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This is especially important if you run a firm where your income varies significantly from one month to the next, such as personal injury and other litigation practices.

I have seen lawyers run into trouble when they didn’t meet regularly with their Bookeeper and organize themselves to make quarterly GST payments. All of a sudden a large bill comes from CRA that was not necessarily on the budget for the month and compromises cash flow.

It’s also important to stay on top of and track personal versus business expenses monthly to ensure the business is taking advantage of all deductions available. In particular, if there is not a dedicated company credit card and the owner manager has to remember all of the expenses that were personal and business later in the year.  This can be time consuming and very tricky!

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)


In this sixth post of a series inspired by Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client, we discuss the depressed client. The depressed client can come in various degrees, from being sad all the time to suicidal ideation. If the client’s life is in danger, remember that you are not the client’s therapist. Refer the client to help, such as a family physician, therapist, social services, or other community services.

When taking instructions from a depressed client, document clearly what you have communicated and what the instructions are. Confirm afterward – perhaps waiting several days if possible – that the instructions have not changed. If you have made recommendations that the client does not want to follow, which can happen if the depressed client is unwilling to take risks, however sensible, then make sure you have documented the exchange by email or letter.

A depressed client can also be slow to take action. In this case it may be worthwhile to schedule in-home visits or make phone calls at various times. The client may decline a phone call the first time, but take it at another, when the mood has lifted. In most cases, calm persistence can eventually lead to a successful lawyer-client relationship. At the same time, if you simply cannot get instructions in a timely manner, consider ending the retainer.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


In this fifth post, inspired from Justice Carole Curtis’s Dealing with the Difficult Client (written when she was a lawyer), we take a look at how to handle the dishonest client. There are different degrees to which a client can be dishonest. On one end are clients who may tell half-truths or who conceal facts from you, and on the other are clients who maliciously lie to you. It isn’t often clear whether the intention is malicious or if the untold truth can come back to hurt you or your client at a later date.

Outright lies can be a good reason to terminate the relationship. It may signal a lack of trust between you and the client that cannot be repaired. If you make misrepresentations on behalf your client, the danger arises if you knew or should have known about the misrepresentation. A client that is lying may be using you for malicious reasons – avoid this client at all costs.

That said, there are sometimes excusable reasons a client can lie. A personal injury client may not recall his or her previous injuries very well. A small incident leading to pain and a visit to the family doctor can be forgotten years down the line if it resolved quickly. Similar seemingly innocuous incidents can easily be forgotten or re-interpreted as time goes on. For this reason, it is important in such files to order medical records (the third most common source of malpractice claims in civil litigation, and over all practice areas, is inadequate investigation).

Once obtained, meet with the client, go over your notes documenting what your client told you, and review with the client the medical record which contradicts the client’s account. These kinds of lies are not necessarily malicious and may simply indicate that the client needs to be sure about certain aspects of the file, and that words should be more carefully chosen (“That has never happened to me” vs. “If it happened, it’s been rare”.

Another reason a client may be unwilling to tell you everything is cultural. If the client comes from a culture where encounters with lawyers and “the system” are negative, the client may see you more as an obstacle and necessary evil than as someone who is there to help. The client may think there is something to hide, when in fact it is better to disclose to you. In this case it may take time to build trust, and patience may be rewarded.

Ian Hu (@IanHuLawpro)


It’s tax time and the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.    Do you feel that you are paying to much taxes but only complain to your accountant when its tax time?  A better approach to to be proactive.

