We want you to choose the best place to work, and we believe that asking hard questions is a good way to learn the truth.
What surprised you the most about Counter?
I thought a lot of what was on Counter's website was written just for marketing purposes, but it surprised me when I found it to be true. It was really refreshing because Counter is not trying to be something it's not just to gain attention, publicity, and a laugh. It accurately depicts Counter.
If you could change one thing about Counter, what would you change?
I want to have unlimited access to the best expertise, software, and technology without needing to think about cost or any other constraint.
If you could change one thing about Counter, what would you change?
If I could change one thing about Counter, it would be the office temperature - it's so cold! But in all seriousness, it would probably be the sheer volume of work and handling various responsibilities at the same time (while ensuring that quality remains top-notch).
If you could change one thing about Counter, what would you change?
I just want everything to move faster.
Are the law students and lawyers in your office engaged in pro bono work?
No. Unfortunately, we do not have the bandwidth to work on pro bono files while servicing our existing clients and building our practice.
Are you comforted by other law firm’s lack of progress?
Our competition, and what other law firms do, is irrelevant to us. We’re driven to do great work and build the law firm that we want to see in the world.
Can I see court faster, and become a leader faster, at Counter than other places?
Yes. We focus on getting less senior lawyers involved in files and litigation in a meaningful way (and on their feet at every appropriate opportunity). Your "station" or year call will not stop us from giving you more opportunities and responsibilities. We want you to lead. We want to make you an advocate. We want to give you autonomy. It's your job to learn, grow, and show the team (and our clients) that you are going to deliver so that you are in a position earn the autonomy that we want to give you.
What are the challenges that someone can expect to face in the role?
First, our quality standards are high and learning how to hit that standard is really hard. You think you know what it means to be a law firm with a "high quality" standard? You don't. Second, we are more structured than most, and it takes some time to adjust. Third, our office environment is active and fast-paced. We have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas and, at times, it can get distracting.
How much vacation is considered normal?
We haven't taken a poll. We do know that every team member believes that every other team member should take more.
Is it correct to assume you use TaxNetPro, Quicklaw, etc.?
Yup. And CounterMeasure. And some other stuff too.
How does automation and saving clients money benefit me personally at the end of the day? Is it a tool to help me bring in business?
It’s not about you. Well, it is, in part, but the complete answer is too long for this format.
How many lawyers do you expect to have in 5 and 10 years?
If you believe that the number of lawyers is a success metric, you're wrong and you're missing the point. If you are asking for some other reason, the answer is 10. However, that number seems to keep growing.
If I join Counter, how much can I use the associates to help me with work that I bring in?
Do people like working with you? Are the clients and work that you plan to bring the clients and work that we want? Are these good clients and good people, with good files, and a significant amount at stake? What do you mean "use associates"? We're not going to compel anyone to be used by you. If it's the right fit, the team will do whatever it takes to do great work and get the job done. It's who we are. Anyway, you've probably never had access to better tools, support, and resources.
If you could design a law firm from scratch, what would it look like?
Ummm ... that's kind of what we're doing here. We have a vision but we're not comfortable sharing the details in this format (and until we get to know you better).
Do you invest in R&D, technology, process improvement, etc.? If so, what percentage of your annual fee income is invested in the R&D budget?
Answer coming soon.
I think I'll like working at Counter better, but I'm really close to the people on my current team. Will I like the Counter team just as much?
Yes! We’re kinda awesome. And, if we have a need, we’ll hire any other talented people you know.
Every law firm claims to have an amazing culture. Is everything that I read and hear about Counter actually real or is it just more law firm marketing?
In fact, my biggest concern before interviewing with Counter was that Counter’s culture was just marketing and their claims of being an innovative law firm were just rhetoric. Counter’s hiring process was really long but, every time I met the Counter team, I could tell that they were truly friendly, open, and enthusiastic about working at Counter – not just because of how they treated me but because of how they interacted with each other. I could also tell that they were genuinely excited about building new ways of practicing law. My experience working with the team has confirmed that my early impressions were right.
What were the questions and factors that you considered before leaving KMPG Tax Law to work at Counter?
Most of the many questions that I asked Counter, and myself, during my decision-making process are already listed. However, some things don't fit in this format so I wrote an article to fill in some gaps. I'll post the article and the link as soon as it's done. Hope it helps!
