Living the dream

For years, Nasha Nijhawan dreamed of starting her own business — she just wasn’t always convinced it would be a law practice with her name on the door.

“For a long time I thought I would have to leave the law to open a business and have an outlet for all the creative aspects of my personality,” she says.

“After moving to Halifax where the market is so different it dawned on me I could stay in the law, which I absolutely love. You don’t have to follow a traditional path and join a firm and become a partner as the only way to be successful in this industry.”

On Monday, Nijhawan and her partner Kelly McMillan launched Nijhawan McMillan Barristers on Maitland Street in Halifax.

The two women first met at Halifax boutique firm Pink Larkin. Prior to that Nijhawan was at Toronto’s Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP where she worked on class action litigation.

About a year and a half ago Nijhawan returned to Halifax, where she had attended law school at Dalhousie University, and met McMillan.

“Working together we discovered we have a set of skills that makes us a pretty effective team,” says McMillan who graduated from McGill law and is focused on employment, human rights ,and aboriginal law.

“It was Nasha’s long-time dream to start her own firm and when she did, I saw it as a good time for me personally to join her and take the risk and a new challenge.”

Nijhawan started a sole practice last fall and a few months later McMillan decided to join her.

Today the duo also announced they are lead counsel representing Abortion Access Now PEI in the challenge to Prince Edward Island’s abortion policy.  It was something they started as a pro bono project at Pink Larkin.

“It’s the case that really brought the two of us together as lawyers and gave us the opportunity to discover we have really complementary skills and in how we approach cases. We have different strengths in the way we approach litigation that makes us as a team very strong,” says Nijhawan.

Their Twitter account bio describes Nijhawan McMillan Barristers as a “litigation boutique in Halifax with a special interest in equality issues. Run by two unapologetic feminists who love the law.”

“We are both dedicated feminists and have a really deep interest in equality issues and one of the interesting things for us in starting a firm is the ability to apply that lens to all sorts of cases,” says Nijhawan. “With the case in P.E.I. that’s a straight up constitutional challenge and a women’s rights issue on Charter grounds.”

But the desire to pursue equality issues doesn’t encompass everything they do. Their practice is largely focused on employment law, and corporate and institutional clients in civil, criminal, and administrative law.

“The reason equality is so prominent in our Twitter account is because Twitter is that place where you express views and personality but it’s not an all-encompassing description of the work that we do,” says Nijhawan.

Nijhawan focused on corporate-commercial litigation in Toronto but became interested in criminal law when she returned to Halifax.

“I had an interest in criminal law but in my first five years of practice had no exposure to it until I came to Pink Larkin where I had the benefit of junioring for Joel Pink, who is a wonderful mentor and teacher and he sparked that interest for me and we did some big trials last year.”

Nijhawan says she has enjoyed every aspect of launching the practice — from setting up a cloud-based management system with a goal to having a paperless office, to designing their web site, and giving thought to their own personal beliefs around access to justice.

The firm web site has a fee page indicating it offers flexible billing structures and a one-hour flat fee consult on any case for $100 plus tax.

“It’s not common to have a fee page on a web site. It’s not always the fairest thing to do to charge an hourly rate. I believe it’s part of my ethical responsibility to promote access to justice and this is the way to do it if you’re in private practice,” says Nijhawan.

“The mystique around hiring a lawyer is a real problem. We wanted to offer the ability for someone to just come and speak to us for an hour for whatever they have to talk about for a fee that is fair for our times and manageable.”

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