150+ Free Legal Resources for Start-ups

This is a giant list of 150+ free legal and law-related resources for Canadian start-ups and entrepreneurs. Look below for links to free business law guides, contract templates, student-run business law clinics, as well as online information boards. If you notice a link missing, please contact me here.

Giant list of free legal templates and resources for Canadian startups and entrepreneurs
There are tons of free law-related templates, guides, and information sources for Canadian start-ups online.

Free business law guides

These guides outline general information for businesses in Canada, written by some of the largest Canadian law firms. Some tend to be quite lengthy, but they’re a good primer on issues that may affect your business.

Canada

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labrador

Northwest Territories

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

Ontario

Prince Edward Island (PEI)

Quebec

Yukon

Free contract templates

Few lawyers draft contracts from scratch; contract templates can provide a helpful framework to build off of. However, you should not use these templates without speaking to a lawyer. Templates may not cover your business’s specific situation. Use them with discretion.

Canada

Ontario

Business law clinics for start-ups

If you’re a student or starting a new business with minimal revenue, you may qualify for free legal advice at a student clinic. These are some business-focused legal aid clinics started by law faculties across Canada.

Canada

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Quebec

Online legal Q&A, FAQ and information

Sometimes, you just need help understanding a single regulation or step in a proceeding. It may not seem like enough to talk to a lawyer about (although you still should if you can), so you can look for the answer online. What follows are a few online Q&A and FAQ boards that you may find helpful.

Canada

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Nova Scotia

Ontario

Quebec

Saskatchewan

  • PLEA, “Legal information for everyone”

Other free legal resources (not business-focused)

When it comes to legal issues beyond your business (like law suits, immigration, criminal, and landlord/tenant matters), check out the following low-cost resources across Canada.

Canada

Alberta

British Columbia

Manitoba

New Brunswick

Newfoundland & Labrador

Northwest Territories

  • Legal Aid (Yellowknife, NWT): “confidential legal services, advice, and representation by a lawyer for residents of the Northwest Territories who would be unable to afford these services.”

Nova Scotia

Nunavut

  • Legal Services Board of Nunavut “responsible for providing legal services to financially eligible Nunavummiut in the areas of criminal, family and civil law.”

Ontario

Prince Edward Island

Quebec

  • Pro Bono Quebec: public interest cases, partnerships, duty counsel and information.

Saskatchewan

Yukon

Review: BarPrepPal’s Ontario Bar Exam Practice Tests

An old post on LawStudents.ca sums up the situation for students preparing to write the bar exams in Ontario: The original poster asks: Has anyone has tried the practice exams available online? If so, what was the experience like, and was it beneficial?

Just like the student who wrote the post, after I graduated I found there was a lack of information about the preparation tools available for Ontario test-takers. I used online practice exams to boost my confidence for the March bar exams. A few weeks later I found out that I passed. Afterwards, I reached out to the test prep companies and asked if I could review their practice test websites. This article is the second in a sponsored series that reviews each practice exam site’s price, questions, usability, features, and feedback.

BarPrepPal’s Bar Exam Practice Tests for Ontario

In one sentence: BarPrepPal‘s bar exam practice tests are the best way to get a complete simulated exam-day experience. Their combined barrister’s and solicitor’s set includes seven hours of barrister’s questions and seven hours of solicitor’s questions, just like the real test. The main drawbacks are (a) the practice exams aren’t accessible right away (you have to wait until May 10, 2015), and (b) you have to email the company to wipe your answers and start fresh, which slightly lowers its “replay value.”

BarPrepPal‘s highlights far outweigh its limits for three reasons: (1) value: it has a colossal number of questions (70+ more than any competitor) for a similar price to its competitors, (2) unlimited review: the exams can be graded and ungraded an unlimited number of times (without worry), and (3) detail: the grading breakdown is granular—for example, it shows you how many real estate questions you answered correctly plus the number of professional responsibility questions within that section you got right.

The BarPrepPal online exams were the ones I referred back to time and time again. The combined unlimited test submissions and massive question bank made it a useful tool to refer back to, despite not being able to wipe out my previous answers. In particular, I liked the emphasis they put on professional responsibility. Ethics was the one section I did not want to struggle with on test day, and BarPrepPal made it easy to pick out those questions.

