For her last episode as host of Conversations with the President, Vivene Salmon has an intergenerational dialogue with Aly Haji and Allan Rock
Conversations with the President: The state of the profession, Ep 9: Aly Haji and Allan Rock
For her last episode as host of Conversations with the President, Vivene Salmon talks with Aly Haji about why millennials are leaving law firms; and Allan Rock on his carrer as a Liberal Justice Minister, President Emeritus of Ottawa University and ambassador to the United Nations.
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Male: This is The Every Lawyer, presented by the Canadian Bar Association.
Vivene Salmon: Typically I record conversations with the president at the CBA podcasting studio in Ottawa. During the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, I'm recording podcast episodes from my home in Toronto. As a result, the sound quality might not be as clear as when I record in the studio. I hope you enjoy listening to the podcast. Stay safe.
Welcome to Conversations with the President. My name is Vivene Salmon. The term millennial refers to people born between 1981 and 1996 but is often used to encompass pretty much anyone under the age of 40. The millennial generation can conjure up a multitude of derogatory adjectives; they’re lazy, they’re disrespectful. They want accolades and promotion without having had to put in the years of hard work.
Like many generalizations, that’s a myth. The millennials are a group that is often misunderstood. Many of this generation grew up as gamers. In gaming, if you can surmount the obstacles you get to level up. This world view is challenged by a system where you can overcome all of the obstacles and still stay right where you are.
Does the world need to change to accommodate millennials? Or do millennials need to change to succeed in the real world? Aly Haji has the CV of a professional student. He has studied molecular genetics at Trent University, earned a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy from the University of Toronto, and an MBA and a Bachelor of Law from McGill University.
After clerking for Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis at the Supreme Court of Canada and being called to the Bar in 2019, he started studying for his Master’s of Law at Cambridge University. But it’s not his degrees that we’re interested in; it’s his research. Aly did his thesis on why millennials are leaving big law, and that’s what we’re going to talk to him about today.
Welcome to the podcast, Aly.
Aly Haji: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Vivene Salmon: Aly, all lawyers want to be treated well. They want to do meaningful work. They want to be praised and promoted when they do it well. What makes millennials any different from the Boomers in that regard?
Aly Haji: I don’t think millennials are very much different from Baby Boomers in that regard. I think that both groups of people are overwhelmingly ambitious and they want to be successful. And I think, just by virtue of becoming a lawyer, one does have that kind of ambition and that drive to be successful and stand out from everyone else. And by virtue of becoming a lawyer, I think that’s part of being in the profession. I mean you are someone that stands out and someone that wants to make a difference and someone that changes – wants to change your community or make an impact.
Where I think they differ and where I think the fundamental aspect of consideration is is in terms of what they want from their work and the manner in which they want to work. I think it’s very easy to confuse the drivers and motivators, so it’s easy to say millennials might not want to be successful or millennials don’t have any drive or any ambition. And that’s kind of the line that you normally hear. But I think in realty it’s just a matter of modalities of work or the characteristics of work rather than what drives them or what motivates them.
Vivene Salmon: So Aly, you’ve written about the exodus of millennials from private practice, but it’s not new for lawyers to decide that legal practice isn't for them despite all the work it took to get there. Why do you say law firms are failing to retain this particular group when in fact they’re behaving like generations before them?
Aly Haji: When you look at the data from Baby Boomers and millennials, millennials are leaving private practice – or were prior to COVID; I'm not sure what’s going to happen now – in a way that was overwhelmingly more frequent and quicker than Baby Boomers.
So for example, it wasn’t necessarily uncommon for Baby Boomers to leave a law firm after five or six years of practice. Whereas, on average millennials – the ones that we surveyed – were leaving law firms after one to three years of practice, which creates significant business problems for law firms since the return on investment is recouped – on an associate is recouped from years three to five. So they’re leaving faster and they’re leaving in larger numbers, and you’re seeing that in terms of a higher turnover of millennials at law firms. So, while it’s not necessarily a new phenomenon that lawyers are leaving law firms, both the tenor of it and the speed of it is relatively different with millennials.
