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Holistic family lawyer helps clients move forward

Toronto family lawyer and life coach Leanne Townsend calls herself a “lawpreneur” for delivering a combination of legal and personal services in an integrated way.  

“The legal profession is very conservative, very traditional. It needs to evolve with the times,” says Townsend, who offers life coaching alongside her law practice.

“I’m excited to be among people who are practising differently," she tells AdvocateDaily.com. "I melded the two ideas of coaching and being a family lawyer together and branded it as holistic family law. I care about the client as a whole person.”

A few years ago, Townsend, a former assistant crown attorney who worked on many domestic violence cases over her 12 years in that role, found herself at a crossroads in life, ready for a new challenge.

She went into private practice and engaged a life coach to help her sort things out.

“I was doing some soul-searching, thinking about the direction I wanted to go,” she says.

Her coach helped her reconnect with her passion for helping others, and to plan her next steps.

“It was having somebody in my corner to bounce things off of and keep me accountable. A coach is a genuine cheerleader, who also calls you out on stuff,” she says. “I was so excited by what they had done for me, I thought I’d like to help other people in that way too.”

She took some coaching courses and became certified, but Townsend found she wasn’t ready to leave law behind.

“Even though I’d left the Crown’s office, the law was still in my blood,” she says. “It’s where you have the ability to really help people, to have an impact.”

She created a hybrid practice, blending family law and coaching, as well as taking on criminal cases. She offers various types of coaching, legal representation, or both, depending upon the unique needs of the client.

“I tend to be a good fit for people who need a little bit more compassion, a bit of hand-holding. Even with my criminal clients, it’s sometimes a bit of a parenting role,” she says. “They may not have the education or the life experience to understand what’s happening. Maybe they don’t show up for court and don’t understand why that’s a problem.”

Along with her professional background and training, Townsend brings her personal experience to her work.

“I’ve had my own struggles and challenges,” she says. “I’m divorced and a single parent. I know what it’s like to be raised to suck it up, to carry on and not let the world see you struggling. I learned that’s not really a good way to deal with things.”

Her coaching process starts with a questionnaire, asking clients about their satisfaction with various parts of their life, their health and habits, and how they deal with stress.

She’ll identify their three top priorities for coaching and customize her services to each client, depending on their needs and goals.

Self-care strategies may include journaling, meditating, yoga, and other activities to manage stress and calm their mind.

Many of her clients arrive feeling very lost and unhappy, overwhelmed with the emotional and practical upheaval of divorce or other family ruptures. Along with dealing with their emotions, she helps them get on with their lives, such as dating again or returning to work, sometimes after decades away.

“I’ve been able to help my clients rediscover things they love,” she says. “I think all of us could use a life coach.”

Townsend aims to grow her practice, to expand both the coaching and legal sides, perhaps eventually creating a model where clients could access a range of services to support their legal and personal needs.

“I would love to create a holistic one-stop-shop where clients could come through the door and access a variety of different services from a number of professionals,” she says. “It would be a design for those who want to evolve with the times.” 

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