking to build a brand and develop a recession-proof practice in this bleak economy, I have two words for you: crowdfunding law. If you’re making the “she’s crazy” face, I understand. That’s exactly the reaction former Bay Street partner Ian Kyer got when he went to his firm’s management, more than 30 years ago, to ask if he could start a practice in “computer law.” Ian was a pioneer back then, and is now considered an IT law guru. Sometimes, to make a name for yourself, you have to be bold.

Crowdfunding started as a hip social experiment that took off when Kickstarter launched in 2009. Through the site, enterprising artists and makers appealed to the masses to chip in a few bucks towards a new venture that no bank would ever back. The experiment was successful. (Even Barack Obama used a similar model to transport himself into the Oval Office in 2008 by raising a record $750 million US — $600 million of which came from small donors through his website.) Today, crowdfunding has matured into a full-fledged industry worth up to $5 billion US. How did this happen? When the stock market crash hit in 2008, banks and investors stopped lending money to risky start-ups so readily. This capital crisis meant entrepreneurs had to find creative new sources of financing.

Some of the earliest examples involved filmmakers. Unable to convince studios to fund their movies, they turned to audiences, offering perks for cash. A $100-investor might receive an autographed movie poster, a ticket to a premiere and the DVD upon release. In cases where the movie isn’t made, the funds must be returned. But that can be a problem if the funds were spent before the plug was pulled. None of this was of much interest to lawyers, or regulators for that matter, since it was all small potatoes.

Then the amounts started to climb — see the now-famous example of the $5.7 million raised to produce a movie version of Veronica Mars, a cancelled TV show with a cult following. In Ontario, securities regulations allow companies to crowdfund up to $1.5 million in any 12-month period, still a tidy sum. And with higher investment comes higher risk — and a much greater chance of class action litigation if things go sour.

There is also the threat of fraud, which securities regulators are trying to reign in using public disclosure requirements. It’s a significant risk. Most of the transactions are internet-based and it’s not as if investors are provided with a detailed business plan and audited financial statements before they fork over their cash.

As crowdfunding secures its foothold as a mainstream investment vehicle, it won’t just be litigators who have all the fun. Tax and business lawyers will have to develop expertise in the field to advise entrepreneurs on how to position the investor contributions to best advantage. Meanwhile, IT lawyers are already hard at work, advising Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites on how to set up their terms of use and licensing models.

It’s a field ripe for the picking. And the crowdfunding model will become even more interesting if it supplants traditional banking and capital investment institutions as the funding vehicle of choice. This will lead to institutional investors scrambling for a piece of the action.

Recently, I ran into Ian Kyer — the guru himself — and mentioned he would be making an appearance in my Precedent piece. “What a coincidence,” he said, laughing. He told me he had just co-authored an article on crowdfunding. Sounds like I’m not so crazy after all.

Byron Eggenschwiler

May M. Cheng is chair of the Toronto Intellectual Property Group at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP and a supporter of crowdfunding for charitable causes through

Illustration by Byron Eggenschwiler

News: Laura Baron helps Bay Street find its centre

Laura Baron Yoga Be

In her days as a litigator at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Laura Baron often turned to yoga to re-energize, ease back and neck pain and improve focus. But there were no dedicated yoga studios near her Bay Street office, just a few gyms that happened to offer classes. “As a lawyer, it’s hard to justify a hefty monthly membership when you can’t commit to going on a regular basis.”

Baron spotted a business opportunity. So, she left Faskens, where she worked for almost four years after summering and articling at the firm, to found Yoga Be — which opened in August with a full roster of classes, some specifically geared towards the needs of hardworking lawyers and other professionals. For instance, a 3 p.m. “Better than Coffee Yoga Break” class is just 20 minutes long — and Baron says you can do it in your suit. And “Computer Back” focuses on stretching and strengthening the muscles in the neck and back. “Whether it’s 20 minutes or an hour and a half, it’s just taking that first step and getting on the mat that counts.”

Yoga Be’s classes start as early as 6:30 a.m. and clients have a choice of a 45-minute or 60-minute class at lunch. With either option, you can pre-order a meal from the popular vegan and glutenfree Kupfert & Kim and pick it up from Yoga Be staff as you head to the office. “This way, you don’t have to choose between a healthy lunch and doing your yoga practice,” says Baron. (As a bonus, you won’t have to wait in Kupfert & Kim’s notoriously long lineup.) Located in the MetroCentre on Wellington Street West, Yoga Be is also the first dedicated yoga studio to open in Toronto’s underground PATH system.

Baron insists that her move from litigator to entrepreneur wasn’t a response to burnout or dissatisfaction with the legal profession. “I loved being a lawyer. I still use my legal skills in contract negotiation and business management,” she says. “But I saw an opportunity and felt called to follow my dream.”