James doesn’t wear a suit to work anymore. After leaving big law he grew a beard, dresses casually in the office, uses emojis in client emails if it feels right and asks clients how they are feeling about challenging issues. None of these things detract from the quality of work he turns out. If someone doesn’t want to work with him because he’s not what they expect a lawyer to be, he is not going to change who he is to please them or expect his employees to either. It is no secret that the “traditional lawyer” has a bad reputation and every time James hears that he doesn’t look, act or talk like a lawyer, it’s a win.
James opened macushlaw in August 2020. The practice’s name is a nod to James’ Irish heritage and encapsulates the essence of the firm’s practice ethos. Macushla is a Gaelic term of endearment that literally translates to “pulse of my heart”. While legal practice is inherently logical and reasoned, James and macushlaw employ an unconventionally empathetic, sensitive approach (ergo, law with a pulse).
Before becoming a lawyer, James was a musician and loves that practicing law allows him to use his creative spirit to solve issues he was only able to observe before.
is more ‘practice-platform’ than law firm. After working for and observing the good and bad ways that other firms were run, James was able to create a space that offers a unique opportunity for like-minded lawyers. As a macushlaw
lawyer, you pay a small overhead fee to access essential practice software, resources and services like printing, faxing, practice resources, precedents, practice management and CRM, client intake and verification, trust accounting and billing. macushlaw
lawyers largely work independently, but retain the opportunity for shared learning, shared file work and human connection. It’s a good fit for entrepreneurial, self-directed lawyers who don’t want a boss, but also want to feel like they are part of a community. The collective approach also gives macushlaw lawyers the opportunity for accessing expensive practice resources at a lower cost.
There are a lot of other unique things about macushlaw
, such as their ‘practice ethos’. macushlaw
lawyers are obligated to tier their rates depending on client needs and community contributions, to provide a minimum amount of non-billable work per year (including probono and lowbono work, policy research, discounts, board positions and other forms of volunteerism), and use alternative billing methods (like their tm pending ‘Flex Fee’, which is a fixed rate for a fixed scope of work). James, for example, is a board member of Mission Possible Compassionate Ministries Society
and a founding board member of the BGuiled Debate Society
, which runs an annual comedic legal debate with proceeds going to Indigenous HIPPY
. He also provides a few hundred hours of probono services and thousands of dollars of reduced fee services to non-profit, charity, impact business and underprivileged clients.
Another thing that makes macushlaw
different is that they provide tiered rates to clients based on income, business size and other factors (organizations that provide services to vulnerable groups get the lowest tier rate).
James is also a big believer in the positive impact technology can have in the lives of lawyers and clients. He is excited to learn about and use products that save him time in the office, so that he can get out and spend time with his partner and their chihuahua (named Tequila) camping in the woods. He also takes pride in being able reduce fees and increase access to justice by increasing efficiency. As an entrepreneur with a new business, James’ days can be long (but not as long as his days were when he was working at a big firm). He’s not usually bothered by the long days because he enjoys what he is doing and loves the process of coming up with new ideas and working through them. Being his own boss means he has the freedom to choose what he gets to take on, who he interacts with and what creative avenues he wants to explore. The money might not be the same as it was with big law yet, but the potential is there considering his overhead is very low. And no matter how much money James brings in, he is confident starting macushlaw
was the right choice. You can sacrifice a lot of your life to make more money, but you can never get back the time you’ve lost making it.
James’ advice to lawyers interested in starting their own practices or who are otherwise unhappy in their careers is to look for alternative platforms including Flex legal
, MT Align
. He encourages other lawyers to really think about what they want to do and whether they truly enjoy what they are currently doing. Starting your own practice is scary, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly work comes to you if you know how to talk to people and problem solve. It’s human nature to fear change, but James is far more afraid of spending his life doing something society says he should want, rather than what he wants.
If you are interested in working independently but don’t want to feel like you are alone, 253 Columbia Street
(James’ shared workspace in downtown Vancouver) is a another great option. The legal industry specific office share provides a number of benefits to new lawyers, like shared practice resources and precedents, no-names basis file consultation, a referral network, and high-quality office space and services at a low cost.
James is also happy to chat with people who are interested in exploring a career change and want to know more about the perks and drawbacks. James’ style of practice might not be for everyone, but he knows there are a lot of lawyers out there who want to change the general idea of who and what a lawyer is and does. He believes that if smaller and more innovative firms work together to get the message out that there are options, real change could be made in the profession.