Vivene talks with Jamie Benizri and Monica Goyal about entrepreneurship and how the business of law will be different after COVID.
Conversations with the President: The state of the profession, Ep 7:
Vivene talks with Jamie Benizri and Monica Goyal about entrepreneurship and how the business of law will be different after COVID.
How to become a legal influenceur? How to protect our brand? What technology is going to be most important as we move into post-pandemic recovery? And more!
Jamie Benizri describes himself as a lawyer by trade and entrepreneur at heart. In 2011 he launched Legal Logik with the goal of making legal services more convenient, accessible and affordable.
Monica Goyal is an entrepreneur, lawyer and innovator, the founder of My Legal Briefcase, and Aluvion. She has been part of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative.
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The business of Law
Male: This is The Every Lawyer, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Vivene Salmon: Typically I record conversations with the president at the CBA podcasting studio in Ottawa. Today I'm recording from my home in Toronto while I practice self-isolation and social distancing, during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, so the sound quality might not be as clear as usual. Stay safe, and I hope you enjoy listening to the podcast.
Welcome to conversations with the president. I'm Vivene Salmon.
It used to be that law firm reputations were built by word of mouth, or maybe through ads in newspapers and magazines. And no lawyer without an office clients could visit would be seen as successful or even trustworthy. These days, technology has made it possible to have a perfectly successful practice without a physical office, and lawyers all over the world are finding ways to build their brands and social media. To talk about some of these changes and how to manage them, I've invited legal influence Jamie Benizri to speak with me today.
Called to the bar in Quebec in 2009, Jamie describes himself as a lawyer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. In 2011 he launched Legal Logik with the goal of making legal services more convenient, accessible and affordable.
Welcome to the podcast, Jamie.
Jamie Benizri: Well, thanks for having me. It’s a nice break from the monotonous quarantine life.
Vivene Salmon: Jamie, you were called to the bar in 2009. Did you enter law school with the goal of becoming a legal entrepreneur? Or was that out of the matter of necessity that happened to you?
Jamie Benizri: I think you framed it so well. I think it was a matter of necessity. I think the industry had a hard time figuring out what to do with me. I had a very eclectic background. I came from a science background; I had bought and sold businesses; I had failed, I had succeeded in a couple of them. And so my interviews were very forthcoming, honest. I tried to have some charisma shine through. And I think that a lot of potential employers didn't know how to qualify me. I was almost – I considered myself, you know, partner material stuck in an associate’s body, because I really wanted to be part of the culture that I was interviewing at, but it just – it never worked. So, out of necessity, I tried to create my own opportunities.
Vivene Salmon: So, many young lawyers, and senior lawyers too, want to run a business. How did you know how to run a business? Where did you learn that skill?
Jamie Benizri: I didn't. I wish I had surrounded myself with more people that had, you know, kind of more of the fundamental things in place to impart some of the knowledge, some of the mistakes and failures, the ups and downs. I never had that because I was going so fast I didn't have the reflexes to slow down; I didn't know how to slow down. And so it led me into a lot of dangerous situations. I was red-lining and revving way too high for a very long time in my kind of, you know, relatively short career, but it was a lot of trial and error and I was willing to rev and go on – you know, work on 3-, 4-hour nights for years at the, you know, at the expense of controlled growth. And that’s how I managed to bring my team up to 50 and then, you know, implode a little bit and come back up. So there’s been a lot of ebbs and flows.
Vivene Salmon: Take us back. Tell us a little bit more about starting Legal Logik. What’s the most important lesson you learned from the launch of Legal Logik that you would pass onto legal entrepreneurs looking to start their own firms?
Jamie Benizri: You know, patience is so key. I think that there’s a sense of entitlement when we graduated from law school that we’re going to be, getting the six-figure salary out of the gates and that it’s, you know, we’re going to work our way up the ranks and it’s going to be a very linear hockey stick like path, where, you know, in reality it’s no longer the case. I think that, you know, the current global pandemic has been a case in point; it’s been a rude awakening. But I think that patience is key because legal entrepreneurs, I think more than other entrepreneurs, will have to be more patient than their non-professional counterparts because they’re at such a huge reputational goodwill that has to be built up over the course of years. You know, your maturity is going to be tested, clients will test you, opposing counsel will test you. And, you know, there really is, almost, for me, this ten-year mark where if I look at all my friends that started firms with me and were ten years later, I can count on one hand the amount of firms that still exist, and it hasn’t been without its hardship.
So I think patience is a virtue and, you know, this is a marathon. This is a marathon; this is not a get-rich-quick scheme by any means.
