In 2010, after practising immigration law on Bay Street for 12 years with international law firms and achieving partnership, I decided to make a change. I wanted to build a new life and a new kind of law firm. I wanted a balanced lifestyle. Nine years ago, I moved to Calgary to be closer to my family, launched my immigration-law firm and adopted my two children.
I considered what the law firm of my dreams would look and feel like. It would be a place I’d be happy to go to every day, where I could bring my entire self to work – all aspects of me – the Black woman, the parent, the immigrant from Ghana, the feminist, the lawyer and the entrepreneur.
Know your “why”’
Our “why” is helping people move to Canada and the United States to pursue employment, education or personal aspirations. Our “why” creates employment opportunities for qualified women with international backgrounds to work in Canada with our team.
Our team has a passion for the work we do in helping others achieve their immigration goals. We know firsthand the experience of arriving in Canada as new immigrants – seeing snow for the first time, the challenges of learning a new language or leaving loved ones behind in a foreign country.
Our “why” is to make the process easier and less stressful. We have a purpose beyond profitability. We each have a personal “why” we seek balance.
My late father left Ghana to pursue education in Germany and ultimately moved to Canada. I met him for the first time when I was five years old when our family was reunited. Another team member arrived as a refugee from Venezuela fleeing political unrest. A third came as a foreign student to advance herself and to support her family in the Philippines. Our team includes foreign-trained lawyers who have had to start all over again to qualify as lawyers in Canada.
Knowing our “why” ignites our passion and empathy for those we serve. We remember every day the sacrifices that many families make to immigrate.
Flexibility to deal with life as it happens
As a single parent in a demanding career, flexibility is vitally important to me. My balanced life requires adaptability and I recognize that my team also needs flexibility. That’s why our office has flexible working hours and technology to allow working offsite or from home.
Some team members hardly ever come into the office. We also provide part-time work opportunities. We support each other when life happens: sick kids, elderly parents, illness and loss.
Firm culture to “ring the bell”
We are a firm comprising women that defies the stereotype that women can’t work together successfully. We didn’t set out to have an all-female firm, it just naturally emerged as the team expanded, and this may change in the future. For now, we are keenly aware of our unique culture. It’s a supportive and collegial environment; we have great communication, resolve conflicts constructively and create our own synergy.
Some of the things that make and sustain our firm culture are daily 9:10 a.m. team huddles where we gather for a quick standing check-in, celebrate successes, ask for assistance and focus on what we want to accomplish that day.
We also recognize what makes us each unique – our superpowers that are identified by other team members. Mine is my “spidey-sense”, a reminder to trust my intuition. Another‘s superpower is her chameleon-like ability to relate to every potential client she encounters. And we call another team member “the Flash” because she is incredibly efficient at completing projects.
We have regular retreats where we focus on balancing the business and our goals, both personally and professionally. We regularly take time to celebrate our successes – we even have a ship’s bell to ring when the firm gets a new client.
We strive to be leaders in our industry by utilizing emerging technologies to help improve and refine our service offerings. We regularly question why we do what we do in the way we do it.
Technology is a tool to help us achieve success, but technology is only as useful as the people who manage it. I encourage each team member to take ownership and contribute to the success of the team.
We sell success
We have a rigorous intake and screening process to ensure we only accept cases with a high likelihood of success. We firmly believe that it is a disservice to offer unrealistic expectations, just to get a new client. It’s hard to dash someone’s dreams of a new life, but it’s not fair to promise what we can’t deliver.
Launching a new business that brings balance to your life, your team members’ lives and your clients’ lives is full of challenges, pressures and setbacks. Tenacity, perseverance and honesty are essential. Most importantly, focus on core values, your “why", and employ flexibility, cultural insights, innovation and a commitment to #BalanceforBetter for the success of your team and your clients.
This article is one in a series published during the week of International Women’s Day. For other careers articles, click here.
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