Going out on your own is an opportunity to chart new course, carve out niche, sole practitioner says

Amee Sandhu is a featured speaker at Canadian Lawyer's Women in Law conference, on Feb. 18

Going out on your own is an opportunity to chart new course, carve out niche, sole practitioner says
Amee Sandhu

These days, if you ask Amee Sandhu what she does for a living, she is just as likely to say “entrepreneur” as much as “lawyer” with years of experience in corporate compliance and ethics.

“The biggest change for me since I started a solo practice is that I went from thinking of myself as just a lawyer to thinking of myself as a business owner and entrepreneur,” says Sandhu, founder and principal lawyer at Lex Integra Professional Corporation. “You have to think across the board, not just about the legal work, but also running the business, and working out the financial side of things. You definitely work harder.”

Sandhu will be a featured speaker at Canadian Lawyer’s Women in Law conference on Feb 18. She says it has been a rewarding experience to strike out on her own in offering legal advice relating to corporate governance and compliance. For many years, she had a strong career as an in-house lawyer working on these issues, working for Atomic Energy of Canada, Candu Energy and SNC Lavalin.

However, after being “restructured” out of a job at SNC Lavalin (which had purchased assets from Atomic Energy of Canada to create Candu Energy), Sandhu decided in 2019 she’d leap into private practice. “I asked myself, okay, what do I want to do next,” she says. “What I realized is that I wasn’t looking to return to the corporate environment, at least for now.”

After talking to others in the legal profession, she realized that she had “built up a great deal of experience” in her area of the law and she had a “skill set that was considered quite unique.” She also recognized that not only did she have the legal knowledge, but she knew the ins and outs of the operational side of things and how to implement programs in corporate compliance and ethics.

Sandhu also says she felt that there was a market for her skills, especially among firms that didn’t necessarily have expertise in her area of knowledge and wanted to supplement what their in-house staff was doing.

Still, it wasn’t an easy decision to make to head into solo practice — at least until she thought it through and assessed her risk tolerance. Luckily, her husband, a teacher, and her children supported the move, and she realized that the opportunities outweighed the risks.

She also learned that her “community” of friends, former colleagues, and business contacts became important contacts in building a solo practice. Many came to her with contract and consulting opportunities. “Since deciding to go on my own in 2019, I’ve been busy ever since.

“Luckily, a lot of my work has come from referrals, or from clients who I have come to know, and even from people with who I have served on committees or volunteered with.”

Sandhu recognizes the flexibility the working for herself provides and how it helps avoid a regular commute to work by working out of her home. (“I was living the COVID-19 work from home lifestyle before there was COVID-19,” she says.) At the same time, it has meant she is busier than she was before, something her children notice.

“My children sometimes complain, they say I work harder now than I ever did before and tell me they preferred it when I was an employee.” And she admits that she probably does less of the “domestic” work around house and family, something she thanks her husband and family for.

Still, working out of her home for herself means she also doesn’t miss as many of the family events that she used to miss in the corporate world because of the regular travel it involved.

In advising those who may consider going into solo practice, Sandhu says, “go for it,” depending on your tolerance for risk. While experience and a long CV can help, Sandhu has seen women with much less experience hang up their shingle, something she admires them for. “I think wow, if they are able to overcome their fears, so can I.”

She also says looking to the “communities you are part of” for support is incredibly helpful. Not only work-related contacts but family and neighbourhood connections and even support groups for budding entrepreneurs, something that Sandhu herself tapped into and is grateful for.

Sandhu also advises that before striking out on your own, “understand ahead of time what are the things that are holding you back from doing it and try to plan for that.” For example, if income stability is an essential consideration, Sandhu says the answer could be having a cushion of savings.

“For me the dealbreaker was disability insurance. I was really quite worried, thinking what would happen if I couldn’t work any more, so I needed to know I could get the type of [insurance] protection I wanted. And that made me relax.”

Sandhu’s one last piece of advice for women in solo practise is “don’t forget to look after yourself.” She says with all the extra hours working, “it’s easy to forget to exercise, but it’s really important to take the time out to look after yourself and do things for you.”

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