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SPILL: What we do in private

  • August 26, 2020

High-pressure, long hours, intensely competitive – preconceptions about private practice abound. Given that this setting runs the gamut in terms of business size, roles and specialties, it’s no wonder that it offers no universal experience or that it presents at least as many unexpected opportunities as it does predictable challenges. We asked OBA members what has surprised them most about private practice. Their answers might surprise you, in turn.



“I have been most surprised by the willingness of the senior members of the bar to help young litigators. I have had many very senior mentors over the course of my brief career and the time they are willing to put in to helping a young lawyer to succeed has been the highlight of my career so far.”

- Erin Durant, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP

“I think that what surprised me most, particularly early in my career, was how collegial the Employment Law Bar is and how willing most senior lawyers were to help out a young lawyer, even one at a competing firm. I remember encountering an issue that had me stumped, and I saw that the late Justice Randy Echlin, a partner at BLG at the time, had written on the subject. I was encouraged but hesitant to reach out to him, but I am so glad I did. He made time for me, helped me understand the issue, and even followed up a few days later to see how things went. That taught me a lesson about what our profession should be like and the importance of being a mentor, and also led to a friendship that was unfortunately cut short by his untimely passing.”

- Stuart E. Rudner, Rudner Law 



“I am a people person, and I love technical analysis. To my surprise, working in private practice as an international trade lawyer has been a great fit for my personality. I get to work with clients, build relationships with them, and do meaningful work on their behalf. I also get to conduct both legal and economic analysis on issues relating to trade remedies and customs law. I know private practice is for me because I have found that I like the business of law as I much as I enjoy practicing law.” 

- Susana May Yon Lee, Cassidy Levy Kent (Canada) LLP

“I have been in private practice for many years before opening my own firm. What surprised me the most about being a sole practitioner is how being both a lawyer and an entrepreneur satisfied my creative side. As a sole practitioner, you practice your craft every day while running a business. It’s the ultimate balancing game, and I love it!”   

- Melissa M. Babel, Babel Immigration Law Professional Corporation



“My biggest surprise about private practice came a bit later in my career, and it was that starting a firm was a realistic possibility. I had always written off the idea of starting a firm, because it just seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. But, my path led me to a point where, as an associate at a larger firm, I realized that starting a brand new firm was the only option for me – not so much practically, but intellectually. And while it was a challenge (for me and my two partners), like any challenge, it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and having faith in our decision to start a firm. There were ups and downs along the way, but once we began the process of starting up our boutique firm, there was no looking back. The end result is well worth all of the stress, anxiety and sleepless nights, because now we have something that is our own, that is reflective of the people we are and the philosophy about the practice of law that we share.”   

- Christy Allen, Davidson Houle Allen LLP Condominium Law

“There is more autonomy in a private practice environment than in-house. While you take instructions from your client, you have more control over the hours you actually work, the tempo of litigation, and how you go about your business.”

- Ian Hu, Carroll Heyd Chown LLP



“I was surprised the most by the importance of business acumen, which had only received slight attention in law school.” 

- Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Law

“For me, it’s pretty simple. They always told me the business side of running my own practice would take time, but I never realized just how much. While the work is rewarding, your time management skills have to be on point. I often wish there were two of me – one to run the business, and one to practice law.”

- Jennifer S. Daudlin, Daudlin Law Professional Corporation



“I decided to start my own solo practice right after I completed my articles. What surprised me the most about private practice is the amount of time that is necessary for a lawyer to spend on client management and client relationships. Prior to starting my own firm, I firmly believed that what makes someone a good lawyer was knowing the law very well, having experience in that area of law and staying on top of legal updates in their area of practice. However, my experience has led me to now believe that, although the substantive part of a lawyer’s job is very important, it is also very important for the good lawyer to be able to manage their clients and develop a strong relationship of trust. The importance of developing a relationship of trust, I think, is what surprised me the most about running my own practice. Oftentimes, I come across clients who seem like they know what they are doing or know what they want, but they look to their lawyers to be that trusted advisor to lean on and guide them through their problems.”

- Sukhi Hansra, Hansra Law


Gain more insider intelligence from private practitioners in the know by taking part in the OBA’s Keys to Establishing a Successful Legal Career in Private Practice program, a Zoom session hosted by our Young Lawyers Division – East on September 15.