For our career series “How I Got My Job,” we’ll be talking to real people, working real jobs across a variety of industries. These people are pushing boundaries and have made their mark. They’ve found success on their own terms, and now we’re extracting their advice on how to carve out your own career path.
From the outside, practicing law is a cut and dried career path, but our next “How I Got My Job” spotlight has used her entrepreneurial spirit to turn her career in law into something uniquely her own.
After a decade of law on Bay Street, Ashlee Froese is the proud owner of Froese Law, a firm that works with some of the biggest financial, pharmaceutical, cannabis, celebrity, and fashion names.
And her accomplishments don’t stop there. For the past three years, Ashlee has been ranked in the top 1000 trademark lawyers globally by the World Trademark Review, is a former chair of Fashion Group International, and a mentor for a number of Toronto-based start-up incubators.
We had the opportunity to chat about how Ashlee Froese got to where she is, the best part about her job, her advice to aspiring lawyers, and more. Take a peek below.
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First thing’s first, what was the first job you ever had? The job after that? And how did it lead you to where you are today?
When I was an undergrad student at U of T, I worked part time at a law firm. I worked there throughout undergrad. During law school, I interned with the United Nations in the Middle East. Once I completed law school, I decided to focus on branding law and worked at a number of firms before launching my own firm.
I fast tracked to partner on Bay Street within six years, which is pretty quick, and had my own client base pretty early on in my career. As much as I loved working at my previous law firms, I think I always had an entrepreneurial spirit and, at 10 years in the industry, I decided to launch my own firm. Law is a very traditional industry, and although I truly believe in the benefit of gaining Bay Street experience to hone legal skills, it does not have to be the only way to practice law.
In launching Froese Law, I’ve been very purposeful on how we service our clients and what we stand for. For example, we are a completely paperless office, our business cards are made from recycled clothing and our systems are entirely on the cloud. Our lawyers have the flexibility to seamlessly work from wherever in the world they’d like.
For our clients, our business model is a hybrid of billable hours and flat rates. We host monthly free legal seminars to help our clients become educated on the law. We issue out weekly newsletters that provide tips on the law. We also bring a business savvy to how we apply the law to our clients’ situation. Also, given that we focus on a type of client (the B2C business), we have a good handle on the legal issues that they may run into, perhaps before they are aware of them.
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What’s a typical day at work for you?
There’s no typical day per se, but I do try to have consistency in my schedule. For example, I work from home on Mondays, which allows me to work completely uninterrupted. The rest of the week, I’m in the office and my day is filled with a lot of meetings, a lot of computer time, and oftentimes sprinkled with speaking engagements or business development activities in the evening.
Why did you start an all female legal firm?
I didn’t start off with that as my concept, but that is the current situation. Law is a very challenging industry and retention of women in law is a SIGNIFICANT issue. I wanted to create a law firm that enables lawyers to live a balanced life, which is oftentimes a struggle for lawyers.
I do love the fact that Froese Law is a certified woman-owned business and that, currently, all of our professionals are women. And I love that it resonates with our clients. But I’m certainly not closed to having male lawyers join the team. My overarching mandate is that we provide Bay Street calibre legal services, without the Bay Street bull. Our lawyers must have fantastic legal skills and business savvy that assists our client in a real and meaningful way.
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How do you balance your career and personal life?
I’ve always had the mentality that work must fit into your life and not the other way around. Your working lifespan is long and if you find something you’re passionate about and are able to also live your off-duty life, you’re bound to be more happy and fulfilled. But you also have to make a concerted effort to live a balanced life and set boundaries.
Law is not an easy career path. Statistics demonstrate that lawyers have higher rates of depression and anxiety than the average population. I’ve built a law firm where work-life balance is not an either or proposition. You can be an excellent lawyer, with a dynamic client base and still have a life.
Why is mentorship important to you?
Volunteerism and mentorship are fundamental tenets of my career and, consequently, of Froese Law. On a personal note, one of my mantras is “kindness begets kindness.” I’ve been a mentor to start up incubators for the past eight years. Law is not intuitive but it impacts everything. If you’re a start up, having access to a lawyer helps with understanding fundamental principles of law and that goes a long way.
From my own career, I have not had mentors, per se. But I’ve been exposed to professionals that inspire me and also those that inspire what I don’t want to be. For the most part, I’m purposeful about giving back to the next generation of lawyers. I had the unfortunate experience of coming across senior lawyers (who happened to be female) that were the anti-thesis of mentors and they certainly made life more challenging. It doesn’t have to be like that, so I also provide mentorship to young lawyers as well.
In your time working, what do you think has been the most important thing that you’ve learned?
Maintaining good relationships and working with integrity are so important. Also, you’re never done learning. I may be a Certified Specialist in Trademarks Law, but I’m always reading up on the law to ensure that my skills and knowledge are on point.
What’s your advice to someone looking to get into your line of work?
To be honest, law schools don’t teach you how to be a lawyer. They teach you about the academics of law. Learning under the wing of a senior lawyer as a junior associate is critical. So first thing’s first, be the best lawyer you can be. Learn the law. Learn the practical application of the law. Learn business savvy to compliment those honed legal skills. Understand the business nuances of the industries that your client operates in.
What’s the best part of your job?
It sounds so cheesy but I love it when a client comes to me with a concept and I work with them and they reach a level of success where they become a household name. It’s extremely gratifying to be a small part of helping someone achieve their dream.
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