Canadian Lawyer

September 2022

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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6 www.canadianlawyermag.com FEATURE CROSS EXAMINED FINDING HAPPINESS IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION When Sara Forte launched her firm, she found fulfilment. She is now on a mission to share stories like hers "I read this article that said if you're looking at a bunch of different options, and they all have pros and cons, choose the one that is the biggest. For me, the biggest was actually the smallest, which was starting a solo practice" SARA FORTE likes to question lawyers' success – not to tear them down, but to under- stand how they measure accomplishment. She wants to know what makes lawyers happy, and is convinced that many have discovered a formula. The profession just needs to do a better job of highlighting these stories. Her career involved a significant shift in how she perceived success. After law school, she set herself up for a traditional legal path when she joined the labour & employment group at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Vancouver as an articling student in 2003, and then as an associate. BLG was a positive environment for Forte as she began her family. Her practice group was open to having her work part-time in between her first two maternity leaves, which was unusual at the time. Despite the firm's flexibility, Forte did not see a long-term path at BLG after she had her second child. So she began speaking to as many lawyers as possible to explore new possibilities. "It really opened my eyes to the huge breadth of jobs that were out there that I just didn't know existed. When you are at a large law firm, your network becomes quite narrow." Forte noticed that no online resources high- lighted these interesting jobs for other lawyers considering new opportunities. Eventually, Forte connected with Nicole Howell, a partner at a union-side labour and employment firm. Forte took a position at Howell's firm HHBG Employment Lawyers in 2010, working from home most of the time for six years until she had her third and last child. When that child was a few years old, she again felt the need to re-evaluate her career. "I read this article that said if you're looking at a bunch of different options, and they all have pros and cons, choose the one that is the biggest. For me, the biggest was actually the smallest, which was starting a solo practice." Forte was living in South Surrey outside of Vancouver and decided she wanted a prac- tice closer to home and be part of her local community. She met with as many lawyers as possible practising in Surrey. She quickly real- ized that many lawyers wanted to refer their clients to a local employment lawyer, but none practised in the area. She then launched Forte Workplace Law. The firm provides traditional employment law services, workplace investigations, and, most recently, mediations. "I love that a law practice can grow and evolve," she says. Most importantly, Forte could run her firm the way she wanted, through innovation and by putting aside structures that didn't work. This new approach included doing flat-rate consultations. At first, Forte felt apprehen- sive about billing this way, fearing a hit to her profitability. She mentioned her worry to her father, who was doing her books. "I remember him saying, 'You can do what- ever you want to do. If it doesn't work, you can just go back to doing it the way you did it before.' "When you turn the clock off, it's amazing how that changes your enjoyment of the work." With the growing demand for harassment training, but much of it proving ineffective, Forte also saw an opportunity for innova- tion. An extensive study in the US found most courses focussed only on the victim and perpetrator and did not work. "At best, it's a waste of time. And at worst, it actually irritates people," Forte says. Training focused on bystanders, i.e., those who may witness harassment but do not engage in it, worked much better. As a result, Forte launched StandUP Teams, which provided this bystander training. Forte

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