Nominations for Canadian Law Blogs Awards

It is the time of year for the Canadian Law Blogs Awards, and this year will be the 10th annual awards. Firstly, thanks to all our readers for following us since we launched April 2015. It has been a fun ride so far and we have managed to meet some really interesting people doing innovative things in the legal market. Our goal with this blog is to highlight the great things Canada’s legal industry is up to. Please take a moment to nominate us for a “Clawbie” – you can read about the process here.

We want to spread the love and nominate a few of our favorite law blogs:

Best Practitioner Blog:

1) Erik Magraken who runs BC Personal Injury blog – this is a British Columbia specific blog but a great tool for anyone who practices personal injury, insurance defence or general civil litigation. Erik is always on top of the latest developments in case law.

2) Lisa Feldstein’s Blog: She runs a Family Health Law blog, an interesting niche area that is increasingly becoming a growing area of law, especially as technology surrounding reproductive health advances.

3) Michael Geist: He runs a tech law blog that is chock-full of interesting and timely posts.

 

 

Achieving gender parity in law – without quotas

 

Gender quotas in the corporate sector are something that many people are advocating for. Law is no exception – many lawyers are advocating for some form of policy to help ensure there is gender balance in the legal profession. But is it necessary to go the quota route when some firms are achieving gender parity without them?

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lisa Munro, a partner at Lerners LLP – a London, Ontario based litigation firm. Lerners has managed to achieve something that many firms dream of: gender parity. And they did it without implementing gender quotas.

Munro, who is a commercial litigator in the Toronto office of Lerners, explains that gender parity simply happened organically, over time. It was not necessarily a hard objective or a set goal. It happened as a result of making it a goal to attract good lawyers and keep them. Keeping good people is just a good business decision, stresses Munro.

Munro believes that firm culture is essential to ensuring that women lawyers stay practicing law (we know the attrition rate for women in private practice is high). Having women among the leadership in a firm is key. Munro points to a past female managing partner at Lerners who was a real trailblazer. She helped shape the overall culture of the firm, acting as a role model and mentor, and making it easier for women to succeed. Others partners at the firm have also made the advancement of women a priority, notes Munro.

Lerners is part of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Justicia Project, and has such things as flexible maternity and parental leave policies. But according to Munro, policies are not enough. “There needs to be demonstrated support for these initiatives from the top and ingrained in the culture”, says Munro.

To be clear, Lerners parity is at the associate level and not at the partner level. But it is still a huge achievement, especially given that almost half of the women lawyers at Lerners are partners. More firms can follow their example of how to achieve parity without resorting to quotas.

 

 

 

Freelance Lawyering – It’s a real thing

As lawyers, we are often told we can do many things with our law degrees beyond just practicing law. But what can we do with a law degree if we want to actually practice law? The list is perhaps a little more limited. Work with a firm in private practice or as a sole practitioner, or work in government, not-for-profit or in-house.

But wait, there’s another option: freelance lawyering. That’s right, freelance lawyering is a real thing and there are people doing it quite successfully.

I first became aware of this interesting niche-area when I was attending a women’s lawyer networking event several months ago. I met a lawyer there who introduced herself as a “freelance lawyer”, a term which was so new to me I had to ask what it was. That lawyer turned out to be Erin Cowling, a Toronto-based freelance lawyer who is also the co-founder of “Flex Legal Network” – a network of freelance lawyers who practice law independently.

Here is how it works. Let’s say a law firm gets a really big case and needs a few extra lawyers to assist with the legal work, but they don’t want to hire new associates to help with just one project. This firm would give Flex Legal Network a call and get set up with a lawyer with the appropriate expertise and background to help them on their big case. Other things Flex Legal Network can assist with include legal research, drafting, second-chairing a trial, document review, website content production such as blog posts and court appearances.

Flex Legal Network was founded by Erin Cowling and Ashleigh Frankel, both busy moms who, after years of practicing law in traditional firm environments, decided they wanted more choice, flexibility and balance.

They realized there are many lawyers out there who need an extra hand or two to help with large projects, and are looking for cost-effective and flexible solutions. Flex Legal Network involves lawyers from all different areas – criminal, family, corporate, etc. so they are able to meet a wide variety of needs. Because freelance lawyers do not have the overhead that law firms have, they are able to keep their rates reasonable and make themselves an attractive option for firms looking to outsource their overflow work.

