I almost didn’t become a lawyer. In 2011, as my last year of law school at Bond University in Australia ended, I expected to head home to Toronto and find an articling job. But my career took a detour. While studying for the bar exam, I found out that my partner’s family business, a skating and hockey centre in Florida, had been defrauded by management and was on the verge of collapse. My partner, armed with an MBA, stepped in to help save the 50-employee business.
Soon after, he asked me to join the effort because of my legal knowledge and lifelong passion for hockey. I accepted. Over the next three years, we turned the business into one of the fastest-growing skating, figure-skating and hockey programs in Florida. It was incredible, but with less than a year left on the project, I was ready to become a lawyer.
And that’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I love reading and writing. I keep up with the latest legal and political news. And, above all, I want to help people at the moment they need it most.
But when I decided to restart my legal career, in 2014, it was hard to find an articling gig from abroad. That’s when I heard about the Law Practice Program (LPP), the alternative to articling, at Ryerson University, which was about to start its first year. It was the perfect fit: the eight-month program began with about four months of online coursework (which includes three weeks of on-campus training), so I could complete most of it from Florida. This meant I could get called to the bar without the strain of moving home with no articling job. I immediately enrolled.
The training in the LPP was top-notch. In the first half of the program, I worked in a simulated law firm with four peers. Under the guidance of a practising lawyer — who assigned work and offered advice over email and Google Hangouts — we worked on files in key practice areas, from family to business to criminal. Going through mock files prepared me for the next half of the program, a four-month work placement at Eunice Kim & Associate Professional Corporation. In my first week, I drafted a will, interviewed a client and worked on a real estate closing.
Since launching, the LPP has helped about 400 law graduates become lawyers, and secured each one a work placement. To create that many placements — most of which are paid positions — out of thin air is an enormous accomplishment.
But the LPP’s future is uncertain. For now, it’s just a pilot project. (In August, it enters its third and final year.) In the fall, the Law Society of Upper Canada will decide whether to extend the pilot project for two years or make it permanent. It should make it permanent. The public only benefits from a legal profession whose members have a range of life experiences.
I can attest to that. In Florida, I got an on-the-ground look at the inner workings of a small business. I worked with outside counsel to draft contracts for hockey coaches, designed sport-specific waivers and negotiated licensing deals with music companies. All this will make me a better lawyer.
I also had countless peers in the LPP from unique backgrounds. Some came from outside Canada (Russia and India, just to name two) and boasted a global mindset. Others were parents of young children who needed to be at home for the first half of the program. They will all make great lawyers.
In September 2015, I was called to the bar, and have moved back to Toronto with my partner. I work part-time for Omar Alghabra, a member of Parliament for Mississauga Centre, but am on the lookout for a job in sports law. And without the LPP, this might never have happened.
Cristina Wadhwa is a Toronto lawyer and a graduate of Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program. She is also a member of the Sports Lawyers Association.
This story is from our Summer 2016 issue.
Illustration by Mike Ellis