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Think about all the aspects of your job that you weren’t trained for.


Managing people

Priority management

Developing job descriptions


Performance management


Business planning



How much of your day is spent on this list and other such functions? How much of your energy does it take to learn and do it all?

Can you assess the impact on your success as a professional, and even on your very quality of life, if you were to improve in any of these areas, by say 20%? 30%? 40%? What about improvements to multiple areas?

You see where I’m going with this.

Just as with any other professional development undertaking, coaching makes you better at your job.

Coaching teaches you to tap into your own knowledge about your profession, your clients and your staff and actively generate real insight about how to overcome hurdles and maximize opportunities.

How could that not translate into benefit for lawyers?

For reading related to business coaching, see these past articles on SlawTips:

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


Can all grinders become finders?

The need for heads-up entrepreneurial lawyers grows as heads-down commodity “grinder” work diminishes. How can we develop more “finders” who see fresh opportunities to attract clients on a daily basis? How can we accelerate this shift in mindset? How can we use every interaction to enhance the firm’s reputation for making clients feel they are in good hands? And how can traditional rainmakers become better finders in an evolving marketplace?

While formal strategy sessions are vital to set the firm’s overall marketing and services direction, the day-to-day work of cultivating differentiated, high value consultation and collaboration with clients is becoming everyone’s job. In addition to acquiring technical expertise, we need a process to continuously improve the quality of human-to-human interactions.

Seeing around corners

The range of skills needed in an entrepreneurial, finder firm include understanding client priorities, seeing around corners (foresight and problem prevention), in-depth collaboration, empathy and identifying opportunities for new business. We also must learn on our feet to effectively integrate technological advances in our quest to better serve clients.

As I described in my previous SlawTip titled “Learn to leverage your 80%”, approximately 80% of the knowledge we need to do our jobs is gained informally, during daily work activities and interactions. Knowing how to learn from both positive and negative situations is a core skill today. Capabilities acquired through active (vs. passive) learning are valuable because they’re difficult to teach effectively to humans—and not easy for robots to learn.

Happens over time, with no extra time

The good news is that the quality of our human interactions can be greatly improved by learning in the moment, rather than as a separate activity. This process happens over time, rather than over night, but does not require extra time.

What prevents us from learning from our own experience? In order to learn faster, we must first become aware of the factors that make us open or closed to life’s lessons. Using a conscious approach, we can cultivate a prepared mind for learning in action.

Steps to building firm of finders

  1. Define a business purpose. Love of learning is admirable, but success for this initiative begins with a concise statement of the anticipated outcome. What do you expect a commitment to active learning will achieve that advances your overall business strategy?
  2. Recognize common barriers to learning. Blame and defensiveness prevent us from seeking alternative approaches in how we deal with recurring situations. In order to see positive and negative patterns, it’s vital to accept the reality that things typically don’t just happen to us; we have an active role to play in what goes right or wrong.
  3. Question your assumptions. It takes some practice to ask thought-provoking (in contrast to “gotcha”) questions. But a healthy spirit of inquiry can become a lifelong habit. In any given situation you might ask: Why does this client feel they’re in good hands?
  4. Accept the “givens” of learning. Rather than become discouraged by the inevitable anxiety that arises when we wrestle with challenging situations, we can reframe them as “normal human messiness.” Will we choose to avoid difficult conversations or leverage the learning potential?
  5. Understand the active learner’s tradeoffs. If we ignore lessons to be learned we risk paying the lifelong price of wasted time and energy, damage to relationships and diminished reputation. By contrast, conscious learning provides us with strategies for dealing with recurring challenges.
  6.  Involve others. Group coaching accelerates the natural development of these capabilities. Active learning in groups can make great leaps forward by making the most of our collective wisdom. Learning to think through real-life predicaments together promotes a culture of inquiry, empathy and respect for diverse perspectives.

Active learning prepares us for a workplace where routine tasks are increasingly being automated. Developing the confidence and know-how to cope with the unpredictable nature of work is a major benefit of learning how to learn faster from our own experience.

Sharon VanderKaay, Twitter: @svkaay


What is a “learning experience”?

Merely “having an experience” does not guarantee how much we will learn from that experience.

Lawyers are rarely trained to excel in the most basic skill required to thrive in today’s work environment: How to learn faster in action. A widely accepted rule of thumb is that 80% of the knowledge needed to do your job is gained informally, during routine work activities and interactions. Yet developing this valuable resource is typically left to chance rather than leveraged intentionally.