BarPrepPal's bar exam practice test screen
This is what a BarPrepPal practice exam looks like. The dark navigation bar on the left can be minimized by clicking the icon at the top left.

BarPrepPal‘s online tests aren’t without their flaws, however. The main ones I found are: (1) there’s no question flag feature that identifies questions to return to, (2) you can’t remove the answers you’ve already made—once you select an answer, it sticks (unless you email BarPrepPal to wipe all your answers), and (3) answer explanations are not provided, meaning that you have to look up why the answer is wrong if you don’t understand.

Even though BarPrepPal isn’t perfect, I’d absolutely use it again to study for the Ontario Bar Exams. I wanted an online test I could use to simulate a real seven-hour test day. It was exhausting, but helped prepare me for the physical challenge. Another brand new feature is BarPrepPal’s new in-person course for the June Ontario bar exam sittings. As far as I know, it’s a first-ever for the company. It might be worth checking out if you’re missing class and don’t want to study alone.

For anyone who scans the review and thinks “tl;dr,” here’s a quick-reference chart on BarPrepPal’s features:

Feature Summary Chart

Name BarPrepPal
Website barpreppal.com
Price (CDN tax included)
–        Single practice test $113.00
–        Both practice tests $203.40
–        Discount for buying both? 10%, or 50% with premium in-class course option
–        Individual sections only? Yes, $30 to $60 each
–        Price per Q (barrister) $0.51 (or $0.46 if buying both)
–        Price per Q (solicitor) $0.51 (or $0.46 if buying both)
In-Class Course Available? Yes
Online Course Available? No
Free sample available? Yes
What if you still fail? Free access
Questions
–        Number (barrister) 220
–        Number (solicitor) 220
–        Number per section 30 to 90
–        Multiple Q’s on same case? Yes
–        Additional Q’s available? Yes
Attempts Allowed Unlimited
Available immediately? No (opens May 10, 2015)
Timer
–        Time provided Unlimited
–        Starts When test opens
–        Pauses Must exit test
–        Auto-pause Yes
–        Counts down or up? Down
Features
–        Auto-save Yes
–        Question flag No
–        Unanswered Q’s highlighted Yes
–        Usable offline Yes
–        Returns to last Q answered No
–        Quick keys No
Feedback
–        By section Yes
–        Answers provided No additional explanation provided
–        Filter by section Yes
–        Filter by correct/incorrect Yes, by colour
–        Time per Q provided Yes
Navigation
–        Drop down Q list Yes
–        By section No

Detailed Review

Price

BarPrepPal has more exam set options than most websites out there: it offers a standalone barrister or solicitor test for $113.00 after tax, both for $203.40, or individual practice question sets for $30 to $60. The smaller sets are a nice diagnostic for limited areas you want to focus on. Personally, I opted for the full barrister and solicitor set to simulate the real exam. I didn’t have time to try the additional practice sets, but I could see them coming in handy for areas I was less familiar with like real estate and criminal. BarPrepPal’s individual test prices may seem steep, but the combined barrister and solicitor set offers the best per-question value of any competitors out there.

Access

One downer about BarPrepPal is that its exam question sets don’t open up right away. The scheduled date on its website predicts the questions will be available May 10, 2015. The reason is that BarPrepPal boasts brand-new questions—something I don’t think many companies offer.

The delay still leaves plenty of time to prepare for the June barrister sitting. However, by that time most June test-takers will be knee-deep in their first pass through the materials. It’s not a perfect time to do an initial diagnostic to see what you already know before reading anything. For that reason, BarPrepPal falls behind some competitors in this area—it’s really designed as a final review tool to solidify knowledge after you’ve indexed it.

Number of attempts allowed

BarPrepPal’s unlimited attempts means that you can use the tool in incremental steps, or as a lengthy one-time mock exam. You can also check individual answers on the go if a question has you stumped by quickly submitting and un-marking your test. I liked this kind of live feedback. While using competitors’ tools I found it annoying to carefully plan out my “submit date” because they offered only one.

The knock that I have against BarPrepPal’s unlimited attempts is that there is no “reset” option to wipe away old answers. I tried clicking back through answers to see if there was a way to remove them, but to no avail. That means that guessing on a question means it will forever count as “answered.” This makes the navigation a little tricky, as I’ll discuss next.

