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“Lawyer Norm Keith is 58 and laughs hard when asked about his readiness for retirement.”  There is an old adage that most good lawyers live well work hard and die poor”, he says referencing the quote from American Lawyer and statesman, Daniel Webster.  “Many probably for appearances sake, or life enjoyment or because they are not thinking or planning ahead.”  (Canadian Lawyer Mag, June 1st 2015)

As a lawyer who owns or works for a small or large firm, or in the capacity as a sole practitioner, you need to be prepared to take responsibility for your financial future. Most firms don’t offer group retirement plans and even when they do, would not properly address what would be required to replace lifestyle expenses at retirement or earlier.  Embrace the fact in most cases, You Are Your Retirement Plan.

Begin with the end in mind. Waiting too long to think about retirement means, working because you have to, not because you want to.  Put a plan in motion that will allow you to put your assets to work for you, so that at some point you can decide to stop working altogether. Keep in mind, planning to retire can occur only when there are sufficient assets or capital available to replace  your current lifestyle.


  1.  Loss of employment. The word on Bay street is that big firms are pushing partners out, in some cases in their late 40’s and 50’s in order to thin the ranks and make room for less expensive, younger lawyers.
  2. Divorce. Imagine you’ve been on track with a retirement plan and then it blows up because suddenly half of your assets are gone.
  3. Income declining or stagnant. Due to the reduced profitability of firms
  4. Market Conditions. Investment returns on portfolios have generally been lower since 2008
  5. Illness. A disability or critical illness can mean your tapping into assets sooner than planned  in order to maintain lifestyle until you recover

(Source  for point 1-4,  Canadian Lawyer Mag, June 2015)

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)


It’s June, already! It’s been a long winter. Yet, somehow it feels like summer has crept up on us.

For some law firms, that can mean the beginning of a slower period. A chance for some well-earned, rest and relaxation.

Not to be a downer about it, but that also happens to be a good time to do some planning for your firm.

Whatever has been on your mind for the fall – a new website, marketing plans for the associates, a succession plan for a retiring partner or even a retreat – it will be easier to get started if you take the time to consider the strategy before you’re faced with a deadline on top of your usual client work.

So, this week’s tip is to use your downtime well. Make a list of all the practice building projects you’ve been meaning to get to. Prioritize the list. Then focus on just your top priority items. Get at least some of the preliminary considerations underway by reviewing relevant information or data, setting up internal meetings and also consulting with outside advisors to get a better understanding of what might be involved. You will be setting yourself up to have the time and space for some of that critical, big picture thinking and also to make decisions about the time and resources needed, the sequence of events and even possible collaborators.

Once that’s done, pat yourself on the back for getting ahead of the curve and enjoy the rest of your summer!

For more reading on business and marketing plans, see these past articles on SlawTips:

Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


Mindsets are simply deeply held beliefs, and in the words of author and professor Dr. Carol Dweck “we can always change our minds”.

Dweck discovered that people generally hold one of two mindsets, a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. And these mindsets have a strong influence on how we approach challenge.

With a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them.

Dweck says that with a fixed mindset every situation is evaluated: Will I succeed or fail? Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser?

With a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities are things that can be cultivated through effort.  With a growth mindset we evaluate our progress based on how we did today compared with our own past performance.  Growth mindset encourages us to take on challenges and contributes to our resilience overall.

To develop your growth mindset try this:

  1. Notice: When do you find yourself comparing yourself to others?
  2. Think again: When you catch yourself making this comparison take a moment to pause, and think again.
    From a growth mindset consider your own goals, priorities and standards and compare yourself to these. How are you measuring up? What action could you take to improve?
  3. Test: Start small.  Identify an example of fixed mindset thinking and test out a growth mindset approach.
    One lawyer I know, Susan, loved cooking but thought she was no good at baking and never would be.  She decided to try out a growth mindset by taking on some baking.  She started with a simple bread recipe and kept going from there.  What she discovered was that her baking kept improving and she really enjoyed it.  With fixed mindset she had decided she was a hopeless baker.  With growth mindset she realised she was becoming a good baker.  Now she is applying this mindset shift to other parts of her life.

Where can you make the shift from fixed to growth?

Allison Wolf (@thelawyercoach)


Ahead of me laid a mountain of a mediation memo. On one side a complex liability scenario had to be made easily digestible. Expert and lay witnesses provided converging and diverging testimony, and I had to explain why I happened to have the best interpretation. Hundreds of pages of reports lay in store, needing analysis with a fine-tooth comb and a magician’s touch to transform it all to less than a dozen pages. On the other side the damages story awaited. Millions of dollars claimed, another set of reports and analysis. Where to start, how to start, should I even start? It’s a good thing there was a deadline.

