The decision to open one’s own practice is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it is also not for those who do not know how to be humble and appreciate that their success rests squarely on the generosity of others. Whether it be your clients or your colleagues, the sole practitioner handles the majority of the cases in our judicial system — we innately depend on others for a professional survival.
My story began after articling. Young, inexperienced in business management, and having little idea about the pitfalls that had claimed the careers of so many of my colleagues, I decided to go for it. Despite all the naysayers and doubts I had, there were several things that I had going for me: I knew I was intelligent — my mother told me so — but more importantly I had made it through those grueling bar ads. I had a clear understanding of who I was and what I wanted to accomplish. Finally, I knew I had a great deal to learn, despite the bravado most criminal lawyers or litigators naturally have, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions of my colleagues and give credit where credit was due.
My debt was high and, due to poor decisions in university, my credit was in a worse crisis than the current economy. However, I had a vision that I would provide my clients proper and professional service; therefore I had to make do. I began meeting my clients in coffee shops. When I made my first couple of thousand, I paid minimally on my debts and poured the majority into making my vision a reality. I got office space with an old classmate of mine, a PO box for mail, and a fax and telephone. Now I wasn’t a genius, I was asking my colleagues what they did to be successful and I simply followed suit.
I began to realize, as I asked more questions and attended more functions, that I was part of a profession that recognized its young lawyers were its investment into its legacy and the sustainment of the profession. What I came to realize is the money will come, as long as you do the work. My practice continues because of the work I put into it. Everything you do in pursuit of improving yourself or creating a professional firm will ultimately benefit you. Volunteer work, assisting senior counsel in a case, or calling LawPRO to tell them you made a mistake are not wasted endeavors. These actions will lead to referrals, recognition by senior colleagues and judges, or reflect clearly on your integrity.
Practising as a sole practitioner is riddled with tribulations and triumphs. The trick is to recognize that no problem is beyond your ability or of those you can call on for help. The reward is knowing when you do triumph it is because you helped someone who believed that their problem was beyond their control.
My passion has always been in community initiatives that assist the less fortunate. Where I decided to go with my practice was centred on my personality and vision of what I believe a law firm could do to transform a community.
There will be cases that can burn you out or cripple your practice because your desire to do a great job will require you to neglect other clients. It is a reality that you must be prepared to handle. However, if what you’re doing does not excite you, then it will show in your work and ultimately in your longevity in this career.
The biggest obstacle you will face, and I did, is yourself. Confidence to run your practice and endure the highs and lows comes from yourself. Be prepared to consistently hone your craft. If someone points out a shortfall, address it immediately so it doesn’t become synonymous with your character.
As a black lawyer I could not ignore the fact I struggled with my identity, in the sense that I felt the few who went before me and made it were quite revered by the profession. It, of course, meant that I would have to work extremely hard to be counted amongst their ilk. Not only did I have to be self-motivated, I wanted to be remembered as a positive contributor to the profession.
As young lawyers, the sooner we appreciate what a privileged position being called to the bar is, the sooner we can recognize our responsibility to bring about positive change. For me personally, I have for many years grappled with the poor perception the public has of black youths, especially those who grew up in the Scarborough area of Malvern in Toronto where I had. It became my mission to learn about the legal system and further develop it from its marginal beginnings.
A sole practitioner is not constrained by the bottom line of large firms, but must recognize the zeal you have for being an advocate can only be sustained from a balanced practice that incorporates your passion and proper business development.
Jason E. Bogle practises many types of law in Toronto.