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Set goals, protect income when starting solo: Marchand

By Jennifer Brown, Senior Editor

New lawyers practising on their own should develop a business plan and set goals to be achieved, says Dawn Marchand, vice-president of marketing, product and client experience for Lawyers Financial, which offers insurance and investment products to lawyers, their families and staff.

That business plan should include both short- and long-term goal setting so that lawyers new to the profession can celebrate their successes along the way, Marchand tells

“You don’t want to wait five years to determine if you’re hitting where you want to be,” she says. “You should also look at those goals on a regular basis — especially when you’re just starting off.

“As with any career, what you end up doing versus what you think you will be doing may be completely different.”

When your business plan and goals have been developed, lawyers should also remember the importance of developing a network, Marchand says.

“Start developing your network early on because later in your career, whether it is for business development or your own career, those connections are going to be absolutely vital,” she says. “For example, if you’re going to be a tax lawyer, you need to find out where the tax people are going for professional development so that you can attend their events and conferences.”

If you are going out on your own, reach out to other solo practitioners for advice on issues such as how to make time for a vacation, Marchand says.

“There have been many who have gone solo before you — and you’ll have enough of a struggle with other things — so try to get as much information from them as you can,” she says.

One of the resources new lawyers have access to through Lawyers Financial is a video series developed with experienced lawyers providing advice on common issues and concerns.

Marchand says solo lawyers should also give thought to their business and personal risk, and protect against potential issues that may arise. That’s where a Lawyers Financial adviser can help, she says.

“They understand some of the risks you probably don’t even know about, and can provide advice on insurance and investment solutions exclusively for the legal community in a more customized way with better pricing,” Marchand says.

When assessing risk, new lawyers need to understand that their most valuable asset is their income, she says.

“You have to protect your paycheque,” says Marchand. “As a lawyer, you can expect a steep increase in your income over the years — it will grow exponentially, so you need to talk to your adviser about disability insurance, which protects your income.”

A feature called future insurability allows a lawyer to increase the amount of insurance as their income grows, but without going through any additional medical questions, she explains.

“This is very important for lawyers. If you protect your income that right now is $5,000 a month with the future insurability option, it can keep pace with your income as it grows to $15,000 a month.”

If you are solo, you will also want to consider business expense insurance — protection that provides the funding necessary to keep your office going should you experience a disability, says Marchand.

“You could be off work for three or six months, but it will pay for the lights, your rent — even a replacement lawyer to keep your practice open,” she says.

Understanding how to invest your income at an early stage is also important, says Marchand. While many new lawyers are focused on paying down debt, they should also consider investments, although a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) may not be the best investment right out of the gate.

“RRSPs save you tax when you have higher income but a tax-free savings account will not only give you tax protection, but also access to that money at any time, especially when you need it earlier in your career,” she says. “There is a real difference in how you use those investments depending on your life stage.”

Marchand says it’s essential to set boundaries for yourself and try to limit your workday.

“They say procrastinators never stop working. If you try to set a limit to the number of hours you work in a day, you might see that it motivates you. Everyone could work 14 hours a day, but if you say I’m only working eight hours today, it may motivate you to get more done,” she says.

Marchand also recommends scheduling time for personal wellness.

“You need to be resilient and open to change, but it’s crucial to set goals and protect against risks — both personal and financial — that can come with that change.”

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