Career Counsel: The lawyer’s guide to working from home

Barring a trial, transaction or client meeting, lawyers should not be servants to office face time. With simple technology, we can practise law anywhere and at any time. Do you do excellent work and meet deadlines? Then it shouldn’t matter if you’re at your desk or on your couch.

I am not saying that face time is obsolete. It is still important in fostering relationships and building a personal brand. But there are some obvious reasons why we want to work from home, too. We might need a “mental break” to recharge our batteries. Or maybe someone is scheduled to repair the dishwasher (sometime between now and never).

There’s another particularly important reason to work from home. It will make us better lawyers. The data is clear: studies show that employees who work from home on a regular basis take fewer sick days and — believe it or not — are more productive. When I have a day of drafting ahead of me, it makes more sense to comfortably write at home.

But working outside the office is not without its challenges. So here are my five tips for successful remote working.

1. Manage expectations. If you plan on being anywhere other than the office during business hours, tell those who depend on you in advance. If a colleague expects to see you at the office, but you never show up, that’s a quick way to burn bridges and sour future remote-working opportunities.

2. Be available during business hours. Check your email and answer your phone. Video conferencing? Look professional (at least from the waist up).

3. Do great work. Don’t multi-task. Ignore Netflix. Don’t take client calls while doing chores. If you’re working, focus on the task at hand.

4. Get out of bed. I only last about 30 minutes sitting in bed before I’m asleep and drooling on my laptop. I don’t recommend it. Have a designated workspace. If you have a home office, use it. I love working on my back deck (weather permitting).

5. Take a break. At home, it can be harder to keep track of time. I always take a lunch break away from my workspace. I clear my head, eat healthy food, walk around the block — whatever it takes to help me refocus for the afternoon.

Erin CowlingErin Cowling is the founder of Flex Legal, a network of freelance lawyers based in Toronto. Her own freelance practice focuses on civil litigation.




This story is from our Fall 2018 Issue.

Illustration by Sara Wong

Trial & Error: Email etiquette for lawyers

Every day, I send and receive at least a couple hundred emails. Yet we, as a profession, rarely step back and consider how we use email — and how we can use it better. And so, I’ve put together what I call “The Lawyer’s Code of Conduct for Email” — drawing on my working experiences and those of Bindu Cudjoe, the deputy general counsel and chief administrative officer at BMO Financial Group. What follows is the first half of my two-part guide, which offers three tips on how to maintain proper email decorum.

1. Use email for scheduling, not decision-making

There are basically three ways to communicate with someone: in-person, on the phone and via email. When I spoke to Bindu, she said email is best used as a scheduling tool — to set up meetings and longer calls — rather than for detailed discussions or making substantial decisions. You can use email to record those decisions and suggest next steps, but when you want to go in-depth, hop on the phone.

2. Respond to clients promptly, even if you can’t answer their questions

Clients demand timeliness. So when they email me, I respond in a couple of hours, or within 12 hours if they email outside of business hours. If I need more time to consider the request, my response might be as simple as “Will do” or “Will get back to you.” And if I know I’ll be away from my email, I always set up an out-of-office alert that tells the sender when to expect a response. The point is: clients should never be kept out of the loop, wondering when you will get back to them.

3. Stop sending emails at 4 a.m.

Okay, I’m as guilty as anyone of sending emails whenever the impulse strikes. But, when working late, unless the recipient needs the information right away, wait until the next day to hit “send.” In Microsoft Office, use the “delay send” feature so the email arrives at more appropriate time — say, 9 a.m. the next morning. I often schedule emails to arrive when I know the recipient starts his or her workday (that’s 7:30 a.m. for known early-risers). That way, my messages are less likely to sink to the bottom of their inboxes.

Atrisha Lewis is a second-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewisAnd also check out all of her past columns.

