Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Refugees dominate the headlines, and that’s both good news and bad news for Toronto lawyer Jeffrey Goldman.
The good first. An immigration lawyer in private practice, Mr. Goldman specializes in what his profession calls “rescue work.” He routinely pleads the often sad cases of the beleaguered seeking refuge in Canada, and he often wins. He says he genuinely wants to lend a hand.
But what’s bad is that the world has become a more dangerous place and more refugees than ever are clamouring to stay in Canada. Mr. Goldman has thus become extraordinarily busy, so much so that he’s in the awkward position of having to turn clients away. He’s a one-man operation without the cash flow to hire another lawyer commanding a high salary.
The bulk of his work is paid for by Legal Aid Ontario, which provides legal assistance for low-income people, and thus his resources are limited. “I consciously chose to select an area of law that keeps me interested so that work is not work, it is enjoyable,” he says. “It may not pay as much but that was a conscious choice.”
Mr. Goldman started to help the less fortunate as a commerce student at the University of Toronto in the 1980s. Aware of blind students wanting to play ball hockey on campus, he stepped up to lend his support.
Later, after realizing that accounting wasn’t in his blood, he studied law and in 1990 earned a degree from the University of Windsor. In 2001, he took a master’s in law from Osgoode Hall in Toronto.
He was working for the government as a tax specialist when he heard about a staffing shortage at the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. “They needed court officers to assist the tribunals to find the necessary facts to make decisions and get assistance in the relevant law. I was asked if I wanted to litigate every day, and I said yes.”
After a year, Mr. Goldman wanted more of a challenge, so he went into business as a lawyer assisting refugees. He had found his niche. “I am often the last safety net before deportation,” he says. Except when the caseload is too much.
Cash flow is a problem, too. “I often start work without knowing about money, because I can’t wait. I have finished jobs and am still waiting for Legal Aid to approve the work.”
Mr. Goldman wonders whether he should hire a paralegal or secretary. But he also needs translation services. “I have a lot of Roma clients and clients from Albania. I just don’t have the time to put faulty translations of their stories into a proper legal document for presenting to a judge. And so I am starting to say, ‘No, I can’t help you.’ Which bothers me.”
The Challenge: How can Mr. Goldman build his practice while continuing to serve refugees wanting to stay in Canada?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
What should be uppermost in Mr. Goldman’s mind is the need to secure staff already trained at the professional level, and perhaps even qualified in this specialized domain.
His best avenue would be to hire either a recent law graduate or graduates (there are many unemployed) or a student at law school seeking an articling position. A good place for him to start would be to contact the Law Practice Program (LPP) at Ryerson University or the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Participants in the LPP come from a variety of cultures and national backgrounds and received top-of-scale preparatory practice for entry into the profession. They would likely be a great asset for someone dealing in immigration law.
An alternative would be to contact the dean of a law faculty and ask him or her to advertise an opening in his law office for second- or third-year law students from a school offering a form of co-op program.
Lou Milrad, lawyer specializing in business and technology, Milrad Law, Toronto
Today’s law-practice management and business technology offerings can reduce a lawyer’s overhead while also providing an essential toolkit. They can substantially reduce a lawyer’s time commitment to practice management and enhance available time for client-related matters and revenue generation.
The downside for a sole practitioner like Jeffrey Goldman is the lack of secretarial assistance in implementing the chosen solution, particularly when it comes to creating digital, rather than paper, client files. He should search out online services that offer translation, phone answering and client appointment and scheduling services.
He will find a variety of applications for cloud-based law practices, client-matter management, time and billing, and document management.
When combined with traditional business applications, a lawyer can run and manage a law practice from a mobile device such as an iPad.
Sandra Hatcher-Maher, president of the not-for-profit Law Office Management Association, a support organization for law firm managers and administrators, Toronto
Running a small law office can be very challenging. It is hard to know whom to contact to get temporary legal assistance during a busy time. It is also difficult to ascertain the value of service offerings from the many different vendors of legal software and products that are designed to streamline legal research and file management.
Our association has recently established a new category of membership for lawyers working in small firms without administrative management professionals to deal with their IT, facilities, human resources, finance and marketing.
Our online member forum provides a conduit to a group of senior legal management professionals who deal with these issues every day. This platform allows members to ask questions and share expertise with other members.
THREE THINGS THE FIRM COULD DO NOW
Get low-cost help
Look for law students or recent graduates to help in his practice.
Go to the Web
Check out online services that offer translation, phone answering and client appointment and scheduling services.
Consult your peers
Online forums can help with everyday issues.
Facing a challenge? If your company could use expert help, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join our Small Business LinkedIn group
Add us to your circles
Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Interviews have been edited and condensed.Report Typo/Error