Vivene Salmon: Let’s dip into that a little bit further. Your research showed traditional law firms are not an ideal work environment for many millennials. What is it about the organizational culture of law firms, particularly big law firms, that dare I say turns millennials off?
Aly Haji: Well to be fair, the research didn’t necessarily show that law firms weren’t an ideal workplace. Millennials themselves said that law firms weren’t an ideal workplace and that they weren’t satisfied with their work at big law firms. So I mean that’s just born our by the data from millennial respondents, it’s not necessarily a characteristic of what is shown by the study. The study doesn’t necessarily make those postulations.
My explanation of that is that there’s two major aspects, and those are both major characteristics of the law firm as it was or as it kind of upheld to be. First is the billable-hour model which prioritizes a quantity of billings over quality and disincentivizes creativity or efficiency in favour of quantity of work. That prioritizes millennials being, or associates being in the office and disincentivizes work-life balance which millennials really value and that’s kind of an overriding driver for them.
The billable-hour model feeds into this partnership model which is another factor that dissuades millennials. The partnership is no longer kind of a motivating factor for millennials. It’s not something that they have in their ambit. And that’s likely due to the way that partnership has been portrayed as this gruelling trek that you have to work 20 hours a day and you have to kind of sacrifice your life for it. Unfortunately, what happens is, when you prioritize quantity of billings in the billable-hour model, that permeates your partnership structure because that’s the motivator for becoming partner. You end up with the primary qualifier for partnership becoming did you meet your billable targets, do you exceed your billable targets.
Combined with that is the fact that you look for this kind of element of fit within partnership. I'm sure any law student or any associate listening to this will realize that the second that you’re recruited for a student position or for an associate position, you’re very keenly aware that your academic qualifications or your achievements aren’t necessarily enough. There’s also this aspect of fit; you have to get along with people. And that promotes an element of group think within the partnership.
So, you have this kind of reinforcing element of billable quantities are a primary criterion in addition to the fact that you have this kind of cultural group think. That environment is very disattuned to what millennials are looking for in a workplace in terms of work-life balance, in terms of being creative, in terms of being innovative and seeking out their passions. And I think those two factors together, which characterized the organizational culture of law firms, or maybe it’s better to say which are kind of stereotyped as characterizing the organizational culture of law firms, are what kind of turns millennials off for lack of a better term.
Vivene Salmon: So this concept of billable hours and fit, I would agree with you, I think it’s really part of the traditional model of doing things. I think that many millennials are getting frustrated and many of them are part of that gamer generation where they’re accustomed to progressing once they’ve completed all the tasks at a given level, and that doesn’t always happen in real life. So, for many millennials, would you say that they’re not afraid to sever ties and just move on? So, how can law firms address that problem given what we’ve just been talking about, the billable hours and this traditional idea of ideal fit?
Aly Haji: This is a difficult question for me to answer because it kind of strikes home for myself. Millennials in large part, including myself, they’ve instilled this kind of vision of success or vision of their career where, if you check these following boxes – if you get a degree, if you go to law school, if you get good grades – then you’ll automatically become successful.
And I feel like they approach law firms – and that’s not necessarily true and I know it’s not true from experience – but they approach their work at law firms the same way. If I bill X amount of hours, if I act like I fit in I'll be successful. And I feel like the culture of law firms kind of motivates that or kind of informs that idea, this element of fit, group think, and then you have the element of billable hours. It’s conducive to that.
But the realities of a law firm business aren’t necessarily attuned with that because no one’s going to make partner if there’s no room for partners. No one gets paid more if there’s no room to get paid for more. It’s very much, it’s a business. So, I think the realization there is that you need to bring some value added. It’s not just about checking the boxes, it’s about thinking outside of those boxes and bringing something new to the table.