Trial & Error: How lawyers can leverage LinkedIn (part 2)

In my last column, I suggested a few ways that lawyers can use LinkedIn to enhance their professional band. But all of that effort will go to waste if you don’t start with a strong profile. So here are six simple tips for building and managing a stellar LinkedIn page:

  1. Write your summary in the first person
    When people visit your profile, this is probably the only thing they’ll read. So take some time to write a punchy, 30-second snapshot of who you are professionally. And to make it more personal and authentic, write it in the first person.
  2. Include your contact information
    You might have concerns about privacy, but LinkedIn is only helpful if connections can actually contact you — and the LinkedIn messenger service is not user-friendly. I find it helpful to include my email on my profile. (Plus, my work email is Google-able anyway.)
  3. Accept most invitations to connect
    But don’t blindly accept every request. At worst, you’ll be spammed and, at best, you’ll have an unwieldy and impersonal network. As a general rule, filter out people you’ve never met, unless they send you a message explaining why they want to get in touch.
  4. Post updates regularly
    Even if you’re just commenting on a piece of legal news, posting often will keep you top-of-mind within your network and enhance your professional brand. I also use Hootsuite, which lets me manage both my LinkedIn profile and my Twitter feed at once.
  5. Be cautious about endorsements
    It’s flattering to receive endorsements from other users — and they are the mark of a strong profile — but be wary if someone endorses you for a skill you don’t possess. It both muddies your professional brand and it can mislead potential clients.
  6. Use groups sparingly
    In theory, groups should help you meet new people in your field, discuss the latest trends and learn about cool events. But in my experience, most groups are more annoying than helpful. Be thoughtful about which groups you join or you might be overwhelmed with spam. I prefer to join closed groups with moderators who are selective about who can become a member. Feel free to join and exit groups until you find a few that work for you.

Happy linking!

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


Making It Work: The four ways your job is killing you

Between the food courts, long hours, all that sitting and the stress — practising law can be dangerous. But staying healthy doesn’t have to be hard. Here, some of the city’s top health experts reveal how to overcome the health hazards lawyers face every day.

HamburgerHazard #1: Eating out all the time

Make smarter choices at food courts
“I could eat out seven days a week — for breakfast, lunch and dinner — and never gain a pound,” proclaims Rose Reisman, a nutritionist and owner of Rose Reisman Catering. The first step, she says, is to stop ordering these common foods: cream-heavy Caesar salads (“a heart attack on a plate”), anything with crust (“the eggs in a quiche aren’t going to kill you, but the lard or shortening in the pastry will”), Thai dishes with mounds of white noodles and any menu item with the word “smothered” in the title. The next step is learning which foods you can order. For Reisman, open-faced sandwiches on whole-wheat bread are a good choice. So are salads with light dressing, a whole grain (brown rice or quinoa) and a lean protein (fish, chicken or tofu).

Boss your chefs around
At restaurants, always tell the chef to grill, rather than fry or sauté, any meat, advises Leslie Beck, a registered Toronto dietician. And always ask for sauce on the side.

Eat breakfast
Otherwise, your brain will release wave after wave of appetite-inducing hormones hours later, says Beck. “That sets the stage for cravings” — and overeating — “later on in the day.”

CellphoneHazard #2: A serious lack of sleep

Turn your gadgets off an hour before you want to sleep
To prepare your body for rest, you need to disconnect from the world, says Jaan Reitav, a Toronto psychologist certified in behavioural sleep medicine. So if you get home late, shut down all devices — phones, tablets and laptops — right away. If you read a stressful (i.e. work-related) email or answer a phone call, he explains, don’t expect to nod off minutes after.

No more late-night Netflix
“Think about it: the job of a television producer is to engage the audience with a captivating narrative,” says Reitav. Watching television at night is more likely to rile you up than calm you down. Instead, Reitav recommends reading a book or listening to music. “Putting on beautiful music and listening quietly while practising deep breathing is an incredible way to relax the mind.”

Listen to your body
“We all know people who can sleep for four hours, get up and have no trouble,” says Reitav. But those people are outliers — that is, genetic mutants to whom the normal rules of biology don’t apply. Most of us need about seven hours of sleep each night for our bodies and minds to properly recover.

ChairHazard #3: Not enough exercise

Stand up
Sitting at your desk for hours on end is truly terrible for you, says Meg Sharp, executive director of personal training at the Cambridge Group of Clubs. It causes your blood sugar levels to spike and triglycerides — better known as fat — to clog your arteries. Standing up to stretch or move around at least once an hour stimulates your blood flow and flushes out your arteries. As Sharp puts it, “It’s incredibly powerful.”

