This lawyer gave up his partnership in a top-tier firm to find happiness
Aaron Baer was a corporate lawyer and partner at a top Bay Street firm when the pandemic hit. He was itching to do something more meaningful and decided to reinvent himself as a start-up lawyer and entrepreneur. Here’s his story.
—As told to Isabel B. Slone
“I joined a big Bay Street law firm in 2015. My day-to-day activities were simple: bill hours and bring in work. Over time, I was able to carve out a niche doing the work I enjoyed—like advising tech companies on mergers and acquisitions—and within six years, I made partner at the firm. Working with clients in the tech industry, I realized that the legal world is about 20 to 30 years behind everyone else. Some lawyers didn’t have a clue what a mail merge was, and they were still discovering electronic signatures—despite the fact that they’ve existed for years. I found that there wasn’t enough innovation when it came to adopting new technologies to make our jobs easier or improving client services. And the emphasis on billable hours meant you were incentivized to overwork.
“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to run training sessions for young lawyers and our articling students, but the firm wanted me to prioritize billing hours. Soon, my desire to be entrepreneurial and make changes in the industry outgrew my desire to be just a Bay Street lawyer. The legal world is so broken, and I wanted to do my part to try to make things better. I wasn’t sleeping well, either. I had cancer in my first year as a lawyer—I’m in remission now—so I knew that if I didn’t prioritize my mental health, there was a good chance it would also affect my physical health.
“I needed to shift my priorities and make time to do the kind of work that gives me a sense of purpose. In May of 2021, I decided to leave the firm and pursue work that made me happier, even if it meant taking a financial hit. In the worst-case scenario, I figured I could always go back.
“I immediately joined a boutique firm called Renno and Co, which primarily serves the tech industry. Renno operates like a start-up. It supports its lawyers’ side ventures and is constantly looking for ways to embrace new technology and improve processes. My new firm is happy for a person to work less and have a better work-life balance. Before, I was probably working 60 hours a week. Now it’s more like 40.
“I’ve used my extra time to start two side hustles. The first is 4L Academy, a training business that doubles as a mental health company. We teach lawyers the practical skills they need to be successful, and we help them realize that they’re not the only ones who feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. So far, it’s been incredibly rewarding. Since last summer, we’ve trained about 150 lawyers and law students in subjects like due diligence and closing mergers and acquisitions. Normally, this is really dry stuff, but we make it fun and interactive.
“My second venture is called Build Your Book, which I started with a friend from business school. The goal is to help lawyers understand the science of business development and help them build authentic relationships. We run an eight-week program for small groups of about five to seven lawyers, and it’s going great so far. Our participants are already reporting they’re getting more clients and building careers that better serve their personal needs.
“I’m working more hours than before, but the difference is that I’m doing the kind of work that makes me feel fulfilled. There’s a chance I’ll become exhausted running these two new ventures, but there’s no chance I’ll get burned out. My goal is to continue to dial back the hours I’m working, but right now, I’m enjoying every minute.
“When I quit, I took a big risk, but even if it didn’t work out, I knew I would learn a lot. I’ve already grown so much in just a few months.”