Wednesday, January 30, 2019 @ 9:54 AM | By Christopher Guly
Lisa Stam had a good six-and-a-half year run practising employment, labour, pension and human rights law at Baker McKenzie in Toronto from 2007 to 2014. But over that time, she noticed a change in client expectations regarding legal services.
“They didn’t want an elaborate lobby — although a tiny number of clients were dazzled by that,” she said. “Most just wanted responsiveness, quick service and cost-effectiveness.”
So Stam left the big Bay Street firm and formed a boutique employment labour law firm with Inna Koldorf, who also practises in that area. Koldorf Stam LLP brought clients the no-frills basics that Stam believed they sought, but the two partners couldn’t agree on incorporating technology into their practice and the firm closed in March 2017.
Alistair Vigier doesn’t want to grow his virtual firm too fast. The 28-year-old, Victoria, B.C.-based former member of the Canadian Infantry — who isn’t a lawyer — believes the firm he opened last spring, ClearWay Law, is best positioned, for now, in his hometown, Toronto, where all six of its lawyers are based.
“There is a very good work ethic in Toronto,” said Vigier, ClearWay’s CEO. “I don’t encourage it, but our lawyers are on the job from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. They’re very hard workers. In Victoria, lawyers show up at around 10 and leave at around 3.”
ClearWay runs a busy practice in family law, and wills and estates, and based on demand, added immigration law to its roster in December.
As with SpringLaw, ClearWay’s lawyers work from home. When needed, they meet with clients in shared space at a downtown Toronto office the firm rents for about $200 a month, or a fraction of the cost it would pay to maintain a fully functioning office.
“At the last firm I was with, we spent $120,000 a year on an office, and found that most lawyers didn’t come to the office except for a consultation with clients,” noted Vigier, who was an investor at and handled the business and marketing for Hart Legal in Vancouver.
He said his firm can also run as a remote office because of cloud computing that enables online recordkeeping and for which the law societies of British Columbia and Ontario have established practice guidelines.
ClearWay keeps costs down for the firm at an operational level and for clients by charging flat fees whenever possible, according to Vigier, who is also setting up a concierge consulting office in Beijing that will connect clients and lawyers in China for business, real estate and immigration matters.
An added benefit of virtual firms, he said, is efficiency. Lawyers communicate with one another mainly through instant messaging and e-mail and without “wasting a lot of time with small talk” typical in a physical office location, Vigier explained.
“The one drawback is that we don’t get a lot of face-to-face time, so communication within the firm has to be specific.”
*This article has been cut to focus on the ClearWay Law part