This week we have Emilia Coto as a guest on the podcast!
Emilia is the founder of Sisu Legal, a law firm in Windsor, Ontario and has recently opened an office in Troy, Michigan. Her focus is on immigration law and more specifically, family sponsorship. Sisu Legal is on a mission to provide accessible, innovative, and effective legal services. Prior to founding Sisu Legal, Emilia was a lawyer at a mid-size firm for three years.
2:35 quitting without a plan
3:45 the day you started your firm
7:00 lessons learned
9:00 any reason to refer it
10:00 resistance to growth
12:45 best breakthroughs
16:40 a fulfilling firm
17:00 one year from now
18:11 course creation
19:23 get out of your own way
Watch the recording here.
Jim’s Hack: Move around and work in different spots of your office.
Emilia’s Tip: The Peloton app for exercises even without the treadmill or bike.
Tyson’s Tip: Hire a tech stack manager as a freelance VA.
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Run your law firm the right way.
This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let’s partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I’m Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I’m Tyson Mutrux. What’s up, Jimmy?
Jim: Well, Tyson, we’ve had so many episodes in the can that we’re trying to clear out that backlog, so we haven’t recorded for a while. Now, we still have a bunch in the can. I’m not exactly sure how that happened because we haven’t been actively doing our Tuesday morning. We usually record these at Tuesdays at 8 a.m. Central Time. But I’m glad to get back in the saddle. And I feel like I haven’t seen much of you for the last couple of weeks.
Tyson: I know. It’s been kind of nice for me, man. Just teasing.
No, it’s weird. We took– I don’t know. We’ve taken almost a month off of recording. We’ve been doing things in the Guild but it’s been– I don’t know. We’ve had nice little, you know, Tuesday mornings off for a little but it’s been kind of nice.
But it’s good to get back in the saddle though. It’s good to see you. I do like seeing you. So, it’s good to start recording again.
Jim: Well, let me introduce our guest today. Her name is Emilia Coto. She’s an immigration lawyer in Canada and in Michigan. We’re really excited to have her. She’s been a great member of the Guild. And she asks lots of good questions and is always contributing. We’re glad to have her.
So, welcome to the show, Emilia.
Emilia: Thanks for having me, Jim and Tyson. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
Tyson: So, Emelia, tell us about your background. But also, tell us how you got to where you are now. But, do you pronounce it Sisu Legal? How do you pronounce it?
Emilia: Yep, you nailed it.
Tyson: Yes! Nice. There you go. Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are now.
Emilia: Sure, yeah.
So, I was born in the Honduras. Moved to Canada when I was in grade three or four. And then, moved to a little town called Elmer. And went to undergrad for kinesiology. Thought I was going to do something like healthcare related. It turned out, I didn’t really like patient interaction or I didn’t really find it that interesting, so I ended up taking the LSAT, going to law school in Windsor.
And then, after that, stayed in Windsor at a full‑service firm for about three years. And that was working out really well. I had really good mentorship which was, you know, like my favorite part about being there. But then, I got married and moved to Michigan, because I didn’t have any family in Windsor. All of my husband’s family lives in Michigan. So, moved to Michigan. And then, the commute was not working out for me. And, because I was a more traditional law firm, they did try to be accommodating, but I could just tell that it wasn’t going to be a long‑term thing. So, I ended up quitting my job in October of 2019.
Didn’t have much of a plan other than I was going to study for the for the bar, in the States. And then, I was going to– like, I was still applying for jobs. And that was a plan. It wasn’t really to go out on my own.
But then, I had one good thing about the commute is I have found the Maximum Lawyer Podcast and a couple other podcasts about, you know, like solo and small‑firm lawyers. And so, I had that in the back of my mind. And then, after I got a couple like sort of lowball offers and just nothing that I was really excited about, I decided to just take the plunge. And right after the bar, I opened up my own firm in March of 2020 which was great timing.
