9 Tips to Successfully Pivot Your Legal Career

Guest Writer, Rafeena Bacchus

Rafeena Bacchus has over 15 years of civil litigation experience. Her career has been balanced between acting on behalf of insurance companies and working on behalf of the under-represented in the fields of human rights and social justice. In addition to her legal work, Rafeena is passionate about mindfulness and using it in her daily life and is a certified yoga teacher. She is sharing her top tips as she pivots into a mediation career in Toronto, Ontario.

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Lawyer Wellness tips, female lawyer, Her Legal Global

Pivoting Your Legal Career Successfully Starts with Guiding Principles

During my legal career, I have and I continue to live by the following principles written by Brene Brown, Dare to Lead:

"Leadership is not about titles or the corner office. It’s about the willingness to step up, put yourself out there, and lean into courage.  The world is desperate for braver leaders.  It’s time for all of us to step up.                            

Living into our values…means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them.  We walk our talk—we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts and behaviors align with those beliefs." 

Pivoting means taking your principles with you as you move into a new legal path. For me, the new path is moving into a mediation practice.

Below are my Top 9 Tips when Pivoting into a New Legal Career.

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How to Maximize Your Success with Pivoting Your Legal Career - 9 Tips

1.    Skill Set

 (a)  Are you a Good Fit: Skill Sets and Traits

I took a deep look at myself and my own skill sets and traits to determine whether they matched those already established in the field.

 Some Common Traits of Mediators:

 o   Trustworthy

o   Humble with confident strength

o   Principled and Ethical

o   Non-Judgmental

o   Patient yet tenacious

o   Empathetic

o   Logical or Rational

You can start with this list and add to it.  It would be wise to sit in on a few mediations as lead or co-mediator to experience mediation for yourself. 

(b)  Determine Your Area of Specialty

In Ontario, there is the mandatory mediation program which applies in Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor to certain civil actions under R. 24.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure and to contested estates trusts and substitute decision matters under Rule 75.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. 

Under the Mandatory Mediation Program, cases are referred to a mediation session early in the litigation process to give parties an opportunity to discuss the issue in dispute. 

This mandatory mediation program applied to most of the cases that I handled and as an insurance defence litigator, I attended thousands of mediations as counsel.  It was a natural progression for me to move from litigator to mediator in this area.  The role of mediator is aligned with my skills and area of expertise as a lawyer as well as my belief, that after over a decade as a litigator, that mediations are effective and preferable to litigation for conflict resolution. 

2.    Training

There are various courses that will train you to be a mediator.  However, training is not mandatory to start mediating.  In fact, I spoke to several successful mediators who made the transition from lawyer to full time mediator without any training.

The Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario offers Qualified Mediator (Q. Med) and Qualified Arbitration (Q. Arb) certifications once you’ve completed the requisite education (80 hours alternative dispute training and completion of an ethics course) and training (2 mediations or an internship). www.adr-ontario.ca

While not mandatory, training is beneficial and will provide you with various tools to assist when mediating.  I took the Stitt Feld Handy course on Alternative Dispute Resolutions and would recommend it

3.    Learning to Receive

 (a)  Speak to as many mediators as you can find in the field

I made it a personal goal to speak to at least one practicing mediator a week for the 3 months leading up to launching my own practice.  They are generally open and very willing to share tips.  I learned something new from each mediator and gained significant insights into the industry.  It prepared me for the road ahead and allowed me to set realistic expectations.  I also realized that I enjoyed speaking to these mediators who had some common traits that made them likeable and interesting.

 (b)  Tap into your Network

Reach out to your warm network (professionals who know and like your work) and let them know about your plans.  Get their feedback and ask if they will use you as a mediator.

 (c)  Find a Mentor

Enlist an established mediator to mentor you.  It is invaluable to have someone to shadow, ask questions, and practice your openings. 

 4.    Investment:  Map Out Startup Costs

One of the advantages of mediation is the low startup costs.  Since mediations are generally at a mutually accessible boardroom or court reporter’s office, you can easily work from home as you build up your business.  You will need to consider expenses such as a software, website, letterhead, insurance and an assistant.  When starting the business, you may be able to manage it yourself or hire a virtual assistant or someone on contract.

While the startup costs are low, it may also take some time for your business to hit its stride.  I would recommend having a line of credit available as some security.  Hopefully, you won’t need to touch it, but its existence will bring you comfort. 

5.    What’s Your Worth:  Set Your Rate

The rate will depend on your years of practice, experience as a mediator and perhaps how much you believe your services are worth.  It is recommended to compare the rates that various mediators charge when setting your rates.  

6.    Foundation: Consider how to set up your Practice

 There are many variations on how to build your mediation business. 

 Many mediators continue to practice law at a firm while slowing easing into the mediation practice. Some practice mediation as their sole business.  While others mediate while holding down another part time role such as teaching or sitting on a board or tribunal.  There is no formula and you can create the business model that fits your lifestyle best.  The appeal is that you have the freedom to develop your practice that fits your life.  I have decided to open up my own professional corporation so that I can continue to take on select cases while building up the mediation practice.

There are mediation chambers that you could consider joining.  In exchange for a fee they will provide a web presence and administrative support. 

7.    Expect Hiccups

There will be hiccups along the way.  Even when it seems like everything is working out perfectly something is bound to go wrong.  Accept that hiccups are part of the process. 

8.    Decisions and Overcommitting

There will be over one million administrative tasks and details to attend to as you start your business.  For example, you might need to get a new laptop, get the software, register the warranty, sync your calendars, set up the email, etc.  Accompanying these tasks will be decisions, decisions, and decisions.  Try to get through these items one at a time. 

There may be many ideas and opportunities coming your way.  Perhaps speaking or writing engagements, new clients, networking events to market the new business, etc.  Here it is important and arguably instrumental to use your time and energy wisely. 

 Prioritize, make lists, push yourself out of your comfort zone but also take care of yourself.  You started this venture to get more freedom, creativity, self-expression and joy.  You can choose how to handle these new responsibilities with a positive attitude.  You can choose to say no to clients or ideas that do not align with your business plan.  You are responsible for your happiness and success and you get to choose. 

9. Give Back

A great way to get mediation experience while giving back is doing pro bono meditation or volunteering as a community mediator for a non-profit organization.  

See below: Bonus - Roadmap to Pivoting

Roadmap to Pivoting your Legal Career Successfully

1. Know your skill set and determine your area of specialty.

2. Obtain any necessary training before the pivot.

3. Learn to receive assistance and seek out information from others in the field, your network, and find a mentor.

4. Determine the investment needed and arrange financial backup.

5. Determine your rate through research and knowing your value.

6. Determine your business practice setup.

7. Be prepared for hiccups and enjoy the journey.

8. Use this as an opportunity to set how and where you will use your time.

9. Give back using your new position or firm to help others and gain further experience.

Choose to take care of yourself but step out of your comfort zone. Our biggest growth is when we let go of our fears and step into our new role with confidence and energy.

Lawyer, Faye Gelb, Founder, Her Legal Global

About The Editor

Faye Gelb, founder of Her Legal Global is passionate about empowering lawyers to have a career that makes them smile when they wake up in the morning. Lawyer, Entrepreneur, Startup Cofounder, Front End Web Developer, Photographer and Business Consultant. Her goal is to help you learn skills. We don't just talk about issues, we provide solutions! Listen to Her Legal Global Podcast for expert interviews providing you with immediate support and actionable information!