Last week I enjoyed the privilege of Judging a High School Mock Trial tournament. I have been doing this for many years and it is a lot of fun. I don’t get paid for it (hence the volunteering part of this Blog post) and as a result I don’t get to bill for the time I’m volunteering and I’m fine with that.

What I’m not fine with is being attacked by a teacher coach, who is presumably being paid to be at the event, particularly when the teacher is upset about constructive criticism given to a team member who ran afoul of the tournament rules.

I’m sure that teacher is not going to read today’s Blog, but other teachers may and all I’m asking is that you appreciate the time that is being given up for the event to take place. You may not like the result. You may not like the feedback, but realize it’s a Mock Trial. There will be a winner and a loser. That is not the Judge’s fault.

No good deed goes unpunished. I’m thinking of adopting that as my new personal mantra.

Regardless, I’ll keep volunteering, because ultimately, it’s about sharing my passion and enthusiasm for the law with students and no cranky teacher is going to take that away.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Ah, Independent Legal Advice (“ILA”) . That throw away line in many agreements where people sign saying they have had an opportunity to have it, but have chosen not to.

We recently had a great example of the right way to use ILA when we were retained to give ILA to a shareholder on a Shareholder’s Agreement that they had largely drafted on their own. Despite the fact that this shareholder had been the principal instructor to the corporation’s lawyer, and was intimately familiar with most of the terms of the agreement, the corporation’s lawyer still thought it would benefit all of the shareholders to get ILA – not just to waive it as I described in the first line of this Blog.

The shareholder was convinced that ILA would add value even if only to have a fresh set of eyes review the agreement. In our review, we offered more than that; considering various critical events from the shareholder’s individual perspective was very different than the perspective of corporate representative they had while preparing the agreement.

Getting independent legal advice is not cheap, but it is cheaper than being stuck with legal obligations you don’t understand and then have to retain a litigator to handle. If you are entering into an agreement of any significance (including potential future liabilities), you absolutely must have legal counsel review the agreement and confirm that your interests are protected (or that your unprotected interests are known to you). It’s that simple.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

As the person at the firm responsible for hiring at the firm, I see the cycles of hiring in the legal industry up close. Right now, it’s a tough time to be looking for a job as a newly Called lawyer: there are a lot of other newly Called lawyers looking for a job as well.

Having just completed a successful job search for a new associate position, I have some tips to offer to those still looking for positions:

1. Practice your handshake. I encountered both limp (ick) and really strong (ouch ouch ouch) handshakes. By the time you’re a lawyer, I expect you to have the whole handshake thing figured out.

2. Follow directions. Don’t phone me when the job posting says email your resume. You’re not impressing me. You’re annoying me. I’m not going to intentionally hire someone to annoy me.

3. Research the firm you’re applying to. This should go beyond the firm’s website. Do some digging on cases we argued. Show some interest. We know you’re interviewing at other places, but we’d like to feel important while we’re taking the time to interview you.

4. Don’t lie on your resume. A marathon is not a half-marathon. It matters. Seriously.

5. If you’re interested in the position, send a thank-you email for the interview. This matters more than you think. Over 20 years ago I could not decide between two equally fantastic candidates: I hired the one who emailed the thank-you.

6. Be nice to the reception staff. Odds are they have been told to report back first impressions. Make a bad one with reception, no matter how good the interview goes, it’s is still a knock against you.

7. Take heart, it was hard to find a job back in the early 90s too. When I was called to the bar (1993) it took me over three months of searching for a job. I came home particularly disheartened after one interview that was in response to an application for a Litigation Lawyer, which I had understood was to be an employee, but was in fact a situation where two solicitors wanted a litigator to start their own firm and support their litigation needs.

Thankfully, my then boyfriend, now husband of a zillion years, saw that position for the opportunity it was and when I was offered the opportunity, I took it and Andriessen & Associates, Business Lawyers began.

You will find a position or you will create a position for yourself. You cannot control the job market, you can just control how you present yourself to future employers.

You’ve got this !

Inga B. Andriessen JD

There is a sign in front of a cemetery I frequently pass by that says “Free Legal Will Kit – you don’t need a lawyer” outside the gates. I wonder about that cemetery. I wonder if they provide your loved ones with shovels when you pass away and say “have at it”. Then when you don’t dig down the legally required depth, they wait until the funeral is over and charge you to dig a deeper hole properly.