But Sisu actually means– it’s sort of like related to resilience. So, I picked the name before 2020 happened. And I think it was a really good year in learning how to be resilient and learning to just kind of roll with the punches. So, yeah, it’s been a good almost one year so far.
Jim: That’s awesome. Tell us about the day after you quit your job. And the day that you started your firm. Tell us about those two days.
Emilia: Okay. So, the day after I quit my job, it was sad. I was really sad because when I started, my time at that firm, I really thought that it was going to be a forever kind of place. I am not the biggest fan of change. So I was, you know, just happy to land in a place where there was good people.
Yeah. So, leaving that was sad for me, because I really liked the people, the mentorship, but at the same time I just felt so relieved because I had known probably for about, you know, a while before I actually quit my job that it wasn’t going to work out just because part of it was the culture, too. I think I’m a lot not as traditional. And the other part was just logistic wise. It wasn’t going to work for me to be commuting every day crossing borders. I mean, I didn’t know 2020 was coming, but I think it was good timing because it would’ve been very, very difficult to do that.
And then, you asked about the day that I opened my firm. So, I think I decided around– I want to say like mid‑January, February that it was going to happen. And so, I would say that my biggest fear at the time was not getting enough clients and I still had student debt that I had to pay. So, I definitely have like a monthly minimum that I had to meet. So, what I did to plan for that was I just reached out to everyone I know and tried to tell them that I was doing that. And, thankfully, I actually started my firm with quite a few clients because I used to work at a legal clinic. And so, there was this big human trafficking case and they needed some help with humanitarian and compassionate grounds applications. So, my having that connection really helped me get started not from zero, which I really appreciated, and it’s really rewarding work.
So, yeah, it’s worked out so far.
Tyson: You see, you do immigration. I don’t know why I’ve never asked you this question but, do you help people immigrate to the US, or to Canada, or both?
Emilia: Yeah. So, I’ve been focused on Canada only. And I am in the process of– like, I have office space and everything in Michigan. And we’ll be, hopefully, starting to help people immigrate to the States fairly shortly.
Tyson: Very cool. That’s awesome.
Tyson: I don’t know that never clicked with me. So, tell me, do you use your personal story whenever you’re connecting with your clients? And, if so, how do you do that?
Emilia: Yeah, I definitely do. Especially with my Spanish‑speaking clients, I always share my background. I share that I– you know, I wasn’t born in Canada. I immigrated as a young girl. I know sort of like all the sacrifices that parents have to make in order for their kids to have a better life, more opportunities. So, I can definitely relate with that.
It’s on my website. I think I could do a better job. And that’s actually one of my goals to do a lot more video and to sort of share more bits of my personal story. But I do– one of the first blog posts that I ever released on my website was about just sharing a little bit of the story of like what it was like to actually move, and who picked us up at the airport, all those things so.
Jim: Emilia, what lessons have you learned since opening your firm almost a year ago?
Emilia: I’ve learned a lot. But I would say, if I had to focus on one of the biggest lessons, is that I did not– I guess, like the whole mindset piece was not in my radar at all. Like, when I was about to open my firm, I was really just focused on the logistics. You know, like making sure that I knew what I was doing. I did do a bit of a change in practice area even though I had done immigration when I was at the legal clinic. My background was more in litigation and employment law at my previous firm. So, I really focused on the practical things.
And I think the biggest struggle, if I had to say one, and the biggest lesson is the mindset piece and how, basically, everything revolves around that. And just making– I think, I also didn’t realize how important it would be to have community. And that was one thing that, you know– and you didn’t ask me to say that but joining The Guild was definitely really influential for me because– especially when I was struggling with mindset and feeling like, “Oh, my goodness. Did make the right decision? Like, what was I thinking? Should I start looking for a job again?” It really helped to see other people going after sort of what I wanted to do and just seeing really successful people also have struggle days was really helpful, because I didn’t feel like it was just me.
