With many young lawyers working to find their way in their careers and Convocation skewing toward more experienced members of the profession, the Law Society of Upper Canada has kicked off a series of meetings aimed at bridging the gap.
On Oct. 26, the inaugural law society early-career roundtable meetings kicked off at Osgoode Hall with about 20 lawyers and paralegals in their first 10 years of practice getting guidance on the future of the profession. The participants represent organizations such as the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, Law Students’ Society of Ontario, and the Ontario Bar Association.
“All of them are facing issues in a particular way that many of us who preceded them have not had to face,” says law society Treasurer Janet Minor.
“It’s very important to me and to Convocation to hear those voices.”
The early-career roundtables are one of a series of priorities Minor has set for her second term in the post. They include a broad cross-section of newer lawyers and paralegals to engage them in discussions about how to improve the professional landscape by identifying some of the main issues and challenges they face in entering the field.
The first meeting was more to set the stage for future dialogue, says Minor, noting mentoring was one of the key issues that arose.
“That’s an issue that has been advanced by both newly called lawyers and newly minted paralegals. Both emphasize there have been decreasing opportunities for mentorship over the years and we are aware of that,” says Minor.
Lawyer Erin Durant of the Ottawa offices of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP was one of the participants. Now four years into her career, she says the opportunity to provide a voice for the future of her profession is one she relishes. She says mentorship is certainly a major issue for many of her peers but she notes the problem cuts both ways. Some organizations, she says, have plenty of people willing to volunteer as mentors but little demand. Other organizations have high demand for mentorship but few volunteers to fill the role.
“It’s something that has been discussed widely among smaller groups, so another benefit of this roundtable is it’s going to be an interesting forum for young lawyers from various interest groups to discuss these issues that impact all of us in a larger forum,” says Durant.
According to Durant, one of the biggest differences for young practitioners and their predecessors is in the cost of education and the fact many law school graduates are facing very high debts.
“I’ve spoken with people who said their whole education was less than a couple thousand dollars,” she says. “Now, you have people graduating with debt loads of over $100,000 and it really limits the job choices they are able to undertake. So you’re losing people who may be able to help the profession in access to justice or pro bono type work just because of the financial crunch of just having to get by. I think that’s a view that’s missing from Convocation.”
Some of the other issues raised in the initial meeting include the ever-changing use of technology and the increasing diversity of new lawyers that younger members of the profession will have a unique take on, says Minor.
“Some of the new calls are in a particularly good place to address those and assist us with that. One of them said we need an app and that’s not something I would personally think of, but I thought, ‘Geez, that’s a good idea.’ And that’s just one small example, but it’s that type of advice we need.”
Durant says she hopes the roundtable will be a permanent fixture and a resource for Convocation and the law society when it comes to considering new policies and programs.
“At Convocation, it tends to be lawyers who are more experienced and it can be difficult for young lawyers to be elected due to the time and expense or the process and also just not having the large network yet. I hope it’s utilized as a group the law society will consult on various issues, especially ones where young lawyers will have a unique perspective. Even though we’re not very experienced in the law, we have a lot to bring to the society.”
Martha McCarthy, president of The Advocates’ Society, calls the roundtables invaluable in bringing young lawyers’ voices to policy and issue management. “One of the reasons this is really a fantastic initiative by the treasurer is because we do need to spend more time talking about the fact that so many women lawyers continue to drop out of the practice of law. The statistics are alarming,” says McCarthy. “We have to be doing something wrong if this is happening.”