LAW FIRM GENERALLY GOES BY THE NAME OF THEIR FOUNDERS; WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN TO CALL YOURSELVES DELEGATUS?
DELEGATUS is a Latin word meaning “delegate.” It’s appropriate because our clientele is made up of companies and law firms who delegate work and therefore their legal problems to us.
DELEGATUS also evokes the quality of our services, because once we get an assignment, the work is done by senior and not junior lawyers. At DELEGATUS, we don’t hire any lawyers with fewer than five years’ experience. It’s one of our guarantees of quality.
AS A LEGAL “DELEGATE,” WHAT DO YOU DO FOR CLIENTS?
DELEGATUS comprises eight lawyers who all have separate and complementary practices. Our areas of expertise are currently the following:
- Commercial litigation: (counsel and representation before the courts)
- Business law (drafting of contracts, shareholder agreements, etc.)
- Intellectual property (licence agreements, etc.)
- Legal translation
- Labour law
BEFORE MAKING THE BIG LEAP AND FOUNDING DELEGATUS IN 2005, YOU WORKED FOR TWO OF MONTREAL’S LARGEST LAW FIRMS IN THEIR CIVIL AND COMMERCIAL LITIGATION GROUPS. HOW HAS THIS EXPERIENCE SERVED YOU?
My experience with these two firms was an excellent thing. If I hadn’t had it, I wouldn’t have gone into business for myself.Practising law is very different from what you learn at school. It’s something that is learned over time. There is no equal to being trained by and with people who have 20 or 30 years’ experience. You acquire knowledge that you can only get in the field, with time—the only way to build up true legal expertise.By working for Desjardins Ducharme and BCF, I had the opportunity to be coached by the best mentors. The reason I left the big law firms to found my own firm was to find a work/family balance. I was spending a lot of time at work, with little time to spend with my daughter. I had to hire a nanny to pick her up from daycare, and I was only seeing her an hour a day, which wasn’t enough. I wanted to balance the work I love with a presence at home.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
I have six tips that are essential for success.
- Don’t launch your own business right after articling. You need to get experience in good law firms first, because it’s time and practise that will develop your abilities.
- Be intellectually curious and learn to develop a lawyer/client relationship early in your practice. Many young lawyers prefer to focus on billable hours instead of building client relations.
- Consult people who can give you a hand. In private practice, in law firms, there are resources to help us in almost all fields including accounting, human resources, marketing and management. Working for yourself is totally different—you need to either acquire these skills or hire them. One of the first places to inquire is the Quebec Bar’s service for starting your own firm.
- Know and observe our rules of conduct.
- Give yourself a hand in business development by differentiating yourself, i.e. by having a different approach to the market, such as a unique service offering. In my case, the type of service offered and the name of the firm were a way to stand out. DELEGATUS is a catchy name.
- Innovate in how you do business; for example, here at DELEGATUS we are always there for our clients. We travel to meet our clients at their premises, free of charge. Of course, they can also come to our office, but it’s important to go to them.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST DIFFICULT SITUATION YOU HAVE HANDLED UP TO NOW?
We had a client with unrealistic expectations, who as it happens was extremely demanding. He thought he knew more than we did about legal notions. It was impossible to satisfy him, and the file was a write-off. In the end it was something I couldn’t wait to finish, and that I got out of by filing a motion to cease representing.
In 2008, you won the prize for new entrepreneur of the year given out by the Réseau des femmes d’affaires du Québec. What has this meant for you?
Since I founded my firm in 2005, I’ve won two awards.One of them was in 2006 (the ARISTA award for young Quebec professionals), and the second in 2008 for new entrepreneur of the year given out by the Réseau des femmes d’affaires du Québec.While winning an award does not automatically result in new clients, our implementing a marketing strategy after receiving this prize did.The real value of an award lies elsewhere though; an award generates word of mouth. You therefore need to take the time to publicize these awards in order for the buzz to help you, which means getting the media to cover the award. The new female entrepreneur of the year award resulting in some very interesting articles in the media, including a page in the business section of La Presse and in Droit Inc. (business blog for Quebec lawyers and legal advisors). So the main benefit of winning an award is the publicity and the boost for your reputation. It’s also the best advertising you can have. For one, it’s free. But the bonus is that it’s “objective” advertising, because the media gets the name and concept of DELEGATUS out there. The bottom line is that it helps us in business development. Moreover, we promote these articles when we meet with prospects, because they are an excellent marketing tool. An award means visibility, and that’s priceless.
WHAT DO YOU SEE IN THE FUTURE FOR DELEGATUS?
I founded the company alone. Now I have a co-shareholder, Anik FONTAINE. This has helped me a lot and contributes to the success and development of DELEGATUS. It is not our desire to grow at any cost.I now get lawyers phoning me up and saying, “I want to work with you.” We have specific requirements, however. We only hire people who have worked for at least five years in the legal department of large firms or for a law firm. In addition, their fields of expertise must complement ours. In the future, we want to continue growing a bit, but our main goal is to increase our market share.
HOW HAS THE PROFESSION CHANGED SINCE YOU STARTED OUT IN 1997 AND NOW?
Technology has made great progress and affected the way we practise. I would say that e-mail has made its way into the profession and is forcing us to work much more quickly than before. The result is that clients want everything. . . yesterday! We have less time for reflection, and things go faster in general. Under these circumstances, we need to make our clients understand that we sometimes need time to analyze and stand back from an issue. In addition, the legal system is becoming increasingly expensive. Nowadays, the middle class can barely (or no longer) afford lawyers. The same holds true for businesses. In law firms, lawyers are engaged in a wage war. And when salaries go up, hourly fees go up too. DELEGATUS has basically chosen to hit them where it hurts by opting for a structure that allows us to offer legal services at 50% of the going rate for large Montreal law firms.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE NEW CHALLENGES THAT YOUR LAW PRACTICE WILL HAVE TO ADAPT TO?
The Bar has two responsibilities: the protection of the public and the interest of its members.In the matter of public protection, we need to find new ways of rendering justice such that it is more accessible to all. As for the interest of our members, there is much to be done. Notaries have taken a lot of business away from lawyers, particularly in the field of business law. We lawyers have to do a better job at defining and preserving our areas of authority.
SOME LAWYERS CAN BE VERY GOOD AT PRACTISING LAW, BUT NOT AT ALL IN MANAGING THEIR FIRM. HOW HAVE YOU GONE ABOUT RUNNING YOUR FIRM?
First, you need to have a business plan and know the clientele you’re targeting—this is essential for development.You also need to go get the skills that you don’t have, whether via courses or meetings with management, marketing, or accounting professionals. You can’t be shy about meeting people and asking questions.