Starting My Journey in the Midst of a Pandemic

  • 24 février 2021
  • Masha Brar, barrister and solicitor

I don’t often set targets; but when I do, I achieve them. We came to Canada in October 2017 and in June 2018, I set out with the aim to get licensed as a lawyer in Ontario by June 2020. As June 2020 approached we were hit by COVID-19 and things started changing.  As we all worked from home, I had more time to introspect about what I wanted to do once I was licensed. I decided I will start my own practice.

On June 13, 2020 I woke up to the much-anticipated email announcing that I had been called to the Bar. I was elated. Not just because it was the day I got my call letter, but also because it came on my birthday! Once the celebrations ended, came the task of getting down to work. What should I do? What area or areas of law was I going to focus on? Should I start off as a sole proprietor or should I incorporate? So many decisions. Why had I not made these decisions before my call? Was I just enjoying my time off? Well, sort of, but I also had my plate full. I finished my work placement for LPP and became a full-time mom of an active 5-year old. Nevertheless, I did find time to attend quite a few trainings, seminars, and short courses. All things considered, until I got my license, things were relatively still fun and play.

While I knew that setting up my own law firm from scratch meant that I would have to deal with numerous challenges; the first and most crucial one, was to decide on the areas of law I wanted to practice. Several possibilities whirled around my head. Having worked as a family law advocate for 8 years in India, I naturally gravitated towards that area of law. Then again, I had garnered experience working in immigration law and found it interesting. Therefore, it was an obvious choice. In addition, I had enjoyed working on the Wills & Estate file during the LPP and that became another choice.

However, all these options were fluid and I had not settled in on anything. With my son at home, and my husband working full-time; the force and zeal with which I would have liked to start my practice, was lacking. I gave myself some time to think and decided to shift the gears to full throttle when the schools reopened. Fortunately, I organically started getting some work along my way. While I met the potential clients and researched the solutions to their problems, I found the clarity that was eluding me. I was finally able to settled in on  the areas of law I would practice. I decided to keep my practice general, with a focus on immigration, wills & estate and employment. These areas help me connect to my clients with empathy, and yet are not as emotional as most family law matters can get.

While I waited for schools to reopen, I did not wait for work to come in, or to get connected to people. I reached out to a bunch of my acquaintances and friends and joined several Facebook groups. I cannot thank enough the wonderful people I have met through these groups. Their help and insights have been extremely helpful. It made my journey way easier than it would have been if they were not there. While I would have loved to walk into a court or met someone at Starbucks or Tim Hortons for a cup of coffee, social media replaced that, and it was a great alternative. Even so, I do miss the face-to-face interactions.

As my husband’s job was our cushion, I worked leisurely. Sadly, by the end of August, he lost his job. We had no clue as to what to do. It was a challenge we weren’t prepared for. Just when things were supposed to be clear and ready, they became blurry and confusing.

I believe that life always has a challenge for us; no matter what stage we are in, it will throw a new challenge our way. This was our latest challenge, fly now during COVID-19 or fall and break. Choosing to look at the glass half full, I felt that without his job, my husband was now available for us. While he applied for jobs and worked on his career, he now had the time to look after our son and to help me with administrative work, if needed. He also was around to encourage, motivate, and question me. He would quiz me before I met my clients. This helped me realize my drawbacks and better prepare for my meetings. I was improving as a person and as a lawyer!

The problem, however, was how to tackle the challenge off generating leads and converting them into clients. Some days we would sit and discuss strategy for hours; other days my brain would be so tired that I couldn’t take it anymore. Till mid-November, things felt crazy. It seemed like we will never move ahead. Despite all the problems, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. In mid-November, I caught a glimpse of that light. My husband made a list of all my clients, potential clients and leads. This helped me a lot. My database till then comprised only of my clients, not leads. This list included people who contacted us in passing or acquaintances who had shown interest in my services. It showed me the potential. It was written proof that if I keep working hard and meeting people I will get there.

November is OBA Make a Will Month. I decided that I would make short videos and post them on YouTube. I made two videos and shared them on different social media platforms. This helped me generate leads not just for wills and estate but also for immigration. It reminded my friends and acquaintances that I am a lawyer, who in turn started recommending my name to their friends. I learned a big lesson through that exercise. Marketing does not necessarily involve spending a ton of money. The best marketing is gaining the trust of people.

In December, I was determined to close as many files as I could. I had many estate planning documents which had to be finalized. Some of these documents were stuck at the final draft stage for over two months. Some were immigration applications for which clients hadn’t provided the requisite documents for a long time. Setting the target proved to be an incredible propellor that drove me to close most of my solicitor files!

But then there was one file that was bothering me. It was an employment matter at the negotiation stage, which I knew could be closed before the year end; but by the looks of it, would unfortunately be dragged into the next year. However, lo and behold, things started suddenly looking up. To my utmost surprise, on 31st December 2020, we closed the deal!

I realized that sometimes all it takes is a little nudge to get the ball rolling. The cherry on the cake was that it was my first big negotiation as a Canadian lawyer. I entered the new year with most of my files closed and a new positive energy for a bright future!

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