sponsored content: The big problem with articling

Few lawyers are as trailblazing as Sheila Block. When she went to law school, in 1969, she was one of only eight women in her class. After graduation, she became the first female litigation associate at Torys LLP. Since then, her work on major lawsuits — the Nortel bankruptcy, for instance — has made her one of the most sought-out trial lawyers. And recently, she added another trendsetting job to her resumé: advisor and instructor at the Law Practice Program (LPP), the new path to licensing offered at Ryerson University.

The eight-month program has three parts: online training (in which candidates run a virtual law firm), a work placement and three weeks of on-campus instruction. During each on-campus week, one day is set aside for a trial-advocacy workshop, led by Block and her husband, Jim Seckinger, a law professor in the United States. The training is practical. To learn the art of witness examinations, candidates practise asking each other clear questions, free of mumbling or jargon. Here, Block explains why such training is so vital.


Sheila Block, a partner at Torys LLP, trains candidates of the Law Practice Program at Ryerson University in the fundamentals of trial advocacy

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

I really hope I’m doing something useful for other people. But I also love teaching because it forces me to focus on the fundamentals that, quite frankly, I sometimes fail to employ myself. I learn a lot.

What makes your trial-advocacy training, which is a big part of the Law Practice Program, so valuable to students?

It offers candidates structured training, with a focus on practical skills. For example, candidates learn how to speak to a judge and present a case professionally. They also learn how a trial unfolds. These are things most articling students don’t learn, but that are terribly important.

Some lawyers cling to the belief that articling is the only way to train lawyers. What are they getting wrong?

Look, it would be great if everyone could get a terrific articling job, where they worked under fabulous practitioners who taught them everything they know. But guess what? That doesn’t always happen.

The quality of articling experiences is all over the map. Many are great, but some students spend too much time on repetitive tasks, such as document review and due diligence, and not enough time on work that will help them grow. Firms are also hiring fewer students, at a time when there are a growing number of law grads. So there aren’t as many top-notch jobs for all of them.

So change is a good thing?

Absolutely. Look at women. When I entered my firm, there were no women. Law firms thought, We can’t hire women, because as soon as they get married and have children, they’ll be gone. That was a prevailing attitude by very decent people. These days, diversity — and not just gender diversity — is an ideal that we’re trying to put into practice.

How important is it, then, for the profession to support the Law Practice Program, which aims to change up how we train lawyers?

It’s very important. Now, I realize change is difficult. And in a long and storied profession like ours, with all of its traditions, change is even harder. But as time marches on, the profession has to change.


The Law Practice Program at Ryerson University is a rigorous eight-month training program that equips law-school graduates with the practical skills they need to become great lawyers. To learn more, visit ryerson.ca/lpp.


Precedent Magazine winter issue 2017 coverThis story is from our Winter 2017 Issue.

The 2017 Precedent Setter Awards

 

Staircase at the Aga Khan MuseumWant to know how to spot a first-rate lawyer? Well, there are three easy giveaways. One, they’ve mastered their field of law, with a track record to prove it. Two, they offer time to organizations that help the community. And three, they can’t help but look fierce against the crisp, awe-inspiring backdrop of the Aga Khan Museum.

Okay, so maybe the judges of this year’s Precedent Setter Awards didn’t consider that last one in their deliberations. But the first two were definitely on their minds. See below to meet six outstanding lawyers, all in their first 10 years of practice, looking pretty damn determined at one of Toronto’s architectural wonders.

 

 

 


The Winners

Konata Lake

Konata Lake
Associate, Torys LLP
Read Konata’s profile

Clara Pham

Clara Pham
Director of Tax, Restaurant Brands International Corporation
Read Clara’s profile

Justin Safeyeni

Justin Safayeni
Associate, Stockwoods LLP
Read Justin’s profile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaneka Taylor

Shaneka Taylor
Associate, Boghosian + Allen LLP
Read Shaneka’s profile

Glenford Jameson

Glenford Jameson
Principal, G. S. Jameson & Company
Read Glenford’s profile

Emily Lam

Emily Lam
Partner, Greenwood Lam LLP
Read Emily’s profile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Judges

Katherine Hensel, Founder, Hensel Barristers

Leila Rafi, Partner, McMillan LLP

Paul Jonathan Saguil, Associate VP, TD Bank

Brendan Wong, Partner, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP


Behind-the-scenes photos

Check out the behind-the-scenes photos from the photo shoot with the winners!

