A Beacon of Hope in the Practice of Law

A Beacon of Hope

Did you know that of all women called to the bar in 2003, only 66 percent retained practising status in 2008 in comparison with 80 percent of men called in the same year?

Did you know the trend in BC is that the number of lawyers in the older age ranges (50 to 65) has increased significantly whereas the number of lawyers in the younger age range (25 to 40) has remained the same or has declined?

In 1998, 77 percent of BC’s legal profession was under the age of 50 but by 2008, only 55 percent of the profession was under the age of 50. If those trends continue, the legal profession can expect to lose many lawyers to retiredment without a corresponding increase in the number of younger lawyers.

The reasons cited for these lawyers leaving the practice of law are the usual suspects: Too much work, lack of mentorship, inflexibility of work schedules, and generally very little time for family, friends, leisure, or a life outside work.

The hypotheseis examined in this article is that the above statistics can be changed with a revival of the mentorship concept, and with a lot of creativity and determination. In her story, Candace Cho shows how the disastrous statistic can be circumvented.

The Mentor Perspective

Early in my career, I had the great benefit of a wonderful mentor, Dennis Milne. Dennis was an excellent counsel with a wealth of experience. His guidance forever forged my legal career.

Even today, when in doubt, I inevitably ask, “what would Dennis have done?” and the solution magically appears. Dennis’s support and advice gave me much-needed confidence, especially when I was a novice. It continues to support me today.

Because mentoring relationships in the practice of law have generally fallen by the wayside, we are all losing out. Unquestionably, the benefits of mentoring are reciprocal!

When I shared my views with Candace over lunch, we reached a mentoring agreement in no time.

Each relationship will be unique but Candace and I discuss every topic under the sun and most days we share several emails. Our exchange of marketing ideas has been especially stimulating. When Candace faces challenges in dealing with opposing counsel, I help with effective strategies for stick-handling such files.

From a mentor’s perspective, it is flattering to think someone else believes our opinion is important. The enthusiasm of a young lawyer is contagious and re-invigorating. The fresh ideas and perspectives Candace brings help rejuvenate me.

It is especially rewarding to believe that in some way I help ensure this bright young lawyer will remain and strive in our profession, rather than give up in frustration and stress.

Trevor Todd restricts his practice to Wills, estates, and estate litigation. He has practised law for 34 years and is a past chair of the Wills and Trusts (Vancouver) Subsection, BC Branch of the Canadian Bar Association, and a past president of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC. Trevor frequently lectures to the Trial Lawyers, CLE, and the BC Notaries and also teaches estate law to new Notaries. His Website includes 30 articles on various topics of estate law.

The Mentee Persective by Candace Cho

In August 2009 I was called to the Bar, but found myself unemployed along with half my graduating class due to the worldwide financial crisis.

At first, I did what everyone else did — apply despreately to any job posting that came up. After a while though, I thought about the depressing statistics described above and realized that even if I found work as an associate, the odds were I was going to leave the practice of law in a few years anyway, out of sheer frustration. What was the alternative? The only apparent answer to me was to rebel against tradition and carve my own way to professional fulfillment.

Equipped with my undergraduate background in marketing and my entrepreneurial spirit, I decided to take the plunge to start my own law firm — all on my own terms. I decided my competencies and interest were in estate litigation; I would build a boutique practice in that area of law.

I had the fortune to meet my current mentor Trevor Todd during my articling year while working on a complex estate litigation; Trevor was acting as opposing counsel. When I made the decision to start my own practice in estate litigation, it seemed a good idea to get better acquainted with him to determine if a business association could be negotiated; he was clearly an experienced lawyer in the field.

To my pleasant surprise, he was keen and eager to meet with me, and he began referring work to me immediately after our first business lunch.

Trevor had, in fact, rejected the traditional firm model years ago, and had developed an alternative business model based on referral associations with independent lawyers he trusted and repsected. He told me he had been looking for a junior lawyer for some time to whom to refer work, but had had difficulty finding someone to form an association.

We hit it off right away at our lunch; the seeds of our mentorship relationship were already forming as we exchanged our different, yet complementary ideas about marketing, the practice of law, politics, and various social issues.

As Trevor started referring more and more files to me, I was quickly becoming overwhelmed with the sense that I was getting in way over my head. While I derived immense satisfaction from the freedom and creativity of managing my own files, and having direct client contact, something was not quite right. I was a young and inexperienced lawyer pretending to my clients that I had all the answers, when in reality I was insecure about my abilities and decisions. In short, I needed a mentor.

At that point, I proposed to Trevor that I pay him a mentorship fee in addition to the referral fee I was paying him for files he was referring to me. This novel proposal was accepted by him, which allowed us to forge a unique mentorship relationship. Trevor and I meet for dim sum lunch once a week to discuss litigation strategy, client management, politics, and any other topic that interests us on that particular day.

The net effect of this relationship is that I have all the benefits of having a boss, but none of the drawbacks. I get the wisdom and knowledge from an experienced lawyer to help me manage my practice, but I have the freedom to determine my own hours, run my own business, and have the final say on how to conduct my files.

Conversely, Trevor has all the benefits of having an associate, with none of the drawbacks. He receives monetary compensation for his mentorship and source of referral work, but does not have the risks of having to pay a set salary or overhead expenses associated with hiring an associate. It is a beautifully symbiotic relationship because it is mutually beneficial and satisfactory to both parties.

I just celebrated my first anniversary of lawnching my own business, Onyx Law Office, and I could not be happier. I have a burgeoning practice with meaningful work, manageable clients, great mentorship, and enough flexibility and profit to afford to take vacations, spend time with loved ones, and serve the community. What’s more, I can honestly say I look forward to going to work, and am passionate about what I do.


The Scrivener

Volume 20 Number 1 Spring 2011

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