Training in the Business of the Law

Author: Stephane Bond

Two and a half years ago, I embarked upon the exciting adventure of starting up a new firm in Ottawa, McBride Bond Christian LPP. Though I had been in private practice for well over ten years at the time, I learned a lot about starting a new business ‘‘sur le terrain’’. None of my law school courses included training in business development, marketing or management. Luckily, I was fortunate to benefit from the guidance and advice of my colleagues throughout this process and we are proud to say that our firm has now blossomed into a mid-sized firm which provides quality legal services in French and English to clients across Eastern Ontario.

Shortly after launching, I was asked to develop and offer an intensive module on firm and practice management for the Programme de pratique du droit at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law. Faced with a shortage of articling positions and in response to changes in the legal profession, the Law Society of Upper Canada introduced significant changes to the lawyer licensing process in Ontario through the Pathways Pilots Project in 2013. The three (3) year project consists of three key components. Firstly, the Law Society has undertaken to “develop measures to better evaluate the effectiveness of its Articling Program”. Secondly, the Law Society has created a new, alternative path to the legal profession, called the Law Practice Program (“LPP”), comprised of a four (4) month practical training component and a four (4) month placement. The third component of the Pathways Pilot Project is “the evaluation of the Articling and Law Practice Program in order to gather evidence-based information on the application and results of the two pathways”. Ryerson University in Toronto was selected to create and offer the LPP in English, while the University of Ottawa was chosen to develop and deliver the French program, called the Programme de pratique du droit (“PPD”).

Though the PPD was a new program at the time, I was interested in the idea of teaching future lawyers about the practice of law and was excited about its potential. I was also quite optimistic about the PPD’s chances of success given that its co-directors, Lise Rivet and Anne Levesque, had consulted extensively with the Francophone legal community, including the Association of French speaking jurists of Ontario (AJEFO), and formed an advisory board consisting of senior lawyers, judges and professors to help recruit a team of lawyers develop a practical curriculum and provide candidates with hands-on legal training. Together, we worked to build a simulated full-service law firm, which we called Genest et avocats, in honor of the Law Society’s first and only Francophone Treasurer. In all seven core areas of law in which they worked, candidates are assigned a wide variety of tasks by a firm “partner” and given deadlines in a manner that replicate work in a real firm. During the four month training component, each “partner” oversees the work of candidates on fictitious files carefully crafted to expose them to the realities and demands of each practice area. My role as ‘’managing partner’’ of Genest et avocats is to oversee the candidates practice management skills. I review their dockets and invoices and makesure their files are well organised. I also discuss with them a lot of what I had learned through my own experience of opening up a firm.

Working as an ‘articling student’ in Genest and associates is rigorous and is a full-time commitment not to be taken lightly. One former PPD candidate described the PPD training component as like “being in law school exam period for four months”.[1] Like articling students, candidates are assigned a variety of tasks typical to each area of law, including drafting memos, responding to emails, preparing and presenting oral submissions, and conducting cross-examinations. Unlike the experience of certain articling students, the candidates receive written or oral feedback from participating lawyers in the community who are experts in their field on the over ninety (90) tasks they are assigned. These tasks were designed to reflect the National Entry to Practice Competency Profile for Lawyers and Quebec Notaries of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada. Every task is broken down by the five (5) to ten (10) competencies, for which candidates are assigned a numeric value based on their performance. This allows candidates to track their progress with respect to each group of competencies, including, for example, legal drafting, time management, ethics, professional obligations, file management, practice management, legal research and analysis, communication and client relationship. The central purpose is to help candidates become the best lawyers they can be. In keeping with this objective, candidates also take part in bi-weekly meetings with their firm mentors, who are also all well-respected francophone practicing lawyers. This gives candidates the space and time to reflect upon their experiential learning experiences and contemplate any ethical questions that may arise in their files. I am convinced that the depth and breadth of practical experience which we provide candidates matches or surpasses any articling experience.

To mark the end of the practical training component this year, the candidates were required to prepare and present business plans they developed, assessing the feasibility of opening a law firm in the municipalities of Timmins, Hawkesbury, and Sudbury. To do this, they worked in teams and were matched with local lawyers from each community. The candidates were required to scope out issues such as rental space, as well as assess the supply and demand of legal services in order to determine the viability of opening up a new firm in those municipalities. Overall, their business plans were well-researched, thoughtful, innovative and very impressive.

Watching the candidates in action left me convinced that recent changes in the profession also call for changes in the manner in which we train future lawyers. As highlighted in the Canadian Bar Association’s Futures Initiative, new lawyers entering the practice must be bold, innovative and have a strong sense of entrepreneurship.[2] While I did not have the benefit of receiving formal training relevant to the business of the law before I launched my own firm, I strongly believe that we can better prepare the next generation of lawyers to be competitive and innovative in today’s market. I am thrilled to be a part of an initiative that is doing exactly this already.

 

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[1] PPD orientation video, recorded August 14, 2015.

[2] For more information regarding the Futures Initiative, visit http://www.cba.org/CBA-Legal-FuturesInitiative/About/Legal-Futures-Initiative

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