FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Glenn Solomon
November 10, 2015
What, or rather who, is he? Open, sharing. He provided lunch, we met in his firm’s board room and we ran out of time. I’ve known him a long time, but not well. I found him as friendly as I remember, more conservative than I expected, more private too. Still, he gave me lots of insight:
His resume is impressive – as is his firm Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP, known as JSS Barristers, a boutique litigation firm.
Glenn Solomon is eclectic. Dare I say driven? Human. Bites his nails. Plays drums and sings in a band. And percussion. He’s tried guitar but isn’t very good, though he easily brags that his son is awesome on the guitar. Plays hockey. He brags: that his son and daughter are incredibly normal and well adjusted – both attending UBC. And his wife of twenty-two years Jackie Halpern, best friend – “best person I’ve met in my life”. She’s a litigator too, best friends through school they didn’t date until under-grad days. Eloped to Vancouver after law school. And he practices law. His firm – thirty-two lawyers, thirty-five staff …
When Glenn was fifteen, he and his older sister moved with their family to Calgary. Born in Montreal suburb of Chomeday-Laval. Poor. Parents met post-war. Mom’s family were holocaust survivors who went to Austria, it was safer, then came to Canada. Dad’s background was Ukrainian. He was born in Canada. Accountant and bookkeeper. The came to Calgary for better work and still work in that field. Glenn and his sister remain very close, though not with their parents. “Our paths haven’t crossed in a long time.” As I pressed for ‘explanation’, Glenn said ‘it’s hard’ and we left it that …
Prior to arriving in Calgary all of Glenn’s schooling was in French, though he spoke English well too. He attended Henry Wise Wood High School, got his B.A. in Political Science at the University of Calgary, got his law degree at the University of Alberta – he went there because of a strong interest in constitutional law and, ‘they accepted me first’. After graduation he clerked for the Alberta Court of Appeal, then finished his articles at Bennett Jones where we worked for eight years until leaving to join his law school friends in the firm now known as JSS Barristers.
His bucket list Masters degree, should be coming soon. He’s one-paper-away from completing that degree at Osgoode Hall.
Why are you successful? “I’m fair to people. I bring value to the table and people recognize that. I’m an excellent communicator – and a hard worker.”
What has held you back? “I would be more successful in business if I was prepared to be more flexible. And, I’m not prepared to get rich at the expense of my friends.”
Given Glenn’s substantial and long standing political involvements I couldn’t leave without discussing his views – and asking what he thought of the recent Trudeau election victory: “Lets wait and see. I suspect there is more substance there than he’s been given credit for. He has a cabinet with some very impressive resumes. Hopefully they’ll make good use of talents and experience in the bureaucracy.”
How do you see your business – a boutique litigation firm – going forward over the next quarter?’
… it’s a tough time for solicitors right now – but we’re just barristers. On our side of the law business stability is nice, but mayhem is great. Perceptions are changing, governments have changed, rules have changed … and we are ridiculously busy.
And over the next five years?
… litigation has a long shelf-life. We’re busy! I don’t expect the treadmill will stop.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… when we are buying goods and services we do business with people, not paper – and we need to trust people. If I don’t have experience with or know someone I am not initially trustful. With more experience, generally things/relationships that get better are driven by quality.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Glenn Solomon and JSS Barristers, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… we aren’t the lawyers for everyone, or not. We are trusted advisors to our clients, highly peer-reviewed. We provide two products – advice and representation. We offer clear, well communicated and timely service for a fair price.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I operated on the presumption that grown-ups will do their jobs without micromanaging. It works for me. My staff are watching my back all the time.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… everything! Seventy families count on me to get it right every day. I decided five years ago to make two lists. Things that are ‘the hill worth dying on’ and ‘things that don’t matter’.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… I’ve been fortunate to not have sudden changes. I’m more of a Forest Gump kind of story – things have worked out, people have been good for me. My wife, my best friend Rob Hawkes, my partners – who can manage me …
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… I force myself to! When our kids were little I went home for dinner every night and later went back to the office. With technology now I can work from home in the evening if I want to. Not a lot of time gets wasted. I make time for the things that matter. I love my work.
… my band, the Advo-cats, playing hockey (two shoulder surgeries have brought my game down). Softball. Politics – it’s fun and public service.
What do you read?
… Magazines with a point – legal and music. Not much fiction at all. I barely pay attention to pop culture – movies or TV.
… 2008 Jeep Patriot is my car. My wife drives a Mercedes SUV.
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