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Immigration, Real Estate

Atlas Law Group sets sights on global practice

Toronto real estate and immigration lawyer Jia Junaid is an ambitious “girl boss” who is part of a new generation of women bringing a fresh entrepreneurial approach to the profession.

“The traditional practice of law is very slow to change,” Junaid, principal of Atlas Law, a Mississauga, Ont. firm focusing on Canadian relocation services, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “The world of business moves at lightning speed. I’ve always thought of myself first and foremost as a business woman.”

Junaid founded her firm three years ago.

“In law school, you hear about the glass ceiling, about women being pushed out of private practice, and not making partner,” she says. “I feel that if I had joined a large law firm, I might have experienced that.”

Instead, by striking out on her own, she’s not constrained by conventional barriers.

“It’s a very different era now for women,” she says.

Junaid jokes that she became a lawyer because her parents told her to, but there is a sense of fulfilling an earlier generation’s dreams. Junaid is originally from Pakistan, where, her father, in his youth, had been interested in his country’s legal and constitutional history. He didn’t pursue a career in law, she says, as lawyers, sadly, are not held in high esteem.

“I think my father was hoping to live through me,” she says with a chuckle.

The first lawyer in her family, as well as the first entrepreneur, Junaid was naturally inclined towards her chosen career.

“My personality tends to be pragmatic with a spark of argumentativeness,” she says.

As an immigrant herself and raised by a fiercely feminist mother, Junaid became interested in social justice issues at a very young age. Immigrating to Canada as a teenager, after living in various countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Junaid was struck by this country's strong legal foundations, the respect for the law and its practitioners, and the chance to make a real and positive change.  

“All lawyer jokes aside, what we do on a daily basis has an impact,” she says.

Following studies in international relations at University of Toronto's Trinity College, Junaid got her law degree from the University of Ottawa in 2012.

While completing her articles with Legal Aid Ontario in Ottawa, she worked on a variety of social justice issues.

“I was working with refugee and humanitarian and compassionate files,” she says, with clients from places like El Salvador, Somalia and Sudan.

“That was a very raw and real experience.”

Junaid held articling positions with the Refugee Law Office, Family Duty Counsel, and Criminal Duty Counsel.

In court most days, “that really sharpened my skills early on as a lawyer.”

She didn’t enjoy the job’s bureaucracy, though, and moved on to try an alternative career in legal recruitment with ZSA where she worked directly with the company's president, Warren Bongard. 

“Working so closely with Warren, ironically in a non-law practicing role, gave me a really good bird's eye view of the practice of law and what it takes to succeed in private practice. It was exciting to sit in on private meetings with the movers and shakers of Bay Street,” she says. In her mid-20s at the time, she worked regularly with senior associates and partners at several of the seven sister, national and regional law firms.
 
“That job built up my confidence,” she says. “It took away the fear element of seeking mentors, approaching senior partners, and starting my own firm.”

Junaid never previously considered a solo practice, but her recruitment experience gave her a sense of the business side of law, what it takes to run a successful private practice.

“I learned early on, it’s one thing to have sharp legal arguments, but client service is so important; it's all about 'back to basics'” she says. “I learned how to run a business, something that law school completely overlooks even though solo and small firm lawyers make up the backbone of the legal profession — both in numbers and in the areas of law they practice, which has an impact on everyday people with everyday problems.”

Since founding Atlas, Junaid has honed the firm’s practice area to real estate and immigration, areas that often overlap with her international clients who are looking to invest and relocate to Canada. It’s a natural fit with her own early international experience, and her ability to speak five languages.
 
Junaid has big plans for the firm, where the staff has grown to include two clerks and an office administrator. She will be adding two articling students to her team in the fall of 2017. She uses technology to be more efficient and client-centred.

“Everything is electronic,” she says. “We have client portals. We use secure webinars to reach offshore clients. We try to be as paperless as possible. People have come to expect seamlessness in the delivery of services and I'm focused on providing that.”

Junaid says her clients have taken notice and that the majority of her rapidly growing business is now referral-based.

In December, she will travel to Beijing, to explore the possibility of setting up a practice there.

“That would take us to a new level,” she says.

She also has her eye on an office in the Middle East.

“My hope is that some day we’re going to have offices in a number of countries and be a truly global firm,” she says.

When it came time to name her firm, Junaid intentionally avoided using her own, which is common in the legal industry.

“I wanted the company to be bigger than me,” she says. “It was about building an entity that could outlive me. I wanted it to grow into an international firm that has space for everyone. That remains my vision and provides the momentum to keep doing things differently, challenge myself daily and be part of something unique and exciting.”

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