Vivene Salmon: So true. So, let’s switch gears a tiny bit. It seems everyone calls you a legal influencer. What does this title mean and how do you become one?
Jamie Benizri: Well, I'm happy to learn during this podcast that I'm a legal influencer. I think that I stand out in the market because I've allowed myself to be vulnerable. I've opened myself up to attacks from people who come from the conservative side of the profession, and that’s fine. You know? I never want to belittle our customs. I never want to make a mockery of the morals and things that we hold in high regard. But at the same time I think that there is a huge need to modernize the practice and to provide a different face, an alternative face, to what a lawyer is. And that is, for me, part and parcel of somebody who’s part of the community, somebody who opens up their Rolodex, their network, their ticks, and for me that has become an essential facet of who I am as an entrepreneur and as a lawyer.
And, for me, the intersection is real influence. If I can provide value to my community and they, in turn, need legal services and I can provide that for them, well then I think that’s a win-win and I think that’s when you can become a legal influence, a floral influencer if you own a flower shop. But I think, for me, it’s the intersection of providing value and providing the service that you’re trained to give.
Vivene Salmon: So, in this podcast series, we’ve tried to explore some of those themes that you’ve talked about in terms of modernizing law, showing a different face of law. Even power and vulnerability, and I think there’s a TED Talk on that. What advice do you have for law firms in the current climate?
Jamie Benizri: I think now more than ever there needs to be a value first and a compassionate and empathetic angle to everything that you do. And if we can understand that coming out of, you know, the COVID-19 crisis, I think that we are in such a great position to reform not just law but our economy, you know, across the board, because, and I've done my own series called Entrepreneurs in Quarantine, and I'm going around trying to interview people who are landlords, tenants, bankers, trustees in bankruptcy, insolvency, and one thing that comes up is that the more compassionate we can be, the more empathetic we can be, and provide a face, who – the face behind the brand that we usually hide behind, well then that makes us a lot more powerful, it makes us a lot more human and a lot more relatable. And if you can tap on those three things then I think you’re on a path of creating a sustained and a healthy brand for yourself that’s going to be recession-proof, whether or not there’s COVID or otherwise.
Vivene Salmon: I think that’s great to hear that because I think many lawyers often don’t feel that – or lawyers aren't always known as being nice. But I think it’s really important to note that it’s part of protecting your brand, both as an individual and also as a law firm, whether you’re a solo or a big firm – to be kind to people. So what else do you think that lawyers need to do to protect their business and their brand? Especially during this pandemic crisis.
Jamie Benizri: So I think what needs to happen is that they shouldn’t be hiding behind the usual newsletters. They shouldn’t be hiding behind their professional orders, and they shouldn’t be hiding behind the logos of their law firms. I think it’s important that they come out, you know, whether or not they’re wearing a hoodie like I am right now, or whether or not they have a beard like I do right now. I mean, I've done a complete 180 from wearing a suit every day to being, you know, the quintessential quarantine guy with a beard and a hat on. And I think it’s important to embrace what’s going on now and use that as a jumping board in order to get in front of the brand.
You know? Speak to your audience, speak to your clients. You know? Confirm that everything is going to be OK. Give them access to you, like, [unprecedented] to you. And so I think if we do that, again, it humanizes us and I think it’s going to, you know, further develop the relationship and the bond that we’ve had with clients in the past.
Vivene Salmon: So some of us, I think, have an easier time at seeing the glass as full; some others, individually, friends or family, or even in the profession, have a tendency to see the glass more on the empty side. So despite unforeseen challenges, how can lawyers create opportunities of what can seem like the most dire and difficult circumstances.
Jamie Benizri: Lawyers can create opportunity by being connected to their communities and listening to their clients, and only in listening to their clients and what they’re going through are we going to be able to adapt at the speed of business to how we can serve them. And I'll give you a clear example on maybe even a couple on how I've done that and my firm has done that now. We see, because we do a lot of real estate law, we have a lot of buyers that are backing out of transactions during COVID, because they’ve lost their job, because they’re scared the market rates are no longer what they were when they originally promised. And so we put out a lot of guides and material about how to deal with a buyer who no longer wants to buy, and that gets circulated amongst the real estate community and so on and so forth.
There is also a necessity for having a letter from your employer in order to travel, and so we stepped up and made sure that all of our clients that have employees on the road have a properly drafted letter with the decrees from the government that allow them to travel. And so these are things that are time-specific that could keep your pipeline full, even, you know, in uncertain times when, you know, you can't – there’s no access to courts. You’re not pleading; you’re not billing. Or there’s other things that you can do in the meantime to support clients in need.
