Newly launched legal innovation zone is ‘Lawsome’

 

By: Kathryn Marshall

When it comes to technology, the legal profession is not known for being an early adapter. Indeed, law firms are likely the reason that fax machine companies are still in business.

This is slowly changing. More and more, the legal industry is embracing technology and looking at ways to make legal services more accessible in our tech savvy world. Some of this innovation is happening right here in Toronto.

I had the opportunity to check out the newly launched Legal Innovation Zone (LIZ) at Ryerson University. They’ve dubbed themselves “Canada’s First Legal Incubator”, and they are doing some pretty awesome (dare I say Lawsome) stuff.

I sat down with LIZ Director Hersh Perlis, who explained the purpose behind the incubator was to help design and develop a 21st century justice system by fostering innovation. LIZ is partnering with companies and individuals who are working on their own legal innovation projects. LIZ is also partnering with law firms to help them innovate internally.

Unlike some incubators, LIZ does not provide funds. Rather, their goal is to create a “culture of innovation”, as Hersh puts it.  LIZ provides an energetic, open concept workspace and mentorship in exchange for participants bringing their ideas and innovation to the table.

LIZ workspace
LIZ workspace

Hersh made a point of emphasizing that LIZ is not a think tank. Their goal isn’t to generate reports or research, it is to come up with “solutions that can be implemented right away”, says Hersh.

So far there are 7 teams working with LIZ, and I had a chance to speak with some of them while I was touring the center. The teams were all working on ideas that will make our legal system easier for the public to navigate – from finding a lawyer to figuring out the court system. That was refreshing to see, since a lot of legal tech innovation these days is geared towards making it easier for lawyers and firms to do their jobs.

LIZ currently has 16 work stations, however they are hoping to grow their space and are accepting applications for participants on a rolling basis. So far, the response to LIZ from the legal industry has been very friendly, says Hersh. They had a packed room for their April launch and have seen a steady stream of applications.

So – do you have an idea to help develop a justice system fit for the tech age? Consider applying to LIZ. You never know, your idea may be the next big thing in law since the fax machine!

Top Ontario law twitter accounts – part 1

 

by: Kathryn Marshall

These days, you don’t just need to rely on legal publications to get your law news. There are plenty of informal sources too, like social media. Lawsome has compiled this handy list of the top Ontario law twitter accounts to follow to get the latest law news at your fingertips:

  1. Law Times: @LawTimes (Ontario legal news online publication)
  2. Obiter Dicta: @obiterdictaoz (Osgoode Hall student newspaper)
  3. Precedent Magazine: @PrecedentMag (Toronto lifestyle magazine for lawyers)
  4. Ultra Vires: @UltraVires (Student newspaper for @UTLaw)
  5. Ontario Bar Association: @OBAToday
  6. Toronto Lawyers Association: @TLAVoice
  7. Law Society Upper Canada: @LawsocietyLSUC
  8. Brenda Hollingsworth: @OttawaLawyers (Ottawa personal injury lawyer)
  9. Mr. Toronto Lawyer: @selwynpieters (Human rights and civil litigator)
  10. Chantal Desloges: @Twimmigration (Toronto Immigration Lawyer)
  11. Omar HaRedeye: @OmarHaRedeye (Toronto Lawyer and legal academic)
  12. Daniel Brown: @DanielBrownLaw (Toronto Criminal Defense Lawyer)
  13. Sean Robichaud: @SeanRobichaud (Toronto criminal defense lawyer)
  14. Anjli Patel: @bluechipfashion (Toronto Fashion Lawyer)
  15. Melissa Kluger: @MelissaKluger (Lawyer and publisher of Precedent Magazine and Precedent A-List)
  16. Jeff Gray: @jeffreybgray (Law Reporter, Globe and Mail)
  17. Lisa Feldstein: @lisaFeldstein (Ontario health Lawyer with focus on family health law)
  18. Garry J. Wise: @wiselaw (Toronto lawyer-  employment and family law)
  19. Andrew Mercer: @AndrewLMercer (Toronto insurance lawyer and author)
  20. Yours truly, Kathryn Marshall: KVMarshall (Lawyer and Columnist – creator of Lawsome.ca)

How to write a great lawyer bio

By: Kathryn Marshall

Chances are when you start working at a new firm, the first thing you will be asked to do is write your bio.

