In this latest instalment of our practice profile series, we continue to explore the different directions your legal education can take you by speaking with Marla Miller QC of the Miller Boileau Family Law Group. Marla shares with us her experiences and insight on becoming a sole practitioner, the family law practice, and the family law bar as a community.
At Miller Boileau, Marla and her colleagues have each taken on a unique role – be it a mediator, litigator, or collaborative family lawyer – to offer their clients a full range of services. Marla focuses on using mediation and collaborative family law to seek out a suitable arrangement for her clients and the parties involved.
At first glance, Miller Boileau may look and act like a small firm; however, it enjoys the structure of an association of lawyers. As Marla explained, “It is the best of both worlds in that there is support from … a group of family lawyers but you also have all the good things that come with being a sole practitioner.”
Before starting her own practice in 1990, Marla worked at both a small and a mid-size firm. Her motivation to go solo came from her surroundings as well as her interest in the business side of a law practice. The idea of becoming a sole practitioner may be a daunting one, but Marla shares with us some advice that she kept in her pocket when starting out.
If you have the choice to work with a lawyer for five years and if you are doing good work and your clients are happy and sending you referrals, after five years you’ve done enough and seen enough that you have a good chance of surviving on your own.”
In terms of a typical day, Marla is usually able to meet with two sets of clients, as most meetings take up a full morning or afternoon. The freedom and flexibility to set her own schedule is certainly important to her, but one of the things that Marla values the most as a family lawyer is also what sets the practice apart from others.
In family law, you can only make a bad situation better. When people come to you and are having a terrible time, you can help them get to a better place.”
This ability to aid and guide people through a difficult situation is a driving force for many in their pursuit of a family law career. How to set off upon the path to reach that position, however, can be unclear. When students interested in family law ask her about articling, Marla’s answer may seem counterintuitive at first, but it is not without reason.
Don’t article at a family law firm. Instead, try articling at a general practice firm. You need to learn all the other skills in order to be a good family lawyer. Talk to the firm and tell them that, while you want to learn everything, you think you might want to end up in family law. They might already be sending the work off, and you could end up being an asset to the firm.”
Students can also find comfort in knowing that the family law bar is supportive and that there are opportunities for mentorship and guidance. Marla reassured us that “if people have questions, they can probably call any family lawyer. It’s a very generous and collegial bar. We like to help people get to where they need to be in their lives. It’s what we do.”
We appreciate Marla’s willingness to share her insight and expertise as well as her valuable advice for pursuing family law. We bring this chapter of our series to a close with something that has stuck with us and most certainly will stick with you. When asked about the impact her work has on her clients, Marla answered that, at the end of the day, being a family lawyer is not all about winning.
You close your file and go on to your next client, but whatever has happened is the story that these people have to live with. If you’re not helping the whole person and looking only at the legal problem, you’re doing a disservice. You do a disservice to the client, you do a disservice to their children, and, in the long run, you do a disservice to yourself.”
LESA Summer Student