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The culture of entrepreneurs

Every year, we at Canadian Lawyer aim to connect with law firms and lawyers across the country in person to find out what is happening in their world. Last fall, I travelled to Nova Scotia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. My colleagues went to Quebec and B.C. and we all meet with many lawyers at our home base in Ontario. In our daily reporting, we speak and correspond with lawyers in other regions on a regular basis as well.

Often, the issues that lawyers encounter are very different. In Calgary, the oil and gas slump is affecting everyone — not just the corporate lawyers. Tax lawyers, litigators and immigration lawyers, among many others, all feel the effects of a slow economy. In Halifax, proximity to the Atlantic means fisheries and related industries are always a big part of the economy. In the Prairies, as our survey of the top firms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan outlines, the supply and processing of agriculture is big business.

But one area where we heard a consistent message from law firms across the country was a desire to reach entrepreneurs. Law firms in every province are trying to figure out how best to reach clients who may have promising businesses but don’t necessarily have the funds to pay legal bills today. This is often in the technology sector — the startups dotted with twenty-somethings working at rows of computers and taking breaks to play foosball or ping pong. But many entrepreneurs come from other industries as well. The use of low-cost technology may be accelerating their growth, but they could be operating in retail, biotechnology or any other area where new entrants are emerging.

In our cover story, we profile some of the law firms across Canada that are successfully pitching their services to entrepreneurs. We spoke with lawyers and startups in Calgary, Halifax, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Saskatoon and London, Ont., who all provided their insight into why and how law firms get this work.

For the firms that aren’t succeeding in getting these clients, it can often seem like a daunting challenge. While lawyers would all love to be advising the next Hootsuite, finding that company in a sea of struggling startups is not an easy task. Lawyers want to know how they can assess the promise of potential clients early on or at least weed out the ones who will never succeed. Firms may offer standardized documents or flat fees to entice clients.

But what it often comes down to is a culture clash. Larry Richard, a former trial lawyer turned psychologist who has done research on the psychology of lawyers, found that people who choose law as a profession tend to have a high level of skepticism, a strong sense of autonomy and low psychological resilience. This pretty much describes the opposite of what makes a great entrepreneur — openness to new ideas, collaborative and resilient.

In other words, there is no secret sauce to working with entrepreneurs — you just have to realize they may be a bit different than you are. No matter where you are in the country.


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