Legal Excellence Program Evaluation, Final Report

2. DESCRIPTION OF THE LEGAL EXCELLENCE PROGRAM

This section of the report describes the LEP, its past and current context, its objectives, program design and implementation.

2.1 Program Context

Before the LEP was implemented, the decisions to recruit, train and retain articling students were made largely on an ad hoc basis by individual managers. There was limited evidence of planning, monitoring or reporting at the corporate level. Consequently, it was not widely known in the legal community that the DOJ had an interest in hiring and retaining articling students.

At the beginning of this decade, the DOJ became concerned that it might be losing top law graduates to private law firms. The example commonly touted at the time was that most students who clerked in the Supreme Court of Canada and federal courts at the time ended up working for big law firms on Bay Street, rather than at the DOJ.

In response, the LEP was developed to help the Department compete effectively for top law graduates and retain them as DOJ employees. The LEP launched its awareness campaign and, at the same time, announced a guaranteed hire-back policy[1] , similar to what the big legal firms were offering to their articling students, i.e. a two-year term employment post-articles upon satisfactory performance and admission to the Bar. The hire-back policy was phased out in 2004-2005 due to budgetary uncertainties, except in British Columbia (BC) where the policy remained in effect.

2.2 Program Objectives

The objectives of the Program are to recruit, train and retain high-quality[2] ,articling students with a view to meeting the DOJ’s short and long-term needs for lawyers. To achieve these objectives, the DOJ offers law students in the LEP, the opportunity to draw on the experience and expertise of an assigned mentor or supervisor to provide them with professional guidance and support. Students can also take advantage of a formal training and development component, which is designed to enhance advocacy skills, introduce them to issues facing Crown counsel and give them an overview of the Department’s array of legal work.

2.3 Program Design

2.3.1 Program Governance

The LEP is included as one of the Department’s staffing and recruitment strategies in the Department of Justice Human Resources Management Plan 2007 – 2010. The two LEP top priorities stated in this document are 1) to better meet DOJ long-term recruitment and staffing needs; and 2) to market the DOJ’s brand and ensure integrated and targeted recruitment in support of renewal.

The Director General, Human Resources and Professional Development Directorate (HRPDD) is responsible for the LEP in the NCR; in the regions, the respective Regional Director General (RDG) or Deputy Regional Director General is responsible for the Program. Regional LEP coordinators who report directly to their respective RDG often chair a student committee. These committees provide students’ supervisors a forum in which they can discuss issues of shared concern with their peers. It also allows LEP staff to keep in touch with what is happening with the new recruits.

The regions have a great deal of autonomy in determining how their respective part of the Program is structured and run. Since there has been no explicit description of the roles and responsibilities of the managers of the LEP in the regions and Headquarters (HQ), there is consequently no formal or reporting relationship between them. Currently, communication between the Program managers in the NCR and the regions is voluntary participation through occasional teleconference calls organized by the HQ LEP.

2.3.2 Program Resources

While there is no dedicated budget for the LEP in the regions, there is a small staff made up of middle-to-senior-level lawyers or a combination of HR advisors and lawyers dedicated to the LEP[3] . Most LEP lawyers work for the Program on a part-time basis, except in BC where a lawyer serves as the LEP coordinator on a full-time basis. In the regions, except BC, the LEP does not have its own budget; hence, their operational expenses are allocated on a case-by-case basis from the RDG’s education or communication budgets.

In contrast, in the NCR, the LEP is managed by HR personnel and has a dedicated budget to pay the salaries of articling students in the NCR. In addition, the NCR budget provides funding for the national marketing kit (including the Website, booklet, etc.). Through the LEP, between 50 and 70 articling students are hired annually and an additional 30 or more law students are hired each year for summer jobs across the Department. The salary for articling students ranges from $30,000 (in Moncton) to $55,000 (in Toronto)[4] .

In addition to the variance in salary across the country, there is no standard practice in the Department with respect to the support provided to articling students for salary and costs related to the Bar Admission Courses and bar exam. Articling students are given time off during their articling term to take the Bar Admission Courses and the bar exams as applicable. During this period, three regions pay for both the salary and cost of the Bar Admission Course and the bar exam; two regions pay only the salary; and one region pays neither. Table 1 summarizes this comparison by region.

Table 1: Comparison of DOJ Financial Support to Articling Students by Region
Level of Financial Support Atlantic Quebec NCR Ontario Prairie BC
Students salary paid during the Bar Admission Course and exam yes no yes yes yes yes
Costs for the Bar Admission Course and exam are covered yes no no no yes yes

2.4 Program Components

This section provides a brief overview of the main components of the LEP and focuses on common program activities and characteristics.