That sign is the legal equivalent to the horrific grave digging scenario I have sarcastically suggested above, but the legal situation is more expensive and possibly more horrific.

“Fill in the blank Wills” do not contemplate your personal situation. These templates also have a lot of room for error. At the time you write the will, you have two children, Jack and Jill and you want to leave your estate to your children (realizing you may have more in the future) so you decide to write out “I leave my estate to my children Jack and Jill.” After you sign the Will, you have a third child and never update your Will. Your third child is now frozen out of your estate.

Another possible scenario is when you use the Will Kit with the legal phrase, “I leave my estate divided equally between my “issue”. You’re not sure what “issue” is and you think you will look dumb if you ask, so you leave it. As in the scenario above, you have three children, Jack, Jill and Jr. and want to leave everything to them.

You pass away. At the funeral a child you never knew you had introduces himself to the rest of your family. That child is your issue. That child now shares equally with Jack, Jill and Jr. and you never meant for that to happen.

The above is just a Will scenario.

Our firm regularly sees problems with contracts, leases and other legal documents that people have put together without understanding them. Using a lawyer does not make you dumb, it makes you informed and it is far less expensive to have a lawyer draft a document that makes sense, than have a lawyer litigate a document that makes no sense.

You need us stinkin’ lawyers.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

You might think this Blog is about the Raptors (I’m still expecting them to pull off a series win and move on) but you would be wrong. This Blog is about the amazing group of people who work at our firm and in particular the Admin Professionals who we celebrate this week.

From the day I started the firm, I always aimed to work with people, not have people work for me. That philosophy has attracted people who are willing to speak their minds, knowing they will be heard, and willing to work hard, while still having a good sense of humour.

Law can be challenging, fast paced and small mistakes can have big consequences. We don’t run on perfection, but we always aim for it and our Admin Staff is incredible.

Thank-you Christine & Sarah for all you do to make our firm work efficiently – you are awesome !

Inga B. Andriessen JD

I’m not a criminal lawyer. Our firm does not practice criminal law. However, I recall in Law School we learned about the presumption of innocence in first year Criminal Law. Our Criminal Justice System holds this as a fundamental tenet. This principle matters: if you were charged with a crime, you would want to be presumed innocent.

With the above in mind, I was surprised to read that there is a “start by believing” campaign circulating around police forces in Canada. There was a Globe & Mail article detailing the campaign here:

This says to my legally trained brain that the police are now going to begin a sexual assault investigation with a presumption of guilt of the alleged offender. That’s contrary to our Justice system principles.

I’ve also noticed a big increase in articles about University campuses clamping down on having speakers into campus who hold views that uphold the principles of our Justice system. This is being done in the name of “protecting victims from being triggered.”
This is dangerous. We’re educating a generation of students to ignore our Justice system values and to put their fingers in their ears and cover their eyes when faced with a view contrary to theirs.

This is not healthy for our future and only can lead to nasty divisiveness as the new generation of University graduates will not be equipped to have a calm debate about issues in order to reach a compromise position.

Democracy requires a free and open exchange and debate of ideas in a civilized manner. Let’s get back to that.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

A few weeks back I had the privilege of speaker to a class of law school students about to market yourself as a lawyer. Since the class, I’ve had a few follow up calls with some of the students to discuss more deeply what we do at our firm to meet new clients.

Really, it’s not that complicated, or maybe it is and we’ve been doing it so long, it seems second nature, and I’m happy to share a few tips for lawyers in today’s Blog.

1. Remember, you are your own brand. This starts even before you’re in law school. This applies to non-lawyers. Every opportunity you have to meet a new person is your opportunity to market yourself to them. “Hi, my name is Inga and I’m going to Osgoode Hall Law School in the fall” was a very common refrain for me in the summer leading up to Law School .

2. Create a social media strategy that suits you and follow it. There are many services that will run your social media stream for you. If you find one that tweets out topics that suit your “personality” then go with it. However, you’re likely better off to spend some time thinking about what information you want to share and what “voice” do you want to use. For example, our firm uses LinkedIn, Twitter and a Blog. We consciously don’t do FaceBook as it doesn’t have the reach to the business clients we are introducing ourselves to. If we were a family law firm, we likely would up our FaceBook presence as that would make more sense for that type of law.

3. Don’t stay behind your desk – go out for coffee, go out for lunch, just GO OUT. Seriously, meet people, tell them what you do. This is key: word of mouth is the best source of referrals.