Flagging questions to answer later

Every multiple-choice test strategy I’ve ever read says that it’s better to guess and return to a question later than to skip it entirely. Accordingly, I like to mark questions to return to later after taking a guess. In the paper bar exam, I did a complete run-through of each test without looking anything up. I circled and dog-eared the pages that had questions I wanted to look up later. On BarPrepPal’s virtual exams, I couldn’t easily do that.

That’s because only the unanswered questions are highlighted in the BarPrepPal question menu. Sure it’s easy to navigate to previous questions you skipped. However, I found it irritating that I couldn’t guess at a question and then “flag it” to return later. Clicking any answer makes it the same colour as every other completed question. As a band-aid solution I kept pen and paper beside my laptop. Every time I guessed at a question, I wrote down the question number. Not a huge deal, but annoying nonetheless.

Timer and pause feature

BarPrepPal’s timer counts down from an actual simulated test time, just like the real bar exam. It does not have a manual pause feature. That is also just like the real test. To stop the timer you have to exit the test. The lack of a pause feature adds a real-deal element to the test, but it wasn’t a huge loss. If you’re like me, you’ll likely use parts of the test for a slow “look up every question” run-through and other parts for a live “see how fast I can do this” practice. That meant I used my own timer for small parts of the exam instead of the BarPrepPal one.

Questions

Perhaps BarPrepPal’s greatest strength is its question-sets: there’s a lot of them. The site offers brand new questions every year. The options to select smaller specialized packages are a bonus, too. You will not run out of practice sets if you go with BarPrepPal. I also liked the high number of “stacked” case-based questions nested in their exams. The long fact patterns followed by multiple related questions were great practice for the real tests.

Feedback

Of the competitors I used to write the March 2015 bar exams, BarPrepPal had one of the most comprehensive feedback dashboards out there. If you use the timer properly and finish a whole exam, it even records the time spent per question. (However if you’re like me and do small parts of the exam multiple days in a row, the time per question score may not be as accurate. That’s because it includes the questions you didn’t even attempt in the estimated time per question.)

From the feedback screen you can choose which areas to “step through” to see how you did. BarPrepPal earns a gold star here for breaking out the professional responsibility scores from each section. Above all else, I spent a lot of time on ethics because I thought that the law society would be harsh on low ethics scores. Seeing my ethics scores above 80% bolstered my confidence.

One thing missing from the BarPrepPal feedback is an explanation section. It’s unnecessary for the purpose of the test, but sometimes it’s nice to know why something is correct–especially when BarPrepPal’s answer is “more correct” than another seemingly valid answer. At least one other competitor provides a concise explanation for why the other answers are wrong. BarPrepPal doesn’t, but it didn’t bother me enough to stop using it.

Mobile

A bonus feature for anyone studying on their commutes (or on park benches) is that BarPrepPal is mobile-friendly. I was surprised to find that it fit perfectly on my iPhone 5S screen. Sure, the text was small, but I didn’t find I needed to scroll left or right. Honestly I didn’t use the mobile functionality when I was actually studying–but if studying on your phone is your thing, go for it.

Conclusion

I would absolutely purchase BarPrepPal’s barrister and solicitor set again. I thought it offered great value—I just wish I had cracked it open sooner. There are so many questions that I didn’t have time to finish them all before the actual bar exams. Their sets offer great value and the unlimited attempts make it worth coming back to. Sure, it has some weak points like later access, no flag feature, and no explanations, but I think it was still well worth the price-tag.

Thanks for checking out my review. If you have questions, study tips, or any different opinions on test prep, please tell the world in a comment below!

Please note that this is a sponsored post. Sponsored posts are still in my own words and written based on my personal experiences. I use sponsored posts to help pay for the costs of running this website. If you have any questions about what that means, please contact me here.

 

Advice for Students Entering Law School in 2015

Recently I read through an engaging thread on LinkedIn that asks: “What’s one piece of advice you’d give yourself upon entering law school this year?”

I was impressed by how many Queen’s alumni reached out with candid and honest advice. Many commenters focus on tried and true advice for law school success: Students who listen, prepare for class, and work hard will often be rewarded with good grades. Demonstrating mastery with good grades in law school has and always will be impressive.


