Bo Rothstein leads Farris LLP as managing partner, shaping future legal talent

From securities work to Lexpert Rising Stars judge, Rothstein discusses strategy, diversity, and technology

Bo Rothstein leads Farris LLP as managing partner, shaping future legal talent
Bo Rothstein

Bo Rothstein became the managing partner of Farris at the beginning of 2024. Farris is a full-service firm with offices across BC.

He is also a judge for the Lexpert Rising Stars Awards, recognizing Canada’s leading lawyers 40 and under. Nominations for the 2024 awards are now open, and the final deadline is July 5.

Rothstein spoke on the CL Talk podcast about his journey from starting his legal career in Toronto to becoming the managing partner at Farris LLP in Vancouver, the firm's focus on inclusivity, technology adoption, and mentorship, and his role as a judge for the Lexpert Rising Stars event.

Listen to our full podcast episode here:

This episode can also be found on our CL Talk podcast homepage, which includes links to follow CL Talk on all the major podcast providers.

Below is a summary of the conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Can you share your journey to becoming the managing partner at Farris LLP and some key milestones along the way?

I began my career in Toronto, where I summered, articled, and became an associate at a law firm. In 2006, I moved to Vancouver for family reasons and interviewed with several firms. Farris felt the most like a Toronto firm – fast-paced, with intense lawyers working on high-profile matters – so I decided to join them. I started in securities and public M&A but diversified into private company work and banking during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

Later, I completed a secondment at a large client of the firm, which was rolling out an energy efficiency and conservation program. This gave me valuable insights into clients' views of their work and external counsel. After returning to the firm, I joined the partnership in 2013. Farris is an agile firm with little hierarchy or politics. In 2014, I joined the firm's three-member management committee and served for several years, participating in many management initiatives.

Following a governance process last year, I was asked to serve as the firm's managing partner, a role I officially assumed this January after starting the transition in the fall.

What are the most challenging aspects of your role as managing partner, and how do you address them?

We designed this role to be full-time, so the expectation is that I would step away from much of my practice to focus on management and strategy for the firm. I've been in this role for about five and a half months, and the most challenging aspect has been balancing the transition from practice to management. It feels like having two full-time jobs because deals don't stop when you want them to; many have been ongoing for months or even years. The juggling of practice and management has been the most challenging part so far, but ask me again in a year, and I might have more to share.

What are Farris LLP's main strategic priorities in the coming years, particularly in response to recent market changes?

As a member of our firm's strategic committee and managing partner, I've been involved in developing a formal five-year strategic plan, a new exercise for us. Farris has been around for 120 years, with strong departments in corporate and securities and commercial litigation. Our goal is to support and grow these areas by ensuring our partners and associates have the necessary resources and by promoting our expertise in the market.

We also have robust practices in real estate, family law, wills and estates, and labour and employment, which are crucial for businesses and individuals in BC. We aim to strengthen these departments further, respond to client needs effectively, and provide the best possible service.

How is Farris LLP leveraging technology to enhance its legal services and maintain a competitive edge?

We have state-of-the-art technology, including advanced document management and accounting systems, which we are moving to the cloud to provide our lawyers with the best tools and keep client data secure. AI has been a significant focus, and we are continuously exploring new programs for litigation management, corporate work, and securities work with large companies and startups.

Although AI isn't new, its applications are evolving, and we've been using AI-driven litigation management tools for years. Our goal is to implement programs that enhance efficiency, accuracy, and proficiency in serving our clients. However, we are cautious about adopting new AI technologies too quickly. We aim to be responsible, ensuring compliance with law society duties and maintaining client confidentiality. We will assess these programs carefully, implement them aggressively but not hastily, and learn from the market's experiences before fully committing to new solutions.

How does Farris LLP address diversity and inclusion within the firm, and what progress have you seen?

Inclusivity has always been a core value of our firm. When I joined the strategic committee over ten years ago, we identified inclusivity as a fundamental principle. This commitment is evident because nine of the last 13 lawyers we made partners in the past five years have been women. With fewer than 50 partners, this demonstrates meaningful change.

Our goal has always been to hire the best and brightest students from law schools, which are now doing a good job of admitting historically underrepresented groups. As a result, we naturally see a more diverse pool of top candidates. This strategy has led to a diverse group of students becoming associates and advancing within the firm.

On the retention side, we partner with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion and offer anti-bias and cultural awareness training, along with flexible arrangements for parents. These initiatives are positively impacting retention and partnership admissions.

What initiatives does Farris LLP have in place to attract and retain top legal talent, especially young lawyers?

Mentorship is crucial and has always been important. Historically, we relied on organic mentorship, where partners or senior associates naturally gravitated towards students and junior associates with similar practice or life interests. Now, we have formalized mentoring arrangements to ensure that all new members – whether articling students, summer students, or junior and mid-level associates – are paired with experienced lawyers. These mentors help guide them in their careers and support their personal and professional development.

Can you discuss the importance of mentorship at Farris LLP and how you contribute to this culture?

Our approach, shared by many partners, differentiates us from other firms. We don't fit articling students or junior associates into specific groups; instead, we identify where they want to practice and what they want to do long-term. At the junior level, if someone chooses the litigation or corporate stream, we provide a broad range of experiences. For instance, a junior corporate associate might work in securities, banking, general corporate commercial, and real estate.

We aim to give associates diverse practice areas to explore, working with them to identify their preferred career paths. Our goal is not for them to stay just a few years but to remain with us for decades. We support them in finding work they enjoy and in balancing their career with personal growth and family life, ensuring they are satisfied throughout their careers.

What advice would you give young lawyers aspiring to excel in their legal careers and potentially reach leadership positions?

My answer will likely echo many other Lexpert Rising Stars judges. Young lawyers must first become proficient in their craft, building their skills diligently. The 10,000-hour rule suggests that becoming a good lawyer takes five to ten years of hard work and humility. Once these skills are established, we encourage associates to develop other important areas such as business development, client skills, and practice management. Focusing too soon on business development can limit career growth. Joining a large law firm provides a variety of work and good practitioners who can help young lawyers train effectively. Once skilled, young lawyers can focus on business development and client relations and ultimately take on leadership roles.

What motivated you to become a judge for the Lexpert Rising Stars event, and what qualities do you look for in nominees?

I aim to identify future leaders in our profession to ensure it's in good hands for the next generation. Award winners should uphold high standards of practice, integrity, inclusivity, and community engagement. Recipients must demonstrate these attributes.

When evaluating nominees, I look for excellence in their field – whether in litigation, corporate, tax, or intellectual property. Additionally, they should actively engage with their communities through activities like coaching sports, involvement in the arts, or participation in advocacy groups. These actions contribute to a better profession.

Most nominees are partners in their firms, so I also look for those taking on leadership roles within their firms. Law firms are difficult to run; leaders should step up and contribute to their organizations. Excellence in practice, community involvement, and internal leadership are the key attributes I seek in nominees.

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