Work out in small doses
“Everyone says they’re short on time,” says Mark Hendricks, regional group fitness manager at Equinox Fitness Clubs. “I believe that is a bit lazy.” Especially, he adds, when a 20-minute workout — or jog, or squash game, or bike ride — three times a week can make a huge difference in overall health.

Get a gym buddy
“It’s incredibly easy to let ourselves down,” says Hendricks. “But it’s not so easy to let others down.” And so, if you want to make exercise a regular habit, make that commitment with a friend — or even a client. (How’s that for motivation?)

HourglassHazard #4: Maximum stress levels

Get a hobby
“It sounds kind of lame,” says Dr. James Aw, chief medical officer of the Medcan Clinic, a health centre in Toronto. “But it’s important to remember who you were before life got so serious as a lawyer. Otherwise you’ll start to lose connection with old friends and communities.” Whether it’s playing an instrument, joining a sports team or writing poetry, Aw says it’s important to give yourself “permission to have fun and to play.”

Work fewer hours
If you’re working more than 60 hours a week, and you know it’s hurting your health or relationships, then you need to work less, says Dr. David Posen, author of Is Work Killing You? Maybe that means working late three nights a week, rather than five. Or working Saturday, but not Sunday. And, as a bonus, Posen says you’ll likely be more productive when you are working. “In close to 30 years, I’ve never met an over-worked patient who couldn’t get the same amount of work done in less time once they took better care of themselves.”

Spend more time with family and close friends
Your social calendar should not be crammed full with cocktail parties and outings with colleagues, says Aw. Even if you enjoy work events, he notes, an agenda hovers over each social encounter. Over time, that leads to higher levels of stress. Hanging out with family, he insists, is actually good for you. Make it a priority to have dinner with your spouse or catch up with your friends a few times each week. Aw says that those interactions give your mind a break: “There’s no agenda except that you love each other.”

This story is part of The Precedent guide to getting it all done, from our Spring 2015 issue.



Illustrations by Naila Medjidova

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.

The Crime Traveller: Why you should head to Quebec City this winter

Ontarians tolerate winter. We snicker when our southern neighbours fall into paroxysms of terror at the forecast of a few snowflakes. We brave the drive downtown after snowstorms. But, though we brag about our icy credentials, what we really want in January is to jaunt off to Boca or Fiji.

Quebecers, on the other hand, revel in winter. Especially at Carnaval, where I vacationed with my wife and two daughters last year. On one evening, we burst into an upscale restaurant in a flurry of snow flakes only to have the nonplussed maître d’ offer to check our snowpants before seating us for a duo of salmon and tuna tartar.

It seemed that every restaurant, inn or tourist attraction worth its salt had commissioned some form of dazzling snow and ice display to grace its entranceway. Along the Plains of Abraham, an winding ice slide deposited giggling kids to the steps of a sugar shack that dispensed bec sucré — ribbons of piping hot maple taffy poured across a blanket of fresh snow and rolled onto a gooey stick. And just a short drive from downtown, Village Vacances Valcartier built an enormous snow tubing park. It didn’t take much skill to navigate the steep drops and stomach-churning twists of the more intense runs, but queasier visitors opted for the go-karts with studded tires along the frozen track at the mountain’s base.

High on our sugar rush, we trudged through knee-deep snow back in Old Quebec, and boarded the ferry for the short jump to Lévis. Crossing the ice-choked St. Lawrence in the dead of winter afforded magical views of Old Quebec: stone buildings with sloped roofs draped in a cloak of snow and ice. We felt as if we were on an arctic cruise as the steel hull plodded through ice flows with audible creaks and groans.

Looking for a change of pace we spent the end of our visit just 40 minutes outside of the city at the cozy cottages of Station Touristique Dechesnay. The resort hugs the edge of a frozen lake with grounds that sprawl across acres of wooded trails. Pond hockey, snow-shoeing, cross country skiing, dog sledding and snowmobiling fill out the days while hearty meals in front of the fire and a soak in the outdoor hot tub cap off the nights.

