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The truth about small-town lawyering: ‘Oh you know that Sayers girl!’| Naomi Sayers

Friday, September 25, 2020 @ 10:53 AM | By Naomi Sayers

Naomi Sayers %>
Naomi Sayers
When I was first called to the Ontario bar, I was working in-house at Hydro One, on Bay Street in Toronto. I have nothing but great things to say about my experience at Hydro One. In fact, I credit my time at Hydro One for helping me navigate complex and unique files that I find myself encountering after I returned home to the Algoma region.

Growing up the on the Rez, as they say, I never thought that I would be a lawyer. I said I wanted to be a lawyer but only because my older sister said she wanted to be a lawyer and I wanted to be exactly like her. I didn’t even know what a lawyer did back then. Nobody in my family was a lawyer. I didn’t know a lawyer until I had to hire my first lawyer, who is now a justice in my hometown and who I appeared before as a lawyer — how the circle comes back around!

During COVID-19, the legal issues are more than unique; they are precedent setting. Some of them can be easily resolved through a few letters; however, with my knowledge and experience of having lived and worked on various First Nations throughout Canada, I am well aware that many of our communities are stuck in their ways, hiring individuals who are more focused on their egos than helping advance the community. It is a sad but unfortunate truth.

When a client comes to me, they talk about how they know that the opposing party is out to get them. I only know what this means: A long-standing issue among families in the community that has manifested itself into a legal issue now. It’s a legal issue that demands time and money invested into lawyers which only a small few can afford.

The first thing I learned about returning home was that I could in no way charge the large retainers at the first outset and that if I wanted to charge retainers, the retainers had to be reasonable and/or low. Often times, when seeking out friendly advice from other women lawyers about getting paid, the advice is often devoid of the context of working in a smaller region or that the advice is very city-centric. I thought that I could open up my practice without a trust account. This was not the case when a potential client wanted to file a lawsuit against a municipality nearly two hours away and had the money for a retainer; accepting this money without a trust account would mean violating many rules set by the law society. I never let that mistake happen again and immediately opened a trust account.

I also learned that a banking adviser can hinder your success just as much as they can help you. I met a small business banking adviser who was excellent but then I met another one, who decided to buy me lunch. I was hooked; they liked me and so, they must offer me better services. This was not the case and within two months, I immediately went back to the first small business banking adviser. The one that I am currently with also helped me set up my second trust account in the province of Alberta, where I am also called as of February 2020.

The single-most important lesson that I learned, however, is that you have to be creative in your advertising and networking. After six months since I arrived back home, I hosted an event that launched my law practice at a local eatery near the courthouse and I invited members of the local bar association. Crown attorneys, counsel in various years of call, court workers and other representatives from local agencies all attended. I even invited the local media and sent them an exclusive news release.

While some people know my name and know who I am, they know me as Naomi Sayers, the Sayers sister that always got in trouble and was the bad one. I have overcome a lot, but I don’t pay attention to the people who are stuck in the past. I have grown and I have continued to seek out ways that I can help others, even in small ways.  

Naomi Sayers is an Indigenous lawyer from the Garden River First Nation with her own public law practice. She is also an adjunct professor at Algoma University, teaching primarily on Indigenous rights and governance issues. She tweets under the moniker @kwetoday.

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