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Alumna sets in motion a vision for changing the legal profession

Double-degree grad Andrea James launches a business and gives back to the school that inspired her
February 10, 2017
Andrea James completed the International Energy Lawyers Program, a joint degree offered by the University of Calgary Faculty of Law and the University of Houston Law Center. Photo by Adrian Shellard, for the Faculty of Law

Andrea James completed the International Energy Lawyers Program, a joint degree offered by the University of Calgary Faculty of Law and the University of Houston Law Center. Photo by Adrian Shellard, for the Faculty of Law

When she started law school at age 21, Andrea James, JD/JD’15, was looking for a way to stand out amongst her classmates. Being so young and not having an undergraduate degree seemed distinct disadvantages, but James soon realized that being young in law school doesn’t have to be a weakness if you can recognize everyone who was accepted into the program is amazing in their own ways.

“The University of Calgary always admits really exceptional people, so it’s easy to set yourself apart from the crowd in one way or another,” says James.

After completing the International Energy Lawyers Program (IELP) through the Faculty of Law, James now has two law degrees (one Canadian and one American) — but still no undergraduate degree — and has launched her own firm, Jamesco Barristers & Solicitors LLP, in Calgary.

Economic downturn opens doors for new law firm with innovative approach

“Several factors influenced the creation of Jamesco,” says James. “The professor who taught my MBA course in entrepreneurship for law students at the University of Houston (where she spent two years of the IELP), and the desire to avoid working long hours and giving up my personal life for a big law firm.”

Jamesco takes a different approach to the billable hour model — the standard practice in most law firms in North America — and offers on-demand, in-house counsel to its clients. As James points out, using the billable hour model creates a reverse incentive for lawyers: if a lawyer isn’t busy, she will work as many hours as possible on a file, which results in clients paying more for the service, and lawyers working longer hours. Despite opening her doors just over a year ago in the midst of Alberta's economic downturn, business is growing for Jamesco, especially from clients who are looking to be more efficient and reduce costs.

“When oil takes a downturn, innovation thrives, opening doors for people like me,” says James.

When the company first opened, James hadn’t been called to the Bar in Alberta yet, so she pulled her dad, who is also a lawyer, out of retirement to help her get the firm up and running. She also hired an articling student to help out with the work: fellow alumna Lindsay Amantea, JD’15. 

Stable and predictable lifestyle could have appeal for law professionals

"When I was at the University of Calgary, we would often discuss the changes that were being made or needed to be made in the legal industry to billing, firm structure and lifestyle,” says Amantea, who is now the vice-president, policy, for the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta. “It’s exciting to be in on the ground floor of a firm that is walking the talk and really taking a new approach to the practice of law."

With a focus on tax and corporate law, James thinks there are a lot of companies that would be interested in hiring a law firm using the Jamesco model, and there are a lot of lawyers who would be interested in working for the firm, especially those with young families and professionals looking for a more stable and predictable lifestyle than what a typical law firm offers.

“Law as a profession is slow to adapt to change,” says James. “But the way people practise law is going to change, especially with all of the new technologies and innovations being developed. It’s exciting to be on the leading edge of that change and to see where our business model will take us.”

James creates emergency fund for law school students

James also understands the value of giving back to the people and places that helped her get where she is today, and has set up an emergency fund for students at the law school to draw from if they are experiencing financial troubles.

“Life is full of unexpected events, and it’s amazing how a little financial help can go a long way,” says James. “My hope is that this fund will help students who, at a specific moment in time, need a hand up.”

“It’s wonderful to have our recent grads giving back to the law school in such a meaningful way, so soon after graduation,” says Ian Holloway, dean of the law school. “Being able to help students in difficult times really means a lot to us, and I know any student who needs to access the fund in the future will be extremely grateful.”