Get in the driver's seat!

From shared values to strategic, sustainable partnerships! Guest: Sara J. Erskine

March 31, 2023 Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach Season 1 Episode 6
Get in the driver's seat!
From shared values to strategic, sustainable partnerships! Guest: Sara J. Erskine
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A successful and sustainable law practice can be built on a foundation of great relationships. Listen as our guest Sara Erskine shares how that process begins and ends with shared values.

Sara Erskine is a founding partner at a Boutique Bay Street commercial litigation practice, Weintraub Erskine Huang. Sara has appeared as counsel before all levels of court in Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada. She also regularly represents clients before regulatory tribunals.

You're listening to Get in the Driver’s Seat! We’re telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I’m your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach for lawyers, architects, consultants and other professionals at Bekhor Management.

Sandra 0:00
Hello and welcome to the podcast. This is 'Get in the Driver's Seat! We're telling stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I'm your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach at Bekhor Management. I'm excited to introduce our guest today Sara Erskine, a founding partner at a boutique Bay Street commercial litigation practice, Weintraub Erskine Huang. A highly accomplished individual, Sara has appeared as counsel before all levels of court in Ontario and the Supreme Court of Canada. She has also regularly represented clients before regulatory tribunals. Welcome, Sara. So we met in 2018 back when people actually met in person. Over the years, from our discussions, I figured out that you have a long history of building and sustaining successful, strategic partnerships. It's just natural to you, right? That's my observation. So I just wanted to understand, in your view, what makes those relationships work? What makes them last?

Sara 1:27
I think the key to building and sustaining partnerships is you have to have a shared vision and you have to have an alignment of your goals and your mission. It seems so colloquial to say you know you have to have like a mission statement and everything nowadays. But it's really true that if you have a misalignment of values then it doesn't make for a good or strong partnership. So I think that from the outset you need to figure out what those are and make sure that you develop partnerships with people that share them.

Sandra 2:11
Can you give us any examples of where it worked really well or really poorly?

Sara 2:16
Sure. So over the course of the years there's always people that you've worked with that you sort of just click and it feels effortless to work with them and you feel like you have a shared sense of friendship on top of your working relationship. So you feel like you really know each other. So in circumstances where that's happened, I think fundamentally you share the same values and you value the same things. So that when you're actually doing the work, it doesn't feel like there's an effort to work together because you seem to have a commons foundation that you're starting from. So in those circumstances, I think that you build on that relationship and those become really strong partnerships, very similar to you know when you have strong relationships with clients you have strong relationships with other people within your profession, colleagues outside of you know your current partnership. You have strong relationships with people because you share common values and it's very easy to build on that. Circumstances where it doesn't work,  I think we've all had those circumstances where you it just can't seem to click with a colleague. You feel like you're on different planets and no matter where you try to look to find common ground, it's just not there. I think it's probably because you can't build a foundation because you don't have the same values. So there's nothing to build upon.

Sandra 3:55
There's a lot of overlap in what you're saying with Simon Sinek's 'why'. Have you read his book or studied that approach at all?

Sara 4:01
I haven't. Tell me more.

Sandra 4:06
Okay. There's a TED Talk that's wonderful and a book. Essentially, in a nutshell, what it means is if you're in touch with the real purpose behind why you do what you do then you're going to be better at it and you're going to attract the right partnerships. Everything about your work is going to be stronger, more energized.

Sara 4:32
I think that I've not heard of it but I think over the years I've learned it because I agree. I think that it does make it stronger. I'm gonna have to go check it out.

Sandra 4:44
We'll include links in this too for our listeners. So before you sort of embarked on these relationships did you find that you had to do some of that introspection to get clearer on what your own values are before you could line up with somebody else's?

Sara 5:07
Yes, I think it's hard for us to sort of do that introspective sort of self-evaluation, particularly when you're young and starting out because so much of what you do and who your mentors are shape who you become and I think also shape what you see is valuable. So when you actually have to peel back the layers and look at yourself, I think it's hard for us to do sometimes because there are so many outside influences. But fundamentally at your core, if you don't agree with it, there's reasons why you'll move on from a mentor or you'll gravitate to a different mentor. It is because they share the values that you have and the mentor that you've moved away from maybe doesn't have all the same. You've learned a lot but they don't have the same values. So you want to go ahead and have a better stronger relationship going forward with someone who shares those values. It's hard to do and I think that we never want to cut ourselves off from different opportunities. Sometimes it might feel like doing that evaluation will do that. It doesn't. It just opens more doors, they're just different doors.