So, yeah, I would say mindset and community really, really important. And I hope to kind of continue working on that.
Tyson: So, let’s dig a little deeper on that because I agree. I mean, the value of having community. No matter what the community is, whether it’s the Max Law big group, the small group, it’s great. But what are some of the other– I’m going to kind of use this almost like a hot seat for you. What are some other challenges that you’re facing that maybe we can dig a little deeper on and try to help you out with?
Emilia: Yeah. I think something that I– I don’t know how to really put into words, but I remember one of my first like struggle posts that I posted in The Guild was– like I mentioned before, when I was starting my firm, the biggest fear that I had was not getting enough clients. And then, when I did start getting clients, and when the phone started to ring, it’s like I would find any possible reason to just refer it. I mean, just– I don’t know. Like, I was just afraid that I was going to mess it up. I was afraid that, you know, they could find someone else that could do it better.
You know, it started– like, I started to keep track of like the financial impact of referring because I also, you know, don’t ask for referral fees. Yeah, it was like, “What am I doing? Like, why am I sending these clients out? Like, why don’t I believe that I can do a good job for them?”
And I think I’ve definitely improved. Like, I don’t do that as much anymore but there’s still some sort of like resistance to growth. Even though I really want to grow, there’s like– I don’t know. I just like the comfort of going slowly and– you know. So, that’s sort of– I do struggle with that, I would say, continuously even though I am getting better.
Tyson: Hey, Jimmy, I’ve got a follow up to that.
Emillia– because I actually distinctly remember that post and I remember the responses. What were the takeaways that you remember from the responses from people?
I mean, you know when you share something and then you kind of like get like a vulnerability hangover? I definitely had that with that post. But– no. Like, that was so awesome. That was sort of like, I think, what solidified for me that I was in the right community for me, but it was a lot of people relating like “been there, done that.”
There was a, you know like encouragement in terms of, like, “Think about it deeper” because it was it was one specific file and I remember it. So, like, people were thinking like, “Did you actually refer it because it is the type of case that you wanted or maybe it was a good thing that you referred it?” And I think that post was also where it started to be– I think, it was Paul Yokabitus that mentioned that, for him, this was definitely like a mindset thing and that I had to work through that in order to grow. And, you know, he’s had tremendous growth. So, once he said that, I was like, “Okay, I’m going to start looking into this and figuring out what this all means and what I have to work on and everything, so.”
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Jim: We’re talking today with Emilia Coto. She’s an immigration lawyer practicing in Canada and in the States.
You just uttered a phrase that I’m going to latch on to – the vulnerability hangover. I think that’s great. And I think that, for all of us, we have our best breakthroughs when we admit that we’re not perfect and we admit that there’s things that we don’t know.
What are some other things that you’ve learned either in The Guild or outside of the Guild, just generally, that have helped you, especially now, because I know, based on conversations, that you and I have had about your plan to sort of solidify your practice on the State side?
Emilia: There are so many. I don’t know where to begin. Some of the–
Okay. I think, one of the biggest things is that it doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you’re, you know, already a million‑dollar firm or, or beyond. There’s always going to be resistance to growth. There’s always going to be different challenges. And it’s never going to be just the, “Okay. I got to this level. Now, I’ve got it all figured out and I know what I’m doing.” Like, I think that one of the biggest takeaways from The Guild is that it doesn’t matter what level or where you are with your firm, there’s always going to be new challenges. There’s always going to be like unpredictable people situations -whether it’s with clients, whether it’s with staffing. And it’s just– I think, again, going back to community, that’s why it is so important, especially if you’re a solo, to find a community that will help you work through the tough days and sort of give you ideas on– you know, it’s–
Yeah, there are so many ideas a lot of the times but, another thing that I like is that there’s a lot of emphasis on also having one focus and not trying to do a million different things all the time. So, like, for example, when I was planning ahead for this year, I had this idea that I was going to have this crazy plan. Like, I had like seven different things and seven different goals that I wanted to tackle. Then, when I posted it in the Guild, I can’t remember who it was, but someone just said such a simple like three letter, “Okay. This is my goal” and I thought like, “That’s so much better.” Like, that’s more achievable, you know, and it still sort of encompassed all of everything. But it helps to just have your focus be on one or two things instead of trying to fix everything in your firm at the same time.