Check out tips to help you stay on top of next years taxes:


  1. Don’t wait until tax time. Contact your accountant early in the year
  2. Have your tax bill forecasted in advance to identify potential tax reduction opportunities
  3. Set aside funds for the tax bill as income comes into the business
  4. Stay on top of business versus personal expenses with your bookeeper. Use a credit card that is dedicated to business expenses  to ensure you are receiving all of your deductions and to audit proof your expenses
  5. Pay your quarterly tax  and HST bill on time to avoid penalties


  1. Ensure that your firm is taxing you properly based on regular income and bonuses received
  2. Consider making an RRSP contribution with any bonus income to reduce taxes to bonus  and regular income
  3. If your making RRSP contributions on your own, let your employer know, so they can reduce your taxes at source and you won’t have to wait until tax time for the refund on your contribution
  4. Determine if your firm can attribute some of your income to a lower income spouse


  1. If you are self employed discuss incorporating with your Accountant
  2. Many firms are starting to let partners incorporate as well. Determine if this is a viable option for you.
  3. Look at maxing out your RRSP, TFSA room, especially if you’re a high income earner.
  4. Explore investments that provide tax efficient income at retirement.  These include TFSA’s, T Series investments, Universal Life Plans and corporate class investments to name a few.
  5. If you are self employed consider a private health plan to reduce taxes paid on income for medical expenses.
  6. Determine if you are a candidate for an individual pension plan in order to maximize savings for retirement and reduce taxes

Jackie Porter (@askjackieporter)


Lots of baby boomers are avoiding succession planning. One can only assume that at least some of them are lawyers!

So, for today’s tip, I’ll give you 5 good reasons to stop procrastinating:

  1. Proactively planning for succession allows you to minimize the risk of having to deal with it in crisis mode, should you decide to retire earlier than expected.
  2. It takes time to develop a thorough succession plan.
  3. It may take longer than you expect to implement your succession plan. So, you will want to pad projections for training, mentoring and hiring, in case things don’t go as planned.
  4. Taking action will stop your looming retirement from being a negative weight in the back of your mind. Avoiding it doesn’t, necessarily, mean that you’re not thinking about it.
  5. You will have a better chance of keeping your most talented individuals, if you tell them long in advance that this opportunity is coming their way.

You don’t have to retire any earlier than you would like, just because you’re working on a succession plan. If you love working, you can build the opportunity to have continuity with your job (in some capacity) into your succession plan.

So, instead of avoiding your succession plan, think about applying the same degree of professionalism to this exercise as you would, and do, with everything else in your practice.

You may even be able to sleep better knowing this is in the works… as often happens when procrastinating something big finally comes to an end!

For reading related to succession planning, see these past articles on SlawTips:

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

Sandra Bekhor, Toronto


In the old working model, being less human—less attuned to interactions and emotional issues—was often a competitive advantage. Messy human stuff needlessly complicated matters. But the AI revolution will reward those who are more human in their approach to services involving high value consultation and collaboration.

How long will it be before robots learn people skills? Although there have been significant advances since the development of computer-based therapists several decades ago, humans have a solid head start that we need to exploit.

Gary Klein is a research psychologist known for his pioneering work in how people make high stakes decisions under uncertain, complex conditions. When he studied such experts as firefighters, pilots and NICU nurses, he found they were adept at rapidly drawing on experience, as well as noticing things that others don’t. Rather than observing a mechanistic, linear process of information analysis leading to the selection of a rational solution, he saw a more human process at work.

Klein’s best known book, Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions was written almost twenty years ago. Yet this work has growing relevancy as we ponder the evolving nature of work. What skills should we honing and what work will be taken off our hands by technology?

Let’s begin with the three qualities Klein recently identified that humans possess in contrast to AI:

  1. “Frontier thinking” which he describes as “working in new areas and imagining new consequences.”
  2. Social networking which means “knowing who to ask for help.”
  3. Responsibility. “Humans take responsibility for their decisions, AI doesn’t.”

In light of his hypothesis, our tip for today is: prepare yourself to be more human by honing skills related to collaboration, consultation and problem prevention. These will be the enduring differentiators.

A good place to start is by taking advantage of a group coaching method that accelerates expertise in people skills. Active learning (vs. passive learning) is designed to help us extract more know-how from every situation—both positive and negative. To keep up with the demand for people who are more human, we can develop a mindset for harvesting insight from our daily experience.

Sharon VanderKaay, Twitter: @svkaay


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)