Sandra 6:22
Wow, I love that you said that. You know what, Sara, this has come up in very sort of intimate moments in coaching conversations with some of my clients, where they talk about somebody they really respect as a mentor, that they've been working with, and they're starting to feel uncomfortable with the advice that they're getting. Through our conversations I'm realizing they're being pushed down a road that isn't them. This conversation that we're having shows you how difficult it is to have those authentic values. The first thing you said was really about having those in place and having the strength and the conviction really is the starting point to those beautiful relationships. It's worth it.

Sara 7:17
It is worth it. It's hard to think that somebody that you trust and you valued their advice over the course of many years isn't the right person to keep following going forward. It's happened. I'm now in my fourth firm. My last two firms before this one I moved with a mentor that I learned so much from, that helped me develop my career, led me to a point where I'm standing on my own two feet ready to take the next step and realizing I don't want to go in that direction anymore. I want to go somewhere else. I want to start a new path. That's hard to do. It's hard to leave that person behind. It's hard for that person too. It was a difficult realization that our paths were going to start to diverge. So it was hard for both of us. But at the end of the day, I think you have to be true to yourself, because you won't be happy in what you do, you won't be fulfilled if you're following someone else's path and not your own.

Sandra 8:33
Yeah, this is what we mean when we say authenticity. That's really it and when you talk about it in this way, it's just so clear what the power of it is. So and then another aspect of you know this strength in professional practice is your network of referrers.
Most lawyers and other professionals know that. Can you describe how you developed your own supportive community of colleagues and what difference has that made for you?

Sara 9:07
I think any time that you're in a business that you're servicing others and you have to realize that you know legal profession is in the service of others, because they come to you because they need your expertise. You have the skills in order to assist them and they're paying for those services. So once you get into that mindset of servicing others then you realize how important it is to have a relationship with those who you're servicing. You need to know who they are and you need to be able to dial down to what is the right results and the best advice for the client. So that's where the foundation of every relationship I have with clients are. It's also the foundation I have with other colleagues in the profession. So when they call me and they say can I bend your ear for a minute and talk about something that I've come across realizing that you know they're really looking for your experience and an honest answer, once you start doing that and you give it, that's when you're starting to develop those relationships. The next time they have a problem, they'll think of you. You're the first person at the top of their heads or they hear about somebody else who has a problem and they say you know what, you need to talk to Sara because Sara might be able to help. If Sara can't help, Sara will know where to go to help and that's really what it's about. I hear often, particularly from my corporate clients, that they want their lawyers, the people who are working with them, to be invested in you know what is the outcome, what is the best outcome for them. If you think of that at the forefront every time you're on the phone with a client answering a question trying to figure out an answer, then you'll be providing the best service and they'll come back. That's how you build a network. It's all based on trust and honesty.

Sandra 11:07
Did it start out that way or did it take you time to evolve your philosophy of building that community?

Sara 11:18
I think when I was a younger lawyer, my idea at the outset when a client called, was you're calling me and I'll figure out the answer and I'll get back to you. Maybe I didn't listen enough to what the client's concerns were. So sometimes I come back with an answer and it was a legal answer, but it wasn't a legal answer that fit the client's problems. Then once I got an opportunity to talk more to the clients and brainstorm a bit with a client, we were able to you know dive deeper into what is the actual problem that we need to solve here and how do we get to a resolution. So I think it evolved over time. As you get more comfortable and you sort of earn your stripes in the legal world, it's easier to answer those questions. It's easier to try to think about different types of answers for the clients. So it evolved over time, for sure.

Sandra 12:16
Well I think one aspect of what you're saying is really unique because you're treating your referral network the same as your clients. You're saying, I'm in service to others that's what I do as a lawyer. But you're taking that model and applying it to how you relate to your referral network. To me, this is unique. It's a unique way of positioning Did that also take time to evolve? How did it start, that you know relationship with the referrers?