I think that students entering the class of 2019 should also question whether good grades should be their goal. If I could, I’d ask my 1L self to challenge the timeless advice for success in law school. What the law needs now are big thinkers, dreamers, and risk takers.
What the law needs now are big thinkers, dreamers and risk takers
  
Being an expert at grinding the grist of daily readings and lecture will not help us move forward or create new ways of delivering legal services. Specifically, the legal services that most Canadians need but can’t afford.

After leaving the hallways of law school, I recognize the many ways we’re reinforcing the myth that lawyers can do it all on our own. Law school rewards students, for example, who contribute modestly, dedicate themselves to individual study, and perform better than the competition.

When applied to client service, that model creates capable practitioners who’ve learned to treat every problem as unique. That time-intensive method promotes high quality, but comes at a high cost. 

Why are we focused on graduating students with skills that helped 20th century lawyers succeed, when skills like systems-thinking, project management, and IT leadership will help 21st century lawyers succeed?

Instead of teaching students to challenge, question, and evolve methods we’re sending the message that evolution isn’t necessary. Our last major innovation was inspired by Socrates: asking students questions in class rather than lecturing. We’re not even measuring our learning outcomes: are we getting better at preparing students for practice, or worse? 

I say this all in hindsight. I entered law school after the 2008 financial crisis and hoped that things would go back to the way they were. Like many students, I liked how timeless law seemed. I naively thought law was a sure and steady path to success. 

After seeing so many capable classmates graduate and struggle to find employment, my perspective has changed. Hardworking people who will make great lawyers can’t find work, because the old ways are no longer affordable. I see now that the only way to success is to stray from that well-worn path, to explore other avenues, and to embrace change. 

I wish all the students accepting offers at law school this year the best of success. Please comment or reach out through my contact form if you have questions or want to talk about law school.

Tech Review: Emond’s Ontario Bar Exam Practice Tests

This past March I wrote the Ontario bar exams. To prepare, I read the materials provided by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC), updated indexes provided by friends, and tested my performance using online practice exam software. After writing (and passing) both bar exams, I wanted to review the various practice exam tests available online.

This article is the first in a sponsored series that reviews each practice exam site’s price, questions, usability, features, and feedback. I hope it helps other students decide what resources match their needs when preparing for the 2015-2016 bar exams in Ontario.

Emond Bar Exam Preparation Software Summary

Overall, I’d recommend purchasing Emond‘s practice tests for a pre-study and/or post-study experiment to see how well you know the material.

Emond’s key strengths are that: (1) answer explanations are provided even if you get them right, (2) the entire test can be taken offline, (3) access is available immediately, and (4) it’s one of the lowest prices on a per-test basis.

I found the questions were relatively good practice for the actual test. Sometimes I studied in coffee shops with spotty internet connections, so it’s nice that Emond’s test still works if you lose internet temporarily.  The fact that the questions are available immediately is a big advantage. It means you can use the tests to identify weak areas before you start studying. If you’re self-studying like I did, that helps you focus your limited review time on weak areas, then take the test again near the end to make sure you’re on track for test day.

Emond exam prep website
This is what the Emond practice test web app looks like.

The key weaknesses of Emond’s online practice tests include: (1) you can’t flag a question you’ve already answered (unlike a real exam where you might circle your best guess before skipping it), (2) there aren’t enough questions for a full-length (seven hour) barrister or solicitor practice test, and (3) the Emond practice tests are slightly more expensive per-question than other online practice test sets.

Despite these weaknesses, I’d still recommend the Emond exam set as a solid diagnostic tool that you can start using immediately. With the time most students have available outside index-updating, it’s unlikely that you’ll have much time for additional questions or full seven-hour mock exams. Emond might also be attractive if you’re looking for an in-person or online preparation course to complement online practice exams. For a complete summary, I made this summarized chart of Emond’s 2015 practice test features (as of May 2015):

