Naomi writes about small town lawyering, original post appeared here.
When I was first called to the Ontario bar, I was working in-house at Hydro One, on Bay Street in Toronto. I have nothing but great things to say about my experience at Hydro One. In fact, I credit my time at Hydro One for helping me navigate complex and unique files that I find myself encountering after I returned home to the Algoma region.
Growing up the on the Rez, as they say, I never thought that I would be a lawyer. I said I wanted to be a lawyer but only because my older sister said she wanted to be a lawyer and I wanted to be exactly like her. I didn’t even know what a lawyer did back then. Nobody in my family was a lawyer. I didn’t know a lawyer until I had to hire my first lawyer, who is now a justice in my hometown and who I appeared before as a lawyer — how the circle comes back around!
During COVID-19, the legal issues are more than unique; they are precedent setting. Some of them can be easily resolved through a few letters; however, with my knowledge and experience of having lived and worked on various First Nations throughout Canada, I am well aware that many of our communities are stuck in their ways, hiring individuals who are more focused on their egos than helping advance the community. It is a sad but unfortunate truth.
When a client comes to me, they talk about how they know that the opposing party is out to get them. I only know what this means: A long-standing issue among families in the community that has manifested itself into a legal issue now. It’s a legal issue that demands time and money invested into lawyers which only a small few can afford.
The first thing I learned about returning home was that I could in no way charge the large retainers at the first outset and that if I wanted to charge retainers, the retainers had to be reasonable and/or low. Often times, when seeking out friendly advice from other women lawyers about getting paid, the advice is often devoid of the context of working in a smaller region or that the advice is very city-centric. I thought that I could open up my practice without a trust account. This was not the case when a potential client wanted to file a lawsuit against a municipality nearly two hours away and had the money for a retainer; accepting this money without a trust account would mean violating many rules set by the law society. I never let that mistake happen again and immediately opened a trust account.
I also learned that a banking adviser can hinder your success just as much as they can help you. I met a small business banking adviser who was excellent but then I met another one, who decided to buy me lunch. I was hooked; they liked me and so, they must offer me better services. This was not the case and within two months, I immediately went back to the first small business banking adviser. The one that I am currently with also helped me set up my second trust account in the province of Alberta, where I am also called as of February 2020.
The single-most important lesson that I learned, however, is that you have to be creative in your advertising and networking. After six months since I arrived back home, I hosted an event that launched my law practice at a local eatery near the courthouse and I invited members of the local bar association. Crown attorneys, counsel in various years of call, court workers and other representatives from local agencies all attended. I even invited the local media and sent them an exclusive news release.
While some people know my name and know who I am, they know me as Naomi Sayers, the Sayers sister that always got in trouble and was the bad one. I have overcome a lot, but I don’t pay attention to the people who are stuck in the past. I have grown and I have continued to seek out ways that I can help others, even in small ways.