Vivene Salmon: Jamie, what’s the best advice you have for law grads and articling students, especially post-COVID, who, like you, entered law school in one professional environment and how have graduated into a completely different one.
Jamie Benizri: So now more than ever and I, you know, unfortunately even my office there were some law graduates that were supposed to start literally the day when the economy shut down. And so today more than ever I think that there’s going to be a huge wave of legal influencers, as you’ve coined it, legal entrepreneurs, because there’s not – the employment opportunities may not be as fast and forthcoming as they were in 2019, for example.
So my advice is going to be to, you know, go out there. And if you can't, you know, don’t wait for that perfect job. If you need to start your own practice, don’t be afraid because that is experience that, you know, you may love; that’s experience that you can take with you that will be appreciated by other law firms, because it shows that you’re being proactive in an uncertain environment. But don’t be afraid to experiment. You know? Try to find a good mentor, surround yourself with good people, but don’t take this opportunity to sit around waiting for the perfect job; be proactive about it.
Vivene Salmon: And as a legal entrepreneur, what kind of mentors should people be looking for?
Jamie Benizri: That’s also a very good question. I think there are two kinds of people you want to be around. I think you want to find a legal mentor: somebody who has experience in the field that you think you want to do in. It could be a criminal lawyer or a tax lawyer, but I think it’s also important to round off the mentorship that you’re getting with a non-legal professional. Or maybe a lawyer who’s maybe no longer in the profession but then has some of those reflexes, because it gives you an opportunity to get business advice from somebody who maybe has a more rounded vision of the economy, somebody who has different experience, and that gives you an opportunity to really get the best of both worlds.
So if you can get access to those two kinds of mentors, that’s a really powerful combination for you to rely or for you to kind of get a really holistic view of what happens when I'm a lawyer when I'm using my left lawyer brain and what happens when I want to use my right, you know, multifaceted entrepreneur in a different industry? It really gives you a very powerful perspective of how to be as a business person.
You know, I think the first question that we tackled together of was this is a necessity or was this, you know, how did you get to this point, and I think it really was necessity. People say – People think that it was – it’s very easy for me to just speak in front of a crowd or on a podcast, where, in fact, the opposite is true; I don’t necessarily want to be the face and I didn't do this for the accolades; it was really by necessity. And so the more you practice, the more podcasts you do, the more you get in front of the news outlets and you get in front of crowds of people, the more comfortable you are and the more convinced you are in your own mission, and eventually people start to listen to you and you start to become – it becomes a requirement to advance the agenda of the mission that you’ve set for yourself.
And so once – You know, you got to be careful because once you open up those gates of entrepreneurship and communicating a certain way, it’s really hard to turn it off because, you know, people get accustomed to your voice and it’s really hard to turn off leadership once you’ve started it.
Vivene Salmon: Jamie, we’re getting close to the end of our time together. I’d love to talk to you more but we simply don't have the time. What’s one tip that you can leave for our listeners across the country, or is there anything else that we should have talked about this afternoon that we didn't get a chance to? What else do you want to share?
Jamie Benizri: Yeah. You know, I think that for me it’s don’t be afraid to be your own brand. I mean, [I would like to say two] things. Don’t be afraid to be your own brand. I think being your own brand today is the only having-a-recession insurance, a policy against recession insurance and market changes. Because if I'm Jamie Benizri the brand and, you know, I can't use the court system right now, well, I'm going to be Jamie Benizri the business entrepreneurial lawyer and I'm going to leverage my network to make things happen.
So I think it’s important to become a brand and a trusted source because only then will you be able to pivot to do other things.
And also, I think it’s important not to settle for the status quo. Because a lot of lawyers, I feel, have a path set for themselves. We go to school for years, we do the bar, and then we go to start practicing what we think we like. And unless you’re willing to experiment or toy with other professions or other disciplines of law, you know, it’s a really long career to be doing something that you’re not so sure of. So, sometimes it’s OK to take a leap, it’s OK to step away from the training that we had, to make sure that you’re as happy as you could be. And so it’s not to settle for a career, but this is a life choice that is really – that you, you know, that you should be passionate about. And, you know, for me, law without passion is really just a career and for me to go – they go hand in hand. So make sure you find that passion.
Vivene Salmon: Thanks, Jamie, for being part of the podcast this afternoon.
Jamie Benizri: I really had fun. For me this is therapeutic, so I appreciate the opportunity.
Vivene Salmon: One of the developments we’ve seen in the legal profession since the 2008 recession is lawyers setting up their own firms, whether they’re fresh out of school with very little legal experience or veterans with a book of business. Their reasons for doing so range from not being able to find a job to fatigue with the demands of the billable hour and law firm culture. But sometimes they set up their own law firms because they have an idea for a new way of doing business.