Feature Summary Chart

Name Emond
Website emondexamprep.ca
Price (CDN tax included)
–        Single practice test $90.40
–        Both practice tests $180.80
–        Discount for buying both? 0, or included for free with some course options
–        Individual sections? Not available
–        Price per Q (barrister) $0.67
–        Price per Q (solicitor) $0.85
In-Class Course Available? Yes
Online Course Available? Yes
Free sample available? Yes
What if you still fail? Free access
Questions
–        Number (barrister) 135
–        Number (solicitor) 106
–        Number per section 29 to 35
–        Multiple Q’s on same case? Yes
–        Additional Q’s available? No
Attempts Allowed 4
Available immediately? Yes
Timer
–        Time provided Unlimited
–        Starts First click
–        Pauses By button click or automatically when browser closes
–        Auto-pause Yes
–        Counts down or up? Up from 0
Features
–        Auto-save Yes
–        Question flag No
–        Unanswered Q’s highlighted Yes
–        Usable offline Yes
–        Returns to last Q answered Yes
–        Quick keys No
Feedback
–        By section Yes
–        Answers provided Always
–        Filter by section Yes
–        Filter by correct/incorrect Yes
–        Time per Q provided No
Navigation
–        Drop down Q list Yes
–        By section No

Detailed Review

Price

Emond’s practice exam sets are priced similar to their competitors: Emond’s exams are $90.40 after tax each (for just the barrister or just the solicitor exam). Other competitors offer online practice sets for anywhere from $96.00 to $113.00 after tax each. When purchasing both tests, the competitors’ prices drop to $90.40 to $93.25 per test. The drawback for Emond’s tests are that they tend to contain less questions (in some cases, half as many), so the overall value is a little lower. So, if you’re only looking for a single test and about three hours of questions, Emond has the best price. If you’re purchasing both tests and prefer more than three hours of questions, then Emond’s competitors offer better deals.

Access

The best part of the Emond exams is that they’re available for purchase immediately. Other competitors limit access to their exams until a couple weeks before the test. Personally I liked being able to take a diagnostic test early on to see what areas I should spend the most time on. In this regard, Emond is superior to other online tests out there.

The Emond test (including its timer) also works while disconnected from the Internet. This means you can load up the test and then complete it offline if WiFi is unavailable.

Number of attempts allowed

The practice exams from Emond allow four complete attempts. Each test can be paused and resumed at later times. However, to see feedback you need to submit an attempt. When I was using the test as a diagnostic, I’d submit partial exams to test my timing for certain sections. Unlimited attempts would be nice, but I don’t think I used all four re-submits. Other competitors have unlimited submissions, while others only allow a single marked test to be submitted. I found Emond’s four submissions were enough.

Timer and pause feature

Emond’s timer counts “up” from zero once you click on the first answer. That makes it easy on the go to record how many minutes you’ve spent on the questions you’ve answered.

The downside is that Emond’s “upward” timer is unlike the actual timer on test day. The barrister and solicitor exams have a giant timer on the wall that counts down from three hours and thirty minutes. Does this really matter? It didn’t for me. It’s easy enough to run your own countdown timer on a standard cell phone alarm app.

Questions

The Emond online practice exam has 135 barrister questions and 106 solicitor questions. There are about 29 to 35 questions per section. Emond’s questions are good; they seemed representative of the real exam.  The only problem with Emond’s questions is that there aren’t enough of them to simulate a full seven-hour barrister or solicitor test. However, you can get pretty close by writing the full barrister question set in the morning, and the full solicitor set in the afternoon. This shouldn’t worry you unless you’re hoping to write a full-day (seven hour) barrister or solicitor practice exam.

Flagging questions to return to later

While writing a mock bar exam, you may want to simulate the real experience by flagging questions to return to. The Emond test highlights unanswered questions in the drop-down list to make them easy to return to. However, there is no “flag” button to highlight questions you’ve answered but still aren’t sure about. I found this didn’t represent the real test-writing experience perfectly. In the actual test, I would dog-ear pages or circle any questions I wasn’t certain about. However, I’d still usually circle my best guess so I wouldn’t be starting from square one. The lack of a “flag” feature isn’t terrible, but it would be nice to have one.

Feedback

One area that Emond’s test shines is feedback. Answer explanations are provided whether you get the questions right or wrong. That’s ideal because if you’re doing the exam for the first time, you may be guessing at some questions to finish on time. I found that some competitors’ tests didn’t provide correct answers for the questions I guessed at. That meant that unless I looked them up, I didn’t really know why it was right. Emond’s answers are all provided with a detailed explanation; I liked using the answer explanations as a review. Although looking up the answers in your index is good practice, it was nice being able to see the answer right there.

