This course should be taught in law school

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by: Kathryn Marshall

There has been a lot of talk lately about ways to reform our legal education system in Canada. There has been a move towards more practical lawyering skills courses, such as negotiation and advocacy. While law school remains a largely academic, traditional education experience in Canada, the reality is that the legal profession is a practical vocation that requires many everyday skills. These skills include staff management, communication,  business development and finances.

Lawyers are many things, from advocates to problem solvers, but they are also business people and Business 101 should be a mandatory course for all law students. There are several law degree programs in Canada that offer a joint LLB/MBA stream, however this is not really suitable for people who plan to practice law exclusively.

Most lawyers, even junior lawyers, are typically responsible for managing staff as part of their legal practice. Lawyers who start their own firm or become partners in a firm have business management duties beyond practicing law.

A basic business course would benefit most lawyers in their law practice, and should be taught along with the black letter law courses in school.

What course do you think should be taught in law school?

 

So you didn’t get an articling job – now what?

 

By: Kathryn Marshall

Failing to land an articling gig is a stressful scenario for any law school graduate. But with the dwindling supply of articling gigs and the increase in law grads, it is not a totally uncommon scenario.

So what do you do if you find yourself graduating law school with no articling job lined up?

  • Don’t panic. You will eventually get an articling job, it just may take some more effort and time. Stay calm, carry on and work on your CV.
  • Be creative. Big law firms are not the only employers hiring articling students. Seek out opportunities with the municipal/provincial/federal government, in-house gigs at companies, smaller firms, regulatory authorities, and not-for-profit organizations. Also look outside of urban centers – in smaller communities and rural areas.
  • Create your own opportunity. Just because a prospective employer is not actively seeking an articling student does not mean that they won’t hire one. Don’t be afraid to approach employers and sell them on the idea of hiring a student. There are lots of benefits to hiring a student, however employers don’t always realize this. Make a list of places you would like to work at and start calling them with your elevator pitch.
  • Work your network . It is one of your most valuable resources. Go through your Facebook friends list, gmail contacts and phone and figure out who in your network could be helpful in connecting you with an opportunity. Schedule some lunches and coffees and let people know you are on the hunt for a job. Your network will always surprise you.
  • Volunteer. While you are looking for an articling job, volunteer your time with an organization. Contribute to your community, build some new skills and keep engaged and productive.

Good luck!

Do you have an idea to innovate how lawyers are trained?

 

By: Kathryn Marshall

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of touring Ryerson’s new Legal Innovation Zone and it was great to see people working hard thinking up ideas to innovate the legal sector. In a similar trend towards fostering ideas and innovation, the Canadian Bar Association wants to hear your ideas about how we can better train lawyers, both at the law school level and in their lifelong careers, to meet the needs of a changing legal landscape.

The CBA Legal Futures Initiative is calling for submissions for their workshop happening in winter 2016 that will explore innovation in legal education. The 500 word submissions must be sent in by July 31, 2015. If your submission is selected, you may be able to present your idea to a team of key stakeholders at the 2016 workshop – which will help form the blueprint for legal education innovation in Canada.

So do you have an idea? Then submit it!

What I wish I knew in Law School

 

This was originally published by Canadian Lawyer Magazine

By: Kathryn Marshall

As law students, we’ve all been given endless advice on how to ace exams, excel in moots, and land a job.
Many of these tips are geared towards how to do well in law school. What about things students should do while in school to better prepare themselves for their first few years in practice?

As a recent graduate, here are some simple, practical tips I wish I had known when I started law school:

Legal research is the most important class you will take.

Most professors probably tell you their class is the most important one, but in the case of legal research, it’s actually true. As an articling student and junior associate, you will spend a lot of your time researching and writing memos. Often you’ll have tight deadlines and have to research areas of the law that are completely new to you. Knowing where and how to find things quickly will be crucial. Legal research may not be as glamorous or interesting as your criminal and international law courses, but it will be something you use daily. So pay close attention and try as best you can to make it fun.

Don’t sell your textbooks or throw out your class notes.

If you do, you will regret it the first day you start your articling and need to look up that case or legal principle you vaguely recall covering in first-year torts or contracts. Hold on to your helpfully highlighted and tabbed textbooks and class notes — they will be great tools for quick and easy reference. Not all law firms have their own library, and if they do, they may not have the most recent editions of law textbooks you probably had to buy in school. It’s tempting to sell your books when you’re a cash-strapped student, but sell something else instead and hold on to your mini law library.

