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Personal Injury

Burrison reaps rewards from embracing her entrepreneurial spirit

Since starting her own firm this past summer, Toronto personal injury lawyer Alison Burrison has lost count of the number of times female friends have called her “brave.”

“I don’t see it as brave. I see it as the right thing to do at the right time,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

And as National Women’s Small Business Month draws to a close, Burrison, the founder of Burrison Law, says she would like to see more females in law embracing their entrepreneurial spirit to strike out on their own.    

“There are many who don’t think they can do it because of the other obligations in their lives, but I’ve found it much more rewarding, both professionally and personally,” Burrison says. “Although it can seem daunting, once you’re actually doing it, you’ll find it's much more manageable than you imagined.

“Despite the mass exit of women from the legal profession, female lawyers still want a career in law. Some women seek high growth within a law firm, some prefer to run small practices and cater to select clients, while others are more interested in flexible work hours to balance family obligations. These are all different ways of contributing to law and the economy and should be supported within our profession,” she adds.

Burrison is encouraged by a recent report of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, which found a surge in Canadian entrepreneurship in the economy over the last 20 years, with women at the heart of the trend, launching businesses at rates that often outpace men. According to the study, “four out of five women said they felt well-prepared and capable of running a business.”

Still, she says the effect has yet to be really felt in the legal profession, and personal injury law in particular.

“While female lawyers have been graduating from law school and entering the law profession in large numbers over the past three decades, they have not advanced at nearly the same rate as men in the practice of law,” she says. “More specifically, there has not been a proportional growth of women in leadership positions at law firms or running their own firms and, in fact, many women leave law altogether.”

In her discussions with fellow female lawyers, Burrison says even highly skilled advocates who have had great success in resolving disputes frequently question whether they can manage a career in law.

“The impact of children and other family responsibilities, male-centred social norms, outdated law firm cultures and ‘face time,’ as well as the short-term business focus of many firms, contribute to this disparity,” she says.

By starting her own law firm, Burrison says she has both lowered the barriers between her and clients, and increased the flexibility in her own work schedule.  

“Clients see me as more accessible, and I’m finding solutions for them much faster, which makes them happy,” she says. “From a personal point of view, it’s an opportunity to have some balance, because it’s easier to attend something in the morning and push work later into the day.”

In honour of National Women’s Small Business Month, here are some of Burrison’s top tips for lawyers thinking of making their own entrepreneurial leaps:  

  • Set short-term and long-term financial, professional and personal goals: “Your goals within law and outside of law are unique and not necessarily the same as the lawyer working next to you,” Burrison says. “Figure out what yours are now and in the future and make a plan that can meet as many of those as possible.”

  • Find a mentor (or two): “This does not necessarily mean finding another female lawyer as your mentor, as there may not be one in your practice or geographical area,” Burrison says. “Select a lawyer you see as a person who emulates the kind of practice and work-life balance you want to achieve and someone who is accessible to you when you need advice.”

  • Surround yourself with of a supportive network: “You can help avoid or manage stress overload by making sure you have a network of friends, family and colleagues you can connect with and lean on,” Burrison says. “Having people you can take off your armour with and from whom you can both seek and receive advice is a vital part of keeping you going every day.”

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