Get Out of the Smoke and Thrive

  • December 01, 2016
  • By Steve Brandner

Small town equals big life

I would like to debunk the myth that Vancouver (aka “The Big Smoke”) is the greatest place on earth, and the only place to practice law in BC if you are a “serious” lawyer. Yes, Vancouver has beautiful mountains, close proximity to ski hills, etc. However, for most lawyers those lifestyle options are illusory. They all take time, which, if you’re running a busy practice to pay off your stratospheric mortgage, is in short supply. After factoring in your commute time of an hour or so (one way) to your castle in the suburbs and, if like me you have school-aged kids, time spent shuttling the rear-seat dwellers to their activities, there is barely enough time to watch SportsCentre at night, let alone partake in any such activities.

I moved to a small centre (Vernon) from Vancouver in 2008 and you should too. Here’s why:

  1. The work available is sophisticated and satisfying. You will likely need to practice in a broader range of law than you do in Vancouver, but the work itself is fantastic. The high-end work can end up in Vancouver, but if you have the skill set, you will keep the work. Solicitors in my office will handle files from basic wills and residential conveyances, to multi-year land developments to a recent acquisition in Zambia (with help from local counsel). Litigators regularly handle complex personal injury, real estate, commercial, estate and family disputes.
  2. You can afford a nice house. With a yard. Near your office (my house is six minutes away). And you can pay off your mortgage in a reasonable time. You may even own your office building.
  3. It’s just as beautiful as Vancouver. Plus, you get four actual seasons and less rain. When I practised in Vancouver I had an umbrella with me any time I went outside. Now I don’t own one.
  4. You live closer to everything. Going to a golf course, grocery store, dance recital, ski hill (especially in Vernon) is even closer here than it is in Vancouver. The time savings are immense. You also live closer to your friends, who all live in the same community, so deciding to have a dinner party with three other couples doesn’t involve coordinating people coming over from three other communities. As a result, it’s easier to have a rich social life. 
  5. A one-income household is common. Lower housing costs means you can own your home and you or your spouse can stay home and raise the kids.
  6. Community. It is easier to be involved and to develop deep connections within your community because your network of contacts intersects more frequently than in a larger centre. You might sit on a board where other board members are your clients, or a referral source may be your child’s soccer coach.

If you are in the Big Smoke and the housing market and demands of practice are conspiring against you to lead a life that is less happy and fulfilling than you would like, you owe it to yourself to look at opportunities in smaller communities (including Vernon!). You will find interesting work, be able to buy a home and have disposable income left over, and have time to enjoy life beyond work. Many of my colleagues initially practised in Vancouver or other large centres before relocating. I consulted them in preparation for writing this article and not one of them regrets their decision to move here. We can’t all be wrong.

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Steve Brandner is a partner with Nixon Wenger LLP who loves practising in Vernon.