There is no guarantee that the career you want will be the career that you actually like. A former theatre kid, Tannis Waugh once dreamt of being an actress. As she grew up, becoming a criminal defense lawyer became the more realistic choice. After all, the lawyers in the courtroom dramas that Tannis loved were very dramatic. After trying out criminal defense, Tannis realized she did not want to be centre stage in court because she did not like public speaking. She also tried immigration law, civil litigation, and family law, and none of those practice areas felt right either. Despite her unsuccessful attempts to find her perfect career match, Tannis did not give up. She is now a happy real estate lawyer, who feels lucky for all the opportunities she has had.
Before law school, Tannis was so committed to her goal of working in criminal defense that she completed a bachelor’s degree in criminology and secured a coveted co-op spot with a criminal defense firm in Ottawa, where she grew up. Tannis’ litigation goals were not thwarted by her law school experience. She remembers that in 1L to 3L, the message clearing being pushed was that if you did not go down a litigation path, you would not be a successful lawyer. She articled at a litigation practice in Ottawa, doing mostly family and civil. She was not hired back to that firm and instead, moved to Toronto, where the opportunities were.
Tannis secured a job before moving and had a gap of a weekend between the end of her extended articles and the start of her new position as a solicitor/litigator with a general eat-what-you-kill practice.
One of the best things that Tannis has done in her career was to be honest with herself that criminal and civil litigation were not right for her.
The relief she felt during her early days as a lawyer when she took on files that kept her out of court was undeniable and she is glad to have not ignored that discomfort when there were many more suitable opportunities available.
While at the Toronto firm, Tannis began taking on real estate files. Following three years with the Toronto firm, it became apparent to Tannis that she could not stay there for her whole career. It also became clear that real estate law was a surprisingly perfect match for her. She and another associate at the firm left to start their own firm . They both knew it would not be a “forever” move, but it was the start of something new.
In 2006, Tannis went solo. She started unincorporated, then incorporated Waugh & Co., and eventually expanded until her team included two lawyers and between three to four staff.
Tannis is no longer in old Toronto, but her office is.
Her home, where she often works from, is located in a suburb of the city. Working from home was a dream of Tannis’ for a while, but real estate law happens quickly and until recently, required a lot of in person meetings. The Covid-19 pandemic was a pivotal moment for the real estate bar. Waugh & Co. has been paperless for years and used to experience a lot of pushbacks from other lawyers because of it. During the height of the pandemic, it became standard to do video meetings and paperless solutions became the norm.
Litigation, as you might expect, is not a part of Tannis’ practice. She developed expertise in the niche area of preservation of property and does a lot of speaking and writing about it. Currently, Tannis is working on a book about the subject and though it is difficult to find the time to focus solely on writing, she recently spent a week in Portugal doing just that. Tannis has valued her connections with other lawyers throughout her career and because of this, many of her new clients come from other lawyers. This, along with the tech-forward way that she runs her practice, allows Tannis the flexibility to do things like work from anywhere and taking a week off to write.
In the summers, Tannis works in-office at least half of the week because she enjoys the beautiful bike commute to get there. The rest of the year, she usually goes in twice a week. A pleasant surprise that has come out of developing expertise in a practice area she loves is that she established a level of comfort with public speaking. Tannis thought that she would never get over this fear and still feels zapped of energy once she has completed a speaking gig, but she loves that she is now able to share her knowledge in this way.
Work-life balance is extremely important to Tannis, so she strives to have a regular work week. She spends a lot of time doting on her two cats and gardening with her partner. She trains in power lifting and used to compete in the sport. Though she took a break from competitions, one of Tannis’ goals is to compete again.
Tannis discovered happiness as a firm founder because it allowed her to be in control of her practice.
She controls the amount and the kind of work that she does, and the impression she wants to leave with clients and the general public. Although founding a firm is not for everyone and certainly not the only way to find happiness in a legal career, Tannis experienced a big change in her career satisfaction when she stopped being beholden to someone else’s vision of success. Her advice to others is to be true to yourself and particularly to young women, to listen to the voices in your head saying something’s not quite right even if you cannot put your finger on the issue. Life is far too short to do a job that you hate. Even if you make a pivot in your career 10 years in, and again years later, do what makes you happy at the end of the day.