2.4.1 Marketing

The LEP uses a variety of marketing approaches including: developing and maintaining the Website, program brochures and fact sheets; hosting open-houses; attending job fairs; and participating in a range of outreach activities with the career services office at law faculties. In some regions, the RDGs have yearly meetings with the Deans of the law faculties, and the LEP staff provides information sessions and presentations to both students and career services staff, serves on student panels and teaches on a part-time basis.

2.4.2 Recruitment

Information about the application process is posted on the LEP Website with “hot links” to each region. Articling students are hired through a competitive process similar to that of the hiring of all federal employees. The interview and hiring processes are managed by each region, including the NCR. A Statement of Merit Criteria has gradually been introduced to assist in the screening of applicants. Law students who meet these criteria are typically interviewed by a selection board. A written exam may also be administered. The Department must respect the hiring policies of the federal government. However, in order to remain competitive, DOJ chooses to follow the rules and regulations of the individual provincial law societies regarding recruitment timelines (e.g. interviews and articling job offers).

The DOJ, like most other legal employers, recruits articling students once a year. In Ottawa, there are two hiring processes - one for common law and one for civil law. The decision of how many articling students to recruit is normally made by a senior management committee in each region usually on the basis of budget availability.

2.4.3 Rotation/Placement

DOJ articling students generally are assigned to between three and five rotations, depending on where they article. The Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) continues to be included as one of the rotation possibilities in most regions. In the Quebec Regional Office (QRO), articling students used to work in their chosen area for the whole term but this is changing. The QRO has been piloting since January 2009 an in-house development program to enable articling students and new LA-01s to work in more than one directorate within the Office. In the NCR, articling students are asked to rank their four areas of interest out of some 70 possibilities and are placed in four rotations after an elaborate matching process. Each rotation lasts about three months. Articling students in the Northern Region, who are normally located in the Yellowknife office, have the opportunity to work on a variety of files and are also offered an opportunity to work at PPSC as part of their rotation. In other regional offices, most sections offer opportunities as rotation sites. The Ontario Region includes a clerkship at the Ontario Court of Justice (Criminal Division) as a possible rotation.

For common law students, the articling term is between 10 and 12 months depending on the province. For civil law students, the articling term lasts from 9 to 12 months, depending on the number of months the student needs for the Bar Admission Courses. The articling term includes the period required to take the Bar Admission Course and the bar exam, which may occur either before or in the middle of articles, except in the QRO where the Bar Admission Course and bar exam (four or eight months) are done before the actual articles, which are six months in duration.

2.4.4 Orientation and Formal Training

In addition to the mandatory orientation offered by the Public Service Commission, LEP articling students receive orientation that all new departmental employees attend as well as sessions specifically designed for them.

Besides on-the-job training, articling students are typically offered comparable access to in-house professional development courses as any DOJ counsel. The availability of in-house training for articling students varies by region. Some regions, notably BC, Ontario and Quebec, have developed their own training materials and offer articling students part-time courses over a period of time. The BC Regional Office (BCRO) (the QRO will soon) requires all of its articling students and junior lawyers to follow a three-year curriculum designed to develop their legal writing and advocacy skills. Articling students are encouraged to attend relevant courses/conferences offered free of charge by the provincial bar association or law society. Opportunities to attend conferences or courses that incur a cost are granted occasionally, at the discretion of the manager.

2.4.5 Supervision/Mentoring and Evaluation

All articling students have a supervisor in each rotation; as well, some have a mentor for the duration of the articling term. Supervisors are generally middle-to-senior level counsel who have either volunteered or been assigned. Supervisors serve as the point of contact for the articling student, working with the student, the section manager and the principal responsible for the student. Formal mentoring for articling students is not common, but the issue has begun to receive some attention with the initiation of the departmental Mentoring Program.

Supervisors play a very important role in determining the outcome of an articling experience. They are expected to ensure that the work assignments are educational and appropriate in terms of workload and complexity. They are responsible for obtaining feedback from the lead counsel on the quality of the work completed and for preparing an evaluation of each student at the end of the rotation. Supervisors discuss the evaluation of a student’s performance with the student; subsequently, the evaluation is reviewed by the section manager and submitted to the articling principal who is authorized by the Law Society to approve the successful completion of a student’s articling term. Principals are required to have a minimum number of years of practice. While the day-to-day responsibility for supervision of an articling student is often delegated to supervisors, a principal may serve as a student’s supervisor during one of the rotations.

As a developmental program, an advantage of the LEP is that it allows managers to use these successful evaluations as the rationale for bridging a post-article student to a permanent LA-01 position without a second competitive process.

2.4.6 Retention

The hiring of DOJ articling students who have successfully completed their articles has always been an important outcome for the Program. During its initial years, the LEP offered a guaranteed hire-back policy. Under this policy, all articling students with a positive performance appraisal were guaranteed a two-year term counsel position upon graduation from the LEP and call to the Bar. Although this policy ended in 2004-2005 (except in BC), a little-known fact is that the Department has continued to retain the majority of the people hired under the LEP.