In Practice Management

We have been discussing here the many advantages of collaboration. On the weekend I attended the international sheep dog trials outside Kingston. To my delight, watching dogs and shepherds work together was a surprisingly pleasant and intriguing way to spend an afternoon.  In following up the day with a little reading, I learned that the relationship between a shepherd and her border collie, while described by aficionados as almost magical, can potentially be explained by two simple concepts.  One is that the dog sees ‘white, fluffy things’.  If there are gaps between them, it needs to bring the gaps together. Another is that whenever the sheep are in a tightly knit group, the dog pushes them forwards. The collaboration between the dog and the shepherd is intriguing.

Collaboration in the workplace should mirror this phenomenon, as the norm in any law practice.  Younger lawyers (new calls) are to be encouraged to learn this lesson early and well.  They are encouraged to keep in touch with their colleagues, to share mandates and challenges, to look to one another for assistance and growth, and to bring the gaps together. They should not be artificially or functionally cut off from one another, and silos, a scourge of the past (one continues to hope), are to be assiduously avoided as degenerative and deforming.

Collaboration is also a marker in what I refer to as levelling.  Levelling has application in engineering, geodetic surveying, and life. As applied to younger lawyers, levelling describes the opportunity they have to seek out and identify relationships with future colleagues at equivalent levels within other strategically relevant professions (banking, accounting, high tech), which are then nurtured. The advantage of levelling is that younger lawyers can encourage progress in their profession within a group of like-minded, similarly motivated professionals with whom they can mature together, advance together and cross-sell together.  They have the potential of rising to level together.

Collaboration is also something younger lawyers should embrace as they work to establish an internal and external presence.  I prefer presence to “market” because it has broader and, I believe, more refined implications. Either way, it is not an easy thing to do.  We tell our lawyers that that they are the product that creates ‘presence’, and that accordingly they are always on display.  While it may be a cliché that a positive reputation is hard to get but easy to lose, and a negative reputation difficult to shake, it is an important cliché nonetheless. Establishing and maintaining a ‘presence’ is a 24/7 activity.  Lawyers share a privileged position, as well as the responsibility in the interest of the collective of preserving it.

We encourage them to do their best work at all times.  We want them to get this right, and only then to think about further development.  Every file, every challenge, merits nothing but their very best, most complete efforts.

When the time is right, we encourage our younger lawyers to use every reasonable opportunity and connection they have to advance their interests and profile; to create opportunities to make connections that will foster new and better work.  Get out there, be seen. Pick a cause that interests them and engage in activities that they find satisfying, whether Bar activities or professional associations and community undertakings.  Giving back and paying it forward is important in its own right, and it is not wrong to be seen doing it.

We tell them when the time is right, write. If they want to develop a voice, speak.

And in all things we urge them to consider the advantages associated with working collaboratively with their colleagues and peers.

This blog post was written by K. Scott McLean,  General Counsel and Director of Practice Management.  He can be reached at (613) 369-0375 or at

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