A recent issue of The Economist notes, “…employers are putting increasing emphasis on learning as a skill in its own right.”

Today’s tip: discover ways to exploit your 80%.

We know that one colleague’s “five years’ of experience” can be vastly different from another who did similar work. But why do some people learn faster than others? And why does one practice develop a healthy learning culture, while others tolerate repeated bad behaviour?

As our roles and responsibilities evolve to meet marketplace realities, we can learn to extract more know-how from every messy, complicated situation—both positive and negative. To keep up with the demand for new capabilities and get ahead by spotting fresh opportunities, we need to learn how to learn on our feet.

Young lawyers seeking to gain working wisdom as fast as possible, as well as seasoned partners who want to stay ahead of the competition can make the shift to active, rather than passive learning. Active learning involves knowing where and how to look for day-to-day lessons learned, as well as how to overcome common barriers to learning from experience.

Face your learning disabilities

Smart, successful people are commonly hindered by learning disabilities. As a result, learning on their feet can be surprisingly slow, superficial or not at all. Typically, high achievers are prone to self-limiting assumptions, jumping to answers, blame and defensiveness. They may view management tips as “what other people ought to do” rather than how they themselves play a part in what happens; what goes wrong.

In other words, smart people have been conditioned to excel as passive learners. Through a group coaching process, new lifelong learning habits can be formed. These habits change mindsets from “know it all” to asking revealing (aha!) questions.

For example, in any situation we might ask: Why is this happening? Is there another way I might handle this? What options do I have? What if….? What is possible in this situation? How can we re-frame this issue? Do I see a pattern or principle I can apply to similar predicaments? What does the other person really want? How can I get what I want by finding common ground?

Can judgment and empathy be taught?

Human-centric skills involving judgment and empathy that enable—intense collaboration, complex consultation, problem prevention and creative thinking—are valued differentiators. They are valuable because they improve business relationships, attract clients and can lead to innovation. These skills are also valuable because they’re difficult to teach effectively to humans—and not easy for machines to learn. Fortunately the quality of our human interactions can be greatly improved by learning in the moment, rather than as a separate activity.

Each day is packed with learning opportunities that can enhance communication, collaboration and leadership skills. You might be surprised by the nuggets of insight to be mined from the most mundane encounter.

Mind the blind spots

Anyone can develop the habit of “leveraging their 80% informal learning” by seeing lessons that are hiding in plain sight. Instead of blind spots and repeated, self-defeating ways of ways of working, they can learn their way through challenging work situations. Learning how to distill lessons from experience not only improves problem solving and problem prevention skills, it also expands our capacity to see possibilities that others miss: the foundation for innovation.

In my next SlawTips we’ll look at how active learning can be used to grow a firm of entrepreneurial “finders.”

Sharon VanderKaay, Twitter: @svkaay


In this fourth post of a series inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the dependant client. The dependent client can appear like the perfect client. The client looks to you for answers and easily accepts your recommendations. If a file goes smoothly, no problem. But if something goes awry the client will blame you for a critical decision.

As the lawyer you are not the decision-maker. Your role is to be an advisor and to help the client make decisions. Make it clear to the dependant client that important decisions are wholly in the client’s hands. Inform and empower the client. Document decisions with reporting letters and/or emails.

The dependent client can be encouraged to depend on a trusted advisor other than the lawyer. So long as the trusted advisor is not exercising undue influence (such as may be the case when a beneficiary to a will appears to make all the decisions),  this trusted advisor can help keep the boundaries between lawyer and client.

The risk for malpractice claims arise here when the dependent client points the finger at the lawyer and claims the client was never able to make decision. Did the lawyer give the client time to think about critical decisions? Did the lawyer outline the possible outcomes, the risks associated with the outcomes, and the costs involved with each? Did the client clearly give the lawyer instructions to pursue a line of action? The answer to each question should be yes, and an effective way to protect yourself is to docket and document all of the interactions above.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


This is the third post inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer). The obsessed client is the one that emails you at 2 a.m. about an aspect of the case. The client can take up not just a lot of your time but also use up your firm’s resources – from emails to daily calls to the receptionist and law clerk, and whoever else is on the team. The client may do their own research, insist on keeping copies of everything, and forward you with news clippings and cases that the client deems relevant. The obsessed client can quickly become an angry client if the client feels ignored or not listened to.

