I recently had lunch with a colleague who often teaches a University class. While I have yet to teach an entire semester, I do enjoy speaking to classes as a guest speaker and I enjoy working with Law Practice Program Candidates and High School students in my role as OJEN-Halton Chair.
We both shared similar benefits we received from working with students and some may surprise you:
We’re at the top of our game when we teach classes – nothing makes you learn a subject more thoroughly than teaching it to others;
We leave a lecture energized by the curiosity and engagement of the students;
We make connections that ultimately are permanent connections – students come back as business contacts;
We are forced to be up to date on the latest IT applications in our field; and,
We see areas of law through new lenses.
The negatives of teaching: the marking, always the marking, just ask a High School teacher about that this time of year.
While the motto “those who can, do and those who cannot each” may apply to some people. Doing both teaching and doing at the same time can lead to many rewards on both sides of the lectern.
I’ve had the privilege of being a Mentor Lawyer to over twenty-four of the Law Society’s Law Practice Program (LPP) Candidates over the past three years. These are lawyers who have graduated law school and are choosing the LPP instead of Articling.
The last week of August will be the fourth year of the program and I’m looking forward to being a Mentor again. Before I learn the names of my Mentees (I actually call them Mentos because it is just more fun that way) and at that point, make it more personal, here is my “welcome letter” to my future Mentos.
Dear Future Mentos:
Congratulations on choosing the LPP! This program is amazing and will give you the opportunity to be a very well rounded, ethical and focused lawyer as you start out on your law career.
I’m excited to be your Mentor and play a role in your development as a lawyer. Let’s be clear here: while this will be amazing and rewarding, it won’t be easy.
If you have never been told you need to improve, odds are, I will be the first person telling you how you can improve. If you are used to having someone find “the good” in a completely terrible piece of work, it won’t be me. I’m not getting you ready for your next step in your education: I’m getting you ready to be a lawyer in the Province of Ontario.
I expect you to think about the audience you are writing for. I expect you to learn the Rules of Professional Conduct and discuss them thoughtfully. I expect you to consider the fact that you will soon be paid over $ 100.00 per hour to give advice: that advice had better be spell and grammar checked.
I also expect you to have a life. A real life. Not the one where “I read case law in Latin in my spare time”. No. We are going to dive deep into that “work/life balance” concept and we’re going to work together to ensure you have all the best tools available to you to have a great career.
I’ve been a lawyer for over 24 years and I still love it. I’m excited to meet you and work with you and lay the groundwork where you can also love what you do.
When I was in grade 8 and asked what I wanted to be when I grow up, I knew that it was to work in a law firm. I knew I didn’t want to become a lawyer, or be part of Reception (not that there is anything wrong with that!). I knew I didn’t want to go to Court, but wanted to be involved in files.
So why not become a Legal Assistant? At the time, I wouldn’t have known the difference, but when it came to college, it became apparent that I wanted to become a Law Clerk.
Law Clerks overlap with the Legal Assistant role, and that’s where I started. However, depending on the type of law firm, the more busy a Law Clerk gets, the more vital their role is and can no longer cross over to the Legal Assistant work.
What do I do you ask, well, in a nutshell, I take care of the nitty gritty so that lawyers can look at the big picture. For example, for a lawyer heading off to Court on a very important Motion, I make sure they have everything they need. I make sure the costs they are seeking are calculated and outlined in an organized fashion and that they have enough copies of their Orders to hand up to Judges. I also make sure that the Motion has been confirmed in time. Yes, ultimately it is on the lawyer’s shoulders to make sure this happens, but if they have to worry less about those types of things, the better they are at being a good lawyer for our clients. Law Clerks are also a great option for keeping costs down when it comes to drafting enforcement documents and reviewing file materials, which is also very important to a client.
On the corporate end of the spectrum, I make sure that annual corporate record keeping is being maintained and that the Minute Books are up to date. I make sure anything that needs to be reported to the Ministry of Government Relations is being reported. Again, this helps the lawyer focus on more complex corporate issues, and ensures that their time is being utilized how our clients need it to be.
The lawyer is always the point of contact for our clients, but it’s not just lawyers in a law firm, it’s all of us. We are a team, and we all have our vital roles. We couldn’t live without our receptionist or Legal Assistant, and I know that in our office, we couldn’t live without the Law Clerk.
