Unlocking Practice Management Essentials: SAM LAW

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

BEFORE we begin, Sajjad please tell us a little bit about yourself.

My journey began with a background in medicine and surgery. In 1995, I graduated from a medical school in Lahore, Pakistan. Despite my medical qualifications, I found myself drawn to business management and decided to explore this path further.

In 1995, I pursued the Civil Services of Pakistan, opting for the CSS exam immediately after completing my MBBS. Successfully passing the exam, I was appointed as an Assistant Commissioner of Income Tax in 1996. This role involved rigorous training in management, law, and various trade-related subjects at the Lahore Civil Services Academy.

After several years serving in Lahore and later Karachi, I expanded my expertise by obtaining an MBA and LLB from Karachi, Pakistan. With a decade of experience in civil services, I felt the urge to transition into the corporate sector.

Seeking opportunities in the multinational sector, I eventually landed a role as a Public Affairs Manager with a multinational corporation in Pakistan in 2006. This experience laid the foundation for my subsequent journey.

In 2007, I seized the opportunity to pursue further education, enrolling in the prestigious UCLA School of Law for an LLM in Business Law. This decision was driven by UCLA's esteemed reputation, ranking among the top ten law schools in the United States.

Upon completing my LLM, I contemplated my next move and decided to explore opportunities in North America. Opting for Canada due to its streamlined immigration process, I made the transition in the early 2012.

In Canada, I embarked on the process of integrating into Canadian professional life, completing the necessary National Committee on Accreditation (NCA) requirements to establish myself within the Canadian legal framework.

Your journey is truly remarkable—starting as a doctor, then transitioning to a civil services officer, pursuing an MBA, earning an LLM, and ultimately becoming an NCA accredited lawyer. It’s an impressive trajectory. Could you share how you found your way into Immigration Law?

Certainly! Transitioning from a background in law and business management to immigration law is a strategic move that aligns with my diverse skill set and international experiences. Upon arriving in Canada, I initially considered practicing medical malpractice due to my medical and legal background. However, the prolonged timelines and financial demands associated with this field prompted me to explore alternative avenues.

Attending Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programs led me to Ontario’s CPD program focusing on immigration law. Here, I connected with individuals like Marvin Moses, Sarah Fagan and Max Chaudhary, who encouraged me to delve into immigration law. Recognizing the scope for utilizing my previous experiences, including business law and international connections, I decided to pivot towards immigration law.

At the time, Immigration law presented a unique opportunity to leverage my existing network and expertise, particularly in regions like South Asia and the Middle East. With a client base abroad and fluency in languages like Punjabi, Urdu, and Hindi, I knew I could contribute by assisting newcomers navigate the complexities of Canadian immigration law.

Just like medical malpractice, Immigration law also has its challenges, for instance, the wide discretion exercised by the Officer, how do you manage client expectations?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that many clients lack familiarity with the Canadian legal systems, often unaware of the consultation fees or liabilities associated with legal services. Additionally, a proliferation of immigration consultants and unauthorized agents further complicates matters.

While initial interactions may involve numerous inquiries and courtesy consultations, it's crucial to strike a balance between helping those in need and safeguarding one's time and resources. Initially, I found myself dedicating considerable effort to addressing client queries, leveraging each encounter as an opportunity for learning and knowledge acquisition. However, as my expertise grew, I transitioned towards a more selective approach, emphasizing transparency and honesty in my interactions.

It's crucial to be clear and honest with clients from the start. By making sure everyone understands what to expect and keeping good records of our conversations, we can avoid misunderstandings later. I've learned that being selective about which clients to work with is key. This helps make sure we're on the same page and can avoid any problems down the line. By focusing on building trust and being upfront about how we work, we can find the right clients who are a good fit for our services.

Now, let's delve into your practice, SAM Law. What sets you apart or distinguishes your services from others in the field?

Sure, let me break it down for you. My expertise lies in business law and immigration law, and I've got the educational background and real-world experience to back it up. With an MBA and a business law degree from UCLA, plus around 8 to 10 years of tax experience under my belt, I've got a unique perspective to offer.

For instance, something like net worth verification in business immigration. It's a big deal in the entrepreneur pathway for immigration. Basically, the government wants to make sure that if they invite someone to apply for immigration, they're not fraudulent. So, they do this audit to check out applicant’s wealth and how they got it. My background as a deputy commissioner auditing people's incomes and taxes gives me an edge here. I help clients through this process, representing them and explaining everything during the audit.

But it's not just about taxes. I've also spent about seven years working in corporate affairs, heading up and/or supporting various departments like corporate sales, marketing, regulatory, government relations, legal affairs, and more. This hands-on experience with big multinational corporations helps me understand how businesses operate from the inside out. And guess what? That knowledge is super handy in the business side of immigration law.

