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Tips from the top

|Written By Heather Gardiner

Dreaming of becoming a law firm managing partner someday? Then you’ll want to take note of what these law firm leaders across the country shared with Canadian Lawyer 4Students about what it takes. We asked them the following probing questions to help you on your way to law firm leadership.

1. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
2. What is the most stressful aspect of your job and how do you handle it?
3. What advice would you give to law students who want to become managing partner someday?
4. What is the No. 1 quality you look for in articling students?
5. Did you have a mentor as a young lawyer? If so, how did that person help you?

Stephen Shamie, Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, Toronto

1) The most enjoyable aspect of my job is seeing the growth and development of junior lawyers in the firm. We have so many talented junior lawyers and they are the reason the firm continues to grow and succeed.
2) The most stressful aspect of my job is when I have to advise an articling student that he or she is not going to be offered an associate position at the firm, after he or she has worked so hard all year. These are very difficult decisions and discussions and there is no easy way of handling them other than being honest and providing as much support as possible in helping them move forward.
3) One of the most important aspects of practising law is a lawyer’s reputation. The advice I would give law students is to not only become the best lawyer you can be from a technical perspective but also to never compromise your reputation and integrity in dealing with other lawyers, clients, and judicial and administrative decision-makers.
4) Assuming that excellent legal skills are a given, the most important quality we look for in articling students is judgment. This can manifest itself in a number of ways. We look for people who we believe will be collegial, have excellent interpersonal skills with clients, and will be able to successfully interact with everyone at the firm.
5) I was fortunate to have a number of mentors when I was a junior lawyer. I learned so much from all of them and I continue to learn every day. My mentors, most importantly, gave me the confidence to practise law knowing that support was always available if I needed it. That was a huge advantage and helped me grow as a lawyer.
Jerri Cairns, Parlee McLaws LLP, Edmonton

1) Setting strategic priorities for the firm.
2) Management of professional staff is the most stressful component and I manage it by trying to have frequent, direct, and open communications.
3) Become known for your efforts to enhance your legal skills, your ability to develop clients, and for your interest in furthering the firm’s interests. Also become known for your integrity.
4) A “fit” with our firm culture.
5) I did not have any one mentor but did have several lawyers I worked with who helped me with my skills as an advocate and taught me about client management and building business relationships.
Bill Maclagan, Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, Vancouver

1) I am a partner in a great law firm with great partners. I very much enjoy representing the firm at the numerous events that I attend throughout the city. Our firm is seen as a leader in the business community and it is great to represent it. I also enjoy the long-term strategic visioning and planning that is involved in my job. One of the most important jobs in law firm management is to get people thinking about the long term as opposed to the short term. It is the way you build a sense of team and firm among staff and lawyers.
2) Probably the most stressful thing at the beginning was balancing my billable practice with my management duties. I dealt with it by delegating and by blocking out time for specific duties and trying to keep to those times. Now with the office being much larger, the most stressful thing for me is trying to ensure people are on the same page and understand where the firm is going. You deal with that by staying close to people and talking up the vision as much as possible.
3) I would advise young people to first concentrate on learning their craft and becoming an excellent lawyer and adviser. Then spend time learning about the business of law. I would advise them to watch the good leaders in their firm and learn everything they can from watching those people operate and interact with people. Most importantly, learn how to listen and how to put firm needs ahead of your own. Lastly, always be true to yourself. If you cannot be true to yourself and your own values within your firm’s environment then you may be in the wrong place.
4) We look for bright people with good academic credentials. I want to see people who have demonstrated they can work and live in a team culture and who have leadership qualities and are pleasant to work with.
5) I had many mentors as a young student and lawyer. All of them taught me that the most important thing about the law was to remember it is a people business. Behind every exciting legal problem are clients who want, need, and deserve your advice and attention in order to succeed. They taught me that if I wanted to be a success in law I first had to focus on my craft and becoming a good lawyer. They also taught me to have fun and enjoyment in the practice of law and to give back to my profession and community.

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