A few words from Marc Delacruz on the mentoring relationship he entered into with Linda L. Long Q.C.:
How did the virtual law office benefit the relationship from both the mentor’s and mentoree’s perspective?
I think Linda’s previous blog post did a great job of explaining my background and what kind of previous legal experience I had under my belt before I decided to go solo. It was scary thinking about how I was going to start a solo practice, when I had known nothing outside of lawyering within a large firm.
There are lots of odds and ends that a sole practitioner has to worry about that don’t come up in the daily routine of a big firm lawyer. Things like arranging for mail delivery, deciding on a telephone and computer system, and designing business cards and letterhead are topics that weren’t covered in law school. They were already set up and established at my old firm. I, on the other hand, was starting from scratch.
The one piece of advice that I kept reading over and over in numerous “How to” manuals on building a solo practice was to find a mentor who could show me the ropes. Luckily for me, I attended a LESA conference for solo and small firm practitioners. There, I met Linda, who graciously offered me a tour of her office when the conference was over. Our discussions eventually moved towards establishing a more formal mentoring relationship, which was exactly what I needed.
The mentoring experience was made even better by the fact that Linda had a virtual law office in place. I knew that I could phone or email Linda and the office staff. I could also go and visit them in person by taking the 8-hour drive (round trip) to Edmonton. However, the virtual connection made it possible for me to also send messages on their intra-office instant messenger program for even faster responses, and have access to their computer database.
Access to the precedents folder at Linda’s office was incredibly helpful to me. It reassured me that whenever I had a question about some random document I needed, that there was a good chance that there was already a precedent for it. Everything from a template Statement of Claim for Divorce and Division of Matrimonial Property (remember, the new Queen’s Bench fill-in-the-blank forms weren’t out yet), to an office policy manual, to pre-made charts for tracking postage.
When you’re just starting out as a sole practitioner with minimal time at the Bar, it can feel like you are at ground zero. Although you will draw on your articling and associate experience at your previous firm, you quickly realize that in a lot of cases, you will have no clue where to begin. For me, I knew that I had access to Linda’s office staff, the precedents folder, and my regularly scheduled mentor teleconferences. These lifelines made it possible for me to build my practice with more confidence.
Is there an experience working within the Virtual Law Office that is particularly memorable for you?
There were a number of important experiences over the 2 years that I had my formal mentoring relationship with Linda. One of the more memorable experiences within the virtual law office setting itself was working with Des Birch, Linda’s office manager, to run through the steps to creating a client bill and paying for the fees by trust transfer from the clients’ retainers. It was the first time that Delacruz Law Office had billed its clients and been paid for its legal services! Using the virtual connection, Des walked me through each of the template forms that she used when doing the monthly bills, and helped me complete mine. Although I could have learned on my own about how to send bills and pay myself, being able to ask an experienced office manager how to do things saved me from a lot of headaches.
Linda is a lawyer who enjoys teaching others. She was incredibly patient with me and answered all of my numerous rookie questions. Surprisingly enough, most of the questions I had were not even related to family law, but rather were about the practice of law. How do I decide on office furniture? What should I say to prospective clients? How can I tell a good potential client from a bad one?
I am thankful that I found such a wonderful mentor. I can’t wait for the day that I can return the favor, or “pay it forward” to another junior lawyer setting up his or her own solo practice!
Stay tuned for the final part of the Virtual Law Office series, Part 9: The Technical Perspective