This blog comes to you today, May 4, 2023, on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of our firm. I thought I would share some reflections on the past and some predictions for the future.
It’s with a lot of gratitude that we as a firm take a moment to pause and reflect on what we’ve been able to achieve so far, but as well, it’s with much anticipation and excitement that we look forward to what we can achieve in the future.
We thank each one of our clients for the trust and confidence they have placed in us in advising them on the many challenging and sensitive matters which are of such personal importance to them and their family members.
We are proud of all of our firm members for their contributions over the years to building a new breed of law firm.
Looking back, it seems like there has been more change in the last 5 years than in the prior 20 years in trust and estate practice.
The Early Days
When I unlocked the door of the offices of O’Sullivan Estate Lawyers on Monday, May 4, 1998, to start a boutique law firm was a novel idea in a world dominated by mostly generalist law firms. In retrospect, it was also somewhat prescient.
With ever-advancing technology, the rise of email, digitalization, and the internet, work became more fluid, giving us the ability to work with team members in complementary areas of practice and the “best of the best” for each required expertise, as opposed to the generalist firm service model of providing a range of services under one roof.
Our goal was to build a premier estate law firm in Canada, serving the needs of affluent individuals in passing on their wealth successfully to the next generation. As people become more mobile, we developed a niche area: advising clients with cross-border and multijurisdictional connections. I believe our clients and colleagues in Canada, the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere will agree that we have achieved that goal.
Change is the “New Normal”
In the fall of 2019, I chaired the STEP Global Congress in Vancouver, which brought together trust and estate professionals from around the world. The theme we chose was “Embracing Change in a World of Uncertainty”. Little did we know at that time how relevant this theme would be, and how soon we would all need to “embrace change”, driven by the pandemic less than six months later, which tested most of us like we had never been tested before on our ability pivot on a dime.
Without the pandemic, we would not have had new laws which now allow wills and powers of attorney to be signed in a video call, which helps us better serve our clients.
A recent example: last week, one of our clients while on a trip Down Under wanted to make important changes to her Will due to family circumstances, which we successfully completed, notwithstanding the substantial geographic and time differences. After emailing the documents to her, she printed them out, and we signed them together in a Zoom call while she was on the road.
This level of service did not exist back in prior times. Technology has made it possible to meet with our clients and other advisors face-to-face even though we are not in the same room in any place in the world. In many ways, technology has brought us closer to our clients whereas geography used to separate us.
An Explosion of Technology that Benefits Clients
New legal rules, digitalization, the almost “paperless office”, communications through a variety of forms, whether email, video call, telephone call, in person, and very rarely a formal letter, but sometimes a text message, the cloud, remote and hybrid working, DocuSign, secure document portals, artificial intelligence, and the list goes on….
A lot of change to embrace in a short period. No doubt, the workplace is at an important inflection point for all knowledge workers, and there is a feeling of great uncertainty, but also of great possibility.
And where will it all go from here? Post-pandemic, what does the future hold? Will there be homeostasis and a “reversion to the mean” and what some call “normalization”, or is that only wishful thinking for those who are not prepared to embrace change and hope things return to what they are comfortable with?
In my view, many professionals have not sufficiently embraced change, and as a result, they will be left behind. In my blog “Why Integrity is So Important in Providing Trust and Estate Advice,” I remarked how the pandemic has only increased the pace of change and the need to “stay on top” in order to best serve our clients or they will be underserved or ill-served.
There is no going back, and the way forward is in a thoughtful and discerning way to curate what are the best tools, methodologies and approaches to best serve our clients. We pride ourselves on having a deep understanding of the intricacies of estate law and using good judgment and emotional intelligence to determine what is the right approach for each client.
And yes, there are too many emails and not enough communication using the most efficient and effective approach, which often means a conversation, whether in person, a telephone call, or a video-conference meeting. The enshrining principle of what best serves the client is the litmus test against which to make an assessment.
Our Clients’ Interests Come First
At the end of the day, we advise families and provide the best solutions we can to carry out their objectives in passing on their wealth. How we do it and where we do it are secondary, as long as we keep the client’s interests first, which will define success for those who do.
We have the satisfaction of doing work that helps people and enjoying so many relationships with long-standing clients and colleagues in complementary areas of professional work.
We look forward to the future, to our continuing relationships, to new relationships to come, and the challenges of the work we do. At the end of the day, it is a people business for people who enjoy helping people. Barbra Streisand expressed it best in her hit song, “People”.
Let’s hope that is one thing that never changes, even with artificial intelligence.
And, for all you Star Wars fans – “May the 4th Be With You!” [with composer John Williams conducting the Vienna Philharmonic].
— Margaret O’Sullivan