As busy urbanites, we sometimes struggle with finding a work-life balance. We seek equilibrium – slicing our time into neatly designed, colour-coded grids, trying to secure enough time for work, play and rest. Living out this balancing act is work in itself: it takes time and energy to make a plan, and then stay organized and disciplined enough to stick to it. While achieving this harmony in our calendars is feasible temporarily, maintaining it long-term is almost an art. Yet Alisha Athanasiou, lawyer and entrepreneur not only walks this balancing beam, but she does so with finesse.
Alisha Athanasiou is the owner of a litigation practice specializing in civil law suits and family matters. After finishing her articles and being called to the bar, Alisha continued working with a firm on a short-term contract. From there she was faced with two choices: to look for a position and wait to get hired or to work for herself. “…It was either sit around and wait…for a position to become available, or just do what I gotta do and start from…getting my own clients,” she explains. She knew searching for a job could take a while; “…I have friends that I knew that were out of work for a year… I can’t imagine how much that sets you back, being away from the profession.” Alisha wasn’t willing to settle for uncertainty. Ultimately the risk of starting a practice outweighed the peril of lost time. Hence Athanasiou Law started in 2014.
“…I don’t take no for answer. So someone will tell you, ‘oh you can’t do it like that’, I’m like ‘yeah I can!’ I’ll find a way to do it. It may not be the way I thought I was going to do it, but I find a way.”
Established now, Alisha attributes much of her success to resourcefulness and perseverance. “I know how to find information in a cost-effective way. And…I don’t take no for answer. So someone will tell you, ‘oh you can’t do it like that’, I’m like ‘yeah I can!’ I’ll find a way to do it. It may not be the way I thought I was going to do it, but I find a way.” Even when it takes some extra digging, Alisha is determined to help her clients. Her tenacity drives her to keep working hard for her clients. “I’m willing to just do what my client needs,” she states.
However, being a sole practitioner is not an easy feat: Alisha does the grunt work, drafts documents, prepares material, manages clients and files, negotiates with opposing counsel, and, if it gets there, argues in court. All the while as a small business owner she also manages administrative tasks and day-to-day record keeping. Alisha has a student to help with filing and some administrative work, as well as a bookkeeper and accountant to keep her on track, but all the responsibilities are principally hers. It is also challenging to fight legal battles alone all day, so a support system is crucial. “It can be lonely and when you’re going through some of the hardships, it can be that much harder [when you’re on your own], ” she says. Alisha appreciates having a network that she can rely on for guidance, referrals for work, and reassurance at the end of a hard day.
Although working solo can be taxing, it also has advantages. Since she manages cases on her own from start to end, Alisha has an excellent understanding of the entire litigation process. As a result cases can move along faster too. “…Because I run my own shop I don’t have the overhead or the expenses that a big firm will have, so a lot of these things that you get charged for (…40 cents a page, every scan, every fax), I don’t generally charge my clients for those fees. The other thing too is, just because I’m on my own doesn’t mean that I am any less experienced or I don’t have the skills that a Bay Street lawyer has. …I’m out here on my own every day. I’m not protected by senior lawyers that go in and do the court work for me. I’m the one who has to do everything, and I know how to do it, (or I learn how), from the very mundane filing aspects to…high level, material preparation and court attendances. I’m not just sitting there researching, doing memos, I’m doing every single step so I know how things work, I know how they fit together, so I can see the big picture,” she explains.
Being a sole practitioner Alisha controls the scales of work and play in her life. She has the freedom to plan her schedule, which is integral to her well-being. “Work-life balance is important to me and that’s why I work for myself. Because when you work for a firm you sort of have to sell your soul to them, and you’re at their mercy…I always make time for myself, because if I’m not healthy, I can’t run a business, and there’s no one that’s going to stand in for me,” she declares. She balances work with yoga, playing soccer and reading. With an interest in philosophy and spirituality, Alisha enjoys books that make us self-reflect, such as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It has taught her that, “if you stick to what you know you want in your heart, then…everything else will fall into place,” she smiles. In fact, this balanced lifestyle of hers has inspired an altruistic business idea.
Away from the office, Alisha is passionate about holistic living. This past April, Alisha started a side project, Jam and Yoga. It is an initiative to promote healthy eating, active living, mental wellness and community building. A spirited yogi, Alisha has been practicing for 14 years. This new endeavour will allow her to share her experience as well as grow a community, while still maintaining her own equilibrium. Starting this summer, Jam and Yoga will host workshops on yoga, wellness and nutrition in various spaces across the city. Every month, the community members will decide on a local charity together and donate a portion of any proceeds from the workshops.
Through practicing law and yoga, Alisha has grown her passions in ways which fulfill her, professionally and personally. She has found a balance that works for her. While we strive to do the same, we cannot teeter on one definition of a balanced life. There is no perfect formula for how we should blend the colours in our agendas or how we should spend the precious 86, 400 seconds in our day. To some, finding balance may mean adhering to a rigid timetable, while for others it can be quite fluid. The proportions of work, rest, play may change from week to week, depending on where we are in life at the time. We make adjustments by listening to what our mind, body and soul need to help us flourish. When we measure balance with our own scale we can achieve equanimity, regardless of the hurdles life throws our way.