As a lawyer, your bio is really important. When you Google most lawyers by name, their bio is often the first thing that comes up.

Other lawyers, and most importantly, potential clients will scope out your bio to try and get a sense of who you are, what you do, and how effective and experienced you are.

Many lawyers write their bio’s in a CV format, with their education, credentials and awards at the top, and their experience and hobbies/interests/personal stuff at the bottom. Bio’s often read like a list of education, credentials and achievements. What lawyers should be doing in their bios is telling the story of who they are. It should read as a narrative, not a list, and the stuff lawyers normally put at the bottom of their CV should appear at top of their bios.

Simply put, a great lawyer bio reads like a story in a newspaper, not like a boring CV.

Here are some tips to write a standout bio:

  • Cut the legalese. Write your bio for people who don’t have law degrees. Keep it clear, accessible and straightforward.
  • The first paragraph of the bio is the most important paragraph. You should explain who you are (ex. civil defense lawyer), why you became a lawyer (ex. Because you believe in the pursuit of justice and To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book) and what you are passionate about (ex. Advocacy and long boarding). You want people to keep reading on, so make it interesting and give readers a glimpse of who you are as a person.
  • The second paragraph of your bio should highlight your experience, because experience is very important in this line of work. This can include your years of practice and notable career highlights and accomplishments.
  • The third paragraph of your bio should go over your credentials, where you went to law school, when you were called to the bar and any professional certifications you have achieved.
  • The longer the better. Many lawyers have the tendency to keep their bios on the short side. But when someone is looking for a lawyer and is prepared to spend a lot of money, they want to know as much as they can about the person they are interested in hiring. That being said, you don’t want a 2,000 word bio.
  • Include a recent good quality photograph. A strong, relatable biography needs a good photo to go with it, so invest in a professional photographer to take a good snap of you.
  • Contact information. This is critical, it should be clear, bold and easy to find. Put it at the top of your bio.

 

 

Is it time to bring in Bencher election campaign spending limits?


By: Kathryn Marshall

The Law Society of Upper Canada Bencher election is over. Thankfully this means no more campaign pitches appearing in our facebook feeds and in our email inboxes. Now that the dust has settled, people are starting to question the money that goes into running a bencher campaign. In an article published in the Law Times, a current bencher Jeffrey Lem says that he would not be surprised if some candidates spent close to $75,000 out of pocket on their campaigns.

While many candidates likely only spend a few thousand dollars on their campaigns, it is surprising to think that some are spending almost as much if not more money then provincial or federal election candidates.

There are currently no spending limits for bencher candidate campaigns. Candidates can spend big money on everything from pricey email lists and flashy campaign websites to targeted facebook ads. It can all add up quick. The concern is that the lack of spending cap is making it harder for young lawyers without the big bucks to run a winning campaign.

How much is too much to spend on a bencher campaign? Where do we draw the line?

Maybe it is time to bring in a reasonable spending limit to level the playing field and make it easier for young lawyers to get elected.

Ultimately, merit and qualifications should win the day – not campaign spending.

Lawyers defeat controversial new articling motion

At the Law Society of Upper Canada AGM on May 13, 2015, lawyers voted against a controversial motion that would have forced law firms of 8 lawyers or more to hire an articling student(s). Further, the motion would have required law students to be randomly assigned to firms. The failure of the motion comes as welcome news to many lawyers who expressed their concerns about a system that would remove free choice from the articling hiring process.

Law Society motion wants firms to be forced to accept articling students

This column originally appeared in the Law Times.

By: Kathryn Marshall

How to fix the articling problem is the ubiquitous topic of discussion among lawyers. From the LSUC’s controversial new “two-tier” articling program, to calls from many lawyers to scrap articling all together, the debate has become extra heated in recent years.