4. Don’t let your Blog die. If you stop posting, take it down. This is key. Nothing is sadder than a dead Blog. Well, many things are, but you get the point.

That’s all the free advice I’m doling out today lawyers and lawyers of the future. If you have more tips for the trade, share them with us !

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Failing to follow through on things you promised to do is an easy way to get sued. This happens in business more than it should and that leads to lawyers being busier than they should be with preventable issues.

For example, if you enter into an agreement of purchase and sale that requires items to take place over time, it’s not o.k. not to complete the transaction: this will get you sued.

Similarly, if you agree that something will happen in the future, for e.g. and employee will get a raise if targets are met, and then you don’t follow through, you will get sued.

If you’re unsure about the cost of completing a transaction, or your ability to pay a raise, then don’t sign the agreement. Instead, press pause, research costs, financing, etc. and then sign knowing you’re capable of honouring the promise.

The Courts will not hesitate to Order you to carryout a promise you made to another party, so the time to spend legal fees assessing the nature of the promise is before you sign a document, not after.

Take your time: you’ll save money in the long run.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

When the Women’s March on Washington took place earlier this year, the best placard I saw was one that said “I can’t believe I still have to protest for these rights.” I feel similarly about the Ontario Civil Justice System. I’ve been a lawyer for 24 years in this province. The delays in getting to trial are no shorter, in some cases they are longer, than they were when I started practice.

The old fashioned paper method of doing things is still the main way Justice is carried out in Ontario. Thankfully, in Small Claims matters, there is now a formal electronic filing system; however, it only goes so far.

Unfortunately, in the Superior Court system (claims of $ 25,001 and up) there is still no electronic filing, no internet usage at all. This, despite the fact that over 15 years ago there was a pilot system in the Province (our firm participated in it) that allowed us to e-file claims and note parties in default. It was not a lot, but it was something and then suddenly it was gone.

Our government needs to commit to modernizing our legal system. It’s cheaper to do this now that it was 15 years ago. We no longer need proprietary software: many other regions have done this – let’s use their software. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Let’s use Skype or other video conferencing software for pre-trials and adjournment requests. Let’s use email to communicate between the Court and the lawyers.

Or hey, how about as a baby step, we permit service of documents by email provided the sender receives an email acknowledging receipt of the document?

There is a lot of press these days about the cost of litigation. Judges regularly admonish counsel about the cost of litigation. Let’s acknowledge it’s not all the lawyers’ fault. The fault lies in the system we’re required to operate in.

Let’s get this fixed.

Inga B. Andriessen JD

Recently we have had some questions from clients about the value and enforceability of documents prepared in anticipation of doing a deal. In one case, the binding nature of a letter of intent was in question, and in another, some clients wanted to know what effect a handwritten list of deal items would have on the sale of a business.

The letter of intent, sometimes called a memorandum of understanding, was created by a professional who contemplated most of the essential elements of the deal. The list of deal items, on the other hand, was the result of a casual brainstorming session between two business people who were trying to negotiate a deal that would make them both happy. The two documents look vastly different and seem worlds apart; but the truth is, they’re not that different.

In the lead-up to a major transaction, letters of intent are often used to clarify the major points of a deal such as purchase price, deliverables, timing and any restrictive covenants that might be required by either side. They’re often used liberally because the parties feel like they’re not binding, or not as binding as the final agreement. The truth is that letters of intent can sometimes be as binding as a formally executed agreement – it will all depend on the wording of the document and how well it evidences the intentions of the parties to be bound. A letter of intent that is clearly exploratory will have a different effect than a clearly binding letter.

The list of deal items is little different. A wish list of clauses, drafted by one side, is going to be treated differently than a list of items that actually evidence points agreed to by both parties – particularly if either party is then obligated to undertake any further actions, such as financial disclosure.

In both cases, pre-papering the negotiation of a deal can be incredibly helpful in making the best deal possible, in lowering legal costs, and in keeping a record of the evolution of the deal. But at the same time it’s important to know that the documents, as well as the conversations about the deal, particularly including any letters or e-mail about the terms, may have a legally binding effect. The best practice is to retain counsel when the deal is contemplated and talk to them about what sorts of documents need to be prepared and when. Setting the terms out on paper will reduce the amount of negotiation on the final agreement and should help reduce unexpected surprises.

As always, we’re here to help with all stages of your deals !

Inga B. Andriessen JD