Speaker's Corner: Chris Bentley’s LPP pitch to the profession

For more than a year, many lawyers have been helping shape the future of transition-year training through the development of the law practice program at Ryerson University. With the program set to start this month, lawyers have plenty of opportunity to participate in it.

The program is an innovative alternative to traditional articling established by the Law Society of Upper Canada. The four months of training begins on Aug. 25, 2014, with a four-month work placement to follow from January to April 2015. Candidates have the same status as articling students.  

There are two ways for lawyers to participate: providing advice about or assisting with the design, delivery, and constant improvement of the training program and offering a work placement for a candidate.

Why should lawyers participate? Lawyers are designing and delivering the program. We started with a strategic alliance with the Ontario Bar Association and have continued to engage and involve every organization and lawyer we can. The program will meet the law society’s requirements for entry to the profession with a modern approach to training aimed at better positioning the candidates for success as lawyers and preparing them to both adapt to change and take advantage of it.

How will it do that? The training involves an innovative, interactive online program with candidates developing their skills using simulated legal practice scenarios and real-world situations. Three separate weeks at Ryerson to conduct specific tasks and in-person advocacy will enhance the training. The skills are those outlined in the national entry to practise competency profile for lawyers and Quebec notaries and recognized by all of the law societies as being essential for success as a lawyer.

The program will organize candidates into virtual law firms of four people with each supported by a practising lawyer acting as a mentor. They will develop their skills by conducting tasks and carrying files as members of the firm. This is work, not school. There will be regular meetings and discussions with the mentor about the work and various practice issues.

Candidates will complete skills-based training using simulated practice scenarios in civil, business, family, administrative, real estate, criminal, and wills and estates law.
Candidates will take clients and files from the beginning to the end, including tasks such as participating in interviews, determining the approach, conducting legal and factual research, drafting documentation, conducting negotiations, structuring legal arguments, participating in trials and tribunal hearings, and reporting to and billing clients. They will manage their clients and time, set priorities, and meet deadlines.

The pace will be fast, the demands challenging, and the expectations high. All participants should expect the unexpected just as in practice. The flow of work will be what students would expect in the busiest of articling positions. The program will assess every piece of work whether it’s part of the formal grading or not. We want the candidates to improve their abilities during the training.

The ability to produce their best under the pressures of circumstance and time is essential for successful lawyers. Lawyers must be able to manage their time and the many demands on it. This training will help candidates build their ability to do what they are capable of in challenging and unexpected circumstances.

Candidates will experience the practice of law in different situations, including at small and large firms, specialized and general practice, clinics, government, corporate law departments, and non-governmental organizations. Few, if any, of the candidates will know where they will be using their legal training five years from now, a fact that will better prepare them to be successful in a variety of situations.

To complete their requirements, candidates need a four-month work placement from January to April 2015. We are looking for a work placement — hopefully a paid one — for every candidate. Not surprisingly, the most challenging time for a new program is at the beginning when there is no history of what it will actually do. This is when we need lawyers’ assistance to place the candidates. We have confidence in the program and the approach.

Candidates will have the same ability to work as an articling student but with a significant addition. When they start work, they will already have four months of practical training that will enable them to hit the ground running with virtually any employer. So why not take advantage of their recent training? This is also a relatively easy way for lawyers to see if an additional person would assist with their needs now or in the future.

Ryerson has a dedicated work placement office for the law practice program and a long history of supporting work placement training. We stand behind our candidates. Once the candidate is in a placement, we are still available to provide support.

This is a challenging time for many in the practice of law. Lawyers’ participation in strengthening the transition year between school and practice, in whatever way they can, will benefit both the public and the profession.

Former attorney general Chris Bentley is executive director of the law practice program at Ryerson.

For more, see "Law practice pilot shortened."

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