017 Precedent Setter Awards - Behind-the-scenes photo shoot


Precedent Summer 2017 IssueThis story is from our Summer 2017 issue.

 

 

 


Photography by Lorne Bridgman, hair and makeup by Shawna Lee, shot on location at the Aga Khan Museum.

Precedent Setter Awards 2017: Konata Lake

Konata Lake

Associate, Torys LLP
Called to the bar in 2009

If Konata Lake is being honest, part of what drew him to law was air conditioning. As a child growing up in baking hot Jamaica, he’d finish school and wait for his mom, a legal secretary, as she finished work in her cool office. “Not knowing anything substantive about the law, it was still nice,” he says, laughing. “My mom worked with lawyers, so I thought, Okay, I want to be one. It was very linear.”

Konata Lake

When Lake was 12, his mom, Alrica Gordon, moved him and his sister to Toronto. They settled in the Jane and Finch community and his mother got a job with Legal Aid Ontario. Lake went on to earn a dual JD-MBA from Osgoode Hall and Schulich. He launched his career in New York at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. Within a year, he moved to Torys LLP’s New York office. Soon after, he transferred to the firm’s Toronto office to be with his now-wife, ear-nose-and-throat surgeon Dupe Oyewumi. He now works on some of the most complex mergers and acquisitions in the country.

Last year, for example, he was one of the lead lawyers representing the province in a deal that saw it enter into an agreement in principle to sell shares in Hydro One to the First Nations of Ontario. The case was extremely complicated, but the deal went through. “One of the reasons I went into corporate work is I like that everyone wins,” says the 36-year-old. “Or maybe I just tell myself that.”

Lake’s mother died last year, after a six-year fight with cancer. Since 2009, he’s sponsored a scholarship in her name to help send a high-school student in the Jane and Finch area to university. “For the longest time, I wanted to learn from her. Then I wanted to make her proud. Now I want to continue her story.”


Don’t forget to read about our other amazing winners.


Precedent Summer 2017 Issue

This story is from our Summer 2017 issue.

 

 

 


Photography by Lorne Bridgman, hair and makeup by Shawna Lee, shot on location at the Aga Khan Museum.

The Circuit: 2015 Bay Street Suit Challenge


What: 2015 Bay Street Suit Challenge Wrap Party
Where: Irish Embassy Pub & Grill
When: June 16, 2015


Dress for Success, a non-profit that provides professional attire to low-income women looking for employment, held a wrap party last month for the winners of its annual suit drive.

This year, the Bay Street Suit Challenge collected a record-breaking number of garments  — more than 11,800 — which beats last year’s total by nearly 2,500.

Awards were presented in three categories, based on company size. The winners were:

  • Small Business Category (fewer than 400 employees)
    • Property Divas (Sutton Group Signature Realty) with 622 garments
  • Medium Business Category (400 to 799 employees)
    • McCarthy Tétrault LLP with 808 garments (followed by Torys LLP with 442 garments and Miller Thomson LLP with 328 garments)
  • Large Business Category (800+ employees)
    • Scotiabank with 4,141 garments

“This competition is a win-win for over 2,000 people from impoverished families living in Toronto,” says Debbie Lupton, executive director of Dress for Success. “The clothing collected will provide our clients with a complete wardrobe for interviews and employment.”

The Bay Street Suit Challenge also raised more than $45,000 for Dress for Success.

“The donations and proceeds collected will transform lives,” says Lupton. “It will allow clients to achieve economic independence through our pre- and post-employment support programs.”


Dress for Success Toronto provides clients from low-income families a complete wardrobe for interviews and employment, as well as ongoing post-employment support. To find out more about Dress for Success, please visit their website.

Opinion: How to stop workplace misogyny

You’re sitting in a morning strategy meeting on a big file, and the partner asks your colleague whether she’s getting enough sleep. She replies that she just isn’t wearing mascara that day. An awkward silence follows.