Tyson: So, Emilia, in our questionnaire that we send out for the podcast, there’s a question on there that really caught my attention. Your response was what caught my attention because the question is, “If listeners only learned one thing from your interview, what would you want it to be?” And you said, “I want to inspire people to make choices that reflect their hopes and not their fears.” And I really think that that’s a reflection of how you run your firm, but I may be wrong. So, what do you mean by that? It’s a really interesting response.
Emilia: Yeah. So, first of all, I have to give credit for that quote. So, that’s a quote from Nelson Mandela. And he has a quote that says, “May your life– I think it, is reflect your hopes and not your fears.” And I think, you know, I think when you are running your own practice, it is scary. And it definitely was scary for me, because I didn’t see myself doing it so soon. I don’t know if I saw myself doing it ever, really. It wasn’t a thing that I always had in the back of my mind.
And I think you do have to have sort of like a lot of optimism and a lot of just belief that you’re there to help people and that having a law degree and practicing law is such a privilege that it’s important to not get lost in the weeds and just remembering the impact that lawyers can have on people. People trust lawyers with like their– you know, their lives and really important aspects of their lives. And so, I don’t ever want to like lose sight of that. And I want other people to know, because I know, especially right now, it’s such a hard time to find jobs.
And, a lot of times, I think people settle for just the safety of it. I mean, as scary as it is and, you know, there’s bad days and things like that. But I think that just starting my firm was one of the most fulfilling like life things I’ve ever done because it really lets you dream and it lets you, you know, like just, basically, go after your vision in a way that I never felt that I could, when I was working for someone else.
Jim: That’s so awesome. I love the quote. I love the whole mindset. I think you brought plenty of great mindset to The Guild yourself so don’t sell yourself short.
Where do you want to be one year from now? So, if we have you back on the show, a year from now, and then you have two years under your belt, what are the kinds of things that you want to have accomplished or that you want to be thinking about?
Emilia: So, this year, my big focus is on growing the US side of the practice. I kind of feel like I’m starting a firm all over again in the US. And so, I think that it is going to be a little more challenging than it was in Canada because, as a relatively new immigrant myself, I don’t have the– you know, like the community in my area as much as I would like to and as much as I relied on like I did when I was starting in Canada.
So, the flip side on that is I think that it’s really going to force me on doing my own outreach and building my own community. And so, I am hoping to do, you know, more video, more– I’m going to be starting a podcast focused around immigration and resilience.
So, a year from now, I would like to have the US side of the practice growing, and established, and helping people move to the to the US.
Tyson: I love it. Love it.
Talk a little bit about your DIY Canadian spousal immigration course. Tell us about that. You got that in the works, too.
Emilia: Yeah. So, that’s something I’m working on. I think spousal and the whole family thing is something that a lot of people end up doing themselves. And, sometimes, I think there’s a misleading notion that it’s really simple. It can be, I think, if you do it all the time. But I also have seen the consequences like, for example, people falling out of status and people being separated from their families for a long time, if they do it wrong. And so, I’m hoping that by doing– I’m like a supported program where they still get some lawyer access but it’s a lot of DIY. I could offer it at a more affordable price range and just help more people. So, that’s the plan.
Yeah, I’ve been working on it for a while and I think it’s, again, one of those mindset things that I’m like, “I don’t know.” Like, the DIY space can be scary. I don’t know why I think a lot of– for me, it’s like I don’t want to get into liability issues and figuring out logistics of it, but it’s definitely coming this year.
