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Virtual Law Office: A Tale of Two Cities, Part 8

A few words from Marc Delacruz on the mentoring relationship he entered into with Linda L. Long Q.C.:

How did the virtual law office benefit the relationship from both the mentor’s and mentoree’s perspective?

I think Linda’s previous blog post did a great job of explaining my background and what kind of previous legal experience I had under my belt before I decided to go solo.  It was scary thinking about how I was going to start a solo practice, when I had known nothing outside of lawyering within a large firm.

There are lots of odds and ends that a sole practitioner has to worry about that don’t come up in the daily routine of a big firm lawyer.  Things like arranging for mail delivery, deciding on a telephone and computer system, and designing business cards and letterhead are topics that weren’t covered in law school.  They were already set up and established at my old firm.  I, on the other hand, was starting from scratch.

The one piece of advice that I kept reading over and over in numerous “How to” manuals on building a solo practice was to find a mentor who could show me the ropes.  Luckily for me, I attended a LESA conference for solo and small firm practitioners.  There, I met Linda, who graciously offered me a tour of her office when the conference was over.  Our discussions eventually moved towards establishing a more formal mentoring relationship, which was exactly what I needed.

The mentoring experience was made even better by the fact that Linda had a virtual law office in place.  I knew that I could phone or email Linda and the office staff.  I could also go and visit them in person by taking the 8-hour drive (round trip) to Edmonton.  However, the virtual connection made it possible for me to also send messages on their intra-office instant messenger program for even faster responses, and have access to their computer database.

Access to the precedents folder at Linda’s office was incredibly helpful to me.  It reassured me that whenever I had a question about some random document I needed, that there was a good chance that there was already a precedent for it.  Everything from a template Statement of Claim for Divorce and Division of Matrimonial Property (remember, the new Queen’s Bench fill-in-the-blank forms weren’t out yet), to an office policy manual, to pre-made charts for tracking postage.

When you’re just starting out as a sole practitioner with minimal time at the Bar, it can feel like you are at ground zero.  Although you will draw on your articling and associate experience at your previous firm, you quickly realize that in a lot of cases, you will have no clue where to begin.  For me, I knew that I had access to Linda’s office staff, the precedents folder, and my regularly scheduled mentor teleconferences.  These lifelines made it possible for me to build my practice with more confidence.

Is there an experience working within the Virtual Law Office that is particularly memorable for you?

There were a number of important experiences over the 2 years that I had my formal mentoring relationship with Linda.  One of the more memorable experiences within the virtual law office setting itself was working with Des Birch, Linda’s office manager, to run through the steps to creating a client bill and paying for the fees by trust transfer from the clients’ retainers.  It was the first time that Delacruz Law Office had billed its clients and been paid for its legal services!  Using the virtual connection, Des walked me through each of the template forms that she used when doing the monthly bills, and helped me complete mine.   Although I could have learned on my own about how to send bills and pay myself, being able to ask an experienced office manager how to do things saved me from a lot of headaches.

Linda is a lawyer who enjoys teaching others.  She was incredibly patient with me and answered all of my numerous rookie questions.  Surprisingly enough, most of the questions I had were not even related to family law, but rather were about the practice of law.  How do I decide on office furniture?  What should I say to prospective clients?  How can I tell a good potential client from a bad one?

I am thankful that I found such a wonderful mentor.  I can’t wait for the day that I can return the favor, or “pay it forward” to another junior lawyer setting up his or her own solo practice!

Stay tuned for the final part of the Virtual Law Office series, Part 9: The Technical Perspective

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Virtual Law Office: A Tale of Two Cities, Part 7

The VLO from the perspective of the Long Family Law Group’s Junior Associate, Jasmine S. Chu:

“I never imagined that a small firm would be big on technology… until I joined Long Family Law Group as a junior associate this fall.  Having only been here a few weeks, I can already say that being part of this Virtual Law Office (VLO)  is one of the perks of this job.

Casey, our I.T. guy, set up my computer, set up remote access, and has been able to fix computer issues without even coming into the office.  I have yet to put a face to the name.  I anticipate that as my practice grows and I get busier, I will only come to love the VLO more.  Access to email anytime, anywhere, has been great.  At the end of a long weekend, as I am getting ready for bed, I find myself wondering what will be waiting for me in my email inbox when I arrive at the office the next morning, or I may ask myself if I ever did add that clause to that document I was working on Friday afternoon.  All I have to do is log on remotely and do a quick check.