Sara 12:49
It's funny actually how it sort of evolved was from mentoring. So when I was a very young lawyer I spent some very hard nights not knowing what to do, sitting at my desk thinking I'm never going to come up with the answer. An office mate that I had beside me one morning came into my office and said were you here late last night? I said yes and she's just like why? My answer was because I couldn't figure out the answer. I was researching something and I didn't know the answer and I was getting frustrated and upset with myself. She said why didn't you knock on my door? I was here. She taught me so much in that moment. It's not a journey that you're on alone. So your professional journey shouldn't be a journey that you're on your own because there's so much to learn from others. So just by her offering that to me was offering the assistance in mentoring. So then I wanted to give that back. So as I was mentoring younger lawyers, I would give them the same service. But they're not all lawyers within my firm. So I started mentoring lawyers who were outside the firm and then they would call and we'd have discussions about legal issues. Then it just sort of developed into that's the way I talk to my colleagues about problems and figuring out solutions. Then they started to trust me and once they started to trust me they started referring work to me.

Sandra 14:35
Well that is such a powerful story and the way that you remembered it from so long ago in detail like that.

Sara 14:47
What I didn't say as part of the story is what she heard in her office next door was me like basically almost in tears over the fact I couldn't find the answer and the frustration. So she wanted to come and say we're here, you don't have to do this alone. Walk up and down the halls, ask questions. The best colleagues will help you and she was right.

Sandra 15:16
Well and it goes back to the first thing you said, which is that your partnerships throughout your career really are you know at the end of the day founded on friendship.

Sara 15:29
They are because I think in order to have a partnership where you share the same values those are the same values you've been friends with. I have this philosophy. I'd say it wherever we're doing interviewing at our firm. I spend so much time with my work colleagues that if I don't want to have you to my house for dinner, I don't want to be in a board room with you at 11 PM at night trying to solve a legal problem. So you have to be the caliber of person that I want to have to my house for dinner in order to work with me.

Sandra 15:58
 Well that keeps you honest.

Sara 16:05
Very true. But I think it is right. You spend so much time with your work colleagues that I spend more time at the office than I do at my home.

Sandra 16:18
Yeah you're right. So at your previous firm, you were also a partner. However, here  you're one of three founding partners.

Sara 16:31
Yes. So at my previous firm, I was one of the two founding partners. But my mentor at the time and who I was a partner with at that firm when we started was much more senior to me. He really was someone who guided me, gave me great advice, helped me develop as a lawyer. So when it was time, when I was standing on my own two feet looking as to what path I was going to take...  it's like the Robert Frost poem the two paths diverge in the woods.

Sandra 17:04
I remember that one.

Sara 17:10
So when I was standing there at the fork of the road trying to figure it out when I took the step to become one of three founding partners in this firm. It was taking a step away from the other relationship, but we were at different points in our careers and it was time for me to have to stand on my own two feet.

Sandra 17:29
I love that description of standing on your own two feet even though you're doing it with two others. It's an interesting way of looking at doing something alone, but with others.

Sara 17:40
They are very supportive partners and people that I'd have over for dinner.

Sandra 17:50
Right lovely. So it sounds like your role has evolved to become more inclined in the direction of the business owner and more inclined in the direction of senior level responsibilities. Can you describe some of those changes and how did you grow into those new responsibilities?

Sara 18:17
Practicing law and the business of law are two very different things. So I learned a lot of lessons along the way as I was learning the business of law. As a junior lawyer you worry about doing good work and delivering and appearing in court and doing all those things and you don't learn the business a lot till a little bit later. I think that's a disservice to our junior lawyers. I think it's really important for them to learn the business of law as soon as you can. I had to learn about - I don't just give advice, you have to pay for the advice - so then I had to you know make sure that I built a client base, I sent out accounts, made sure others who were doing work on my clients' files got the work done and we're providing the same level of service that I would provide to the client. So all those things I learned about the business of law. I learned it over many years. I'm still learning every day. I'm learning so much right now having just gone through Covid and surviving Covid, about new ways in which clients want to work and new things that are important to clients every day, which affect my business and how do I adapt, how do I figure it out? So it's a never-ending journey. But it's a good journey. In order to be successful at it you have to be a student. You don't think just because you're one of the three founding partners of a firm that you're done learning about the business law. I don't think you'll ever stop learning.

Sandra 19:49
It's very interesting and true. I relate to that too, even running a small business myself. Things never stop changing.

