Unlocking Practice Management Essentials: Long Mangalji LLP

  • 02 avril 2024
  • Aqsa Nadeem, newsletter editor, OBA Citizenship & Immigration Law Section

Join us on this enlightening journey as we uncover the strategies and insights employed by various immigration law practitioners in making their firms the success stories they are today. In our inaugural edition, we had the privilege to interview Ms. Elizabeth Ying Long, a founding partner at Long Mangalji LLP.

BEFORE WE BEGIN, Elizabeth please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I arrived in Canada at the age of five as a dependent accompanying my father, who was initially a student. What was supposed to be a temporary stay for a few months turned into a lifelong journey, but it was far from easy.

In the late 80s, the first skilled worker program was introduced. My father, after completing his PhD, was able to secure a job as a university professor and thus we were eligible to apply. Our history, marked by a “black” bourgeois background, had led us to feel like outsiders in our home country. Recognizing the lack of prospects in China, my parents desperately wanted to stay in Canada, a country we called home. I remember them kneeling by the bed and fervently praying for us to be allowed to stay in Canada.

However, like I said, it wasn’t easy. I vividly recall my mother recounting the challenging interview with the immigration officer who asked, "Why should we let you stay?" Despite my father's job at the university and the recent completion of his PhD thesis, it wasn't deemed a sufficient reason. It was our immigration lawyer who argued that my father's specific profile aligned with the type of immigrants Canada was seeking. He posed a crucial question during the process: If not us, then who should be welcomed into Canada?

It was through his advocacy that we were able to secure permanent residency. This experience significantly shaped our lives and I believe also my career today. Immigration has become a part of my DNA.

After high school, I worked at a nonprofit organization focusing on immigration and refugees. It was there that I realized that I was interested in advocacy and human rights in the immigration system. I then decided I wanted to go to law school. I went to UofT and naturally found myself on Bay Street doing corporate law. However, after working there for a while, I knew it wasn’t for me. I had some immigration law experience on my resume which was picked by an Immigration lawyer, and I was offered a position at a corporate law firm.

I gained valuable experience there, but I yearned for more. As the first lawyer in my family, I always envisioned practicing in court and eventually decided to venture out on my own. Fortunately, I had the guidance of an excellent mentor, Amina Sherazee, who also transitioned to solo practice. Our shared experiences were invaluable. Additionally, I found my partner at the firm, Aadil Mangalji, who had a background in immigration litigation, and together we formed a unique partnership. While I focused on the economic stream, he specialized in refugee law and litigation. This diversity allows us to cater to a broad spectrum of clients, offering solutions for immigrants, refugees, applications, and litigation needs. Many clients appreciate our comprehensive approach, often remarking that they hadn't considered certain options before seeking our advice.

Beyond mere profit, we are driven by our advocacy for the immigration system as a whole. This extends to my involvement in politics, where I ran for Member of Parliament with the NDP to advocate for immigration policies and raise awareness of government actions. I also engage in policy work, pro bono seminars, and community outreach to inform the public about the impact of immigration laws on families and communities. This commitment stems from my personal experiences and roots, driving me to utilize my platform and expertise for the betterment of my community. It's not just a profession for me; like I said, it’s a part of my DNA.

Could you provide a brief overview of your firm’s history? Can you describe the organizational structure of your firm? Do you have specialized departments or team leads? 

Aadil and I started our firm in 2007. We currently have a team of 18 including three partners, an associate lawyer, and a few articling students. We also have a very strong support team which includes our law clerks, office manager and a client experience coordinator who handles incoming calls and billings.

Additionally, we have an internal marketing committee focusing on business development and external support such as an accountant, bookkeeper, and a CFO.

How did you successfully scale your firm from its beginnings with just two partners to now leading a team of 18 individuals? What advice would you give to young lawyers starting the practice?

You have to be able to provide proper legal advice, you need expertise. Articling in itself is not enough unless you have a very strong mentoring system. Both Aadil and I had expertise and strong mentors we could rely on.

As you may have heard, running a law firm requires a balance of finding clients, managing operations, and handling legal work – often referred to as finding, minding and grinding. I was so lucky to find my business partner at the firm. I really enjoy the business development aspect, so I am good at finding but I do not enjoy minding, whereas Aadil is great at minding. He takes care of HR and financing. We both do the grinding along with our team. It’s hard when one person does all three but if you're starting off, you need to do all three things to get the law firm to thrive. Some people are good at doing the legal work but not good at finding or minding work. Thus, it all goes hand in hand.