The firm that I was previously at did not have remote access.  When I was out of the country, I set an out-of-office auto-reply stating that I would be without any access to email during that time.  I asked staff to check my emails and contact me at my personal email address or at the emergency phone number I provided.  I was certainly apprehensive about being entirely unavailable to my clients but there was nothing I could do about it.  There was also an instance where I caught the 24-hour stomach flu and had a deadline to make for the next day.  Since the file was at work and the draft document on my work computer, I ended up going in to the office after-hours when I was feeling slightly better.

At Long Family Law Group, we keep electronic files that mirror our hard files.  I know that if I catch the 24-hour stomach flu again, I can make a deadline, since I can access everything I need from the comfort of home.  When I am away from the office, staff can stay in touch with me by Spark – our inter-office instant messaging program.  There is no longer a need for an out-of-office auto-reply to emails.  In family law, where a client’s situation can change at the drop of a hat, the last thing that client needs is an auto-reply email that I am away and without access to email.  The client comes first, and he or she needs to know that I am available, no matter where I am.  I may be slower to respond while I am out of the office, but the client can be assured that after time away from the office, I am still up to speed on the latest developments.”

Stayed tuned for Part 8: The Mentor/Mentoree Relationship

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Virtual Law Office: A Tale of Two Cities, Part 6

The Virtual Law Office from the perspective of the Office Manager, Desiree Birch:

“I have been with Long Family Law Group (LFLG) since December of 2006 in the role of Office Manager.

Our system is very simple … whenever possible, make an electronic copy. We extensively use encrypted email as a method of communication, not only between lawyer and client, but also between lawyer and other counsel. Family Law is definitely NOT a “9 to 5” profession.  It’s one thing to have electronic documents accessible when you are IN the office … but having secure access to the firm’s systems and databases from outside the office is what has allowed past and present lawyers and staff flexibility that is sometimes needed in this hectic life.

When I started at LFLG, we had a student-at-law doing her articles, who had a young family at home. I saw her trying to balance her studies, her family, and trying to start her career at the firm. Without the flexibility of having the secure remote access to her computer, she wouldn’t have been able to work/study AND be at home with her child. Once she was admitted to the bar and started her practice with us, this flexibility continued to allow her to manage her caseload around the needs of her family. She could, and DID, work until early hours of the morning, but was still able to be at home.

In 2008, Linda ventured into a mentoring relationship with a young lawyer from Grande Prairie, Marc Delacruz. The virtual model that we had created worked very well for him as well. He was able to utilize the system that we had created, and model it at his own firm. We were able to give him access to our precedents – not only just court document precedents, but also everyday administration precedents that he would need to run his firm. Documents like client retainer agreements and questionnaires, to disbursement entry sheets, billing templates, and closed file spreadsheets. We had already “invented the wheel” so he didn’t have to.

I also had the opportunity to help mentor Marc on the administration side of running his law firm. I spent some in time person with him when he came to our office going through the ESILaw program, but the majority of the training that we did was over the phone or by email. I was able to teach him how to utilize the ESILaw program for his financial transactions – posting payments, creating and posting bills, etc., as well as teach him what systems he needed to put in place regarding his business to ensure he was meeting the guidelines of the Law Society of Alberta.

Linda has also been able to manage a very busy law practice, a relationship with her husband in Lethbridge, 3 kids, numerous “adopted” kids, vacations, … well, read her blog and she’ll tell you. While my position doesn’t allow as much flexibility for remote work, I have even been able to utilize the secure remote system several times to check emails and such, while being at home with a sick child.

It’s a wonderful system … the days of being chained to your desk are over.”

Stayed tuned for Part 7: VLO From the Perspective of the Junior Associate

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Virtual Law Office: A Tale of Two Cities, Part 5

We have taken you through the framework and benefits of beginning a Virtual Law Office. Now we will hear Danijela Strong, Legal Assistant to Linda L. Long Q.C., discuss her perspective on the VLO.

