Peter Carayiannis is the founder and president of Conduit Law, a leading alternative model law firm. After practicing law for several years at one of Canada’s largest national law firms as a corporate lawyer, Peter set out to build a new model of law firm focused on finding more efficient and effective ways of working with his clients and to deliver quality legal services to Canadian businesses. It was this experience of delivering on-site and on-demand legal services that would lead to the founding of Conduit Law. Peter has also worked closely with the legal tech community in Canada and is a frequent speaker on entrepreneurship and innovation, especially as it applies to the practice and business of law. He has spoken at numerous conferences and events in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Ian Hu (IH): What career path would you have pursued if you weren’t a lawyer?
Peter Carayiannis (PC): I always wanted to be a pilot. If I had my choice I would have loved to fly a commercial jumbo jet around the world, visiting exotic locales, meeting new people, learning about the rest of the world all the while being the pilot of a Boeing 747, the Queen of the Skies. For the 10-year-old in me, flying jumbo jets seems really exciting and I still look to the sky when I see one passing overhead, wondering where it’s coming from and where it’s going. I think I still want to be a pilot.
IH: Name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader. Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?
PC: This kind of question always seems to elicit the name of a single person.
In my life, I don’t think that I can point to one single person who has impacted my life, career or leadership style the most. What I can say is that I have been fortunate to learn from many people throughout my life—my family and friends, my teachers, old bosses and even sports team coaches—and I have tried to take and absorb as many positive lessons as possible from each of these people.
I honestly believe that the work I do today is informed and affected by all of my experiences along the way. I try to keep these life lessons in mind as I to navigate my own path.
IH: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
PC: “There’s more than one way to bake a cake.” It’s a simple expression and for me, it’s something that I always identify with advice my dad would offer to me.
More than simple advice, it’s a mindset. Be open to new ideas, new opportunities, new voices, new concepts and new possibilities—there’s always more than one way to get the job done.
IH: What advice would you give a new managing partner?
PC: “To stand still is to fall behind.” This is a quote attributed to Mark Twain and one that has certainly stood the test of time.
In speaking with senior partners at traditional law firms over the past few years, I have often heard them tell me that while change is happening in the business, it really affects those other law firms, and, for some reason, is not affecting their firm/department/practice area/clients.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The changes we are experiencing in the legal industry are brought on by widespread changes in society—demographic changes, economic changes, political changes—and all of this wrapped around the digitization of every aspect of our lives. Nobody is immune.
And so, my advice is that every managing partner should be working to build and lead the law firm for tomorrow—to respond to the needs, problems, and challenges of their clients both today and in the future. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.
IH: What are the most important/difficult decisions you make as a leader of your firm?
PC: Saying “no” is so much harder and more important than saying “yes.”
It’s important for a leader to know what her team can do and should do, and even more important to know what her team should not do.
For this reason, a good leader must be able to separate what’s important from what’s urgent and separate the strategically valuable work from work that is not strategically valuable or, what’s worse, work that is not aligned with the strategic values of the firm. For this reason, a good leader must be able to say “no,” and to do so in a way that articulates that the “no” does not come from a negative or pessimistic place. Instead, it comes from a desire to keep the firm aligned and focused and not waste its scarce resources—time, energy, money—on activities that don’t promote or improve the firm.
IH: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
PC: There are 1,001 characteristics that are important to being a good leader, and it’s hard to choose just one. But if I must choose one, then the most important characteristic is decisiveness. A good leader will make quick decisions, based on facts, evidence, and information, but quickly nonetheless. This goes back to the advice that I would give to a new managing partner that “to sit still is to fall behind.”
IH: What is the biggest challenge facing law firms today?
PC: In a word, choice.
Law firms have operated very profitably in highly protected and regulated markets for decades. Increasingly, the business of law is being done by companies around the world, without regard to jurisdiction, and is accomplished by technology, no longer relying on the old model of leveraging “number of associates multiplied by hourly rates,” and by alternative model law firms ready to try new ideas and offer a better value proposition to clients.
In short, clients now have more choice and traditional law firms neglect this fact at their peril.
IH: What does the legal profession need to do to improve opportunities for diverse lawyers?
PC: The industry has spent a lot of time paying lip service to diversity principles with little to show for it. Law firms need to put into practice the words they speak. Take action with actual, measurable, real results.
The time for words has passed. Deeds speak.
IH: What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
PC: The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday.
IH: If you could have lunch with anyone who would it be?
PC: President Abraham Lincoln. A lawyer. A pioneer. A president. And he lived through an amazing time of tumult, with war and violence, fought over racism, which he won, and that victory changed a nation. It would be so interesting to hear his story, in his words. Plus, if I was going back in time I could tell him to skip the theater, the ending is terrible.
About the Author
Ian Hu is counsel for claims prevention at LawPRO (Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company) in Ontario, Canada and is a member of the Law Practice Today Editorial Board. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanHuLawPRO