Kyla Sandwith

Kyla Sandwith

Use your strengths to your advantage

In any given situation, Kyla is always asking herself: How can we do this more efficiently? How can we do this quicker? How can we achieve better outcomes? Then, she uses her knowledge and skills to address the problems. Kyla knows her strengths and leverages them to support other lawyers in their careers.

Kyla began her undergraduate studies in the sciences as she aspired to be a physiotherapist. However, things didn’t pan out for her in this area, so she took a semester off to focus on just one class: political science. She immediately fell in love with it and moved into an honours degree in poli sci and soon after, a law degree at the University of Alberta.

Reality check: law school and the actual practice of law are not the same

As many young lawyers do, Kyla faced challenges transitioning from the structured format of law school, where the path toward success is clearly defined, into a professional environment with nebulous and shifting expectations and an unclear path towards success. During this time, Kyla observed a lot of career dissatisfaction, primarily amongst associates. This dissatisfaction largely related to inadequate training and mentoring which, in turn, affected clients and companies. This led a lot of lawyers to pursue other opportunities, including leaving the law altogether. 

Kyla realized that, from a business perspective, this was a big issue in the legal profession, and she decided to tackle it head on. She started with the human resources side of things. At this time, many American and Eastern Canadian firms were starting to develop positions tailored towards legal recruitment and professional development. So, Kyla did just that at a big firm in Calgary. She built up the program and worked closely with students. It was here that she saw how operations expanded into other areas such as marketing and leadership.

“There has to be a better way to do this.”

After moving in-house to a legal operations role, Kyla later went on to further her education at the George Washington University, where she earned her Master's in Law Firm Management – the only person in Canada who holds this degree. Among other areas of instruction, the program provides training in Legal Lean Sigma® methodology, which combines lean thinking and six sigma methodologies to create a framework for addressing process issues in the legal industry. 
She continued to develop her legal operations skills in-house until the company was sold. Kyla saw this as an opportunity to pursue a long-held goal: to start her own legal operations consulting firm. Despite being 6 months pregnant with her third child, she launched De Novo Inc. in August of 2015. 

“At the end of the day, the reason I do this is to help people.”

At De Novo, Kyla’s goal is to streamline law processes, procedures, policies, and strategies to support the lawyers who do the hands-on work. How does she do this? Well, simply put, she focuses on change. Much of Kyla’s time is spent talking to people to figure out how and what changes will be beneficial to them.

One of Kyla’s favourite parts about her job is collaboratively working with her clients to transform a super complicated and high-risk process into a stream-lined effective solution for the business. While focusing on the process, Kyla is also keenly aware of how hard it is to effect change, particularly in legal environments. Getting buy-in and changing behaviours is baked into the way Kyla approaches her projects and she finds it particularly rewarding to bring resisters and naysayers along for the journey. 

The operations of a work-life balance

One of the many outcomes of legal operations is to not only create healthy businesses, but healthy lawyers and staff. In her own life, Kyla keeps busy with her three young kids. While running a business can be stressful, consulting allows her to be in charge of her own time; she is only accountable to herself. Kyla has the luxury of choosing who she wants to work with, and she chooses people who are like-minded when it comes to prioritizing health and well-being. This allows Kyla to work with her clients to create the balance she needs while continuing to meet client expectations. 

Changing the legal landscape for the future of law

Kyla is also one of the first, if not the first, to develop and teach a Leadership for Lawyers class in Canada. She teaches at the University of Calgary and believes that leadership training is a necessity, especially in the first few years of practice. Building subject matter expertise and gaining practical experiences are just two parts of the bigger picture. The legal profession is, at the same time, changing rapidly while still clinging to ‘the way it’s always been done.’ Helping students navigate entry into the profession and begin to strategically build a meaningful and satisfying career that plays to their individual strengths within this dynamic is what leadership training is all about. 

When asked what one key piece of advice she has for other lawyers and entrepreneurs, Kyla readily emphasizes that building a community of supporters is key to success. Kyla says, “Science tells us that connection, over everything else, is the key to happiness. Find the people who lift you up, believe in you, and support you and you will find success.”