This Blog is solely my opinion, something I’m always happy to share. While I am proud to be a Subject Matter Expert and Mentor Lawyer for the Ryerson Law Practice Program (LPP) these thoughts are my own and may not be shared by others in the LPP.
Wow. That was a very lawyerly start to this Blog, wasn’t it? Well good. It should be. This is a Blog that belongs to a Law Firm and it should reflect that fact. This is not a personal Blog, Facebook page or Twitter Account – when you start LPP/Articling, you start to separate personal from business and you need to adjust your thinking accordingly.
Law School is great for teaching you how to think like a lawyer, but it doesn’t teach you the business of law (the LPP is great for that, some Articles are, but most are not). These next months are going to be the most challenging of your career: you are going to transition out of student mind into lawyer mind. You are going to be pushed to produce work quickly and in a voice that is not always academic.
Remember those hours you put in at Law School, slaving away at papers for weeks and adjusting until they were perfect? For the most part, those days are gone. You’re going to be asked to write documents quickly and make sure that if it is intended for a client, it is written to their level. Avoid using big words, when a small one will do: big words don’t make you sound smart, they make you sound like you’re trying to be smart.
While Law School did have some long studying days, your LPP/Articling days will be longer. This is not school. This is the real world: work doesn’t stop at 5:00 p.m. when you’re a lawyer, get ready to be available for your clients and employers.
This is not to say that you will not enjoy LPP/Articling. You will. For most, this will be the first opportunity to interact with clients. You will meet other lawyers, Judges and members of the legal community who will encourage and inspire you. This will be the start of truly practicing Law and it will be fantastic. Or it won’t and that is o.k. too. The conventional practice of Law is not for everyone and the LPP/Articling process is a good way to decide if you want to use that Law Degree in the conventional sense or if you want to take it in a different direction.
Regardless of the end result, this will be a time in your career you will look back on as the most intense learning process you have gone through.
Use these last few weeks to rest up, socialize with your friends and enjoy not wearing suits. It’s about to get busy !
Inga B. Andriessen JD
P.S. Yes. I recognize the Blog title is the third in a row linked to musical references. (A/C D/C’s “For those about to Rock”) I’m hopeful that once summer is over the musical inspiration will wane a bit, but you never know.
I’ve been called to the Bar of Ontario since 1993 – that’s 21 years for those keeping score.
In order to become a lawyer I had to:
1. graduate from law school with an LLB;
2. attend a one month practical Bar Admission Course;
3. Article (intern) with a law firm for a year;
4. Attend a four month Bar Admission Course and write exams over the course of four months.
Times have changed and now students still have to complete step 1, but then it changes:
1. Students write two days of Bar Admission Exams either before or during their Articles;
2. Students Article for 10 months.
The problem that has arisen is there are not enough Articling positions for the number of students.
In response to this problem, the Law Practice Program (LPP) has been created. There are two models, one delivered during Law School and one delivered after Law School.
The program after Law School requires that after a law degree:
1. Students write two days of Bar Admission Exams;
2. Students attend a four month intense training program that will teach them the practical aspect of all areas of law.
The training will include practical instruction in Law Firm accounting software as well as dealing with the pressures of multi-deadlines and tasks. This will be done under the direct mentorship of one lawyer to four students, with the lawyer functioning in a role similar to an Articling Principal.
3. Students will work at law firms for four months.
The expectation is that by providing students who have practical training and can be useful in a firm, it will be easier to find placements, particularly as the placements are for a shorter period of time.
When I first heard of this program (without knowing the details, just that it existed) I thought that the best lawyers would be produced through the Articling Stream.
Now that I understand how standardized and practical the LPP program is, I believe that those lawyers will be better prepared to be real lawyers who are able to effectively serve clients once they are called to the Bar.
In order for this LPP program to work, the profession needs to embrace it and step up for four month job placements – it’s a great opportunity to have someone shadow and learn from you.
I’ve applied to be a Mentor and our firm is considering what opportunities we can provide a student – if you’re a lawyer in Ontario, this is worth looking at as it is likely the way of the future.