The Law Society of Upper Canada has approved a major mentoring and career-coaching program.
The Law Practice Coach and Advisor Initiative, launched in 2013, received final approval during Convocation in the final days of January.
“It’s not intended that this is going to be a kind of box that we fill at the beginning and leave it in place; it’s going to develop organically from a very slow start and we’re going to kind of feel our way along as we go,” said Peter Wardle, chairman of the LSUC Mentoring and Advisory Services Proposal Task Force that led the initiative.
To kick-start the program, the society will establish a separate coach and advisor unit within its Professional Development and Competence department. A lead co-ordinator will be hired by April, according to the final report to Convocation.
Wardle said the initiative will cost $250,000 for 2016. He said it was not included in the 2016 budget cycle, so the funding required to get the program started this year will have to come from the budget’s $1-million contingency fund.
As part of getting the program established, the task force did a review of mentoring and advisory programs already available in the province, not just by the LSUC, said chairwoman Jacqueline Horvat. She said the review focused on fellow legal organizations to determine what gaps may exist or where there may be duplication.
“There is ?ample evidence to support the need and the desire for a ?more coherent professions-wide commitment to enhancing coaching and advising for lawyers and paralegals throughout the province,” Horvat said.
She said the law society’s role will not focus on being the sole provider of mentoring supports but to help facilitate a more “systemic province- and practice-areas-wide approach” in partnership with other legal organizations.
A list of volunteer advisors and coaches from the LSUC roster as well as from peer organizations will be created, and the LSUC will act as the facilitator in connecting lawyers and paralegals with those groups.
The primary focus in the first few years will be in assisting sole or small practitioners, racialized and young licensees, and those looking to create a succession plan, said Horvat.
Professionals in the areas of family, criminal, real estate, civil litigation, and wills and estates will also be the key focus at the start, although as Wardle pointed out, “This is not intended in any way to restrict us from being inclusive and being open to moving into new areas as needs arise.”
Wardle told Convocation that costs for the program are not finalized.
He said funding for the first year includes $200,000 to hire a staff member to lead and develop the support systems, training modules, and coaching content. An additional $50,000 will help cover training coaches, setting up the required technology, and covering advisor or coach expenses.
In the second year, it’s forecasted that the program will cost an estimated $490,000, to cover additional staff and increased programming. By 2018, it’s expected the program will cost $600,000, including costs for another administrator to be added.
Wardle explained costs will increase as the program develops, but those costs will be included in the regular budget cycle come the 2017 financial year.
“We may be back to you in the future with a request for more money, but this, at this point in time, is what we think is realistic to develop the project and start laying it out,” Wardle said.
Horvat said the program will work with mentoring programs already in place, like those provided by organizations such as the Advocates’ Society, the Ontario Bar Association, the Criminal Lawyers Association, and others.
Short-term advisor supports available to lawyers and paralegals through the program include access to professionals who can respond to immediate questions, such as file-specific questions or ethical dilemmas, Horvat said.
Longer-term coaching supports will focus more on mentoring and helping new lawyers learn best practices and access networking opportunities.
Any coaches or advisors who volunteer to take part will be eligible to claim a portion or up to their entire 12 required annual continuing professional development hours.
Bencher Gary Gottlieb said he fully supports the initiative, but he did caution he would be concerned that the voluntary aspect would become mandatory and asked the task force to ensure it remains voluntary in perpetuity.
“I trust that that will not happen in this case, because it would take a lot of meaning out of this program and this initiative,” Gottlieb said.
Wardle added one of the great strengths of the initiative will be the flexibility through technology, meaning the coaches or protégés can meet remotely rather than being forced to come to downtown Toronto.
He said the use of technology will allow for flexible meetings, such as having one coach for a group of younger lawyers on a specific issue via webcast. There will also be periodic reviews of how the initiative is working, Wardle said.
Ryan Campbell, a law society Early Career Roundtable member and associate with DLA Piper (Canada) LLP who was called to the bar in 2011, says the plan is an important one in providing access to coaching and advice for younger lawyers, especially those in more remote locations.
“I think some of the proposals are positive steps to improve the access to mentorship for younger lawyers,” he says.
“The implementation of this is going to be a continuing learning experience; it’s clear there will need to be further dialogue and constant reassessment as the program is implemented, to ensure it is meeting its desired objective.”
Heather Ross, who has served as a bencher since 1995, said the initiative is an “extraordinary achievement.”
“[This is] one of the most exciting, and to me, meaningful initiatives I’ve ever seen come through this room,” Ross said.
Christopher Bredt, a member of the task force and co-chair of the finance committee, said the program is more than worth the costs.
“I have always strongly supported prudent spending of our members’ fees and, to my mind, this is exactly the type of new program that deserves the prudent support and expenditure,” he said. “We also keep in mind that in order to keep our spending in hand, in future years we’re going to have to look for savings among some of our programs that are somewhat further at the core than this.”
This version of the article includes a correction to DLA Piper (Canada) LLP’s company name.