Published in the April Edition of the OBA’s Young Lawyers’ Division Section Insider.
I had the arguably good fortune of joining the legal profession a short time before a global pandemic threw a wrench in the (office) works and transformed most workplaces (including mine). Having started practice in the “before times”, I was used to going into the office most days. I didn’t have much concern about whether and when I’d get to meet my colleagues in-person. As a litigator, my time in the courtroom was quite literally in the courtroom.
But then, around March 2020, many of us began staying home for the sake of health and safety. I’m not being particularly profound when I say that this fundamentally changed the way we worked and practiced law. We quickly acclimatized to Zoom, tried our hand at virtual networking events and spent far less time in a physical office.
Now, as the world opens up again, I’ve repeatedly asked myself: how do you build a practice in a world of hybrid work? Here are a few tips that I’ve picked up from friends and colleagues as I’ve been trying to answer this question.
1. DO LUNCH
A major benefit of being back in the office is the opportunity to network. You may be receiving invitations to a plethora of networking events. Make a habit of going to some of these events. Beyond events, invite a colleague or a contact out for lunch or, at least, coffee. If you’re back in the office more often, you might as well make the most of one of the big plusses of in-person work: meeting with an actual person. As your practice grows, so should your network.
2. HANG AROUND THE WATER COOLER
A common complaint that I’ve heard from more senior colleagues is that the pandemic prevented people from having those passing conversations in the office that could really assist your practice. You may be struggling with a legal problem that someone else has seen before. While the “pop-in” visit to a colleague’s office was previously commonplace, it became more difficult to obtain informal advice during the pandemic, where you often had to arrange a call or try to reach someone by email. Now, if you happen to be in the office, chat with people you see in the halls. Hang out around the proverbial water cooler. Talk to your colleagues about what you’re working on. You might be surprised with how helpful those conversations can be.
3. KEEP THAT REMOTE WORK SETUP
Although there are many benefits to in-person work, this doesn’t mean you should dismantle that meticulous work-from-home setup you put together. On certain days, working from home may be more efficient, especially when you have a pressing deadline. Skipping your commute may mean more time to spend on work tasks…or less time spent “leaving the office” at the end of the day. If you still have the option of working from home, make sure those days at home are still as productive as (if not more productive than) when you work from the office.
4. OBSERVE AND REPORT
You can learn a lot from asking other lawyers for advice. But you can often learn just as much by watching other lawyers in action. For example, as a litigator, if I argue a motion in Court, I’m often sharing the judge’s time with a long list of other lawyers scheduled to speak on the same day. When I first started practicing, I was told to watch these other lawyers, even after I was done speaking with the judge. The same rule rings true for any practice, from real estate to tax. Take note of how lawyers interact with clients, judges, and other lawyers. You can learn not only how you want to act, but also how you don’t want to act.
5. COORDINATE WITH OTHERS
If you’re going into the office to work with other people, make sure that those people will actually be there. If you work in a team, consider coordinating which days the team will be in the office. If you have a matter you want to discuss with your colleague, assistant or clerk, check with them to see when they’ll be in next. Otherwise, you may feel like you’re still working remotely, just from a different location.
6. BE ACCOMMODATING
Although you may prefer an in-person or a virtual meeting, others may not always share that preference. The people you work with may face accessibility barriers that impact their ability to work the same way as you do. Whether it’s due to disabilities, family commitments, access to technology or access to space, some people find in-person or virtual meetings more challenging than the others. The pandemic showed us that we can be flexible with how we work when we need to be. Consider how you can be flexible with those you are working with, and what accommodations you can offer.
7. KNOW YOUR TECHNOLOGY
Even as we return to the office, it’s clear that much of technology that we used during the pandemic is here to stay. If I’m physically in a courtroom, I still direct judges to electronic page numbers on their computers. If I’m in a lawyer’s office for a meeting, someone’s often joining the meeting by Microsoft Teams. The advances in technology have also saved the added expense of flying in people from other countries for meetings, court hearings or the like. Many lawyers and judges will tell you that we’re never going back to the way that things were. We might as well embrace the technology that has made us more effective at our jobs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alexander Evangelista is a litigation associate with Fogler, Rubinoff LLP. He is developing a broad commercial litigation practice, with experience in contract, shareholder and partnership, real property, insolvency, construction, administrative and privacy disputes. He regularly appears before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (both in-person and virtually) and other Courts in Canada. Alex is a member-at-large with the OBA Young Lawyers Division (Central) Executive.
This publication is intended for general information purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.