If the client bombards you with largely irrelevant material and expects you to digest all of it, remind the client that you charge on an hourly basis and the time should be used wisely. Regular and frequent billing may help keep expectations realistic. For those on contingency, however, this wouldn’t work. Suggest to the client that you can only spend a certain amount of time (1 hour? 20 minutes?) reading the materials, and that it would help if the client identified the most important and relevant parts.

Obsessed clients like to feel involved in a case. Giving them homework can keep them occupied toward a productive goal. When doing so, be very clear on what the client’s tasks are and what your tasks are. Document the assignment by an email or letter.

Do not let an obsessed client bully you. If the matter is not truly urgent, and you do not have time to discuss, read, or meet the client on demand, that is okay. Have the client make an appointment with you like any other client. Practicing cell-phone law – the modern inclination to read an email on your cell-phone and answer it right away – can lead to malpractice claims, because your reply may be hurried and miss important points, or your reply may communicate negative emotions brought up in the heat of the moment which may exacerbate the situation.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


Accountants are trained in numbers. Architects are trained in design. And lawyers are trained in words.

As a lawyer, when you speak or write, you choose your words judiciously. Am I right?








That is all well and good when it comes to serving clients as a lawyer. Not as well or good when it comes to developing a marketing program (and, yes, I am intentionally taking creative license with my words here for effect).

Here’s the problem…

Lawyers can write. As a result, some think they can, and in fact should, write their own marketing copy for taglines, websites, brochures and more.  But, great marketing isn’t about being detailed, accurate or specific. It’s about creating connections with your reader.

So, for today’s tip?

Take a step back. Notice the different intention placed on words used in a legal context and words used in a marketing context… even when marketing a lawyer.

As a lawyer, there is still a place for you to contribute to your own marketing. Write your own articles for your blog and other publications. Write your own updates for social media. If you’ve got great marketing copy and direction in place, to direct traffic so to speak, these peripheral pieces will actually be better because you wrote them.

For more reading on marketing copy, see these past articles on SlawTips:

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


Today’s tip is simply to share some basic reminders for making the most of your social media this coming year.

  1. There is effort in social media. Pick one or two services/platforms/techs and schedule the time to actually work them.
  2. Use all tech as intended. LinkedIn was created for business networking; twitter for little bits of you; Facebook for more personal connections.
  3. Any social media postings will impact your digital image and credibility. Once you start – keep going; no fits and spurts for maximum SEO.
  4. Fill in your profile. Use professional head shot – you want people to know, like and trust so let ’em see what ya look like.
  5. If your head shot is showing, it must be you who is publishing. If an account is for an organization or you delegate the writing to an assistant, use a logo or other non-you avatar/photo.
  6. When signing up for an account, don’t upload your contact list to any social media. Locate and click on the “skip this step”. Your friends will find you.
  7. Give. Educate. Assist. Don’t sell. Social media is for connecting not selling.

These tips really are simple and straightforward, but they’re also easy to overlook or lose sight of!

Andrea Cannavina (@AndreaCan) helps law firms organize, automate and implement business process improvements to create efficient workflows and happier staff. 


Personal tax rates have changed. The tax rate on income between $45,282 and $90,563 has dropped to 20.5 per cent from 22 per cent. Conversely, on income over $200,000, the rate has increased to 33 per cent from 29 percent.

TFSA contribution limits are lower. The TFSA contribution limit has dropped back to $5,500 in 2016 from $10,000 in 2015,  If you have not maxed out your contributions every year since TFSAs were introduced, you may have up to $46,500 in contribution room.

Donation credits have changed. For those earning over $200,000, there’s now a 33 per cent donation credit rate – up from 29 per cent. According to Deloitte, “for any donations made in excess of $200 where the individual’s taxable income is less than $200,000, a 29 per cent credit will continue to apply.” That’s good news for higher-net-worth individuals: “

A new child benefit. The Trudeau government replaced the Child Tax Credit, the Universal Child Care Benefit and the Canada Child Tax Benefit with a new Canada Child Benefit that better helps families with lower net. The Children’s Fitness Tax Credit and Children’s Arts Tax Credit, worth up to $150 and $75 per child, respectively, are also being cut in half in 2016 and then eliminated

Eligible capital property will be taxed differently. Capital gains are taxed in a corporation at essentially the same rate an individual is taxed at, says Mr. Cameron. In the 2016 federal budget, the government introduced changes to the way eligible capital property is taxed in a corporation.

