Written for Daily Hive by Alistair Vigier, the CEO of ClearWay Law and a BC 30 under 30 winner.
My law firm plans to open offices throughout Canada and the UK. This might seem like an ambitious goal, but it is very reasonable assuming we can put together the right team and find investors. As is with most things, the challenge is in the details. If it takes me four months to set up a new law firm office, where will I stay during that time?
Condos require a one-year lease, and I only need four months. Hotels charge around $200/night in places like Vancouver, which would mean a monthly bill of $6,000. This is way too large of an amount for cash flow management. We can’t spend $24,000 on a hotel for setting up a new office.
Airbnb was recommended, but it was hard to find people that would rent their place out for more than 2 weeks. I didn’t want to have to move 8 times in a four-month period.
Working the 12-hour day, six days a week lifestyle, I really did not want to spend much time worrying about where to live. After working a long day, the last thing I wanted to have to worry about was making viewing appointments, going to Ikea, and cleaning the condo. I decided to live in my small private office for two weeks and then see if I had gone insane.
I got the idea of sleeping in the office from an article I read that said that a surprising number of Members of Congress in the United States sleep in their office. This included Paul Ryan, former speaker of the United States House of Representatives who openly spoke about the benefits of sleeping in your office.
These people sleep in the office for many of the same reasons that I did. These people didn’t want to have to worry about a house back home plus a new rental. They also wanted to send a strong message to the people that voted for them.
They wanted to show they were not in Washington DC living the fancy corrupt political lifestyle. The message was particularly popular amongst conservative men, that wanted to show they are all about small government and not wasting money.
I liked the idea of living in Toronto with the tall buildings and hardworking people, but I knew British Columbia is where my heart is. I wasn’t ready to fully commit in Toronto yet.
The commercial lease allowed 24/7 access to the office space so there was nothing to worry about. If no one got annoyed, things would be fine. And most family lawyers are too busy running their practice to worry about when people come and go from the office.
The first thing I had to do was get a mattress, bed sheets, and a pillow. On a weekend when no one was at the office, I went to Ikea to make these small purchases. Yes, I still had to go to Ikea, but I didn’t have to worry about furnishing an entire condo. I moved everything into the law office.
I chose the twin size bed as it was just enough for me to fit on but would still fit up against the wall of my office behind the door. Clearly there was not enough space in the office, nor would it look good, to have the bed on the ground during the day. The twin bed was fine if I learnt not to roll over on my side. I almost fell off the bed a few times the first couple nights. I eventually learned not to roll over anymore…
The legal assistant would come into the office at 8:30 am every day, which meant I had to get up at 7:30 am to put away the bed, sheets, pillow, get dressed, shave, eat and not look sleepy for when she arrived. I bought a storage box for the pillows and sheets. By the time the legal assistant came in, my office was back to normal.
It worked great for the most part. The office was very quiet except for the almost daily phone call at 4 am (who calls a law firm at 4 am?). There also was the office weight room right above my office, which meant starting at 6 am it would sound like a rocket was hitting the building.
The office was extremely dark, and I enjoyed being able to take my bed off the wall and go to sleep. No 45-minute bus ride back to the condo. No 45-minute bus ride back to the office in the morning. When you are growing a company, 1.5 hours a day in commuting is a lot of time you could spend on something else.
Saving $2,500/month on residential rent is also great. I would rather spend that money on Google advertisements than have it as a sunk cost. $2,500 on advertisements can bring in 25 leads per month in Toronto. If we get 15% of those clients, that’s 7.2 extra clients per year. The average person spends around $10,000 on their divorce, so that’s $72,000 in extra revenue per year.
Showering was easy as I have a membership at social clubs that have gyms, showers, and steam rooms. Laundry was done at a coin operated store. For food, I mostly bought these pre-made, frozen “healthy eating” meals. I really enjoyed this because it forced me to limit my portions. I noticed that I could start to see my abs forming. Beyond that it was salad, chicken, nuts, and fruits. We had a fridge and a freezer in the law firm.
I was always concerned that someone would walk into the office early in the morning (before 7:30 am) or late at night. At night I would never fully relax (no walking around in my PJ’s.) This led me to continue working until around midnight sometimes. I became super productive and was getting super fit. Waking up every morning stressed that I had slept in wasn’t ideal, but it certainly got me out of bed quickly. I enjoyed the expresso maker first thing in the morning but was concerned I was becoming a caffeine addict.
On one night, a senior lawyer that had just come back from India came into the office at 930 pm on a weekend. I was making some protein waffles (yes, I know it’s weird at night) and doing some printing. It was the first time I had met him, and he asked if I lived in the office. I hate lying so I said I am staying there for a few months. He was annoyed and I knew he would tell the office manager to tell me to move out.
Perhaps I could have fought it but the last thing I’m interested in at the end of a long day is engaging in office drama. Arguing with senior lawyers is similar to arguing with a brick wall. I write this article from my comfortable bed back in beautiful British Columbia.
I’m glad I didn’t commit to a 12-month lease, as ClearWay Law is now opening a law firm in British Columbia. I’m sure one day when I am older, I will look back on my youthful creativity/stupidity and laugh.
You can see the original article on our family law firm website.