Interview with Mark Ross

  • March 11, 2021
  • Mark Ross, Ross Nasseri LLP, and Farhad Shekib, Ricketts Harris LLP

Mark founded Ross Barristers, now Ross Nasseri LLP, in 2005 after his Call to the Bar. Today, Ross Nasseri LLP is a highly regarded litigation boutique, with eight lawyers practicing in real estate, shareholder, contract, estates and constructions disputes as well as regulatory proceedings.

Farhad Shekib is a litigation associate at Ricketts Harris LLP, specializing in civil/commercial litigation, employment law and D&O insurance coverage matters.

1. Why did you jump into solo practice after your Call to the Bar?

I didn’t “jump” into it. I fell into it. I didn’t have a job after articling. And I needed money to support my family.

2. What were some of your biggest challenges in your earlier years of Practice?

Handling problems you are seeing for the first time: doing an injunction for the first time, reconciling a trust account, attracting business, doing payroll and HST, or choosing software. I could go on.

3. How did you address these challenges?

I wish there was some magic to it. I pick up the phone and call someone who might have helpful information. If no one comes to mind, I Google it, but that rarely helps. Trial and error works best. There is no real substitute for figuring it out yourself.

No one knows what they are doing for the first time. No one knows all things at all times. Accepting circumstances where there is a real risk of making a mistake and having to deal with those consequences is critical. The mindset is critical. 

4. What are some common Startup Costs?

All I needed was a computer, scanner, printer, desk and filing cabinet. Then there’s the Microsoft applications, a domain, accounting software and a subscription to Westlaw or Quicklaw. I didn’t have a website at the beginning, but that was 2005; today you probably want a good website.

My first office was in a chambers; I paid about $700/month at the time. There was the benefit of a reception, a functional copy machine and a reasonably dignified boardroom. Forgetting COVID for a moment, it’s probably still the cheapest way to have the resources you need to start a practice.  

5. What was your marketing strategy?

There was no formal strategy. I called lawyers and asked to help with overflow work. My pitch was: “I’ll do anything you don’t want to do”. I’ll attend at a Small Claims settlement conference, prepare a sub-service motion, draft a research memo, or seek an adjournment; truly anything that was needed. Three or four people took me up on it. Then the sub-service motion, for example, turned into a request to see the matter through to discoveries.

I also knocked on all the doors at the chambers. There were about 25 lawyers there. I introduced myself and made the same pitch about being willing to do anything. 1 of the 24 gave me work to do. He turned out to be probably my largest source of business for my first 3-4 years.

6. How did you learn to litigate?

There’s no substitute for experience. Trial and error.  I also benefitted from the pure kindness of other lawyers. I asked more experienced litigators questions all the time. They were people I met very early on who took an interest in my development. To this day, they know how grateful I am for what they did for me.  

7. How did you grow the firm?

Trial and error. Hiring my first associate was a big step. I was busy enough, but I couldn’t help question myself: am I going to have enough work to justify it? How do I become a good boss?

Just when you think you have it figured out, you find out you had it all wrong. You have to forgive yourself for making mistakes as a boss because you will certainly make them.   

It was also not easy attracting decent talent. When I first started hiring, I didn’t have the money to pay at the higher end of the pay scale, or a reputation as having a particularly interesting practice.

Fortunately, over time, there was more work.  We needed more people to service it. It just seemed that every time we were looking, we were able to find someone great to fill the position. We’ve been very lucky to find really, really great people.  

8. Has you business development strategy changed over the years?

Not at all. I don’t really advertise or promote myself much. My business comes from friendships. It cheapens my friendships to call them a “business development” strategy. Because they are not.

The same 3 lawyers who gave me my start 16 years ago still refer files to me today. They remain close friends. I have met some people through work who have become friends and referral sources as well. Those friendships happened naturally. The referrals were fortuitous. There are so many wonderful and interesting people out there. I want to see them succeed and I think they feel the same way about me.

9. What is the most rewarding aspect of running your own shop?

The relationships. The people I’ve worked with have been friends, confidantes and sounding boards. They’ve given me critical feedback for my own growth. It’s incredibly rewarding to go through the day-to-day grind with people who have been truly inspiring. 

10. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can give to someone who is just starting a law firm?

Have fun. You’ll make mistakes. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

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