Oh, and let's not forget my time as a bureaucrat. Yep, I've been on the other side of the desk, making decisions and dealing with appeals. I get it - sometimes officers get overloaded with work or develop biases. So, when I'm working with immigration officers, I try to see things from their perspective. I know they're not all bad, they're just trying to do their job too. So yeah, when it comes to managing stakeholders in immigration, I take a positive approach. I don't see bureaucrats as the enemy - they're our partners in this process. By understanding where they're coming from and working together, we can get better outcomes for our clients. It's all about finding that common ground and working towards a solution that works for everyone involved.

Let’s switch gears and talk about practice management. How is your firm structured?

Alright, so I've spent most of my career working with big organizations, you know, the kind with lots of levels of management and bureaucracy. But now that I'm focusing on immigration law, my client base is mostly individuals, small and medium enterprises, and startups. I haven't really tapped into the corporate market yet. Most of my clients are regular folks, small businesses, or high-net-worth individuals who need a bit of extra attention.

I tried using resources like immigration assistants and legal support staff, but I found that my clients really missed that personal touch from me. So now, it's me at the forefront all the time and all my clients have access to me at short notice. Sure, I'll bring in other lawyers or professionals on a contract basis if needed, but I handle everything directly with my clients. I don't believe in having a big fancy office with lots of staff and creating a bureaucracy where clients are lost. It just adds unnecessary delays and overhead costs, especially in today's post-COVID world.

Instead, I run a tech-driven, modern and hybrid practice with minimal overhead and high efficiency. This way, I can focus on delivering quality service without having to take on tons of clients just to cover the bills. Sure, I used to have a bigger team, but I found that having more people just meant more chances for mistakes and technology makes it quite efficient. Now, if I ever need extra help, I’ll stick with trusted and experienced lawyers who I know can get the job done right. It's all about keeping things simple and efficient, while still delivering top-notch service to my clients.

As a practitioner, do you utilize any artificial intelligence tools or systems to optimize processes or improve client services?

Yes, I use a variety of technology and softwares’ to keep my immigration practice running smoothly.

One of my favorites is Clio. It helps with a lot of practice management and accounting aspects, such as client intake, communication, securing documents electronically, generating receipts, invoices and trust management. Before Clio, I was doing all that by hand, which was a pain. Now, it's all automated, so I can spend more time helping my clients.

I also use calendar software for scheduling meetings. Instead of playing email tag to find a time that works for everyone, clients can just pick a slot from my calendar. For global and domestic fee payments, I used LawPay as a secure online payment solution. For transcribing, minute-taking I use Otter AI. They are real time-savers.

For social media, there are tools that let me reuse content across different platforms. So, if I make a YouTube video, I can easily turn it into shorter clips for TikTok or other platforms. It's a great way to get more mileage out of my content.

And then there's Zapier, which helps automate tasks based on certain triggers. So, if I get an email with certain keywords, Zapier can automatically send a reply or follow-up email. It's a huge time-saver. Other tools such as IFTTT and sprint forms also add to the productivity.

Honestly, there are probably more tools that I'm forgetting about, but these are the ones that have made the biggest difference for me. And while I might not be the youngest or most tech-savvy lawyer out there, these tools have helped me run a more efficient practice.

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? 

When I first started out in immigration law, I knew I needed to get up to speed quickly. So, I turned to podcasts as a convenient way to learn on the go. There are some great ones hosted by seasoned immigration practitioners, although I won't take names. I'd listen to them during my daily commute, and over a few months, I found myself getting a good grasp of how different immigration programs work.

Books were another valuable resource for me. I found Chantel's book on immigration particularly helpful. Whenever I came across a new case or issue, I'd refer to relevant sections in the book to get the basics down. From there, I'd dive into immigration websites, bulletins, and other resources to deepen my understanding.

I also made it a habit to regularly review case law, even if it didn't directly relate to the cases I was handling at the time. It took some extra time and effort, but it helped me build a solid foundation of knowledge.

So, my advice for staying up to date in immigration law is to start with a good book and podcasts, then dive into online resources. And don't hesitate to reach out to more experienced colleagues if you need guidance on a specific issue.

Finding clients can also be challenging for the sole practitioners. How do you Market yourself?

I've never relied on paid marketing, that's for sure. My business has mainly grown organically, largely through referrals. When someone comes to me through a referral, they're usually serious about their immigration needs, which makes them great clients to work with.

Now, in terms of online presence, I've made sure to cover a lot of ground. I'm active on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even TikTok. Leveraging my existing network on LinkedIn has been particularly fruitful, given my background. I share updates on what I'm working on, which helps keep me on people's radar.

But it's not just about being present on these platforms; it's also about credibility. In the immigration space, where there's unfortunately a fair share of fraudulent activity, having a strong online presence helps establish trust with potential clients. They can verify my credentials and see that I'm a legitimate professional.

I've also started doing webinars, especially targeting clients from countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Kazakhstan. These webinars not only help educate potential clients but also further bolster my credibility in those regions.

So, my advice is to use all the platforms that work for you. While you might have your favorites, it's important to maintain a presence across multiple channels to reach a broader audience and establish trust in your expertise.

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