A group of 15 Ontario lawyers are about to shake the debate up even more with an extreme proposal that, if put into practice, would have disastrous outcomes. On May 13 they will be tabling a motion at the LSUC’s AGM that proposes making it mandatory for law firms of 8 lawyers or more to hire an articling student who will be randomly selected and assigned to that firm.

The rationale is that it will make things fairer for everyone and cut back on the rivalry and anxiety felt amongst law students as they compete for coveted articling spots.

This is, by far, the most flawed solution that has been proposed in the great articling debate.

Firstly, it kills competition, and that’s a bad thing. A healthy dose of competition motivates people to work harder and be better. It goes without saying that law school is a competitive environment. It is the natural outcome of putting hundreds of ambitions, bright students together for three intense years. From grades to moots and even law rugby, students are pitted against one another from day one and strive to come out on top. It should come as no surprise that law students are competitive when it comes to job opportunities too. Just like there are only so many A’s to go around, there are only so many jobs available too. So students need to ensure they are doing the right things both inside and outside of the classroom to give themselves a competitive edge.

Secondly, it wrongly assumes every student is entitled to a job. Getting a university degree does not mean you deserve to have a job waiting for you at your doorstep the moment you graduate. A degree from a good school certainly gives you an advantage, but you still need to go out and hustle to land a great gig. Law grads, like all other job seekers, need to make their own opportunities. When I was searching for articles, I ended up getting hired by a firm that hadn’t hired a student in 9 years. I was able to convince them that taking on a student was a great move, and that I was the right person for the job. Students shouldn’t expect a job to land in their laps, they should get out there and network, hit the pavement and even cold call if necessary.

Thirdly and most importantly, it strips both the students and the law firms of their free choice. Many articling jobs lead to permanent law positions. One of the most important factors in hiring a new inexperienced lawyer is whether that person is a good fit for the firm. Personality plays a big part in this. If students are being randomly paired with law firms, neither the firm nor the student has any say in the hiring process. Students cannot seek employment at firms they gel with, and firms cannot hire students they feel would fit in well with their firm culture. This is a recipe for unhappiness in the workplace. This could have a very detrimental impact on the legal profession as a whole, which already struggles with an attrition problem.

Hopefully this motion will be scrutinized and swiftly voted down. While there is no doubt a problem with the articling system in Ontario, going to the extreme and forcing students on firms and vice versa in a random lottery system is not the answer.

Kathryn Marshall is a lawyer and columnist. She tweets about all things related to the law in Toronto at@TOLawsome.

In 140 characters – LSUC Bencher candidates on why you should elect them

By: Kathryn Marshall

We asked and they answered! Bencher candidates say why they would make a good bencher in 140 characters or less:

Tanya Carlton @TanyaLCarlton New call, solicitor, previous professional experience, aware & understand A2J and Diversity issues and want to bring about change

Mitch Kowalski ‏@MEKowalski  Passion, vision, leadership, wide and varied perspective, good governance, good decision-making

Steven Benmor ‏@SteveBenmor I don’t need 140 characters; only 30: I really care about the legal profession. That’s it.

David Howell ‏@dwhowell1 Experienced, thoughtful, practical Hamilton solicitor and immed past Pres @HLAlibrary

Sandra Nishikawa ‏@nishikawasandra @TOLawsome Fresh ideas AND experience getting things done collaboratively esp. re #diversity & #a2j

Tannis Waugh ‏@tanniswaugh I’m collaborative and bring a vastly under-represented voice to the table.And…I can teach the other benchers how to bench press

Bob Tarantino ‏@bobtarantino I believe in enhancing accountability – of LSUC to its members and of the profession to public it serves. http://www.bob4bencher.ca 

Doug Downey ‏@douglasdowney Experienced, straight-forward and concise: http://www.dougdowney.ca 

Isfahan ‏@Isfahan_Merali  I have shown my commitment to equity, inclusion and access to justice in all my professional career + service to profession.

Rebecca Durcan ‏@Durcanrebecca Experience (work solely with regulators) Fresh eyes (2002 call) Commitment 2 helping public by helping profn (Esp small firms)