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A new approach to law

The hands-on, career-ready Law Practice Program highlights Ryerson’s innovative legal ecosystem
By: Will Sloan
September 21, 2018
Stéphanie Jules

Photo: Law Practice Program graduate Stéphanie Jules’s work placement at Bank of Montreal led to a full-time job. Photo by Clifton Li. 

When Stéphanie Jules enrolled in Ryerson’s Law Practice Program (LPP), the downtown firms seemed a long way away. Despite graduating from McGill University’s law school, the legal world was hard to enter.

“The LPP was recommended to me by a recruiter who was disappointed to see my potential not recognized by the big firms for a traditional articling experience—which is unfortunately the case for many racialized lawyers,” says Jules.

The LPP promised an innovative pathway to licensing: a practical program that combines online simulated training with experiential learning, including a work placement.  “I was very interested in the placements that the LPP had to offer, especially those with the major banks. Usually when you are a lawyer on Bay Street, you need at least a good three-to-five years of experience before you’re able to join one of the major financial institutions.”

After successfully completing the four-month training, Jules was in a work placement at BMO Financial Group within the Legal, Corporate & Compliance Group (LCCG). It was an immediate fit: since June, she has worked at BMO Capital Markets full-time as a capital markets counsel.

“From the moment I stepped into my placement, I was tasked with drafting a memo and doing contract review,” remembers Jules. “I had already been drafting memos and doing research for four months prior. So, when I turned in my assignment—very much ahead of its due date—I was able to stand out and bring value to the team, because the lawyers could then go back to their client much faster than anticipated.”

An innovative, rigorous pathway to licensing, the LPP prioritizes career-ready legal training, divided into two parts. In the first, a four-month practical training, candidates work both individually and in virtual law firms of four people, working with practising lawyers on all the essential skills: interviewing clients, conducting research and cross-examination, drafting documents, participating in negotiations, arguing motions, etc. After successfully completing the training, candidates begin four-month work placements in Ontario at major downtown law firms, in-house legal departments, government offices, legal clinics and independent practitioners.

“During my four months in the virtual practice, I improved on my drafting, negotiation, analytical reasoning, and research skills. These are skills that I use on a daily basis now in my practice,” says Jules.

By the time she arrived at her work placement, she was already in a career mindset. “I recognized that I was entry-level, which meant that I had limited experience. But because I had been doing the virtual law firm for four months, I also knew how to stand out on basic things that are expected when you first start a job: being on time, diving into details, coming in early, staying late, and having a positive attitude,” says Jules.

“Doing these basic but important things better than anybody else put me on the map. Not long after I started, I received a lot of requests from across the business because they had heard of my reputation for producing excellent work.

“At the start of my placement, I knew I wanted to be hired back. Armed with my four-month training, I went hard. It was easy to produce excellent work because the virtual practice puts you in the habit of working on tight deadlines and juggling multiple assignments. Because I was not learning on the job, that freed up my time to focus on producing quality work, and understand the bank’s business.”

Looking back, Jules feels the LPP gave her all the pieces to succeed—but it was up to her to put them together.

“I believe that you get from the LPP what you put into it,” she says. “I knew going in that I wanted to improve on all of my skills so I could be more marketable and able to land a placement in a well-known institution. But I also knew that, like applying to law school and articling, the LPP is competitive. I knew that I was not the only one looking for a placement, and because  of that, I used all the interview prep, the cover letter materials, and the different presentations prepared by the LPP to work on my edge.

“So, when I got into the interview process, I felt like I was really empowered, and ready to prove to employers why they should hire me.”

The LPP was created with the co-operation of the Law Society of Ontario and the legal community, and a strategic alliance with the Ontario Bar Association. "The spirit of Ryerson's law education is experiential and innovative," says Gina Alexandris, senior director of the Law Practice Program. "Through an emphasis on diversity and inclusion, and with meaningful work placements, we want to foster a generation of legal professionals who can have career-ready skills and outside-the-box thinking to better serve their communities."

The first of its kind in Ontario, the LPP is one part of Ryerson’s legal ecosystem, which also includes the Legal Innovation Zone, external link and provides the foundation for the planning of the Faculty of Law.

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