Jim: All right. So, I get the last question, Emilia. And my question to you is, what are you scared of right now? What’s worrying you? What’s keeping you up?
Emilia: Sometimes it feels like things are going really well like right now. And I feel like things are going along smoothly. And sometimes I don’t know if it’s just like my personality, I tend to be a little bit on the anxious side. And I think, you know, like sometimes I just fear something’s going to go wrong out of nowhere. And I think 2020, you know, was a weird year for that.
Yeah, I hope I don’t let myself get in my way. And I think that I can help a lot of people.
Yeah, I think my biggest fear would probably be letting myself get in the way and not allowing myself to help as many people as I can.
Tyson: And I think your ability to know that you can get in your own way– and Jim had the same thing. I think we all have these things where we’re the log jams or just our mindset can restrict us. And so, I think just the fact that you know that, you recognize that, is going to put you way ahead of where you were. So, that’s awesome.
All right. We do need to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to remind everyone to go to the Facebook group, get involved there in the big group. Just search Maximum Lawyer. You should be able to find it pretty easily.
And then, if you’re interested in the Guild, go to maxlawguild.com and join us in The Guild. Great people like Emilia are in there and they’re sharing their wealth of knowledge every day.
Jimmy, what’s your hack of the week?
Jim: Mine’s a simple one. So, for the last month or so, I’ve been working in two different places inside the office. I’ve been actually moving around the office. And I think I’m settling into a spot where I do certain work in one part of the office and other work in the other part of the office, but I don’t know that that’s for sure. But just breaking up the day, and moving my body, and getting to another part of the office just sort of helps me reset and to focus in a way that I can’t when I’m just sitting in the same spot for eight hours.
Tyson: It’s so incredible that you’re giving this as your tip because, last week, I spent most of my week in the conference room, because it was just a different spot in the office. I needed to break it up a little bit. So, I think you’re spot on. I think that that’s great.
Emilia, before I get to my tip, what is your tip or hack of the week?
Emilia: So, similar to Jim. I think it’s going to focus around just moving. One of the things that I struggled with was finding the time to exercise and sort of, once I started working from home a lot, I found that I was working longer, not going into a routine as much. And the Peloton App. I don’t have the fancy bike or the fancy treadmill, but they have really good classes. Like, they even have walking, running – if you like to go outside, or they also have yoga, Pilates. Like, anything you like, they probably have it. I think that’s like $12 a month or something like that. So, that’s really helped to be motivated because they have a lot of fun music and different themes. So, I would recommend adding that into your daily routine.
Tyson: Perfect. Love it. I’ve heard great things about that app, so that’s perfect.
And there is, I think, if you’re in the Guild, there is a Peloton group. So, Emilia, are you a part of that?
Emilia: No. I think you have to have the bike for that one.
Tyson: You have to be– okay. Gotcha. Okay.
Jim ordered his Peloton so that should be in in a few weeks and he’ll be able to join the group. He’s excited about that.
So, my tip is this. We’ve been talking a lot, just– or I have with multiple people about their tech stacks and everything. And, a couple of weeks ago, I was just so frustrated that I was, basically, the point of contact for the entire firm were our tech stack and it was driving me nuts. And Jim’s had Kelsey for a long time. And so, I decided to finally hire a tech stack manager. And I found someone through Upwork. And they’re really great.
And so, now, if I’ve got a question, I’ve got something that needs to be fixed or changed, I just contact them and say, “Hey, will you do this?” And it’s so much better than me doing it myself. And so, I highly recommend getting a tech stack manager. You can pay them as a VA. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money. It’s actually fairly cheap compared to the amount of time that you spend yourself.
All right, Emilia, it’s been so wonderful getting to learn a little bit more about you. Thanks for taking the time to do this podcast. We appreciate it.
Emilia: It’s been such a pleasure to be here.
Jim: Great job. Bye, guys.
Tyson: Thanks, Emilia.
Tyson: See ya.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
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