My mind wandered, staring into the abyss (self-starter? Who, me?), as I pondered the daunting task. Many moons ago I tutored wee little ones in math. They struggled mightily with algebra, confused by the letters that represented numbers (2x+5=15? Huh?). So we approached a problem by breaking into into chunks. We discovered even more basic problems with addition, subtraction, and counting. We began with the simplest chunks, counting with our fingers as we performed basic arithmetic. And slowly worked our way through, chunk by chunk, until the problem was solved. Thus the complex task was conquered, reconstructed into a sequence of simple chunks.

I approached the memo the same way. I broke it down into sections. Liability and damages to start. Then liability into five more sections, damages into three. I booked dates and times to do each section. I proceeded with the first section, then the next, then the next, and before I knew it I was done.

So if you’re stuck on a big task, “chunk” it. Break it down into smaller parts and approach each little part one at a time.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


Web design is a fast-moving field. Do these changes make you wonder if it’s time to update your law firm’s website? The decision itself can be daunting. Does it need to be an overhaul? Or should we just tweak? How much is enough? Will it even make a difference?

Why not take a scientific approach and deconstruct your site to better assess its current state?

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  1. Branding – From words to pictures, does the website integrate your professional identity, appropriately and creatively? Or, put another way, does it make you proud?
  2. Audience – Will those who are a fit know that the site is speaking to them? Will those who aren’t know that it isn’t?
  3. Writing style – Is the voice an honest representation of your people, culture and attitude?
  4. Contact information – Is it easy to find on every page?
  5. Call to action – Is it clear and compelling why the reader should contact you? Are there more than one calls to action competing for attention?
  6. Navigation – Will visitors know where they are, no matter where they land on your site?
  7. Function – Does the site present properly on mobile? Does it download quickly on desktop? Is it secure?
  8. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – Is the site findable? Have any people or branding objectives been sacrificed in making it so?

As you try to assess the scale and timing of any updates to your website, consider its greater value. How important is your website to practice development? Recruiting? Media coverage? As an online hub, generally?

If you have some clarity about the role your website plays in helping to meet firm objectives, you’ll be better able to assess the value of the cost and time involved in this update. That’s when you can stop wondering and start moving along with some decisions.

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto

For more reading on website design, see these past articles on SlawTips:

Also, see the following articles by Sandra Bekhor at Toronto Marketing Blog:


Begin your journey towards intentional organization™ with the first thing Master Virtual Assistant AndreaCan counsels her clients:

The first thing I teach to stressed out lawyers is to write things down. Not on post its or various yellow pads – in the same spot. Get a notebook, I recommend and use a Moleskin … cuz if it was good enough for Hemingway – seriously, because it is small enough to be portable yet large enough to be useful.

Every morning, I open to a new page, date it and use that page to capture any of the things I need to write down that day – things to do, notes from calls, numbers, names, etc. All that goes on the right hand side of the new page.  On the left hand side is where I leave space for what I term more free flowing thoughts – the navigational trees, bubble maps and brain dumps.

At the end of the day, I take a few minutes to transfer anything that needs to go digital and I put a check mark through each item as I do.  Now I can instantly see what is also digital but I’m careful not to obscure the information on the page <- you’d be surprised how many times you’ll use the book vs. searching digitally for information!

On the off chance I lose my notebook – I make a digital record by taking snapshots of each page and loading them to Evernote. That said, I have yet to lose one. In fact, I go through them all towards the end of each year – partly for fun and partly to help me work through the next year’s focus re: marketing, events and promotions.


To learn more about Andrea’s ways to calm the crazy, enter your email at the bottom of:


When I joined the law firm as a mid-level associate, the managing partner shook my hand and welcomed me. “We’re happy to have you”, he said. “I’m happy to be here”, I said, and asked, “where are my files?” “In your office. You have one hundred to start with.” I walked with excitement and, admittedly, not a little fear and trembling, into my office, fired up my computer, and thanked my lucky stars for joining a paperless firm. Then I clicked on each file from A to Z. Where to start? What to do? Didn’t every file need tasks doing right now?

I froze a bit and thought I should surf the web. That would really do the trick. The files run themselves, you know. Snapping back to real-life, I took a sip of coffee and reviewed every file, drafted up one-page summaries of each, and set out the to-dos for every file. Then I really did freeze. Same question. Where do I start? Best to procrastinate and get to know my fellow colleagues. I marched over and chatted with the lawyer next door – literally in the next office – and we talked about everything but files. Before I left, I casually asked, “By the way, how do you manage your tasks? I’ve got hundreds of tasks for all these files and don’t know what’s the best way to start.” And, as casually as I asked, casually came advice that changed my practice forever.

“Oh, that one’s easy. Book an appointment for every task. And book separate appointments for all your files to review them. Thirty minutes a file, three months between reviews, then however long you think is appropriate.”

