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A firm for the small business owner

Small business owners were constantly approaching Dana Gordon for legal advice. The Richmond lawyer's friends and colleagues, many of who were sole proprietors, complained that lawyers' fees were far too exorbitant for them.

Small business owners were constantly approaching Dana Gordon for legal advice.

The Richmond lawyer's friends and colleagues, many of who were sole proprietors, complained that lawyers' fees were far too exorbitant for them.

"So many told me that they often avoided or neglected to go to a lawyer because either it was way too expensive or they felt intimidating by large firms," said the mother of two young children and one on the way. "I did some research and I couldn't find any lawyer who was servicing small business owners without charging them hefty fees. They also charge for expenditures such as faxing, copying, long distance or other incidentals, which I don't."

In January, she founded Benchmark Law Corporation.

What makes her stand out - besides working virtually from her home to cut down on overheads and dealing specifically with small business owners, typically with fewer than 10 employees - is that she offers a flat fee for most services, something she says is rare in the law world. (Her hourly fee is $225).

She left her position as British Columbia Medical Association (BCMA) in-house counsel, where for four years she was responsible for negotiating and drafting contracts with the provincial government.

"Prior to that, I was a litigator with a small downtown firm," Gordon, said, adding she has practiced law in the province for more than seven years. "Going out alone with no guaranteed paycheque, while balancing a mortgage and family, is not something everyone wants to do at this point in their lives.

"But, I feel really good about my decision to take this on and I've proven I can make a difference to those businesses who need legal work, but can't spend thousands going after it." Having said that, Gordon concedes having a family also played a role in her decision to branch out on her own.

According to the Law Society of B.C. family responsibilities is one of the major reasons female lawyers leave the profession. (April 2012 statistics show of the practicing lawyers, 6,767 are men and 3,836 women; of the non-practicing lawyers, 635 are male and 812 are female).

"Having a family was definitely a reason why I wanted to go out on my own," she added. "I now have the ability to go to my child's Mother's Day concert. If my son is sick, I can take him to the doctor."

Although, Gordon said while she worked at BCMA, her job was nine to five.

"Going out on my own gave me even more freedom and flexibility," she added. "When you work for a firm, your life isn't your own. I have female lawyer friends who are married, but have postponed having children because the hours are long."

Marlene Kiernicka, Free to Be Fashion House sole proprietor, made the move from a regular law firm to Benchmark Law Corporation.

"Dana was very helpful, but the main thing is she is servicing smaller businesses and her prices are way better," said Kiernicka. "I'm just starting a new business and most lawyers charge an arm and a leg. Dana is an entrepreneur and understands small business owners and their financial struggles."

According to the Canadian Bar Association many variables go into what a lawyer's hourly fee is - years of experience, how extensive a contract is, location of the firm and the reputation of the firm.

Its website (http: //www.cba.org/bc/public_media/lawyers/438.aspx) states, "No rule controls how much lawyers can charge or how they can bill you - the market decides these things. Lawyers usually bill you in one of the following four ways: fixed fee, hourly rate, contingency fee, or lump sum."

For more information about Benchmark Law Corporation, call 778-371-3447 or visit www.benchmarklaw.ca.

STATISTICS:

(Courtesy of the Law Society of B.C.)

? Women leaving private practice found that maternity and parenting responsibilities were significant factors leading to their decision.

? In B.C., women have been entering the profession in numbers equal to, or greater than men for more than a decade.

? Of all women called to the bar in 2003, only 66 per cent retained their practicing status in 2008.

? The average cost of an associate leaving a law firm has been estimated at $315,000.

? To read the full report, visit www.lawsociety.bc.ca/docs/publications/reports/ Retaining-women-business-case.pdf.

mhopkins@richmond-news.com