More than ever, lawyers are using technology to streamline legal processes and service delivery and drive the development of new legal products.
Monica Goyal is a go-getter. She’s an entrepreneur, lawyer and innovator, the founder of My Legal Briefcase and Aluvion, both of which use technology to create legal solutions that focus on the quality, cost and accessibility of legal services.
She has been part of the CBA Legal Futures Initiative, and she’s now the principal at Monica Goyal LPC in Toronto.
Welcome to the podcast, Monica.
Monica Goyal: Thank you for having me.
Vivene Salmon: Monica, you were called to the bar in 2009 one year into the last global economic recession. What impact did that climate have on your career choice?
Monica Goyal: It had a huge impact. And it’s interesting to reflect on that in the situation that law students and lawyers find themselves today. It was very difficult. It was a very challenging time.
I can remember back when I got called in 2009 and so I was articling and the firm that I was articling at hired back out of, I think it was 20 articling students, hired back maybe three of those 20 articling students. And so we all kind of found ourselves without jobs that we had all hoped for and just kind of new to the profession.
Vivene Salmon: And how did that make you feel?
Monica Goyal: For me personally it was very difficult. I've done several things in my career and I think I've been, you know, relatively kind of, you know, good success in terms of finding jobs and going to, you know, being admitted to different kind of schools. And so it felt like I had failed in some way. I knew at a rational level that it was because of the economic situation and crisis, but I felt like, in my mind, like, could I have done something more? Was I, you know, good enough? And, you know, it was – Law is a second career for me so I was – I had been an engineer before that. And so it was also like a, you know, a kind of feeling of remorse of, you know, did I make the right choice? You know, because it was always kind of there when you make that transition from one career to another, if, you know, you had kind of done the right thing. And so it, you know, I had all those kinds of questions at that time.
Vivene Salmon: So were you born an entrepreneur or did you have to become one?
Monica Goyal: I think I've had it in me for, you know, for a very long time. I've always been very interested in business. I remember when I was very young I had a paper route which was, I think, in some ways my first sales job because, as part of that paper route, you had to go around knocking door to door and asking people if they wanted to subscribe to the, you know, newspaper.
I worked through university when I was in engineering; I was in a co-op program. And the electrical engineering, computer engineering, program at Waterloo; now there’s a number of companies that have come out of Waterloo and specifically people who've come from that engineering program. You know? I always think, you know, if they had those resources when I was graduating, I probably would have, you know, done a start-up. But even when I graduated from Waterloo I kind of gravitated to the start-up world and worked at start-ups shortly after I graduated. So I was always kind of interested in that space.
Vivene Salmon: And where did you learn the business skills that you have now? Was that through the start-up community that enabled your success to be a successful entrepreneur?
Monica Goyal: Yeah. It was from my experiences working with tech companies earlier. I also have to say that some of the stuff I learned kind of as I went, yeah, I had to build up the skills, lean on people who had expertise in areas like sales and marketing – because I didn't have those kinds of skills. You know? I've found, over the years, just having experts around you, like, it’s good to have a good lawyer in, you know, if you’re a company or a person. It’s the same thing, you know, for a business, having good kind of trusted advisors around you, and that’s – you know, you can't be Jack of everything, so that’s kind of the way that I bridged those gaps.
Vivene Salmon: Monica, your career has been all about leveraging technology to serve clients. What technology do you think is going to be the most important as we move into post-pandemic recovery?
Monica Goyal: I think even right now a number of people in the profession are looking at just the technologies that are out there that can allow them to do remote and virtual work. So, for example, you know, before the pandemic there were, I think, 40 million users of Zoom and now, you know, with this kind of rise of people working remotely they’re saying that 200 million people are using Zoom and they’re using it in very creative ways. So I think for many lawyers it’s going to be thinking about how they work and how they can be more flexible and be able to work from home, work remotely, if this ever happened again where they needed to do this in the future.
Vivene Salmon: And do you think physical spaces of law firms are going to be getting smaller? Because there are still, I think, a lot of firms that have big, physical spaces. Do you think that’s going to shrink?
Monica Goyal: I think it will shrink. I think, you know, an interesting model that I’ve seen is Deloitte’s. Deloitte’s has – they have a central space where, you know, they call it hoteling where basically people can come with their computer, they can work, in a number of different configurations. Like, there’s total open concept to closed-door doors where they can kind of, you know, tuck away if they need some quiet. But it, you know, the model is people can work from home; they can work wherever they want to work. And I think this, what we’re going through, is just kind of fast-tracking that trend. And I think law firms will be looking to potentially downsize because, you know, for example, here in Toronto, real estate prices or the cost of kind of rent can be huge.