How’s the coffee?
Much better than standard office coffee. We grind our own beans, and we have an espresso machine, or you can use the French press if that’s your preference. We've started talking about making our own cold brew and pour-over coffee.
What else should I know about working at Counter?
We don’t have a top-down structure where partners get the corner offices and everyone else is lesser. Everyone on the team (i.e., lawyers, allied professionals, and students) has their area of expertise, and everyone is treated equally.
What other non-technological resources do you offer that other firms don’t have?
We have a great writer/editor on our legal team who is a great resource to help you improve your writing. She’ll review your work and provide substantive comments, so your work is better the next time. She’ll even help if you’re struggling with how to articulate an idea clearly. Best of all, you won’t embarrass yourself by sending an incomprehensible document to the court or another lawyer.
Would I be taking a risk by joining Counter?
I guess, but the rewards are worth it.
How difficult is it to learn to use Counter’s technology?
Surprisingly easy in many ways. Hank is like Google for how to do anything at the firm. Other programs take longer to learn, but you’ll receive extensive training, and everyone’s always willing to answer questions.
Isn’t it distracting to work in an open-concept office?
Sometimes, when Peter gets excited and loud about something. For the most part, though, nobody will distract you from work. People go into the boardrooms or small break-out spaces, and we have soundproof booths for phone calls.
What is it like not having a designated office?
It’s freeing. You can move about throughout the day. You get to work wherever you want – outside in the summer, next to the window, at a standing desk, on a couch, or even on the treadmill – and have the opportunity to get to know everyone since you sit next to someone different every day.
What's another thing I would miss out on working with Counter over a Seven Sister [or the Big Four]?
First, Counter hasn't given me a “business development” credit card. I know that some lawyers at Seven Sister firms expense “business development drinks” to the firm. Unfortunately for my friends, Counter hasn’t given me a credit card to buy them drinks.
Second, easy-to-access seminars. At KPMG Tax Law, it was really easy to walk into a random lunch seminar. At Counter, we plan our professional development seminars together and take advantage of external professional development seminars. We focus more on day-to-day mentorship, teaching and writing, and giving junior lawyers the opportunity to work on high-level files.
Third, empty prestige. We have a reputation with the Department of Justice and other law firms, but if you just want to be able to brag to your friends/enemies that you work at a Seven Sister or Big Four firm, instead of bragging that you work at an awesome firm that’s doing great things, this isn’t the place for you.
Fourth, you won’t have the opportunity to rotate between different practice groups. You’ll be immersed in litigation and tax. So, if you aren't interested in becoming a superior advocate or tax lawyer, maybe reconsider your decision to apply.
What are the advantages to summering/articling with Counter over a BigLaw firm?
You won’t get lost in a sea of a dozen other students, and the firm’s decision to hire you back will depend on your personal performance rather than competition with other students. You’ll get involved in files at a level that you wouldn’t at the Big Four or at a BigLaw firm until after several years of practice. You’ll work closely with – and learn from – everyone at the firm.
Why should I choose to work for Counter Tax Lawyers over a Seven Sister, national, global, or other boutique firm? People know you’re doing something different, but no one really knows what that is. More importantly, they don’t know how what you’re doing makes your lawyers’ lives/careers better.
You should choose to work for Counter if you have ideas about how to change the legal world or want to work with people who do. It’s not just rhetoric here. We constantly re-evaluate how we’re doing things and what we could be doing better. We have semi-automated workflows, and we’re continually improving them. So you always know where you’re at with a file and what the next steps are (which is something that doesn’t exist anywhere else and used to drive me crazy). Plus, Counter has eliminated a lot of the repetitive work, so I have more time for thinking and creating.
What can you tell me about Counter’s file quality versus Boutique Competitor X or BigLaw Competitor Y? I can’t imagine the work would be any better.
The complexity and challenge of the files is the same as the files that I worked on at KPMG Tax Law, or any other Big Four or BigLaw firm. The main differences are (1) the clients, who are generally entrepreneurs fully invested in the outcome of their files; and (2) the level of involvement in files for students / junior lawyers, who get to contribute to the file throughout the whole process, including attending client meetings and drafting court submissions. Junior lawyers don’t get the opportunity to contribute to this extent at KPMG Tax Law or BigLaw firms.