Emond’s feedback can also be filtered by correct/incorrect, or by section for a targeted review section. That’s a nice bonus that saves a little time scrolling. Previous test attempts are all listed on your main login page so you can see improvement. Not every test practice site out there provides that historical data.

Mobile

For the purposes of this review I tried using Emond’s online test software on my iPhone 5S using Safari and it displayed fine. Although it doesn’t have a specifically mobile-friendly version, I found the online test was still doable when I held my phone sideways (landscape). When I was actually studying for the test I didn’t bother doing practice exams on my phone, so this wasn’t something I really thought about.

Conclusion

Overall I liked using Emond’s practice exam software and I’d recommend it. It’s a good diagnostic that can help identify weak areas and to focus your efforts. Knowing that I was scoring 70-85% on most practice exam questions gave me a confidence boost before writing the real exams. Although Emond’s software doesn’t come with loads of questions, it does offer a great survey of expected test areas. The best part is that it’s available immediately, which can either help you relax with a great score or get super motivated by a terrible score early on.

Thanks for reading. If you have questions, study tips, or any different opinions on test prep, please share them in a comment below!

Please note that this is a sponsored post. Sponsored posts are still in my own words and written based on my personal experiences. I use sponsored posts to help pay for the costs of running this website. If you have any questions about what that means, please contact me here.

I Passed the Ontario Bar Exams. How Many Failed? We Don’t Know

This week I found out I passed the Ontario barrister’s and solicitor’s exams. It was fantastic news. I started law school back in 2011, graduated in December 2014, and had been studying for about three months before the March sittings. I wrote about the actual exam experience here.

The best part was being able to get in touch with old friends after sharing the news:

Friends, I’m happy to report that I passed the bar exams. Thanks to everyone who supported me throughout the process. Special shout-out goes to MC, DM, ML and VE for their help.

Posted by Future Lawyer, Ivan Mitchell Merrow on Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How much should I be celebrating, now that I know I’ve passed? The truth is, I don’t know.

There are some opinion articles out there that say the Ontario bar exams are easy, while others talk about what it’s like to fail. It’s difficult to know how challenging it really is, because anecdotal evidence doesn’t tell the whole story.

The main problem is that stories cannot currently be confirmed or denied by statistics. The Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario’s governing body for lawyers) doesn’t publish the exams’ failure rates.

That’s unfortunate. It makes it difficult to prepare or use diagnostic tests to predict success. It also avoids an obvious way we could be measuring Ontarian law schools’ effectiveness: by measuring graduates’ bar exam pass rates. That practice is common in the United States.

Why doesn’t the LSUC make this information public? Greater transparency would help new graduates prepare to meet a known standard, and assure the public that their new lawyers are meeting a difficult standard. Until then, we can only celebrate our success quietly, not knowing what odds we’ve really overcome.

Daniel Schutzsmith: Follow Thy Checklist and Prosper

During FITC Toronto 2015 I had the opportunity to hear Daniel Schutzsmith talk about project management in creative enterprise. In case you’ve never attended an FITC event, part of FITC is about dreaming big and fearlessly taking on life-changing projects. Another part of FITC is about actually getting them done. (For a full conference re-cap, click here.)

Daniel Schutzsmith’s talk was strongly in the second category. The main theme was that in a creative enterprise (or legal one), chances are that you’re not running short of great ideas. What may be missing, Schutzsmith says, are the processes that help you consistently deliver great results.

Checklist
Use a consistent check list for routine tasks and quality assurance

Background

After working for 17 different studios and co-founding digital creative design agency Mark & Phil, Schutzsmith shared his wisdom on what it takes to bring process into creative firms. The first step for entrepreneurs and agency owners is to get processes out of their heads. Answering over-the-shoulder questions on how to do things works when a company is five people or less. Larger teams quickly swamp managers, eating up precious time with questions that have been answered many times before.

That’s why Schutzsmith recommends we all live by DRY: Don’t Repeat Yourself. Documenting processes in an organization is that simple. In the early days, it actually helped save lives. Doctors eventually adopted a “checklist mentality” after realizing that doing every operation from memory led to some awful mistakes. Now every routine operation runs by checklist, and so should your business.

