May 6-7, 2017 - MONTRÉAL, QC
Laura Faryna, Vice-Chair of the Young Lawyers Forum in NT, recently attended the CBA National Young Lawyers Directorate Meeting in Montreal, which took place on May 6-7, 2017. This is the annual meeting of the Young Lawyers Section of the CBA. This meeting allows all representatives to meet face to face to discuss the current and future issues for young lawyers which are relevant to the CBA. It is also a means for the CBA to provide information on the current CBA initiatives related to young lawyers so that the representatives can further disseminate this information to their respective jurisdictions.
We talked about restructuring and how there would be less regional representation but more members- at-large. Kerry Simmons did a Q&A with us as well. Most of the discussion revolved around membership fees. Clearly, raising fees may mean losing members but greater revenue. However, our forum stressed that many young lawyers do not see the value for dollar in the CBA. We called attention to the huge jump in membership fees from articling students to new Calls. Most new lawyers take a few years to start earning a decent living and cannot afford much more than an articling student. Especially now, with the tough job market incentivizing new lawyers to become sole practitioners or to practice under a small firm name but self-funded.
CBA Connect was supposed to be a simple touch-base telephone call to new or potential young lawyer members. It was not supposed to be a large time commitment for mentor lawyer volunteers. Instead, the template (required) questions for volunteers were lengthy, inappropriate for strangers and resembled solicitation more than guidance. Gathoni is currently completely revamping CBA Connect to better reflect the original intentions. Our Forum gave some feedback and suggestions. Overall, we agreed that it should look more like a single, short telephone call as a greeting, inquiring what the person would like to get out of the CBA and pointing them in the right direction.
Jeune Barreau representative spoke to us about their activities, which include CPDs and networking events. Jeune Barreau is now addressing the lack of employment opportunities due to the shortage of jobs in Quebec, especially Montreal. Jeune Barreau has automatic and universal membership.
Each territorial/provincial representative shared activities, ideas and challenges from their section. For example, Nova Scotia has found success with frequent lunch meetings with inexpensive admission. They are focusing on practical skills based CPDs instead of substantive law because this speaks more to what young lawyers are looking for and it reduces competition with other CPD offerings. Alberta South is struggling with membership and is proposing a greater focus on social belonging.
NT Section presented on the recent Law Week free telephone line, mock trial and food drive, as well as a social earlier in the year. Also, our contributions to an upcoming Pro Bono Section human rights/disability law initiative were noted; plus, the collaborative nature of our Branch as a whole. Exploring ideas on how to use technology to enhance the telephone line and facilitate access to legal information was also mentioned.
*Alberta North expressed interest in partnering with us for a future event or initiative
We created focus groups to identify priorities for young lawyers and strategies on how Directorate can support them.
For example, one group listed well-being and mental health. This is a challenge for many young lawyers and mental health was noted to have been similarly identified as a priority at a meeting of young lawyers in Quebec earlier. The group also stressed a need for private firms to cease ignoring and de-valuing work life balance. Employers need to recognize the mutual benefits to work life balance in retaining and advancing young lawyers. The strategy was for Directorate to use CBA’s respected status to educate firms about well-being. CBA should build a culture where valuing well-being is a norm, not an exception.
Another group tackled the issue of membership and section event access for young lawyers. The whole Forum including Kerry Simmons discussed strategies on this point. NT, the Yukon and PEI noted that many of the suggested strategies were unrealistic in their jurisdictions. One more innovative suggestion was a reduced fee upon application with demonstration of need. The application system would allow those who were truly motivated and unable to pay for CBA fees to continue membership while leaving the rest of membership fees as is.
CPD With SCC Justices Moldaver and Côté
The two SCC Justices gave a joint session to us, the Jeune Barreau and American Bar Association group. Justice Moldaver’s theme was the unpredictability of life. He gave us a “fireside chat” style talk about his path to becoming an SCC judge, including considering dropping out of law school and unexpectedly deciding to practice criminal law in Toronto. His speech was very relatable until he said that, in his day, anyone who graduated law school and wanted to get Called was a shoe-in for an articling position in a good firm by simply asking for it.
Justice Côté presented a completely different path to the SCC, as the sole member who has never been a judge before. Her story includes receiving a telephone call out-of-the-blue informing her she had been shortlisted for the SCC and giving her 24 hours to accept or decline. She advised that a young lawyer’s biggest litigation mistake is to become too nervous. If the lawyer is prepared for court, then they need only be nervous for the first few minutes – and then should relax into their submissions.