Because I practice insurance law, of course I wanted to know how their insurance works. Cowling says that the lawyers in her network are all registered with the Law Society of Upper Canada as sole practitioners. Their professional relationship is with the lawyers they service, not the clients of those lawyers. However the same professional responsibility requirements exists for them as would any lawyer in a lawyer-client relationship.

Freelance lawyering is certainly innovative and interesting, but is it a good thing for the legal industry as a whole? Could it result in less associate lawyer positions for young lawyers because it is easier for firms to opt to outsource their work?

Cowling believes freelance lawyering is a positive, not a negative, to the legal professional by providing lawyers with alternative fee arrangements and meeting an industry demand.
Time will tell what the impact of freelance lawyering is on the legal industry as a whole. But it is a great that it exists as an option, especially for lawyers who want to utilize their skill set but are looking for more flexibility and work-life balance.

From career change to maternity leave – why career coaching makes sense

 

Lawyers are used to helping their clients solve their problems. It’s our job, and we take pride in it. In a busy law practice environment with a seemingly endless stream of emails, calls and last minute crisis moments, lawyers don’t often take the time to focus on themselves.

Sheena MacAskill is a lawyer who has carved out a career path for herself coaching lawyers. But wait, aren’t lawyers supposed to have it all figured out when it comes to their careers? We graduate law school, join firms as associates, work hard and then make partner, right?

As it turns out, it isn’t that easy, and legal careers these days can take many unexpected turns and can come in different shapes and sizes. This is where someone like Sheena comes in. A former big law lawyer, Sheena has coached many lawyers through major career events like a lay off or a career change, to major life events like becoming a parent.

I first met Sheena at an event hosted by Young Women in Law, where she shared some tips about how to ace a performance evaluation at work (tip, don’t be afraid to brag about your achievements and take credit!).  She made a really good point that I think everyone should print out and frame on their desk, “you are the only person who will take care of your career, don’t expect others to.”

When you let your career go on auto pilot, or wait for others to recognize you and give you promotions, you can easily end up stuck in a job you do not like. Sheena’s advice is to write a list of career goals for the year, and keep it somewhere front and center where you can check it as often as you check your email. Be accountable to yourself.

It isn’t just major career events that lawyers sometimes need guidance to get them through, it is also major life events too. Sheena offers maternity leave coaching for women, to help them set up their practices for leave and prepare for the new work life balancing act ahead.

As a new mother myself, I can see how a service like that could be very useful, especially if you are in a small firm or are a sole practitioner.

Regardless of the stage you are at in your career, career coaching can be very useful.

 

Law Society Initiative aims to retain women in law

 

If you take a look at the average law school class in any school in this country, you will notice at least half the students are women. This is a great improvement from decades past. However, when you take a look at your average private practice, you won’t typically see this kind of gender parity.

The attrition of women from the legal profession is an issue of great concern. This is especially the case in private practice, where the drop-off of women is the most significant. While women make up around 50% of law graduates, on average they make up only around 34% of lawyers in private practice.

Thankfully, this situation is not being ignored. In 2008 in Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada launched the Justicia Project, a project designed to examine and support the retention of women in law. It has been a success thus far, with 57 participating law firms and inspiring the creation of similar projects in other provinces.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Janet Minor, Treasurer of the LSUC, and Josée Bouchard, Director of Equity Initiatives of the LSUC about the beginnings of this project, what it has achieved thus far and where it is headed.

The Justicia Project (background can be found here) was launched to address the problem of women leaving the legal profession in numbers that were widely disproportionate to men. While lawyers leave law practice all the time for a variety of reasons, it was clear there was a cause behind the high numbers of women bowing out from law.

Initially, the Project commenced focus groups and consultations to explore and determine the reasons behind the attrition women from law. The studies found that responsibilities and pressures that come with balancing law and family were a big reason why women left law. While all working parents struggle to find balance, the demanding and time-intensive nature of law can make it especially challenging.

The Project wanted to address this cause through engaging law firms across Ontario and providing them with resources to help them retain and empower women. These resources include manuals, policies and guidebooks, which you can check out on the Law Society of Upper Canada’s website here.   The resources cover a variety of useful topics, like a Guide to assist lawyers and firms in developing flexible work arrangements and a Guide for helping forms prepare for the parental and maternal leave of lawyers.