Sara 20:01
There's a completely new generation every like 10-15 years that change how we think about everything. When I started in law we didn't even have smartphones. It was before blackberries, even blackberries were just coming out when I started practicing. Now I don't even know what I would do without my smartphone because it's so integrated into my practice. The junior lawyers now, they don't even know what it was like not to have a phone at all because they've had one they're whole lives. It's unique. It's the fastest pace change that probably we've had in generations. Keeping up with it is a full-time job some days.

Sandra 20:48
Yeah it is. Well and part of your role is to not just keep up with it yourself, but also make sure the whole firm keeps up, right? So how do you do that?

Sara 21:02
It takes a lot of foresight to sort of see where we can make better and if we are always thinking about how can we service the clients better then as new technologies come out, as new ways of doing things come out, you integrate them into your practice because it's all in the service of the client. So if it will work better for the client and it will provide better service overall, then we need to adopt. So when we make those decisions, it's not easy. We just have a new computer document management system that we just put in place. Lots of growing pains. But it's necessary. We need to have it. So we're slowly moving towards the next generation of technology, even though the three founding partners are probably a little bit more on the dinosaur end of things.

Sandra 21:57
I love what you mentioned the new generations and how they keep us on our toes. Do you ever get any ideas from the younger lawyers at your firm suggesting that the firm adopt something, new tech or new ways of learning or doing things differently?

Sara 22:17
They do. So just technology alone, they've always had technology so they are faster with computers and technology than I am and what I think services me just fine, they look at it and say that's an old way of doing things, there's a better way. Here's how we should do it. So I think and you know as a student because lawyers are always learning, I think you have to sit down and listen to them because otherwise you're going to get left in the dust when it comes to the new technologies.

Sandra 22:57
Well good for you for for that kind of attitude, of staying open that way, because I could see how it would be really easy to just you know want to feel like the senior person in the room and who are you telling me what to do?

Sara 23:12
It's true. I mean sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I'm just like really what are you talking about? We don't need to do this and then I remember, yeah you still work in paper and like stuff printed. I like to write in red on things where the new generation everything's on a computer. Their fingers are flying over that keyboard and then everything's turned around. They're faster at it than I could ever be, this new generation. But I learned a lot from them.

Sandra 23:43
I had a previous job before, in my past life, before I started this business. One of the managers at the company got his secretary to print all his emails and he would write with a pen on the paper and give them back to her. So there would be the stack, a little tree, every morning for her - go write these emails back.

Sara 24:11
I think there might be a few people out there that do that still.

Sandra 24:19
This is a different topic for us to talk about. So there's been a recent surge in the
growth of our collective consciousness. You see articles every day about gender parity, diversity issues in the workplace. But I I know from reading about this that the statistics are still grim. We've had conversations about this before Sara. I'm wondering what do you think law firms can do to get better at being equal opportunity employers? Can you also describe some of the things your firm is doing to address this?

Sara 25:00
Great questions. I think part of the problem is that we look at statistics, but we don't look at finding a solution. I've been to a lot of CLE's, continuing legal education, on diversity and equity and inclusion. I've attended programs that deal with the advancement of women in the legal profession and what generally comes out are statistics. So I think we feel comfortable in saying what the statistics are, but where we feel uncomfortable is figuring out what is the root cause of that statistic. You can tell me that out of 10 lead lawyers on cases in Toronto that one of them may be a woman. Of the second chairs, there may be only a few women. I'll agree with you because I can see that. I go to court. I know how many women are in the room. I know how many women are making submissions. But I don't understand why we're not willing to look at why. I think until we answer the question why and find out that root problem and look for solutions to that root problem, I don't think it's ever going to change. There are so many demands on women in any profession. It's not just the legal profession. But in any profession, there are so many demands on women that are more than just the work. It's also the family and so many other things that women take care of that they just do naturally. It's part of I think what we do when we nurture that are undervalued and also hold us back within the working environment. It's not necessarily holding us back because we can't do the work. It's holding us back because we haven't found the solution as to why others don't value that.

Sandra 27:12
There's so much wisdom in what you just said Sara, honestly. I think that it goes both ways. It's not really just up to the men in the workplace and in those senior roles to make these changes. It's up to the women too.

Sara 27:29
Absolutely. I agree so much. On LinkedIn I follow these postings that are done by a women's leaders group. So often I see posts like inspirational things that are said. One of my favorite which I repost I think almost every time I see it come out is you should network with women who will mention you in a room of opportunities.

