Interviewed by Debra Forman
Name: Sharon Vogel
Firm Name: Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
Address: Scotia Plaza, 40 King St. W., Toronto, ON, M5H 3Y4
Nominated by: Debra Forman
Practice area: Construction Law
Most successful/Favorite Rainmaking tip:
My best client relationships are founded on a strong level of trust built up with clients. These relationships have been formed through years of work and getting to know the clients, understanding their business, and working with them to develop strategies to resolve their issues.
Biggest influence on career/best career advice:
The biggest influence on my career has been my mentors. I have been very lucky to have two excellent senior mentors who assisted in guiding my career and have provided me with support and encouragement to build my practice.
Percentage of time devoted to marketing:
I probably spend 10% to 20% of my time on marketing efforts. I do a great deal of writing and speaking in my practice area and, as well, make a regular practice of meeting with clients for business development purposes for lunch, dinner, or coffee or just touching base by phone or email.
My proudest accomplishment is that I have managed the family-work life balance pretty well through my career. When my kids were young, the firm accommodated my desire to work part time over a period of years in various ways. I worked at 80% and then at 60% of my full capacity and it allowed me to focus on my family at a time that was important to them while at the same time maintaining my practice, albeit at a reduced level. I returned to full time practice several years ago and since that time have been more focused and more able to spend time on business development.
Knowing what you know now, if you were starting out as a lawyer today, what would you do differently?|
I tell the younger lawyers who I mentor to take time to think about what they want their practice to look like, what shape they want it to take, who they want to work with, and what kind of work they want to do. I think I did not do enough of this as a young lawyer and just took whatever work came in the door without thinking carefully about what it was that I wanted to do.
Tell me about one rainmaking strategy or tactic that you initially thought would work, but it failed. Why did it fail.
One rainmaking strategy that I thought would work would be to speak at conferences, but I didn't really derive much in the way of benefit from this approach in terms of business development. This is what I did in the past: prepare a paper or presentation for a conference; then speak and answer questions from the audience; then pack my bag, hustle out of the conference as quickly as I could to get back to the office; and then file the speech and not think any more about it. This strategy was not successful in and of itself because although the people I spoke to may have taken away some insights that they could utilize, unless you follow up with people, for example those who approach you following a session, you do not start to build and grow relationships. What I have learned over the past couple of years is that giving a presentation is an opportunity to connect with people and it is important to make connections with people during and after the presentation and to follow up with those contacts in various ways as you never know where it will lead. The new approach is working much better for me in terms of business development.
Tell me about one rainmaking strategy or tactic that you initially thought would fail, but it was a great success. Why was it successful?
More and more we were asking to respond to RFPs from clients. Sometimes I feel that responding to these RFPs is not worth the extensive amount of time that it takes to pull a response together, but in reality when you put together a really strong response to an RFP that shows that you can meet the client’s needs, it is worth the effort and whether or not you are successful on the RFP you know that you have put your best foot forward.
What has been your greatest frustration about trying to get new business or new clients?
I think that the world of providing legal services has changed significantly in the last 10 to 20 years. Clients want things better, faster, and cheaper, and sometimes it is difficult to provide the quality of legal services that the client needs at the price and in the timeframe they require it. I think we have to work harder to make alterative fee arrangements work to meet the needs of our clients.
If you were mentoring a young woman lawyer, what advice would you give her regarding rainmaking?
Mentoring young women lawyers, I advise them to build client relationships and, in particular, to get to know the people within the client organization who are at a similar level as they are, so that they can build those relationships as they move up through the organization.
Would you say you ever had a mentor that made a genuine difference in how your career turned out? If yes, please describe.
I have had two great mentors, Ken Scott and Bruce Reynolds. Ken Scott was a great lawyer and I learned so much from him. Together we were involved in two cases that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. Both of those cases had a huge impact on my career. In one of these cases, which involved working with Ken for eight years as we prepared for a lengthy trial, I learned a great deal about client relationships and how important it is to provide the very best service you can to your clients at all times.
From Bruce Reynolds I learned a great deal about project managing a file. Bruce is an amazing creative thinker who comes up with innovative solutions in order to solve clients’ problems. Working together on many different files over the last 15 years, we have developed an amazing working relationship that makes me look forward to going to the office every day.
Think about when you started out as a lawyer. Now think about the new female lawyers just starting out. What is different now compared to when you started?
I think that for women lawyers starting a practice now there are some things that are easier. I think there is a better understanding of the need to have more work-life balance and also more flexibility in terms of accommodating flexible work arrangements that suit them, particularly when they have had children.
List words that best describe you:
Words that best describe me would include tenacious, focused, and disciplined.