What kind of files are you working on?
Right now, I’m working on objections, appeals, and voluntary disclosures dealing with a variety of issues, including capital cost allowance, SR&ED, and transfer pricing.
What does a [3rd-year] lawyer do in a typical day at Counter?
It depends on the day. I might spend the day doing research, drafting legal memorandums, or crafting court submissions. On another day, I might meet with clients, attend examinations for discovery, or participate in a settlement conference. Then, of course, there are the daily stand-up meetings that keep everyone on the same page.
How does Counter attract and retain clients in the large Toronto market?
We do quality work, and we build relationships.
Can I build my own book of business and personal reputation while I work for Counter?
What is your technology / how does your technology (e.g., CounterMeasure) change what you do day to day?
Our technology puts us in a position to focus on high-level work and conduct deeper analysis. We do not doubt that our tools lead to accelerated growth and development.
Do you offer any signing incentives or payment toward the bar exam, robes, etc.?
We are experimenting with CounterOffer and, if successful and prudent, we might do it again. In appropriate cases, we offer discretionary performance bonuses and pay other costs.
If I accept a 2L position, what can I can do at law school this year to proactively prepare myself for a smooth transition to summer student work at Counter and enhance my contribution to the firm?
Learn everything you can about Counter. We will encourage you to visit and study at our Toronto office during the school year. This way, you can integrate with the team as quickly as possible. If you are really keen, you can write an article with a team member or work with us in some other way (as long as it doesn’t interfere with your studies – we prefer you to be smart and educated).
Do you have flexible hours or more stringent requirements?
Generally speaking, students are expected to work in the office four days every week and one day remotely. We believe that in-office exposure is essential to early-stage career development. We want to immerse students in our culture and work.
A summer internship is a short amount of time, but is there still an opportunity for students to work on litigation cases?
We try. We take pride in giving our team members the best experience.
What are my chances of getting hired back?
We hope team members start and finish their careers with us. The hire-back probability is based on your attitude, values, and performance. We will mentor, coach, and take every reasonable action to give you the opportunity to succeed and be a long-term member of our team.
Do you have requirements for what courses I take in my second/third year?
Yes, tax courses. Writing courses wouldn’t go amiss.
Do you provide the requisite technology you expect me to use (BlackBerry, laptop, etc.)?
We provide laptops to articling students. We do not provide smartphones.
How much do you pay 2Ls and articling students?
We pay 2Ls and articling students $70,000 per annum.
What’s the benefit of articling within a specialized practice rather than rotating through a full-service firm?
Tax and litigation are hard and require complete devotion. We believe that working in a specialized practice is the best way to develop expertise.
Would I be part of a group of students, and if so, how does your firm maintain a collaborative mentality rather than a competitive one?
We hope to offer a 2L student a position. However, if we uncover two outstanding candidates, we may hire two 2L students.
We do not tolerate toxic behaviour or a dysfunctional environment. We identify it, openly discuss it, and move forward. We reinforce and evaluate positive behaviours in our performance evaluations.
What’s your firm’s hireback history?
We started hiring 2Ls in the past two years. We offered one 2L student an articling position. We did not offer the other 2L student an articling position. The CounterOffer dictates that we guarantee your articling position so, if you qualify, it’s safe to say you have that one in the bag.
Do summer students get a chance to work with clients or sit in on client meetings?
Yes. I attended a settlement conference on day 2. I participated in the Building NewLaw podcast on day 3. You will get a lot of experience and exposure.
What kind of writing does Counter do with Thomson Reuters and do students have input on what kind of articles they pursue?
Counter is publishing five chapters in the Thomson Reuters Tax Disputes & Resolution Centre, available through the TaxNet Pro™ research service. The chapters are on corporate residence, judicial review, tax settlements, tax shelters, and civil tax penalties. We also have a (lengthy) list of other writing and presentation topics and ideas that we intend to pursue someday. Students can choose from the list of yet-to-be-written chapters or persuade us that another topic would deliver more value.
How much supervision vs. independence can summer students expect to have?
We collaborate with every team member and put them in the best position to chase their potential. You won’t feel like we’re standing over your shoulder, but nor will you feel like you’re alone on a lifeboat.
What do I do if I feel like I’m not receiving the training I need?