Sandra 28:03
That's great. Part of it is about women shifting our own mindset because one of the things you just said, when you did that great little speech there on some of the issues, is that the natural talents that women have that are you know what we consider the feminine style or the feminine energy is collaborative, it's naturally collaborative, it's naturally about helping other people to shine and those are inherently good qualities. If you naturally have that, it should be something that is encouraged for you to bring that to the workplace and help other people actually learn how to do that because it will make the whole firm better.

Sara 28:59
It does. I think also recognizing every person's strength. Everyone has a strength and it's not always the same as mine. So figuring out and being collaborative is recognizing my strengths and weaknesses and somebody else's strengths and weaknesses and joining our strides together to make something better. If you can encourage everybody you work with to develop their strengths, always work on your weaknesses never just write them off, work on them to get better, but play to your strengths. Because you can work collaboratively together and have a much stronger pitch than you could alone because not everybody has the same strengths. You need all the strengths in order to make the right pitch.

Sandra 29:51
Right. So our biases make us want to hire people who are like us. But, paradoxically, we're stronger if we hire people who are not like us because then we have a better chance of having complementary skills at the table.

Sara 30:12
Yes, as long as you have shared values. Because if you lose those shared values then having people that don't think like us, generally causes conflict and tension and then that's counterproductive to providing good service.

Sandra 30:30
That's such a lovely formula. Because if you do the work of understanding your values, your purpose, your mission, that becomes your sort of foundation for everything you do. Moving forward should work well. You just stick to that foundation and update it as you need to, because things do change and your people change. So part of what I was asking, is what are you doing at your firm? I remember that we talked about this briefly when we got together for a coffee. I'm just wondering if you can expand on what are you doing at your firm to sort of help with some of these issues.

Sara 31:16
Well first of all we make sure that we do a lot of mentoring so that those people who work with us can come in and talk to us at any point in time. We do have an open door policy, which is pop your head in and ask a question. I say to the young lawyers all the time, don't sit and pull away on something. Ask a question. Because if I don't know the answer, maybe I can tell you where to go find the answer. Or maybe somebody else in the room knows the answer. Then the other thing we have to do is we have to give people opportunities to do it. So I like to make sure that the junior lawyers in our office are practicing, so they're actually developing their skills, getting to go to court and also providing them with that comfort of being there. So I'll be second chair on motion or a discovery. So that if the junior lawyer has a question or gets stuck, I'm there to help. But it's your show and it's your opportunity to exercise your skills and to practice law.  You need to take that opportunity. You need to step up, so you can one day stand on your two feet and develop the same relationships and grow your own network and your own base of clients. 

Sandra 32:41
Is that impacting gender party and diversity issues within your firm?

Sara 32:47
It does. We definitely look at making sure that we have diversity. We have a very diverse firm. I mean two of our founding partners are women. We're certified by WBE, which is I think women-owned business enterprises. So that in and of itself is such a great achievement. But we also make sure that we're giving diversity the weight and attention that it is due. Because I think that if we don't focus on it then we will lose it. It's so easy to slip into habits and having uh two of our founding partners be women means we're less likely to slip into those habits. But it's really important that we recognize so we do make sure that our junior female lawyers are getting the same opportunities as anyone else in the firm. We make sure the work is spread around and that everybody gets to work with each other. So that there's no siloing. Everybody gets to learn from each other. Everybody has an opportunity to come to court with me, to go to court with Rebecca, to sit down at client meetings with Barry, so that we have a very diverse experience. You learn because you know today what Barry provides as a mentor may be exactly what you need to develop those skills and then tomorrow what Rebecca provides as the mentor will be exactly what you need to develop new skills. So it's really important to us that everybody gets a chance to work with each other and to learn from each other.

Sandra 34:25
It sounds like a unique firm culture.

Sara 34:30
It is. You get this opportunity to be more like friends and family rather than just a big organization. I think it's probably what I love most about small firms. We celebrate everybody's birthday. Everybody. We all meet in the boardroom to have cake. So it's just those little things that say we value you as a person versus just a worker. 

Sandra 35:06
Wonderful. So we're talking about opportunity and the other side of that kind of equal opportunity approach is salary, compensation generally. Is there anything you want to expand on with respect to that?