Trade your bikini for a toque this winter and get in touch with your inner Canadian. Carnaval de Quebec 2015 runs January 30-February 15.

Where to stay: Our home base for the five-day stay was the Hilton Quebec City. It’s an easy walk from all that Carnaval has to offer (and directly on the parade route). With its heated outdoor pool you can glimpse the twinkling lights of the ice sculptures between the tendrils of hot steam rising from the waters.

If your taste in accommodations runs a little more unconventional be sure to book well in advance to secure an evening at the Hotel de Glace. Every room is constructed entirely from ice, with intricate patterns carved into the walls. (The fantasy suites even boast fireplaces.)

Where to eat: Plan your ferry ride across the St. Lawrence to coincide with a meal and make a stop in lower Old Quebec at the Cotes a Cotes Grill. For upscale dining, head to the oldest house in town at Aux Anciens Canadiens. And outside of the historic old city but still within a snowball’s toss of the stone gates, Le Hobbit serves well-priced traditional Quebecois cuisine in a cozy setting.

How to dress: It’s impossible to over-dress for a Quebec City winter. Snow, slush, biting winds and frigid temperatures are the name of the game. So skip the stylish Guccis and don the best pair of water-proof winter boots you can get your mittened paws on. Top that off with snowpants, a winter coat the mandatory hat-glove combo. Think ski-bum casual, not city chique. Anything less and you’ll be miserable within the hour.

Edward Prutschi is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. Follow Ed’s criminal law commentary (@prutschi) and The Crime Traveller’s adventures (@crimetraveller) on Twitter, read his Crime Traveller blog, or email

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey

Eat: How to make soup stock like a grownup

Undoubtedly your grandmother has an age-old recipe for chicken stock that she’s just waiting to teach you. But making your own veggie soup stock on the fly is pretty simple, and really only requires three ingredients: carrots, onions and celery (a magical combination the French call mirepoix).

Rather than throwing away carrot tops, onion skins and celery tips (all the stuff you don’t eat), save them in plastic containers in the freezer. Once you’ve got a few containers’ worth, toss them in a big pot and cover with water. Add an onion, sliced in half, plus two bay leaves and some pepper. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, for an hour. Then remove the mushy vegetable bits by pouring the pot over a strainer and voilà! You’ve got stock.

Freeze in yogurt tub-sized containers for making soups and stews, or in ice cube trays for small portions to add to sauces or sautés. Grandma will be so proud.

Read more: How to make a killer cauliflower soup.

Illustration by Isabel Foo

This story appears in our 2014 national Student Issue

Style Counsel: How to dress (fearlessly) for work

I recently found myself hunkered down in my parents’ cold, damp basement, finally sorting through the junk I left there when I moved out years ago. (Seriously, who keeps their grade 11 math tests?) In addition to R.L. Stine’s oeuvre, I found bags of childhood costumes, and it got me thinking — whatever happened to those good old days of playing dress-up? Sure, we can’t wear cat ears to the office, but we can rediscover the joy of play when dressing for work — even if our or princess dresses have been replaced with power suits. 

When deciding how to dress for the work day, first, choose the basics, then add the pizzazz. No matter how fashionable or adventurous you are, as a lawyer, your outfit must be anchored in professionalism. So start with that suit, sheath or crisp button-down and pants, and then look for ways to take it up a notch:


Experiment with colour.

Try a vibrant blouse or pencil skirt. A bright manicure or lipstick can help you stand out and feel special. Or make like a former colleague of mine and try a few colourful strands in your hair: with her otherwise conservative pantsuits, it was a conversation starter. It’s amazing how colour can impact your mood. So select your power shade and rock it!


Play with texture.

This adds interest and depth to an otherwise simple outfit. Try a tweed jacket over a silk dress, or a cashmere sweater with jaquard pants.


Don’t be afraid to mix patterns.

Try stripes, florals, houndstooth and paisley in various combinations. Done right, patten mixing looks cool and super modern. For a more conservative approach, try touches of pattern in a silk scarf, hairband or shoe.


Try amped-up versions of the basics.

A white shirt with an embellished collar, a dress with an interesting hem or a tuxedo-style blazer with satin or leather trim. 


Experiment with accessories and shoes.