You won't. However, if you do, you will meet with Yoni. If any issues are not resolved, you can meet with Peter and Yoni. Also, you are welcome to ask any other team member to attend to help facilitate. We're pretty open and talk about everything.
Is there a chance for me to work with CounterMeasure?
We just deployed CounterMeasure 1.3 in every Tax Court appeal. If you work on Counter’s Legal team, you work with CounterMeasure.
Can I be involved in Counter’s social media presence and things like BNL and CTI?
Can you please give me an example of an assignment given to a summer/articling student in the past?
Last week, I drafted a notice of appeal to support our client’s position in a matter with $700,000 in tax in dispute.
What type of work assignments can I expect to receive during my summer and then as an articling student?
Build a relevance diagram related to X.
What is it like litigating and being a lawyer at Counter Tax?
It feels like riding a unicorn.
Do tax lawyers plan their tax liability better than other lawyers?
The question presupposes that we know how other lawyers “plan their tax liability”.
If it can be disclosed, what is the craziest case Counter Tax Lawyers have ever dealt with?
It depends on who you ask. We’re working on publishing some case studies, though, so eventually, you’ll be able to read those.
Do you collaborate with lawyers from other law firms or is Counter Tax self-sufficient?
We regularly collaborate with other law firms on non-tax litigation matters. We don’t believe this makes us any less self-sufficient.
Is working at Counter easier than working at more traditional law firms?
No. We strongly believe that, in many ways, it is much harder. Ask us about it in your interview.
Some Bay Street firms only assign BlackBerries in articling, reducing the on-call time of summer students; what is your firm’s expectations for after-hours reachability?
First, we will never assign a BlackBerry to anyone, ever. Second, we expect that team members are available 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., whether working in the office or remotely. We hope that team members are reachable after-hours in emergencies (or things that feel like emergencies). We expect that any team member making an after-hours call has a good reason.
Does everyone have billable targets?
The Legal team has billable targets. However, unlike other firms, everyone on our team sets their own goals (including billable targets). You decide how you want to contribute and we support you. Oh, and we're talking about eliminating billable targets, billable hours, and hourly rates. Stay tuned.
Do you expect me to talk to clients?
Yes, and we think that you will enjoy it and learn a lot. Our clients are good, smart people. We have a no a**hole rule. It includes clients.
Who are your clients? Where do you get them? What does the typical client look like for Counter?
Generally speaking, our clients are entrepreneurs with $100K+ at stake. In most cases, clients are referred to the firm.
Counter is big on incorporating tax and legal technology. How has Counter’s practice changed with the advent of legal technology such as Tax Foresight by Blue J Legal?
We believe that tax lawyers working with machines are more powerful than tax lawyers working alone. Our proprietary software and systems, plus third-party software like Tax Foresight, has made us better practitioners.
When will I be expected to start bringing in clients?
You will choose how you will contribute to the firm's goals. We do not insist that team members “bring in clients”.
What competitive advantage does Counter Tax have?
Sigita. What’s yours?
Is there a dress code?
Business professional for client meetings and other formal events. Business casual most other days. If you work in the office on a remote day, you can wear whatever.
What new challenges do the recent tax reforms bring for Counter clients?
Is this position opening in response to an upcoming project or goal, higher volumes of incoming work, or recent departures?
We are over capacity, and we are adding Legal team members to handle higher volumes of incoming work. We expect a lot more, too. Also, we are adding team members to other departments to help with ongoing projects.
Currently, you have an articling student, you hired another this summer, and now you are hiring a summer student. Can Counter really sustain this kind of growth?
Can I bring a dog to work?
It depends. We’ll talk.
Are there snacks?
Will my compensation be discretionary or tied to quantifiable measures, such as billables or firm profits?
Performance evaluation and compensation are tied to quantifiable measures.
What sort of benefits package does Counter Tax provide?
We don’t have benefits.
We voted and “no benefits” won the vote. We are a young team. We expect that we will vote again in the future. We suspect that, as we get older, the vote will change.
Should I blindly trust that what you present me or tell me during the interview process and believe it is an accurate representation of the firm?
Nope. Do your research. Ask people. Ask for proof. Read everything. Listen to the podcast. Try to learn about who we are as people and professionals.