The beginning of the year is a good time to look at  the impact of these changes and start planning now.

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)



In this second of nine posts inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the vengeful client. The vengeful client often has an agenda that is unlikely to be satisfied by legal means. This kind of client has a myopic focus of what goals should be met, and has few qualms about what must be done to meet those goals. Whether it’s an injustice or a personal vendetta, the vengeful client is highly motivated. For example, a family member fighting over an estate may be driven by agendas far beyond the pale – did he feel slighted and ignored in the family, and now wants to get back at his  brothers and sisters, no matter the consequences? The scorched earth policy that follows may result in a decimated estate and an unhappy client.

Think twice before accepting a retainer with a vengeful client. You may never be able to right the wrong, and your client may ask you to take steps that are unethical. Even if you reach a legal resolution, you are unlikely to get another referral, much less thanks. Such clients may also lie to you and opposing counsel. Ultimately your reputation is on the line, even if your client is less than trustworthy.

If you do choose to work with the vengeful client, take all instructions in writing, and give all recommendations in writing. While this is good advice for all clients, it is that much more important to do so with the vengeful client, as you can anticipate that whatever legal result you obtain, the client is likely to be unsatisfied.

Finally, bill often and regularly. The vengeful client may expect you to do work above and beyond the call for free – but your job is to be a professional and charge according to the retainer regardless of the degree of zeal involved.

Malpractice claims can arise when clients with a strong sense of purpose are able to persuade counsel to act unprofessionally. No matter how much you agree with a client’s position, no matter how much you like the client, no matter how much you empathize with the client’s predicament, you must stay within professional bounds.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


“Happy clients are all alike; every unhappy client is unhappy in one’s own way.” (Not Tolstoy)

This is the first in a series of articles inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer). One of our most popular downloads, the article covers 9 kinds of difficult clients and how you can work with them. Let’s start with the angry client.

An angry client can take its toll on your ability to practice. Seasoned lawyers can likely recall their most angry clients by name and recite what happened and how. It’s not a happy memory and accumulating such memories makes it that much more difficult to practice. Learn how to work with an angry client, and, knowing your limits, when to stop working with an angry client.

An angry client is one that treats you and your staff in an angry or hostile manner on a regular basis. But a client that is always unhappy is not necessarily a client that is always unhappy with you. I worked with brain-injured clients and clients with mental disorders that treated my staff and I poorly – but I don’t blame their behaviour. Other clients may be angry at circumstances in their lives which have nothing to do with you. Nonetheless, this anger can be re-directed at you. Regardless of the reason for the anger, if your client treats you in a hostile manner, this is not appropriate and you should draw clear boundaries in the lawyer-client relationship.

If the reason for the anger is clearly something you can do something about, then de-escalate the situation. But if the source of anger is clearly out of control, you are not a therapist. Exploring a client’s roots of anger is not your role. Allow the client to vent for a short time. Then make it clear that it is unacceptable in a professional relationship. If the client does not calm down, cancel the meeting and book another time.

If the situation really calls for it, calmly suggest that a therapist would be better equipped to deal with the hostility. To this end, it is helpful to keep a referral sheet at reception for clients in need of social or other services, including telephone numbers and addresses. This is especially helpful for lawyers that frequently deal with clients under high levels of stress, such as poverty lawyers, family lawyers, criminal lawyers, and personal injury lawyers.

It is important that the very first time a client treats you angrily, you respond by saying that it is inappropriate. Boundaries should be drawn early and your response should always be consistent. If you have already allowed a client to treat you in a hostile manner on a regular basis, it is that much harder to change the nature of the relationship (but better late than never).

You can also bet that if the client is treating you poorly, your staff is probably being treated worse, as they are in a weaker power position. Train your staff to respond to anger the same way you do.

Finally, the old maxim to “know thyself” applies here. We all have different tolerance ranges. Know what yours is and do not let a client push you beyond it. If you go beyond what you are capable of tolerating, you may burn out. If a client refuses to take it down a notch, you may be better off terminating the retainer, while keeping in mind the Rules of Professional Conduct. The loss of one client is better than the loss of your practice.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)