It’s important to understand that a law firm evolves through different stages. Initially, the focus is on saving money and meeting basic expenses like rent. As the workload increases, there's a need for administrative support, prompting the consideration of hiring staff. The prospect of hiring the first employee can be daunting - balancing the financial aspect with the necessity for assistance. Having a compatible partner is invaluable; they can fill in the gaps in skills and trust, making the workload manageable. Finding a partner who compliments your strengths can greatly benefit the firm. Partnerships are often akin to marriages: they endure and thrive when there's compatibility but can falter if personalities clash or if goals do not align.

It's obviously not perfect in the beginning but you also grow over time. You learn so much along the way. For example, before, we used to do yearly budgets which was kind of pointless for us because we never looked at the budget during the year. Now we do quarterly reviews which help us understand and manage our funds better. It is something which our CFO suggested and has been working on for us. We are able to figure out whether we can spend more on tools, hiring etc.

It’s not about doing what you know or have been doing, you must always adapt and evolve both in legal practice and as a firm owner. New systems have come out, you need to know what you’re dealing with. How to research, what to do.

This leads me to my next question; do you use any AI tools or systems to streamline processes or enhance client services? 

Yes, over the years we have tried various systems but currently, we are using the following:

  • Monday, a project management tool;
  • Clio Grow and Management, a file management system;
  • Motion, a scheduling system;
  • Microsoft Teams;
  • We use INS Zoom, Clio Docs for document sharing, but we are looking for a good document collection tool or may even come up with our internal system. Maybe our readers can recommend something.

Finding clients can also be challenging for the sole practitioner or junior lawyer. How do you Market yourself?

It depends. You need to know your target market right. Are you looking at younger people, the older generation, etc.? You need to take everything into consideration. I personally feel the message you are giving is important. Are you simply advertising your services or are you providing information or knowledge to the audience? You need to look realistic. The majority of our clients are repeat clients or referrals. Also, networking, talking to people in the community and talking to everyone in general, educating people is very useful. I find that people value when you just have an honest conversation with them.

When you market, you need to understand yourself very well. What exactly can you provide to people and what are you looking to do? The first thing is to know yourself. If you can’t explain who you are in a sentence, or what’s your value proposition, you have lost your audience already. Thus, always think about what it is that your firm does and who your market is.

I think all practitioners will agree, there is a lot of discretion within the immigration system, how do you manage client expectations?

We never guarantee anything. We talk about strengths and weaknesses. Also, always put everything in writing. Letting people know truthfully what their chances are is the best approach. 

Immigration laws, policies and procedures are constantly evolving. How do you stay current with the ever-changing landscape of immigration law, and how do you incorporate these changes into your practice? 

Its constantly changing and has never been stable, whether it is new ministerial appointments or changes in political powers. You can never get used to the Immigration system. Certainly, the political party in power, whether it be the Liberals or the Conservatives, significantly influences immigration policies and approaches. Some things I use are:

  • Online policies or what the government has on the website as their manuals, so always re-read the manuals and make sure nothing has changed.
  • Listservs.
  • CBA/OBA often have meetings with Ministers or stakeholders, always read meeting minutes. It helps identify current issues.
  • Social media is now very powerful: Twitter or reading news can be greatly beneficial.

What are some of the challenges you have faced over the years and how have you overcome them? 

Oftentimes, I wonder why I picked the area in law with the most bureaucratic red tape but honestly it’s about going back to the basics. I love the clients I work with. I love my team and the people in my firm. Everybody cares about the client. We only go to the office once a week but that one day a week really makes me happy. Even calling my partner Aadil while working remotely is incredibly comforting. I love thinking about ways of helping and advocating for people.

I enjoy thinking of the politics behind immigration policies. It’s the future of our country. It is about who becomes a citizen of our country and a part of our community. Sort of thinking about the bigger picture, the policy. It’s important to think about why the government would do this.

I enjoy doing more than file work. I like podcasts, public speaking, etc. I find it very interesting, hence it drives my passion and career.

Finally, what advice would you like to share with junior lawyers who are contemplating launching their own legal practices or have recently established their firms? 

I got this advice during my bar exams: Your reputation is more precious than gold. Do not compromise anything that can compromise your reputation. Don’t work for translators/interpreters or consultants whom you don’t trust or don’t be in situations where you aren’t directly speaking with the clients. Don’t compromise yourself and surround yourself with shady people. It’s your life, not just your livelihood. It’s your identity and don’t compromise it for money here and there.

The second thing is if you’re starting your own business, make sure you have a good foundation for administrative or management work. Take time to think about the business of law and not just the practice of law.

Any article or other information or content expressed or made available in this Section is that of the respective author(s) and not of the OBA.