So this is a way to maybe reduce some of those overhead costs and give flexibility to their – to lawyers, to people who are working in the firms.
Vivene Salmon: So, Monica, after the 2008 recession, law firms became leaner and clients became more discriminating about what they would do and what they would not pay for, forcing lawyers to find ways to cut costs. What impacts are you expecting COVID-19 to have on the cost model of the legal profession?
Monica Goyal: I think that we’re going to see more of that. We’ve seen that. From 2008 ‘til now we’ve seen that as kind of a progression where clients have been asking for different types of cost models, like fixed-fee prices, use of outside resources to reduce costs on a legal file. And I think we’re going to see more of that, so more kind of interest in those law firms that are employing those things.
There’s going to be a contraction. I mean, there’s already a contraction, so I think that’s, you know, when clients have pressure on them, financial pressure on them, then it puts financial pressure on the ability to spend on legal services. So I think, you know, these kind of alternative models that have – we’ve seen over the last kind of ten years, I think that there’s going to be, you know, more interest in those models.
And so when I'm thinking about [Axiom]; there’s another firm such, like, you know, has a virtual in-house model, which is called Caravel – it’s in Toronto; there’s Conduit Law. You know? These kinds of alternative ways or delivery models, I think, are going to become more popular.
Vivene Salmon: And is it easy, do you think, for a new, newly trained lawyer to get out of the gate and participate in being entrepreneurial and maybe starting their own alternative service model for a law firm? What skills do you think you need to be out of the gate and to be a risk-taker and to start those kind of businesses?
Monica Goyal: You know, I think it’s very challenging for new lawyers to start kind of entrepreneurial ventures. There’s a lot of kind of skills gap, I would call it, and other people have called it the same thing: between what students are learning in the law schools and what they need just to even practice law. And then you layer on top of that a lack of kind of skills around business or financial literacy. You know? I just think that they’re not – they’re not well prepared to kind of start their own practice, much less start something that’s entrepreneurial.
You know, I know that the CBA, for example, and the Law Society have resources that weren't there when I was, you know, just graduating – I mean just getting called and a newly – a new lawyer. You know? You couldn't go to the Law Society, for example, and ask them what do you – what do I need in order to start a practice? What are the things that I should be doing? Now they have some kind of – they have some resources and they help lawyers who are starting their own practice. So there are those tools out there, but it’s hard.
One thing, though, I remember when I was starting out, I found that there were a lot of lawyers who helped me. And so what I hope is that we as a profession will understand what these new lawyers are going through and that we can help them as they go on these journeys.
Vivene Salmon: Like the law grads of 2009, this year’s bar class and graduating class will be emerging from their studies into a different profession than they expected. What advice do you have for the graduating class of 2020?
Monica Goyal: I would say to them it’s going to be difficult that they should look to what resources are out there, like, look to the law societies, look to the bar, try and establish mentors, and it will get – it will change. It will get better. You know? Persevere. It will improve.
Vivene Salmon: And Monica, we’re almost at the end of our time. Are there any tidbits or pearls of advice that you would like to leave younger lawyers from across the country?
Monica Goyal: Well, one thing I would like to say is to law students is encourage law students to ask their law schools to provide, you know, courses or offer opportunities to develop the skills that they’ll need to practice law when they graduate. So, skills around – like, we talked about business and financial literacy, or, you know, just how do you start your own practice. Some of those kind of practical skills, for those law students who are interested. But I would say, you know, ask your law schools and demand those types of courses and that learning so that you have those skills when you graduate.
Second is, you know, network. Network, network, network. You know? Look at building a LinkedIn profile, look at Twitter, look at social media, and that’s going to really help you in your career.
Vivene Salmon: Monica, that’s really great advice. Monica, it’s been a delight speaking to you this afternoon. I wish we had more time to get into some of these issues, and even do some more synergies with some of our other podcasts where we’ve spoken to the deans across the country about legal education. It’s been great having you and I look forward to seeing you soon in Toronto.
Monica Goyal: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.
Vivene Salmon: We want to hear your stories about the changes you’ve seen in the legal profession, or think the profession needs to make. Where do you see generational conflict, and how do you suggest we overcome it? Let us know on Twitter at CBA_news, on Facebook and on Instagram at @canadianbarassociation. You can hear this podcast and others on our CBA channel, The Every Lawyer, on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google Play and Stitcher. Wherever you listen to podcasts, subscribe to receive notifications for new episodes. And to hear us in French, listen to our Juriste branché podcast.