Sara 35:20
Well I think it's really important that salary is based on merit. I know that in larger organizations there can be a disconnect between salary and merit sometimes. There can be a disparity. I'm fully aware of the glass ceiling. I know what that is. I don't ever want to have it in a place where I work. So if I'm managing a firm, I'm a founding partner in a firm, there is no glass ceiling. It's going to be based on merit. Every female that works for me is going to have the same opportunities to earn the money that any other person, any male associate is going to earn.

Sandra 36:09
That's nice. You are changing the industry.

Sara 36:14
I think it has to start in places like our firm, where it's smaller and you really can focus. It's hard in a large firm to see that because there are gender biases that are unconscious and over time there is a wider gap. So for instance, one of our young female associates was on mat leave. She came back and she makes the same amount as what her counterpart makes because you shouldn't get penalized for taking a maternity leave. You should still have the same opportunities coming out of it that you had going into it. But it's harder. There are unconscious gender biases. I think in larger organizations there is this sort of perception that the person who went on a maternity leave is a little bit behind. They're not. Not to say that they're not a little bit behind because they haven't had a year of experiences. But give them the opportunities to make up those experiences so that they come back to the same level that they were before they left.

Sandra 37:24
Right. So they're not penalized for having a family. Do you get any kind of feedback from these young women in your firm? Or who hear about what you're up to?

Sara 37:43
I do. So Rebecca and I are going to have one of these CLE programs (continuing legal education programs) on diversity, equity and inclusion. We're going to be inviting a lot of female general counsel that we know. So council who work inside corporations. One of our junior lawyers who is in her fourth /fifth year of practice is excited about helping us develop this and excited about maybe making it into an annual event. So that we can continue to do this year after year. So I think that they're excited about what we're doing. But what is even better is we're including them in the journey. So that they can experience it at the same time that we do.

Sandra 38:39
That is so wonderful because at the same time that you are solving, taking steps towards solving some of these really big issues, legacy, issues, you're also kind of enjoying the benefits that maybe were unexpected, like engagement and motivation and excitement, professional actualization.

Sara 39:06
I think it's important to do that because networking is not easy and you know engaging in this type of thing particularly for me who although I'm a
litigator, at one point you know I wouldn't say boo in a room full of people. So it takes a lot to get up to it. So you have to love it. To love it, it has to have value coming out of the end of it. So having these opportunities and helping young lawyers develop it, making opportunities, making a room full of opportunities that I can mention my female colleagues names in, that's important to me. It goes really to the heart of what I value which is probably why I keep reposting. If you ever follow me on LinkedIn, I probably repost that one statement at least once a year. That's it. Obviously it means a lot to me. So if I enjoy that, then I'll enjoy networking, in order to help and then pull other young lawyers along with me, making sure that nobody gets left behind. That's important to me as well.

Sandra 40:19
Wow, that's great I'm going to look for that post on your feed and I'm going to share it.

Sara 40:25
Yes, I think I just reposted it maybe two or three months ago.

Sandra 40:31
So I don't have to go all the way back to the beginning of the year.

Sara 40:37
No and you could probably find it a little bit sooner than that. But you'll also find other ones. It's this great feed. It's called the female lead and it's all about leadership and and women in leadership. I like to repost their quotes because I find them so inspiring.

Sandra 40:55
Yes, it's meaningful. So we covered some of this. I had a couple more questions and we've already dug into them but I'll ask them anyway to see if you have anything else you want to add. Okay so as part of your role as the founding partner means that you have to deal with the business side of things, which you've been speaking about and that means you're not just a lawyer you're also an entrepreneur. I'm wondering how does being an entrepreneur contribute to your feeling of success?

Sara 41:30
I think in order to be successful you have to embrace being an entrepreneur. There are certain qualities about an entrepreneur that are important. I think you have to recognize the value you bring to a situation and the service that you're providing so that you can reach out and make sure you connect with the people that need you. I think that's really important for an entrepreneur regardless of what profession you're in. You're in coaching which you do have to reach out to those that need the service and to be ready to provide it. That makes you also a little bit vulnerable because you have to go out and you know say I'm here let me tell you about myself and let me tell you how I can help you. So there's a real humility to being an entrepreneur as well. So you sort of get those two things and then you really need to be strategic. There are so many things that you could do in order to develop business. You could run yourself ragged doing things constantly. But you have to do things that are authentic to you because if you're not enjoying what you're doing or it feels fake to you then that will come across when you're actually talking to people. So you have to be authentic and you have to be focused. So those are the things that are so important I think to an entrepreneur that regardless of what business you're in, that are necessary. Those are hard things to look at yourself and think what do I really enjoy doing? Do I want to go play golf? No, I don't like golf. What I'd really like to do is you know go to a event and sit down and have lunch with someone. So let's do that instead and get a chance to talk. So those are the things you have to realize. Take me to a golf course and it's going to be the worst afternoon of my life. But at least I know that about myself. So I'm not faking it. I'm not doing it just because you know that's the way in, which the all boys club made deals on the golf course. That's not me.