You and your mentee are admiring a senior partner who excels at work, raised a family and participates in the community. Your mentee asks how she could possibly do it all. You talk about long days and superhuman energy. Neither of you ask the same question about male senior partners with children.

You’re speculating with your group about who will make partner next. There’s a wealth of talented young women in the pool, but nobody is sure which of them will choose to start a family, or when. This is an accepted factor in the guessing game.

Sound familiar? I have participated in all of these discussions; I’ve even instigated some of the comments. I meant well. I hadn’t set out to contradict my feminist values. And yet I contributed to the harmful stereotypes that women still face in this profession. And even when I didn’t instigate the conversation, I let it happen without interjecting. I was a bystander.

On the national stage, there are success stories, like the lauding of Lerners LLP as one of the first Canadian firms to achieve gender parity. Yet numerous trending hashtags — #VAW, #BeenRapedNeverReported, #ICanNeverBeAJudge, #EverydaySexism, #SuitablyDressed, to name a few — remind us that women are still silenced, discounted and marginalized because their sex and sexuality can be used against them. They remind us of the discrimination women face regardless of their intelligence, education, economic status or work ethic.

But how do these stories, and the problems they expose, affect our everyday practice? Women continue to excel as lawyers and judges. Law societies have been working for years on retaining women in private practice. Law firms, private companies and governments have discrimination and harassment policies. What more can we possibly do?

Our profession needs to revisit its moral imperative to address “small” injustices: everyday sexism, offhand misogyny, casual hints of violence against women.

Lawyers don’t need convincing of this moral imperative. But we’re Type As — we need a plan of action. A closing agenda. A precedent. And lucky for us, there are many precedents. Here is just one.

Toronto’s most prominent LGBTQ organizations have adopted the international Hear It! Stop It! #NoBystanders campaign. It is not a campaign about large-scale law reform, about revolution, about punishing all perpetrators. Rather, it is a campaign that asks us to practice the following credo in the fight for human rights and equality: “I will never be a bystander to homophobic or transphobic language. If I hear it, I will stop it.”

Lawyers can borrow this simple strategy in the effort to treat all our colleagues equally and respectfully. It starts in your office and it starts today. It starts like this:

  • If you hear comments about a colleague’s appearance, challenge the acceptability of those remarks.
  • If you hear concerns about a woman’s ability to manage her files, get back up to speed or make partner after she’s had a child, ask questions about the basis for those views.
  • If you hear rumours about a lawyer’s sexual activity, do what you do best: object on the basis of relevance.

It is not about speaking for women, or being “strong” when the immediate victims choose not to speak out. It’s about speaking up for yourself, and your values of equality. And it’s about listening, educating yourself, engaging others and promoting accountability. It is not about single-handedly ending all violence and discrimination against all women; there is no one prescription for such complex issues. It’s about changing the conversation. No bystanders.


Bystanding Still


This story is from our Summer 2015 issue.

 

 

 


Molly ReynoldsMolly Reynolds is a litigation associate at Torys LLP in Toronto. She’s also the editor of the Ontario Bar Association’s civil litigation newsletter.

 

 


Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

Making It Work: How Cornell Wright does it

Cornell Wright

Partner, Torys LLP
Year of Call: 2002


“My general principle is that I never want to be better at my job than at being a dad,” says Cornell Wright. In addition to being — by any reasonable accounting — a totally badass Bay Street mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer, he is father to three youngsters ages seven, five and three. At the modern, beautifully appointed Torys offices, Wright in person is dapper, attentive and exudes both integrity and intensity.

In addition to meeting client demands, he sits on the board of directors of the National Ballet of Canada and the Loran Scholars Foundation.

Oh yes, and he’s a soccer coach for his kids’ teams.

Wright manages life during epic deals (like Loblaws’ $12.4-billion acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart) by looking at the big picture. “You can’t assess balance as day-to-day, or even week-to-week,” he says. “It’s about juggling, planning and being flexible.” Wright doesn’t just accept help, but solicits it. A personal trainer shapes his Friday morning workouts at 6:45. A well-read colleague — “My tutor,” he says — suggests books to fuel his reading habit. And Wright deputized his father-in-law to help with Thursday’s 6 p.m. soccer coaching.

On the home front, he and his wife — a vice-president at a PR firm — make parenthood and careers flourish concurrently with help from their nanny. “She’s a problem solver, and she is as committed to her role as we are to ours,” he says of the family’s much-loved live-out caregiver.

These days he puts more emphasis on fitness. “I didn’t think about it until two years ago,” when he turned 40, he says. “I decided I should be more deliberate about it.”

At first, he joined the theoretically handy gym in his office building, but quit it for one near his house at Yonge and Eglinton. “I’ve had to experiment,” Wright says, but he’s settled on three workouts each week: an evening swim, the Friday training session and a weekend run.

But it’s not the proverbial all work and no play. He celebrated a recent birthday, his own in fact, by surprising the kids with a trip to Disney World.


Cornell Wright, Torys LLP The lowdown

Start time: 7:30 or 8 a.m.
End time: 7 or 7:30 p.m.
Weekly hours: 60 to 80
Sneaky snack: “I keep candy at my desk”
Sanity-saving domestic weapon: The caregiver who has been with the family for six years, and parents on both sides of the family who help with after-hours childcare
Lunch: Out with clients, and he orders something healthy, like salad and fish
Prioritizes: “Putting my kids to bed. I get itchy to go home at 7:25 p.m.”
Clark Kent-Superman moment: Changing from suit into soccer coach uniform in underground parking lot

 

 

 

 


This story is part of The Precedent guide to getting it all done, from our Spring 2015 issue.

 

 


Photography Daniel Ehrenworth

Torys to open a Halifax office, where lawyers will be off the partnership track

Historically, when lawyers joined a top-tier firm, they knew the deal: work hard, find clients and you’ll make partner — but if you don’t get there after a certain number of years, you have to leave.

These days, however, some firms are creating alternatives to the so-called up-or-out model.

Consider the approach of Torys LLP. In the fall, the Bay Street firm will open a small office in Halifax, and from day one every lawyer — Torys expects to start with a staff of around six — will know that partnership is not in their future. But, unlike their big-city counterparts, those lawyers won’t be responsible for bringing in new business.

“It won’t appeal to someone who wants to move up the ranks in the traditional law firm way,” says Chris Fowles, a partner at Torys who is moving to Halifax to head up the office. But he hopes it will attract talented lawyers who would rather focus on the practice of law, rather than building a client base.

And, in Halifiax, they can do just that.

At the new location, which is part of Torys’ broader strategy to cut costs, lawyers will provide legal services — such as contract writing and due diligence — to clients across the country at reduced rates, taking advantage of the low overhead in Atlantic Canada. “Most of the work will come from Toronto,” says Fowles. In other words, Torys isn’t moving to Halifax to find clients — they’re going there to get work done.

As a result, there could be an opportunity for more work-life balance. “They’re still going to be working regular business hours,” says Fowles. “But they won’t have the same cocktail party duties they might otherwise feel they’d have to do if they were on the partnership track.”

Fowles says plenty of firms are making an effort to accommodate lawyers with less traditional career goals. “Generally speaking,” he explains, “law firms — even in Toronto — are starting to move away from the up-or-out model.”


Read more: After the collapse of Heenan Blaikie LLP, founding partner Peter Blaikie told Precedent that, in fact, there are many partners who would prefer to be senior associates.


Photo by Chaf Haddad

2014 Precedent Setters Wanted

Precedent Magazine needs your help finding young lawyers whose remarkable achievements deserve recognition. If you know an outstanding lawyer in his or her first ten years of practice, nominate them for the 2014 Precedent Setter Awards. 

The awards honour exceptional Ontario lawyers who were called to the bar between 2004 and 2013 (inclusive) who have demonstrated leadership and excellence in their work and in their community. Nominate a colleague, co-worker or friend whose unprecedented work makes them a great candidate.

But do it soon! The nomination deadline is 5 p.m. on Thursday, January 30, 2014.

>> Click here for details on how to submit a nomination

Check out last year’s extraordinary winners below.


THE 2013 WINNERS

Carole Dagher
read profile >>

 

Rahool Agarwal
read profile >>

 

Sara Cohen
read profile >>

 

Shantona Chaudhury
read profile >>

 

Jackie Taitz
read profile >>