From Sole Practitioner to Mid-Size Firm in 10 Years


From Sole Practitioner to Mid-Size Firm in 10 Years

In 2012, I left the security of working in an established law firm to set up shop, alone. My decision was driven by a change in my family situation which required more of my support at home. I started Southern Law with a focus on conducting workplace investigations, drawing on my experience as a labour lawyer, mediator, and adjudicator. In a few months, I was tapping on the shoulder of my long-standing colleague and friend, Yuki Matsuno, to see if she would help.

In 2019, Southern Law merged with Butler Workplace Solutions, and we have doubled in size since the pandemic. Today, Southern Butler Price LLP (“SBP”) is the largest firm of its kind in Western Canada, with 27 lawyers supported by our administrative team.

I often get asked how we did this. While there are many factors, here’s a summary of those most instrumental to our growth.

Be Different

Most labour and employment firms declare themselves employer side or union/employee side. Prior to SBP, no BC labour law firm offered only neutral services.

Given legislative changes and growing awareness of workplace human rights issues, we saw the potential for work. We also believed the best way to serve clients was from a neutral firm platform, effectively, “no one’s side.” Our firm committed to only offering core services as impartials: investigations, mediations, arbitrations, and training.

Lesson? Building a firm without litigation or advocacy work was risky — but it worked. Don’t be afraid to be different. Filling a unique need sets you apart.

Work Differently

From the beginning, we brought back talent who had left traditional practice because the work structure did not meet their personal needs. Our lawyers choose their path: their files, their relationship with the firm (contract or employment), where they work, how much they work. We kept our operating expenses low and have limited office space. We were hybrid pre-pandemic, because creating a flexible workspace was always a core value.

We have high retention and job satisfaction levels, offer competitive salaries, and attract exceptional talent.

Lesson? Offer what others do not, and great talent will come to you.

Have a Purpose

The necessity of purpose, both for motivating talent and attracting clients, is key.

Our purpose is clear: we help build and maintain exceptional organizations, using creative tools grounded in fairness and respect. That purpose resonates with clients seeking to resolve workplace conflict and create respectful spaces.

This ethos of the firm also creates purpose for our team. In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink talks about the three attributes of intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We have a firm that supports our lawyers exercising autonomy, developing mastery, and creating a common purpose. This combination motivates and energizes our team.

Lesson? Aligning purpose externally and internally is a powerful magnet.

Have a Brake (and someone who will use it)

Key to our strength is our decision makers’ diversity. Left to my own devices, I only push the accelerator. While my incessant forward momentum has its positive attributes, it also has profound downsides. Burnout, inadequate administrative systems, and slippage on quality are hazards resulting from running too fast without scaffolds.

We have a lot of work and strive to provide excellent service to all our clients. However, we learned that adding people does not always fix a capacity problem — at least not quickly. You must invest time and resources to develop new talent.

The best decision I have made is having partners. Equal voices, with different views, risk thresholds, and expertise, have been a game-changer. My foot is still on the accelerator, but I sure appreciate those around me who check the rear-view mirror and brake when needed.

Lesson? Don’t be the only one driving.

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