Sandra 43:52
Well, it's a very interesting take on authenticity because it's not just about how you present and your values, but it also means that as an entrepreneur you get to set up the activities that feel comfortable for you and do work in a way that is comfortable for you.

Sara 44:12
Oh I agree entirely. It becomes part of my life. I mean being an entrepreneur, you're always sort of on. Being able to integrate into my life things that are good for my business means I enjoy what I'm doing, rather than doing stuff, just because I get to spend more time because I have a business dinner and I can invite my spouse. He can attend and we have a great conversation at dinner. I feel like I get to know my client better. They get to know me better. We sort of dive a little bit deeper and build a greater bond. The phone is going to ring and they're going to call me the next time they have a problem. I got a great dinner. I got to spend time with my spouse and I didn't feel like I was giving up everything in my life for my work.

Sandra 45:05
You did it your way.

Sara 45:10
Exactly. Frank Sinatra song, right?

Sandra 45:11
That's so great. You said it a couple of times, standing on your own two feet I mean. This is really what it's about. You wrote the rules.

Sara 45:18
I think the new generation coming up behind us is breaking them even more. So I can't wait to see what they do.

Sandra 45:28
Yeah they have an entirely new way of looking at this.

Sara 45:31
Funny conversation. I have a client who's an influencer. So they're like doing stuff and and everything and my old senior partner that I was with before, my old mentor he said to me, he's like I don't understand these influencers. I said, it's marketing. He's like why don't they just like be in a newspaper or on the television? I said because the new generation doesn't watch TV and they don't watch the news. So they're on their phones, they're looking at Tick Tock. They're looking at LinkedIn. So in order to attract them, to market to them, you got to figure out where they're looking. So I think they're going to change the law as much as they've changed marketing.

Sandra 46:21
Right and that takes me to my last question. Where do you see the profession going next? What do you hope to see happen?

Sara 46:30
That is a great question. I think that the profession is evolving. Covid I think pushed what was previously probably a bit more of a dinosaur profession off the edge of a cliff because we just in Ontario started with electronic filing. You would think in 2020 that would be sort of already dealt with years ago. It wasn't. So we are learning a whole new way of practicing. We are learning how to litigate in a different world. There are so many more things that are affecting the way in which businesses operate, the way in which contracts are formed. So I think that the legal profession, although is probably a little bit you know dragging, has to catch up. So I think there's going to be a lot of racing to catch up with those that we want to have as clients, that we need to serve. So I think that's going to change a lot in the next five to ten years. Then from there I think that with this whole new culture about being able to service people from anywhere I think you're going to see a lot more diversity and movement in a legal profession. Most of the time we used to be tied to the city that we worked in because the court was there and now the court could almost be anywhere.

Sandra 48:06
Wow, that's interesting. Like you said, we're all going to continue to be students as the as the world evolves before our very eyes.

Sara 48:13
 I think so and maybe not in my lifetime, but I'm sure probably in you know my stepdaughter's lifetime the way in which they look at the law will look absolutely alien to me. So it'll be interesting to see how it comes out.

Sandra 48:35
Well wonderful, thank you Sara so much for your time and your insights. To our listeners, if you are interested in learning more about Sara Erskine's commercial litigation practice please go to You've been listening to 'Get in the Driver's seat!', stories about leadership moments in small to mid-sized professional practices. I'm your host, Sandra Bekhor, Practice Management Coach at Bekhor Management. Take care everybody. 

Innovation in professional practice starts with listening.
Building a professional network of referrers.
The role of a founding partner.
The new generation keeps us on our toes.
Being an equal opportunity employer.
Entrepreneurship contributes to a feeling of success.
Where is the profession going next?