What is the future of this firm? How do I play a role in it?
Counter will be the top tax litigation boutique in Canada in five years. How do you play a role? Jump in.
A lot of smaller law firms are threatened by the Big Four and Seven Sisters. What would be something specific to Counter that would impede on Counter’s success?
We think that, given our practice area, we are a little more at risk. However, we can add a couple more external factors that might hurt our law firm and our practice area. Obviously, technology is one. Will technology replace lawyers or limit the number of disputes? How will blockchain technology and cryptocurrency impact the tax system and disputes? Also, law firms will – eventually – restructure and lead to more boutique practices and competition. How do we set ourselves apart when more and more firms look like ours?
The internal factors that could impede Counter’s growth are, generally, people questions.
Can we attract the right people? What is the best way to train the people that join our team to ensure that our quality, and values, spread? How do we chase the highest standards while exercising empathy? How do we build deep relationships with new team members (and deep relationships among team members)? How do we make everyone a generous (and resilient) leader? How can we help people understand what we are trying to do and why it is valuable when they so often see our organization through a traditional lens? Can we successfully transition from a small law firm built on, in large part, Peter’s reputation to a platform in which the firm is more powerful than any one individual? Can we distribute autonomy and control and create a system that properly balances quality, systems, and freedom so that the organization continues to grow? Or, will our attempt to achieve something more destroy what is now a successful law firm and business? Will we fall into the same traps that BigLaw and other practitioners suffer? How do we “fire ourselves” at the right time and pass the torch? What can we do to continue to resist short-term gains and drive to long-term goals (especially when, at times, the short-term gains seem more attractive and the long-term goals take sooooo long)? How do we focus on doing the right thing without any expectations? How do we stay true to ourselves? How do we stay accountable, maintain our honesty, and walk the talk?
Side note: At least for that last question, we should probably just keep doing things like this. Thank you to everybody who sent us questions – you’re helping us more than you know.
Do you foresee any internal or external factors that may impede the continued progress and success of Counter?
The Big Four.
In five years, does Counter see itself remaining a small boutique? Or does it see itself rapidly growing and expanding its employee and client base?
Both. We don’t see ourselves becoming the next McCarthy’s. We choose to be great, not big. We do expect to expand our market share significantly. We’re not doing this to be the #2 tax litigation boutique.
Is the firm planning on expanding and growing in the next few years?
We expect that Counter will 10X notices of appeal filed and 3X our team size in the next five years.
How long is lunch?
As long as it takes – it kind of depends on whether we’re at Freshii, Terroni, Rosedale Diner, or Wiley’s, if we’re being honest. Generally speaking, though, we all have lunch at 1:00 p.m., (i.e., right after our stand-up meeting), which is kinda weird and kinda awesome.
What’s your policy on flexible hours?
We have “core hours”, which means that the whole team is available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. whether working in the office or remotely. This way, we can get in touch with everyone, and everyone can attend (either in person or through web conferencing) our daily 15-minute stand-up meeting.
Can I work from home?
Yes. I'm a bit of an exception because I work all the time remotely. The rest of the team has one regular remote day per week. You can move the day around if you need to, but on the whole, keeping things consistent makes it easier for everyone to know where people are.
Who (which partners, especially) should I be avoiding at the firm?
At times, you might want to stay out of Peter’s way. He gets fired up. It’s an easily identified mood, though, so don’t avoid him altogether – he’d be sad and lonely.
What is the work culture? Are you collaborative, or do people work in silos?
Highly collaborative environment. We believe in collective intelligence, and we value different perspectives and ideas. We always pursue the best idea or argument rather than blindly accepting the idea or argument of the most senior person in the room. Our office layout encourages collaborative work, e.g., open office, breakout spaces, collaboration screens and systems, etc.
What is the most common reason that someone does not get hired?
Attitude. We can teach skills, but we can’t teach attitude.
What is the most unique thing about working at Counter Tax Lawyers as opposed to working at other law firms (or tax law firms)?
We are focused on building something bigger. And we’re truly “all in” for each other.
What resounding trait is common in your team?
We are working on figuring this out. We call it “Missing Core Value #6”. It’s like a missing jigsaw piece, and trying to find it is driving us a little crazy. We are playing with “Give”, “Be Selfless”, “Commit”, “All in”, and “Partners”.