I dutifully did so. And I have rarely been surprised by what needs to be done, or has(n’t) been done on a file since. So there it is. There are many ways to manage your tasks, from daily to-do lists to ongoing master to-do lists. This one, slightly novel, worked for me. Make your to-dos appointments in your calendar. When the time comes, do the task. If you can’t get around to it that day, book another appointment. Yes, this fills up your calendar, but the reward is an effective and free task-management system.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


A number of Canadians wait until the last minute to contribute to their RRSP. Perhaps it’s a financial hangover after the Christmas bills have come in or a general avoidance to deal with their finances. Often the RSP investment is made without any real thought on how the investment will be withdrawn to create and income stream in retirement or without considering alternative types of investments such as a TFSA. Before the March 1st deadline ask yourself: have I created a plan to pay as little tax as possible when I start to draw an income from my investments?

Are all investments taxed the same? The answer is no….

The important thing to understand about passive income is that different types of investments are also taxed differently. For example Interest income is taxed more heavily up front and capital gains investments are taxed more when you withdraw them. Some have limits as to how much can be invested such as the RRSP and TFSA, for example.

How risky is it to invest?

Certain passive investments do not guarantee income, such as stocks or equity mutual funds, while other assets such as annuities provide a contractual income guarantee. Some passive investments receive income from different types of asset classes, such as a balanced mutual fund, and some depending on the asset type, will produce a small, moderate, or higher income to live on. Keep in mind RSP and TFSA can be invested in any asset class you choose.

Some investments that create income might be more conservative in terms of income earned (GIC for example) but a lower risk of losing the amount you invested while others might produce a higher return (like a stock) but your investment is at a greater risk of short term loss. Keep in mind RSP and TFSA can be invested in any asset class you choose.

The ideal scenario is to have multiple passive income streams working on your behalf so that you are not having to draw income from only one type of investment. This helps to spread out the taxes and risks over a number of investment sources.

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)


There I was at the office, churning away, berated by my boss, being laughed at, missing meetings, leavings tasks unfinished. Everywhere my heart raced, a test around every corner. Perform or perish – I was perishing. But then the fog of sleep lifted, the grey clouds of my old job giving way to the sunshine of reality. The old job long gone, I breathed in the heaven of the here and now. Sometimes a nightmare is good for the soul.

Perhaps because I love giving advice more than taking it, I often talk to lawyers considering a career change. I have seen lawyers write out a list of all the pros and cons about their current position, do the same about another position, and compare the two. I have seen flow charts looking like Nobel prize-winning chemistry equations diagramming possibilities and priorities. I have seen lawyers meander about from story to story, soul-searching their personal histories for the holy grail of meaning. I have seen calculations measuring income adjusted for standard of living, taking into consideration the cost of health benefits, sick days, vacation days, commuting time and cost, and pension matching programs, to arrive at the best possible total compensation. But it is the rare bird who thinks about the question under the three heads of happiness: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Strong research, and now popular psychology, supports the theory that happiness correlates with your own perception of your level of independence, the quality of your relationships, and how good you think you are at what you do. Young lawyers, you may have low levels of autonomy depending on the kind of files you are working on. Do you have the patience to wait it out, gain experience, and eventually achieve autonomy as a more experienced lawyer? Can you find autonomy and satisfaction in the task assigned to you? It may well be a matter of perspective and delaying gratification. Relationships at work can vary from place to place. If you are unhappy with your friendships at work, or lack thereof, is the problem the workplace or you? Might a change of scenery affect that? Feeling competent is hard for a lawyer. Most of us are perfectionists and little mistakes can be costly. Do your colleagues support you enough? Can you improve your resilience? (Research shows that resilience is one of the most train-able skills.)

So today’s tip: if you’re considering a change of scenery, take stock of your levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Assess your abilities in each and determine if the weakness lies in you or the job. You’ll have a better idea of what to do about the former (train up!) and about the latter.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


You’ve probably done it before. And maybe there were no surprises. Nothing to worry about. That’s great. But how long has it been? This internet that we love so much? It’s not really known for ‘staying put’. Blink once and something will happen.

And while you’re developing new habits, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also search your firm name and the names of your associates and staff, particularly if they’re meeting with clients.

You may be pleasantly surprised. Some new, complementary reviews that you didn’t know about? Great. Post them on your website. Thank the generous clients and referrers that wrote them. Ask if they wouldn’t mind cross posting the same comments elsewhere. LawyerRatingz. Google Plus. LinkedIn…

Or, you may find less than pleasing results. It happens. Bad reviews. Strange or inappropriate information about your team.

Either way, it’s helpful to know what’s out there before your clients do. That way, whether it’s good news or bad, you can position yourself to make the most of the situation.

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto