SPECIAL EDITION: Fireside Chat with Nerissa Yan
September 24, 2023
The "Dual 10 Challenges" is a term that I coined to describe this stage of life that is akin to an exhilarating roller coaster ride for legal professionals who are not only in their first 10 years of practice, but also have kids in their first 10 formative years. The daily grind and obstacles that you face as a parent, specifically a working parent, are real. The days are long, but years fly by. How do you manage all the work-life responsibilities without losing sight of what is important to you?
Called to the bar in 2016, the next extraordinary Fireside Chat guest is a partner, a co-founder of a law firm, a commercial litigation lawyer who is named one of top 25 most influential lawyers in Canada and recognized as Ones to Watch 2024, and last but not least, a mom of two boys under 4 yo!
You may have the same questions that I have by now which is delivered beautifully by John Legend:
“You make me wonder, woman, how do you do it?
Some superpower... You're superhuman”
- Wonder Woman by John Legend
Welcome to our next SPECIAL EDITION Fireside Chat featuring Nerissa Yan (aka Wonder Woman)! Nerissa's superpower, her secret sauce to success as a working legal professional who is living, breathing, and thriving at the Dual 10 Challenges would be her wise and calming "one-day-at-a-time" approach. This bite size approach of taking it one day at a time, one step at a time, and one moment at a time has helped Nerissa to cope with the anxiety that comes with the many unknowns and uncertainties that she has no control over. Can't wait to hear more from Nerissa's refreshing and authentic sharing?
Without further ado, let’s get started!
Part 1 - Introduction
Hi, my name is... Nerissa Yan.
Year of call to the Bar: 2016.
Type of practice, your role, and where: I practice mainly commercial litigation in Vancouver, British Columbia. I am a co-founder of a boutique litigation firm in Vancouver, called Yan Muirhead LLP. My partner, Nathan and I have been working together since 2014. In September 2021, we opened our own firm. We currently have five lawyers in the firm.
How many children do you have? I have two boys, 3.5 years old and almost 1 year old.
What do you do for self-care or stress relief? I do a few things to help relax my body and mind: getting RMT; watching funny/mindless shows on Netflix before bedtime, bike to work, drinking beer and eating chips over a movie with my husband on Friday night; having lunch or dinner with contacts.
What would you do for work if you weren’t in the legal profession? If I could have a parallel career in a different field, I think I would enjoy being an investigative journalist or a real estate developer.
Part 2 - The first “Dual 10” Challenge: within the first 10 years post-license
Equilawbrium: Do you have a master plan for your career path? What is the driving force behind your career decisions? What are the important things to consider as you are figuring out your career path?
Nerissa: I was not able to envision a path unique to myself in the first few years of my practice. That was because the first three to four years of being a lawyer was the foundation building stage where the day-to-day was overwhelming and there was so much to figure out and to learn. When the day-to-day “grinding” was so intense, it was difficult to have a clear vision.
It took me about four to five years to start feeling more comfortable at what I was doing and to start to feel that I was getting the hang of things. As the comfort level increased, I was starting to have a clearer vision.
During the first few years of the “grinding stage”, what motivated me was the understanding that the feeling of “not knowing what I am doing” would eventually pass. I realized that I had to take it one step at a time, one file at a time, and one client at a time, to get better at this; and that the compound effect of the day-to-day experience would eventually lead me to a comfortable place where I would feel confident in my skills. That motivation also stemmed from looking forward to looking back to see my own growth down the road. Time is powerful.
I often say that if we can describe a lawyer’s growth in terms that are used to describe human growth, I would say that a 1 to 3-year call is like a baby, learning to sit-up, to crawl, and to stand. After that, it is the “toddler stage” where you can walk comfortably. That would take another 3 years or so. I think that I am a pre-teen now as a lawyer. There is still so much more to learn, and I am learning new things everyday about the practice of the law, the running of a law firm, etc.
Equilawbrium: Please list one soft skill that contributed to where are you now and suggestions on how to cultivate it.
I think that patience is an important skill and a good virtue. In today’s day and age, society tends to want to see quick results and take shortcuts.
Occasionally, I would take a deep breath and tell myself that I can follow my own pace regardless of how fast moving the surrounding seems to be.
Equilawbrium: Please list one hard skill that contributed to where are you now and suggestions on how to cultivate it.
Nerissa: As a commercial litigation lawyer, being a clear and effective communicator is an important required skill. Being a clear and effective communicator for the client and for the court allows us to serve the clients well.
It can be developed overtime by regularly putting myself in the shoes of the court and the client. I would ask myself, if I were the judge, what would I need to know to help me understand the facts quickly and without confusion, and what would I need to know to have a clear legal framework in place to determine the issues.
Similarly, I often ask myself, if I were the client, what would I expect from my lawyer to make me feel satisfied that I am getting good value in the service I receive.
Part 3 - The second “Dual 10” Challenge: have kids in their first 10 formative years
Equilawbrium: How do you juggle work/life responsibilities? Is it possible to have a family life and a work life simultaneously and harmoniously?
Nerissa: I use a lot of external help to juggle work and life responsibilities. I am very lucky. We have a nanny, and my parents live in the same household with me. Having them around has made it possible for me to go back to work right after my 2nd son was born. As a self-employed mom who just started my own law firm business, I was not qualified for Employment Insurance. I had no choice but to go back to work right away. There is a system glitch for working professional parents who are newly self-employed.
Equilawbrium: What is the one parenting tip or trick that you must share?
Nerissa: I take it one day at a time. The daily grinding of working and raising a family is tough, but I often think about the phrase, “the days are long, but the years are short.” I want to enjoy the growth of my children every day. That makes the one-day-at-a-time approach manageable.
Equilawbrium: What do you find most rewarding having kid(s) ≤10 years of age?
Nerissa: The most rewarding aspect is watching them grow every day. There is something new about each of them every day. It’s fascinating and fun.
Part 4 - Achieving Equilawbrium: how to survive & rise from the “Dual 10” Challenges
"The one-day-at-a-time approach has been very useful for me. It has a certain level of psychological effect on me. It tells me to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, one moment at a time and that I only worry about what is immediately before me. It helps me cope with the anxiety that comes with the many unknowns that I have no control over." – Nerissa Yan
Equilawbrium: What is your biggest challenge going through the Dual 10 phase? Any advice for our readers who are living and breathing this phase and trying to survive and excel?
Nerissa: The one-day-at-a-time approach has been very useful for me. It has a certain level of psychological effect on me. It tells me to take it one day at a time, one step at a time, one moment at a time and that I only worry about what is immediately before me. It helps me cope with the anxiety that comes with the many unknowns that I have no control over.
One day at a time! One day at a time!
Equilawbrium: What is your take-home message for our readers who are trying to find their “equilawbrium”?
Nerissa: When we look back at the footprints we all have left on this beautiful path of building a career and raising a family many years down the road, we are going to feel so fulfilled. I am very confident about that.
Equilawbrium: What is the one-word encouragement/support that you would want us to remember?
<<End of Fireside Chat with Nerissa Yan>>
**A MILLION THANKS TO NERISSA!!!**
Nerissa Yan is one of the few Mandarin-speaking civil/commercial litigation lawyers in Vancouver. She is sought after by domestic and international clients, as well as her colleagues in the legal profession.
Nerissa represents both corporate and individual clients on civil and commercial litigation matters. Her litigation practice is wide-ranging with a focus on complex disputes, including contractual disputes, shareholders’ disputes, creditor/debtor remedies, real estate and strata disputes, construction disputes, commercial leases, fraud, professional negligence, estate litigation, foreclosure proceedings, and defamation. Over the years, Nerissa has developed a niche practice of enforcing foreign judgments and arbitral awards in British Columbia.
In administrative and regulatory proceedings, Nerissa represents clients before the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, the Employment Standards Branch, the Residential Tenancy Branch, the Real Estate Council of British Columbia, the Law Society of British Columbia, and the Architect Institute of British Columbia, among other administrative, regulatory and professional disciplinary bodies.
Nerissa provides legal services in both English and Mandarin Chinese, and speaks conversational Japanese. Her understanding of cultural nuances that can underpin a dispute truly sets her apart.
She is admitted to practice in British Columbia and Ontario, and has appeared at all levels of court in British Columbia.
In 2020, Nerissa was named one of the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada in the Young Influencer Category. Nerissa Yan is recognized by Best Lawyers as Ones to Watch 2024.
Disclaimer: Any views, information, and personal opinions expressed by the authors or guests are entirely their own and do not reflect or represent those of their employers or clients.