Janet Bomza sits in her plush corner office in a swank midtown Toronto tower, where an antiquated printer seems out of place next to her state-of-the-art flat-screen computer monitor — like a station wagon parked beside a Porsche.
The Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 5P printer cost her some $3,000 when she struck out on her own in the immigration law world, she says, and it was the first major purchase she made for her office at the time — a windowless storage room in her dad’s law office.
Bomza, 42, now the founder and senior partner at immigration firm Bomza Law Group, has kept the printer not only because it still works just fine but as a reminder of her modest beginnings.
“It’s an important reminder of, here I am now in what I think of as a beautiful office, but that’s where I began,” says Bomza.
She says it was clear from an early age that she’d be a lawyer, and an especially enterprising one at that. Her dad — Toronto lawyer Gary Bomza — ignited a spark by telling stories of his own practice, while an innate entrepreneurial spirit (which saw her selling brooches on consignment at age 10) led her to where she is now.
So it’s no surprise that, after taking a year off after undergraduate studies at the University of Western Ontario to travel throughout Europe, Bomza landed at Osgoode Hall Law School.
At the time she was unsure how her passion for the law would mix with her entrepreneurial spirit. But that question was answered, she says, through a corporate commercial law course. She also took an international human rights law course “on a whim,” which brought about her interest in immigration law.
By the time she graduated, Bomza had developed a deep passion for the law, but still juggled the idea of getting an MBA after graduation. During her articles with major Toronto immigration firm Green & Spiegel, however, she found her niche in law.
She recalls immediately being put in charge of dozens of files at the firm, a challenge she embraced and which gave her the confidence to dive into her profession.
“I’ve always been very, very driven and always embraced challenges,” she says. “There I was with all of these cases, and I just knew I had to do whatever I could to get up to steam as quickly as possible and to do the best job I could, even though I really didn’t have that much experience.”
She was hired on to the firm as a junior for Mendel Green, which gave her the opportunity to travel and perform public speeches. She says that experience gave her a deep appreciation for life in Canada.
Working for Green — whom she describes as “a great person” — also taught her some important life and business lessons. Green instilled in her a passion for reading exhaustively on her specialty, and an understanding of the importance of making all of her clients feel like they’re her number 1 priority.
“I don’t think that’s so common. A lot of lawyers have such a high volume of work, that it’s not always easy to develop those relationships or to establish that relationship with clients, but I really think that’s important,” she says.
With those lessons under her belt after two years with Green, in 1995 Bomza took a risk and indulged her entrepreneurial spirit. That involved leaving an “ideal position at a wonderful firm.”
“I had a wonderful office, I had a fabulous secretary, and I was leaving this ideal circumstance to go and jump into this unknown realm where I didn’t know how I was going to fare. But again, having had in many cases throughout my life this sink-or-swim scenario, I figured, well, if you don’t try you’ll never know.
Her father was gracious enough to donate office space for her — the storage room mentioned earlier.
“It made me even more motivated to succeed,” she says of the modest start for her practice.
Thirteen years later, it’s safe to say that the risk has paid off. Bomza Law Group, specializing in corporate immigration, now consists of six lawyers (currently all women), 10 paralegals, and support staff.
“I was able to combine my three interests: corporate-commercial law, labour, and exposure to international law. And here I am today specializing in Canadian, US, and global immigration law.” Bomza says what gives her the most satisfaction, however, is the fact that she’s been able to flourish in a male-dominated industry. She says it shows that there is room for women in the profession to be entrepreneurial.
“My most important accomplishment was my ability to develop and establish this firm as a woman in an industry which is very much male dominated,” says Bomza. “It’s really driven home the point to me that, although it is predominantly a male-dominated industry, that there is so much room for women in the law, and women who are interested in being entrepreneurial and striving out on their own.”
Over the years, Bomza has encouraged like-minded colleagues to break out on their own too. But she says it’s essential for any women interested in doing so to establish a strong reputation.
She’s done so by becoming a certified specialist in citizenship and immigration law, and staying active in the Canadian Bar Association. (She’s past chairwoman of Ontario’s immigration and citizenship section and an executive member of the province’s corporate counsel section.) She’s also vice chairwoman of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Canada chapter.
Bomza says staying active in such organizations is a great way for lawyers to gain stature and develop confidence in their specialty.
She also thinks its essential to have a mentor. Hers was Toronto lawyer Robin Seligman, one of the first women, says Bomza, to excel in Canadian immigration law. She says Seligman told her it’s vital for women hoping to excel in the law to have the highest skill set possible to best arm themselves in the maledominated profession.
Bomza, mom of three-year-old twins says it was not her intention to create an all-women firm, and male lawyers have worked at the firm in the past. But she says in recent years all the best candidates for jobs have been women, and it’s all about finding the right people who fit the firm’s identity.
She says it’s “fabulous” to work with all women, and that it’s become a very supportive and non-competitive environment.
The bottom line is that the firm is thriving. It has outgrown its current office space, and the morning Bomza speaks with Law Times she was in touch with the building’s management to expand her space. She wants to make new hires, but needs somewhere to put them.
The firm has established a network of partnerships with immigration professionals across the globe, says Bomza, and the next step is to expand across Canada.
“It all keeps life in general, as well as the practise of law, interesting,” she says. “To have goals, and to bring those goals to fruition . . . It’s all about enjoying the process. To me, the process of growing the firm and seeing it take on a life separate from myself, is a very exciting prospect and experience.”
This is the third in our Women in Law series that will be running in Law Times this summer, featuring profiles of female lawyers from around the province.
For further information with respect to US and Canadian immigration or to find out if you or a company employee is eligible for temporary or permanent relocation to Canada or the US, we invite you to contact our experienced immigration lawyers and attorneys by contacting the Bomza Law Group at:
1-800-993-9971 or by clicking here: “Contact Us”.