“I have been with Long Family Law Group family since December 2008.  Everything was new for me and there was a lot to learn.  I was trained to follow the office procedures and with time I could see how important it was to follow the process that was in place which eventually got even better. For example, all of our documents, correspondences, court and meeting notes are scanned to our electronic file directory so our client files mirror each other in the hard copies and electronic copies.  The clients are updated on their matter electronically as things happen on their case which eliminates the backlog.  The lawyers are able to access the electronic files from anywhere so in the event a lawyer is traveling and there is urgency on a file, they are able to access client’s file, provide support, advice and instruct the team.  The law office travels with the lawyer.

We use all electronic methods available to us to ensure customer service and prompt replies to clients.  I also remember how great it was to see a young lawyer from Grande Prairie get the support he needed to launch him and get experience and training from a senior counsel,  all occurring through a click of a mouse, camera, phone and an internet connection.  Support to another lawyer was given immediately as the situation required attention.

In Family Law you should expect the unexpected and crisis does not ask what time of the day it is. With a virtual system the legal advice is provided to people in need as their life unfolds and junior lawyers are able to get the mentoring they need to ensure that client’s needs are met in the justice world. I have been a part of this client service virtual team model for three years and it works!”

Stayed tuned for Part 6: VLO From the Perspective of the Legal Assistant

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A Conference You Will Not Want to Miss…

You will not want to miss our upcoming Law and Practice Update conference occurring in Edmonton on November 18 & 19, 2011. We sat down with our chair of the program, Brenda L. Edwards, to share with you a bit more about this program.

Brenda, please share with us a little bit about yourself.

I am Brenda Edwards, chair for the upcoming Law and Practice Update seminar.  I am working on my 20th year of practice, and have spent the majority of that time either as a solo practitioner, or practicing in association with others.  My scope of practice is quite wide; I practice in the area of real estate, wills and estates, corporate commercial, some family, and the odd really interesting criminal case that comes my way.  I also do custodianships for the Law Society, when required.

Why should someone attend this conference?

This is a great opportunity to hear from several solo practitioners, who face the challenge to provide high quality legal services to their clients, but who do not have the resources of the larger firms – just like every other small practitioner.  This is a good opportunity not only to obtain practice updates from the areas that our attendees generally practice in, but also to network with others in the same practice situation, to share experiences and make contacts that will be useful in the future.  Especially for lawyers who practice completely on their own – it is always nice to have a group of lawyers to whom you feel comfortable firing off e-mailed questions to!

What are three key nuggets of information one would walk away with after attending this program?

1.       Cutting-edge information on how using cost-efficient technology can even the playing field between lawyers in small or solo practices and those in larger firms;

2.       The latest update on family law, criminal law, real estate

3.       Information as to how the new Law Society trust rules may affect the solo practitioner. 

For information regarding this two-day conference, click here to view the brochure.

Register online today!

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Virtual Law Office: A Tale of Two Cities, Part 4

Do you see other practitioners implementing aspects of the Virtual Law Office into their practice; how?

Technological change is moving so rapidly that these days almost everyone can work remotely; Ipads and Iphones are changing the way I practice on a daily basis.  I think that this model – call it what you will, virtual, or remote, or paperless, or offsite practice –  is the answer for boomers who wish to “retire” gradually, for young lawyers who want to be parents with integrity while continuing to meet client needs, for anyone who wants a life and particularly for mentorship of junior lawyers in remote areas by senior lawyers who wish to pass the torch and leave an access to justice legacy in the community.

Moving into this model has allowed me to travel and still stay in business. I used to tell clients when I was out of the office, but these days the office is wherever I am, provided that I have invested in good systems and a team to support me when I am in the field – or in my southern Alberta home with the guy I love.

Virtual law is marriage friendly. Of course, it didn’t help that my two youngest firm members decided to tie the knot and leave town…….But as I said, we are marriage friendly, family friendly and enthusiastically embracing “virtuality”. Every body is doing it these days, and the legal world is being changed by it.  All that is needed is an open mind, an open wallet, an open heart –  and an IT Guru named Casey.

I often look behind me to see who the “hi-tech” person is that people acknowledge. It can’t be me, surely?  I took my last bath at home at 19 in a tin wash tub. There were 100 chicks in a cardboard enclosure over the floor heater in the living room. The nights were still cold and the brooder house wasn’t warm enough yet. I heated the water for the bath on the stove, the house having no hot water heater, nor bathtub.   And I flagged down a Greyhound bus out on Highway 2, carrying all my wordly effects in my single suitcase banging against my leg as I ran after the bus.