Clean Up the Mess

To start, Schutzsmith recommends documenting roles in your business. People generally like knowing what’s expected of them. Writing down what’s expected of each team member helps develop a work ethic and builds morale. It’s positive on all counts.

After roles are mapped out, everyone’s attention should turn towards the business. Schedule three sessions over beer or coffee, ideally at least a week apart:

  • Talk about everything that’s going wrong.
  • Talk about everything that’s going well.
  • Decide what the team would like to see working better.

That helps align everyone towards making things work better. Maybe there are things going wrong you’ve never thought of. Invite the usual gripers and the quiet ones. Find out how to clean up the mess before you’re running tight against a deadline.

Plan the Process

After your team has identified critical areas for improvement (for example, sales, HR or training new employees), it’s time to make a process. The final product should be documented, ideally in something simple like a checklist or flowchart. Schutzsmith recommends you find someone on your team who can help get this done. They can’t be too process-focused; it’s important to make room for creativity and freestyling. Similarly, he recommends defining tools but making space for people’s unique favourites. Balance is key, all with a DRY mentality.

A great example Schutzsmith featured in his slides was a checklist for the complete sales cycle. This list could be integrated into a CRM system, so initial contact with a prospect dropped the list in a client manager’s inbox. Processes don’t need to be stifling—ultimately they make time for more creative things.

Share, Evolve, and Scrap Every Process

Once your firm has a basic handle on its processes, Schutzsmith recommended they be openly shared, discussed, tweaked, and ultimately… scrapped entirely.

That’s because processes are living, breathing things. Sure, they change. They should be reviewed every six months. Steps might get obsoleted as teams find better ways. And they should be. Schutzsmith recommends that teams go a step further and throw processes in the garbage every five years. Building on the same skeleton only works for so long. If the entire process isn’t re-invented, we risk becoming dinosaurs.

Schutzsmith ended the talk with a call to action: go do it. Just write down a process. So what’s next on your list?

Design Firms Do Conferences Differently: FITC Toronto 2015

This past Sunday, April 12 through Tuesday, April 14, Toronto hosted the 14th annual Future Innovation Technology Creativity (FITC) conference. Now in its 14th year, FITC caters to a more design-heavy technology group, featuring equal parts technical workshops, wild parties and inspirational talks. I was able to attend the event as an “official blogger,” or volunteer media personnel. I really enjoyed the introduction to the world of design and digital art–the people who make tech beautiful and easy to use.

Why was I there? I wanted to learn more about creative firms and the challenges they face, because I’d like to have creative agencies as clients one day. If I learned one thing, it’s that a traditional legal marketing approach (focusing on expertise, stuffy speeches and pinstripe suits) is completely foreign to people in the design community. The experiences they share are more raw and honest.

When I arrived at FITC, I noticed right away how different it was from an ordinary conference. The design-conscious organizers made the Hilton’s basement conference zone look like a rock concert. Party lighting brought some energy to the otherwise neutral hotel concourse. The dress code was casual but stylish. Mohawks were not uncommon. Attendees included coders, designers, artists, and entrepreneurs, and they were all friendly.

FITC’s 14 years of success showed. The event ran like clockwork, with large teams of volunteers registering, ushering, collecting feedback, and directing the day. In particular it was nice to see breakout rooms for sketching, dancing and creative pursuits. FITC isn’t all about sitting down and listening–it was more like a supportive community coming together to share lessons, jobs, tools, and good times.

As part of my role, I got to cover a few specific talks:

  • Gavin Strange, Bristol UK-based animator for Wallace & Grommet’s creator Aardman, talked about pushing boundaries with “one-nighter” projects and new media.
  • Shawn Pucknell, FITC’s CEO spoke candidly about bankruptcy, failure, and how to survive.
  • Kim Alpert, a creative strategist and artist, talked about breaking through limits and refusing to be defined by anyone’s expectations.
  • Finally, I learned about Flickr’s ongoing growth and transformation following its acquisition by Yahoo. It was a great story about shifting competitive landscapes and leadership.

For anyone interested in design, technology or startups, I highly recommend connecting with the FITC community. Ideally I’d like to attend next year as a volunteer again or a speaker. If I do, one thing is for sure: a standard legal precedent walk-through won’t cut it.

Finally, big thanks to the FITC organizers for inviting me as an official blogger this year, it was a great experience.