We think it has to do with how we invest in each other or how we look out for one another. It has to do with how we are all committed to putting each other in the best position. It’s about putting you ahead of me and knowing that, when it comes time, you will do the same thing.
If you find the right word for this kind of thing, let us know. Immediately. (Ideally, it would be a one-word verb that’s not lame, but hey, we’ll take what you’ve got.)
Do you normally eat lunch together?
At times, yes. At other times, no. If you work here you’ll hear someone shout, “Does anyone need lunch?” or “Does anyone want to grab a salad?” every day. In most cases, the response is “I’m in!”. In some cases, it’s “You don’t win friends with salad”.
What are the inner workings or culture of the firm like?
Our culture and environment resemble a software company mixed with a law firm, and we have really high standards. Most people that visit, or start working at Counter, find it really different to any place they've worked in the past. We do things like set really big goals, run daily stand-up meetings, have deep and honest conversations, and build a process or tool for everything. We’re organized, driven, and kinda funny.
How often do you give feedback to employees?
We give regular feedback at the completion of (almost) every assignment. Also, we encourage team members to request feedback because the evidence shows that if a person requests feedback, she will learn more than if she receives unsolicited feedback. We are currently rolling out a new system to reward requests for feedback, ensure that we are giving effective feedback, and to guide the process.
Who will train me?
We work in a high-collaboration environment and, therefore, every team member will help with learning and training. If you're a 2L or articling student, Yoni and Laura will play a key role. If you're on the CounterMeasure team, Natalie will teach you everything. If you're a paralegal, I'll make sure you are in the right position. All that said, Hank can teach you more than the rest of us combined.
Do you support further relevant education (CPA, mini MBA, etc.)?
Yes, our firm is committed to creating an environment that encourages and supports personal and professional development. For example, all new lawyers at our firm will enrol in and complete CPA Canada’s In-Depth Tax course and the Advocates’ Society Skills Certificate. All team members are encouraged to complete other continuing education courses, e.g., Lean Six Sigma, writing workshops, project management, etc.
Will I be encouraged to speak at conferences or client events?
We will work together to set your path and help you build your professional profile in the way that you see fit. As always, we'll support you and help give you ideas, share our experiences, and put you in the best position.
Is there room in the partnership for me down the line? What is the year at which associates are considered for partnership or equity sharing? When will I make partner?
We believe that the partnership model is outdated, and it impedes growth and innovation. In fact, we believe that the partnership model will be one of the greatest impediments to law-firm growth in the next 20 years. We will not use a 20th-century model to build a 21st-century law firm. In these circumstances, we are analyzing alternative models and different flat organizational systems. We expect to test and choose an alternative model in 2018/2019. If you have ideas, we’d love to hear them.
Some Bay Street firms have an unspoken policy that vacation is not limited so long as billable targets are met; how does your firm allocate vacation time?
Ummmm….. Well. We’ll notice if you don’t come in. We’ll try to forget you exist while you’re on vacation. We’ll welcome you with open arms when you come back and try to make you promise never to leave again. Generally speaking, the people on vacation are usually the ones who have difficulties with this premise.
What impresses you?
The things that you can’t fake. People who do the right thing. People who build things. People who are humble, grateful, and self-aware. People who want to be better. People who are smart, take pride in doing quality work, and are purpose driven.
If you managed to automate my job, would you fire me?
Probably. We lean towards Netflix’s policy. That said, there’s always a place for awesome people who can find a way to contribute to the firm’s growth, even if it’s not in the way they initially anticipated.
Are you all crazy?
Yes, we are crazy, but together we feel less crazy.
What do you believe are Counter’s greatest strengths?
Our relationships, high standards, hunger to build the law firm we want to see in the world, and humility.
Do you plan career advancement? If so, is it based on the employee’s interests or the firm’s needs?
We give team members exposure to different types of work, and we work with you to plan your best path. It's important that we work together to align your your interests with the organization’s goals.
What are the opportunities for growth?
Our firm expects significant growth in the next five years. The people that join our firm now will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and mentorship and will shape the future of this law firm. In fact, we hope that our work will shape the future of the legal industry. We don’t know another law firm in Canada that provides an equal opportunity.
You're smart, hardworking, and creative. We're setting the new law firm standard. We should work together.