As a new parent myself, I am particularly interested in the toolkit for new parents and information about how to set your practice up while you are on leave and what to do when you return. What to do with demanding clients and files while on maternity leave is a top question of mind for many lawyers planning to start a family.

One of the goals of the Project was to encourage firms to develop standard policies and practices surrounding maternity and parental leave, rather than the ad-hoc policies many firms adhere to. For example, many female lawyers simply negotiate their own personal maternity leave arrangement with their firm, so the practices become ad-hoc instead of standardized. With these resources, many firms now have the tools to integrate policies into their firms.

The Project also facilitates workshops, conducts research and hosts events focussed on equality issues designed to equip women with key professional skills to help them succeed. The next event will be on October 29thdetails can be found here.

It is a little too early to see what the overall impact the Justicia Project has had on the legal profession, but so far the numbers look promising. Since 2000, there has been a 10% increase in the number of women in law.

There is still plenty of work to be done to retain women in law, but progress is being made, no small thanks to projects like Justicia.

By: Kathryn Marshall

Organization Profile: Young Women In Law

 

YWIL

There are many organizations within the legal profession targeted to women, from networking groups to speaker series. These are great, but they tend to attract more senior lawyers and cover issues that are relevant to that age/experience demographic. Overall, there is a lack of groups specifically geared towards junior women lawyers who are in the first years of their practice – a time when they need support and guidance the most.

That’s what makes Young Women In Law (YWL) a standout group. They are a Toronto based organization that specifically focuses on women in the first stage of their legal careers.

I recently had the chance to speak with Erica Young, a Toronto commercial litigator and President of YWL.  As Young points out, there are many organizations devoted to women in law, but there is a lack of specific attention to young women in the first few years of their practice. YWL aims to fill that gap – members must either be under 40 or in the first 5 years of their career.

YWL was founded 10 years ago by 10 young women in law who saw there was a need to promote and support newly called female lawyers. They have 250-300 members and it costs 100 dollars annually to be a member. While the organization is based in Toronto – it is open to all Canadian lawyers and articled students.

While many ‘women in law’ organizations cover more broad topics like general work life balance issues, YWL hosts speaker events on more specific topics geared to their audience of novice lawyers. These topics include things like navigating career paths, from work assignments to negotiating salary and raises. An important topic that YWL recently addressed was maternity leave – every firm does it differently but there is a lack of public information out there for lawyers looking to find out more. In many cases, the terms of a maternity leave (length, top-up, etc.) is something a lawyer may have to negotiate – taking into account many different factors.

According to Young, the top challenges facing women in law include finding quality mentorship and the attrition of women in the legal profession. They won’t be solved over night, but these are two challenges that will hopefully become easier thanks to groups like YWIL.

By: Kathryn Marshall

Interview with head of CBA Legal Futures Initiative

 

By: Kathryn Marshall

The future of our profession is always a major topic of conversation within the legal industry. We live in an rapidly changing world, and the the legal industry must always be evolving to keep up.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Fred Headon, the Assistant General Counsel at Air Canada and past President of the CBA, who also happens to Chair the Canadian Bar Association’s Legal Futures Initiative. 

This initiative is an ongoing project that studies the future of the Canadian legal marketplace and how it is evolving – looking specifically at how lawyers can meet the needs of a changing legal landscape. “Technology won’t replace the real value of lawyers, but it can help” says Headon. Some major changes in the legal marketplace include the increasing number of Apps and other technological innovations that help the public gain access to justice.

“As a profession, we need to be where our clients are” says Headon, adding that there have been significant changes in the market for legal services, and there are opportunities for lawyers to play a larger role if they can understand that change.

The initiative has conducted extensive research and heard from a wide array of stakeholders – from the public to legal professionals. They have released numerous fascinating reports, which you can read here. 

Headon singles out some of the priorities of the initiative as technology and innovation, saying “lawyers are changing the way they do things”.

That is certainly true. Many firms are embracing technology and changing the way they do things – even though this sometimes means changing a system they have followed for 50 years,.

Others areas of focus for the initiative include education – there is currently a call out for proposals on how legal education can be transformed to equip lawyers with the skills for a changing legal landscape.

Time will tell what the future truly looks like for law, but fortunately the CBA Legal Futures initiative is there to help.

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!