And here I am, too many years later to count, having fun staying married while practicing law, looking forward to coming to work every day, be it in person or online. Eating cake while making bread. Having it all…………….. smelling the roses.

Oh – yes – did I mention Champ, the divorce dog?  Perhaps not – more about him later……………….

Stayed tuned for Part 5: The Legal Assistant Perspective

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Feature Volunteer Firm: Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP

Many thanks goes out to Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP, who generously provided assistance with our recent update of our CPLED Civil Litigation Materials. Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP has recently launched a new version of the newsletter on their website that contains in-depth information and substantive quotes from the most notable Rules of Court cases, which have been incorporated into our update. Read on to learn a little more about Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP. Click here for a link to the newsletter.

In 1995 a group of barristers, all of whom had trained at one or another of Calgary’s premier law firms, founded Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP as a civil litigation boutique.

JSS Barristers acts for substantial corporate entities as well as individuals, but takes pride in its advocacy on behalf of each one of its clients. The firm provides a full range of commercial legal counsel to parties involved in a wide spectrum of businesses and industries.

The firm’s lawyers litigate in, among others, the areas of business law, banking and financial services, product liability, tort, natural resources, securities, regulatory tribunals, bankruptcy, insurance, professional negligence, serious personal injury, employment and commercial trade secrets and proprietary information.

The lawyers at JSS Barristers come from widely divergent backgrounds, and have considerable experience as trial advocates. They have appeared at all levels of the Courts of Alberta and Canada, as well as before regulatory bodies such as the Alberta Securities Commission, the Alberta Utilities Commission, and the Law Society of Alberta. The lawyers at JSS Barristers have developed successful practices dealing with mediations, arbitrations and other alternative dispute resolution processes.

The reputation of the lawyers of JSS Barristers in the legal community sustains the firm’s practice. Many of JSS Barristers’ clients have been referred by other lawyers, by other business professionals with whom JSS Barristers’ lawyers have worked, and by former clients.

JSS Barristers is proud to represent those who need access to the justice system, whether they are corporations, officers and directors of corporations, governmental agencies, societies or individuals.

As the largest Canadian litigation boutique outside of Toronto, JSS Barristers has the depth and experience to represent sophisticated clients in complex and multi-party litigation. At the same time, we provide attentive service to smaller corporate clients and individuals involved in the litigation process. Our clients deserve and receive the highest level of representation.

Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP is pleased to provide summaries of recent Court Decisions which consider the Alberta Rules of Court and comment on the application of the new Rules. JSS BARRISTERS RULES provides a convenient overview of how the Courts are interpreting the new Rules.

If you would like to review past publications of JSS BARRISTERS RULES or receive electronic issues of future JSS BARRISTERS RULES via email when they are published, please visit our website at www.jssbarristers.ca.

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Congratulations on 50 Years of Service

Congratulations to the Honourable Justice A. M. Lutz, Steve Denecky Q.C., Gerald W. Pittman Q.C., and David P. MacNaughton for 50 fantastic years of service. It is interesting to note that in 1961, 72 lawyers were admitted to the Law Society of Alberta. In 2011, 290 lawyers were admitted to the Law Society of Alberta.

Your commitment to the legal profession is inspiring. Thank you!

 

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Don’t Miss this Stellar Program!

You will not want to miss our upcoming Legal Research seminar occurring in Calgary on October 5th and in Edmonton on October 13th. We sat down with our chair of the program, Karen M. McDougall, to share with you a bit more about this program. Karen is the principal of Casefinder, an Edmonton-based research and writing firm consulting to Alberta lawyers. She was called to the bar in 1992 and has spent most of her professional time since then practicing exclusively in research and writing.

Karen, why should someone attend this program?

We believe we have put together a research seminar with a difference.  Our “dream team” has the pedigree to offer insightful information on some truly advanced issues in research.  It will be informative and interactive — no droning lecture delivery here.

What are three (3) key nuggets of information a registrant would walk away with after attending this program?

A good idea of what competency in research should look like; updated information on the mechanics of and strategies for good research (including the use of social media as an important component); and advanced information on the legislative process and how to find legislation (including international and foreign laws) and uncommon laws like policies.

 

Click here to register for this full-day seminar!