The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

James Careless

The practice

Finding good financial advice

By James Careless April 4, 2018 4 April 2018

Finding good financial advice

People go to law school to become lawyers, not small business owners. But that’s exactly what those who establish their own law firms become, with all the financial responsibility that entails.

“Most attorneys that go into solo or small practice don’t have a background or formal education in financial management,” said Heidi Alexander, Director of the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Many attorneys in Canada and the U.S. “would prefer to just avoid finances altogether,” she says, but knowing how to manage them is “absolutely essential in order to run a successful solo or small law practice.”

Fortunately, there are many ways to build your financial knowledge and get the advice you need to succeed in business.

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The practice

Legal podcasts that are worth your time

By James Careless November 28, 2017 28 November 2017

Legal podcasts that are worth your time

 

All across Canada, lawyers are expanding their legal knowledge and know-how by listening to free Canadian legal podcasts on their smartphones and computers.

“You can listen to these podcasts, which usually feature informal conversations touching upon a range of law-related issues, while you’re in the subway or waiting in line at Starbucks,” said Ian Hull, partner in Toronto Hull & Hull LLP. “For young lawyers in particular, legal podcasts are a great way to learn about unfamiliar areas of the law in a low-stress, entertaining manner.”        

Combining the power of expert opinions with the intimacy of radio, “legal podcasts, such as those of the McGill Law Journal, offer listeners a glimpse into the minds of legal scholars and professionals from a variety of legal fields and traditions,” said Emma Noradounkian, Podcast Editor for McGill Law Journal Vol. 63. “Listeners tune into legal podcasts to know the scoop on a given contemporary legal issue from those who are most affected by it and those experts who can shed light on how best to resolve it.”

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Legal innovation

Analytics can make your firm more profitable and more competitive

By James Careless September 26, 2017 26 September 2017

Analytics can make your firm more profitable and more competitive

 

 

Canada’s big law firms have a reputation for being very conservative when it comes to change. “As one top firm said to us early on, ‘We don't like to be first in,’” said Hersh Perlis, Director of the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University. “Heck, we don't like to be second,” Perlis continued: “We like to be third!"

It’s true that not all change is progress, and sometimes the canny bird that doesn’t rush in early gets a good worm.

That said, one change that is developing a proven track record for law firms is analytics. Analytics is about compiling information about how the firm currently does business, then analyzing that data to find ways to change practices to operate more efficiently – and more profitably.

For example, a law firm can figure out how much billable work is currently being done by partners, then run an analysis to see how much of that could be performed by lower-cost non-partner lawyers instead, and reassign the workload accordingly. Such a reassignment can reduce the firm’s expenses , thus improving the bottom line without the need to increase fees.  If the cost reductions are large enough, the firm can even cut client fees while still earning more profit than before.

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The practice

Professional liability insurance

By James Careless February 12, 2016 12 February 2016

Professional liability insurance

Four out of every five Ontario lawyers – that is 80 per cent – will be sued for malpractice at least once in their careers. The heady risk of malpractice is not limited to this province: lawyers nationwide regularly face the threat of malpractice suits as a reality of doing business. This is why every law society/Chambres or Barreau program in Canada requires private practice members to carry at least $1 million in professional liability insurance.

There is no exception to this rule: “One way or another, every lawyer in private practice in Canada has professional liability insurance – and must have it in order to practice,” said Dan Pinnington, Vice-President Claims Prevention and Stakeholder Relations of LawPRO (Lawyers' Professional Indemnity Company), which provides professional liability insurance to Ontario lawyers.

The annual cost of professional liability insurance “varies widely, from $1,395 in Manitoba to $3,900 in Alberta,” said Su Forbes, Director of the Law Society of British Columbia’s Lawyers Insurance Fund. In B.C. the cost is $1,750, while in Ontario, the annual premium is $3,350 plus 5 per cent PST. LawPRO gives first year lawyers a 50 per cent discount.

For a new lawyer faced with all kinds of start-up costs, buying professional liability insurance each year can feel like an unwelcome expense. It may also seem like an invitation.

“Some might argue that having mandatory insurance might encourage clients to sue their lawyer,” Forbes acknowledged. “On the other hand, while some suits lack merit, it is important that clients who establish a viable malpractice claim are reasonably compensated for their losses.”

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Peer support resources for solos and small firms

By James Careless August 6, 2015 6 August 2015

Peer support resources for solos and small firms

Compared to their larger legal counterparts, solo practitioners and small law firms don’t have the time or money to invest in analysing and improving their business practices. Fortunately, there are many peer-based support options that can them up their games in affordable, efficient ways.

Tap Into associations

Whether it be a local CBA branch or a group of lawyers focused on a specific area of legal practice, associations can be great peer resources. After all, their members are lawyers too; they have an intimate knowledge of the struggles of legal life. 

A case in point: As a solo who specializes in immigration, Toronto lawyer Vince Wong relies on the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the CBA’s National Citizenship and Immigration Law Section, and the Toronto Lawyers Association for peer support. “I tap into these associations for the additional formal training I need, and to keep myself on top of changes to the law and new legal precedents,” said Wong. “These are my peers; people who are doing the same work as I am, and who understand what I am dealing with.”

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