Building New Lawyers
Building a new legal practice model is one thing. Building new lawyers to match that model is another.
In June of this year I started my work at Aspire Legal Access Initiative. We didn’t have a name, a clear service model, an office, or even most of our team. While other articling students were settling into their office cubicles, writing memos, and researching for their principals, I was at a desk in my home office starting the incredible task of building an education plan for each new student coming through our doors.
You see, it’s not enough to just change the practice model. An essential part of building better law is building a new kind of lawyer; lawyers who can not only think outside of the billable hour and the adversarial court system, but who can also understand the sociological and psychological realities of clients, the process of building a business, the importance of project management and data mining, and the foundational rules that guide our profession. Better ways of doing law can only become a reality if we have lawyers who understand the needs not currently being met, and if we equip those lawyers with the tools to innovate and build practices to meet those unmet needs.
Our professional development program is based on the 5 competencies outlined in the CPLED articling education model: ethics and professionalism, practice management, client relationship management, conducting matters, and adjudication and ADR. This program can be used by both articling students and other family law professionals. Additionally, we used the law firm practice management assessment tool developed by the Prairie Law Societies to ensure our final professional development framework will provide valuable training that aligns with possible entity regulation measures. Within this framework, we seek to provide comprehensive training that includes everything from understanding different practice models, to substantive family law, to exploring the impacts of mental health on decision making.
In the first phase of development, I identified resources that are currently available, and compiled them into a database so they can be easily accessed. One of the key aims of our practice at Aspire is to effectively and efficiently use resources that are already available, so that our time and energy can be spent innovating instead of recreating.
After completing the database, I began turning those resources into easily digestible topical podcasts, accompanied by visual presentations and downloadable transcripts. Using the online education platform Thinkific, I built an online classroom. Participants can enrol in courses, then download the podcasts to listen to on their own schedules, whether on their commute into work, or while working from home. A “Key Points” document from each unit gives participants a quick reference guide when they encounter issues in their own practice. Using the platform, we can keep track of individual progress, set up polls, tests, and discussion forums, and deliver the content in written, visual, and audio formats so that everyone can learn in the way that works best for them.
Our long term goal is to offer these courses to other practitioners who want to enhance the legal education of their students or legal professionals. The online classroom ensures we are offering quality and comprehensive standardized legal education to students. This opens the door to allow practitioners - who otherwise wouldn’t have the time or resources to properly train an articling student - to hire one, knowing that the student will receive the training necessary to be a valuable part of their practice from the beginning. Our education plan will support firms in ensuring their adherence to any regulations that may be implemented as we move towards entity based regulation.
Most importantly, by providing a standardized and easily accessible education platform, we can be certain that every student coming through the incubator has a comprehensive understanding of legal, business, sociological, and psychological concepts, and is well prepared to continue doing quality innovative work when it comes time for them to move on into their own practices.
By building better lawyers, we are building better law.