Go big or go home, ladies! I love sparkly earrings, a mishmash of bracelets, a statement necklace or gold cuff bracelet. Choose a bag in a splash of colour or with unique hardware or detailing (grommets, perforated leather, tasteful tassels… the possibilities are endless). Exit that black flat comfort zone and don plaid pumps or studded flats!


Consider theme dressing.

I’m not talking princesses or pirates; I’m encouraging you to be inspired by fashion muses or themes. So if you’re feeling like Alexa Chung, select a quirky piece to add to your suit (maybe a bear-print blouse?), cool glasses or Oxfords in place of heels. Reliving the days of listening to Nirvana on repeat? (Or was that just me?) Work something grunge-inspired into your office look: a crisp plaid button-down under a blazer, a grandpa-style cardigan or a striped blazer over a floral dress. You can even work in vintage pieces.

This might be strange, coming from someone who writes a style advice column (and who’s advised readers to play it safe on occasion), but I’m tired of over-thinking what I wear (Is it conservative enough? How’s my skirt length?). We all know that women lawyers, for myriad reasons, have it tougher than men when it comes to work wear. And the reality is that what we wear does matter, to a degree. But when we were children, we weren’t concerned with how others viewed us. We wanted to be cowgirls, fairies and ballerinas, so we dressed up and let our imaginations run wild. It’s so freeing to set aside your inhibitions and have fun with clothes — so try it! And if people judge you? Let them! They only wish they were having as much fun as you.

Emma Williamson is a fashion-obsessed corporate commercial lawyer at Dentons. Her mission is to inspire Precedent’s female readers to break out of a style rut while obeying obvious and not-so-obvious workplace dress codes. Follow her on Twitter: @EmmaWorkStyle.

Photos courtesy of Madewell

Trial & Error: How to build your personal brand within your firm

As a junior associate, you want to develop your practice area by working on files you’re interested in. But to get those files, you have to make yourself known as the woman (or man) for the job. If your colleagues don’t know your skills and interests, why would they bother to staff you on a file? To build your brand, you just need to build your colleagues’ awareness of who you are and where your interests lie.

Building your profile involves two basic steps: general profile-building, and targeted profile-building. Here are some examples:

1. General profile-building

If your profile needs a boost, consider these simple tactics:

  • Make the most of your elevator rides. Time in an elevator is a great opportunity to get to know someone who likely has your undivided attention for the next two minutes. As a general rule, I try to introduce myself to any colleague I haven’t met. That can be as simple as: “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Atrisha Lewis, an associate in the litigation group.” It’s a great way to break the elevator silence, meet new people and become a familiar face around the firm.
  • Get involved in student recruitment. It’s actually fun, and it’s also a great way of familiarizing yourself with your colleagues, particularly if you’re at a large firm.
  • Attend the firm’s social events. This will help you connect with lawyers from different practice groups and years of call. To make the most of these events, I make it my goal to talk to at least one new person at each event so that I expand my internal network.

2. Targeted profile-building

Being a recognized name and face at your firm isn’t enough. You have to associate your name with the work you’re interested in — this is how you create your personal brand. I’m interested in mining litigation, so my goal was to ensure that my colleagues know. 

Here are some ways to stay top-of-mind with the right people:

  • Join an industry group and share your experiences. I joined Women in Mining, and when something noteworthy comes up during a networking event, I’ll share it with the mining litigation team in a short email.
  • Offer to help with major events in your desired area of practice. The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference is the biggest mining event in Canada. I knew it was important to mining litigators, so I proactively asked the lawyers if they needed help preparing for the conference.
  • Offer to cowrite articles. A great way to build your profile is to approach a senior lawyer in your desired field and ask to co-write an article with them. Chances are, they will take you up on your offer. This is a great way to develop your expertise and build relationships.
  • Stay on top of industry trends. I follow mining news and cases and often forward new developments along to lawyers who practice in that space. This is a simple way to build your knowledge of the industry and stay top-of-mind with the right people.

Building your brand is a long and difficult process. It takes years to become an expert in your field. That’s why taking small, frequent steps towards your goal will help you move forward. If you have any other strategies for building your internal brand, send ’em on over