The Pandemic as My Personal Circuit Breaker

Turning off the lights to light a bulb

The Pandemic as My Personal Circuit Breaker

When I meet new clients at my office in North Vancouver, I am often asked about my experience. When I reveal to them that before landing at my current law firm — a firm of around a dozen lawyers — I worked at a large, international law firm in New York City, followed by 11 years in Vancouver working with a national law firm, the question invariably posed by the client is: “What’s your billing rate?”

When other lawyers hear of my background, their typical response is: “What happened?”

The former question is easy to answer; the latter is a bit more complicated.

One year after moving from a downtown Vancouver law firm to my “local” perch in Central Lonsdale, it is clear to me that the pandemic was a “circuit breaker” event in my career. I started practising law in New York City, where as a young lawyer I was immersed in a busy private equity transactions practice, during the frothy leveraged buy-out environment preceding the 2008 financial crisis. When I relocated to Vancouver in 2010, in part motivated by “lifestyle” considerations, I quickly learned that a transactional practice on either side of the 49th parallel promises a heavy workload and the regular application of crisis-management skills.

When the pandemic turned life upside down, the demands of my practice remained largely unabated. When people at the firm were first instructed to work from home, however, none of us knew what to expect. Would our work grind to a halt? How long could we continue to effectively practise law remotely? Very few were able to predict that, for many of us, the demands on our time would only accelerate.

While the demand for my legal services has continued apace, the manner in which I deliver those services has changed significantly. Many of these changes have been documented and described in detail by others in this publication and elsewhere, and include reflections on the increased use of videoconferencing, virtual transactions, and an augmented reliance on the “cloud”. In my case, however, working from home also afforded me an ability to be more present among friends and family on a daily basis. Although important client deadlines persisted, I was able to more fully commit to family engagements with increased regularity.

In addition to my newfound balance in daily activities, I also found that I was able to more clearly reflect on my career and what was important to me in my practice. Having a bit of distance from my usual routine (which for me included 10+ hours per day in the office), I could soberly assess my development as a lawyer, and contemplate what I still wanted to accomplish professionally. The ultimate product of this assessment: I wanted to try something different. I wanted to experience private practice from a more intimate platform; I wanted to learn more about the “business” of law; and I wanted to find a way to become more involved in my local community of North Vancouver.

The sum of these reflections convinced me to take a step back from a great national firm, where I worked with very talented people, and set up practice within a 10-minute walk from my home. Through my career transition, I have fundamentally changed my approach to the practice of law, and I have gained a deeper insight into the aspects of my practice that I value the most. I was able to count on a strong network of friends and family when I deliberated my next steps, but in many ways I would not have taken the time to think about making a change unless the pandemic, and the ensuing disruption to our daily lives, had given me space to think and reflect.