Your network is just as important as your marks.

It may be hard to believe, but it’s true. In law school the emphasis is all on marks, but making contacts and utilizing them to seek out job opportunities is just as important. Unlike marks, your personal network is unique to you. No one else out there has the exact same network you do, but plenty of people have As and Bs. You may not know it right now, but your next job offer could come from someone you already know. So spend time staying in touch with and growing your network. It will pay off one day.

Take essay courses.

We all seem to avoid essay courses in law school because they can be very time-consuming when you are juggling so many courses at once. Plus, most of us with undergraduate degrees in arts feel we have probably written enough papers to last a lifetime. However, writing law papers is a different skill set from writing history or political science papers. Writing law papers is great practice for all those lengthy legal memos and opinions you will be writing as an articling student and young lawyer. There’s no need to sign up for all paper courses, but taking more than the mandatory minimum is a good idea.

The life of an articling student and the practice of law are very different from law school. All of what you learn in your three years as a law student will help — but keeping these easy tips in mind can help you get ahead and land as an articling student on both feet.

Should Canada Introduce 2 Year Law Degrees?

 

This column was originally published in Canadian Lawyer.

By: Kathryn Marshall

To get ahead in a crowded field you need to stand out. That’s true for businesses, athletes, brands, and even law schools.
Over the past few years, the number of law faculties in Canada has expanded, with Trinity Western University being the latest to announce its plans to open a law school. While there is ongoing debate over the need for new schools amid reports of students struggling to find articling placements, the demand for law studies remains strong.

Instead of opening more traditional three-year programs, what Canada should do is introduce an accelerated law degree program.

A shorter two-year program would appeal to a market of future lawyers different from the norm. Older students in their late 20s, 30s, and even 40s looking for a change in career but hesitant about going back to the classroom for three years, plus a year of articling, would likely be attracted to a fast-track program.

The difference between a two- and three-year program may not be a big deal when you’re fresh out of undergrad, but when you’re older and may already have a family, mortgage, and career, time is more valuable and the decision to take a step back from those crucial earning years to further your education is much harder.

As you age, the opportunity cost of education increases — the difference between a two- or three-year program could be a deal breaker for some people.

Other professional programs have already gone the route of modifying their schedules to shave off time. Many business schools now offer one-year MBA programs geared to mid-career professionals, and some medical schools offer a fast-track MD program.

Canadian law schools have been making changes to their programs, but many are making them longer, not shorter. While new combined degree programs are very attractive, they lengthen instead of shorten time in the classroom.

While this is great news for students who want to get an MBA or master’s degree while in law school, what about students who are only interested in an LLB/JD, and want to earn it as quickly as they can?

Unlike some other professional degrees, law school is very much defined by the “full university experience.” Any graduate can tell you law school isn’t just about learning how to be a lawyer. The campus life, moots, clubs, study-abroad programs, guest speakers, and rugby are a big part of it. The law schools know it, too — just look at any law school’s promotional material.

In many law schools, there’s as much emphasis on studying the law as a discipline as there is on learning practical lawyering skills. The traditional three-year degree program gives students time to pursue elective courses like legal philosophy and comparative law, and get the most out of the extracurricular student life.

These activities certainly enrich a legal education, however not all students —especially older students — are looking to have a full university experience when they go to law school.

Some students simply want to get their law degree and begin work as soon as possible. Since many students do not summer at firms, a two-year program could be run by slotting in an extra term during each summer. It’s a market need that has not been filled in Canada.

Several U.S. law schools have already begun to offer two-year accelerated law programs. Northwestern Law in Chicago, considered a top-tier school, has a fast-track JD program that offers courses geared more towards the work environment, like accounting and leadership, and requires at least two years’ professional work experience before admission.

A shortened JD program wouldn’t just be for the benefit of students, it would benefit the legal field as well by attracting a market of potential lawyers who already have some work experience in management and leadership, which they can contribute to the field early on.

An accelerated program would also recruit students who have probably taken more time to really consider whether law is the right career path for them, which could reduce attrition and dropout rates.

There’s lots of talk these days about how law schools can evolve to meet the needs of a changing economy and legal market. How about changing to meet the needs of a new generation of workers who are more likely to change careers instead of sticking with the first thing they did right out of school?

With these new law schools opening up in Canada, introducing a two-year degree program could be a great way to differentiate from the pack and offer a unique legal education experience.