And I think the second that millennials learn that – and it’s taken me a long time to kind of figure that out, that you have to bring some more value added to the table – I think the second millennials figure that out we end up with a much more diverse and nuance profession. And I think that’s important.
Vivene Salmon: So it sounds to me that millennials need to understand the business model of law, but it also seems to me what you’re saying is that law firms also need to change as well. So if law firms continue to ignore millennials and millennials continue to step out, who’s really got to change?
Aly Haji: It’s a complicated question. I think one of the best pieces of feedback I've ever received on my research is it’s very difficult to tell a group of millionaires who are making a lot of money to change their business practice. I think that kind of underscores the point. Both groups think that they are doing things right. Millennials think that they have the right qualities and that they’re right. Law firm leadership overwhelmingly is making a lot of money, or was before COVID, and they think that they’re doing things right. So I think change needs to happen on both sides.
And one of the kind of strategies that I advocated for in my paper, or the kind of framework that we advocated for, wasn’t just changing the billable-hour model. I think that in itself creates significant change, but you also need buy in from both groups. So one of the things we proposed was this concept of reverse mentorship where, instead of the traditional mentorship relationship where you have a senior mentoring a junior, you also have a junior person mentoring a very senior person in the firm.
And I think that you can make all the practical changes you want on both sides, but if both sides don’t come together and understand each other and cause a consequent change in culture through that mutual understanding, I don’t think that that change is lasting and I don’t think that that change is effective. You need to have that kind of connection between the two. So, if there is a strategy in that setting that would possibly work, I think reverse mentorship is one those kind of avenues that is very effective.
Vivene Salmon: So, are there also other strategies that you feel that law firms need to develop to retain this group of people? What do they need to do to adapt to the expectations and abilities of the millennial generation?
Aly Haji: So I think it’s kind of ironic that we’re having this conversation during this whole COVID thing where everyone’s kind of locked at home working at home because, overwhelmingly, working at home kind of solves a lot of the problems that millennials have with law firms. The concept of face time at law firms – not the app but having to be at the office – I think that’s very destructive to work-life balance.
And now I think the ability of both millennials to stay at home, have time with their kids, be able to work on a laptop, be able to do a lot of the things that do from home while also being their families, being able to, like you know, explore their passions from home, I think this is kind of one of those Lamarckian evolutionary moments where the profession kind of leapfrogs a few stages and we realize this is probably a great way of doing things and a great way of bridging.
Another thing that I kind of used to talk about when I was talking about these things is changing the billable-hour model. So, millennials don’t like to be judged based on the quantity of their work. They feel like it’s dehumanizing. They feel like it’s – and this is from the paper – soul-crushing. So, one of the ideas was get rid of the whole billable-hour model from the associate-facing side. You can still bill clients hourly, and I think it’s fallacious to say get rid of that altogether, but judge associates based on the quality of their work and just trust that they’re going to get the work done and that they’re going to work the amount of hours.
I feel the millennials I've spoken to are dissatisfied with their work at law firms. And this by no means reflects how I feel. I mean, my personal feelings are very different on these subjects. But the millennials that I've spoken to feel like they’re restrained while working at law firms. And they feel like their freedom is taken away because they’re required to be in an office; they’re required to give up their time as opposed to their intellectual skills and their effort. And I think that that focus on time is very crucial. And if you shift it and if you judge them based on the quality of their work and their ability to innovate and their ability to be creative and their ability to basically be lawyers, that changes the whole game and that changes their whole perspective.
Vivene Salmon: I think time is the most precious resource. I feel the same way. I don’t like being micromanaged. And I think I'm the best judgement of how I use my own time. And I think for every generation, we want to have trust that we can get the work done, we’re smart people, and that we can use technology effectively. So maybe it’s also educating both young people and also senior people within the firm how do we use technology better? And as you said, post-COVID times, how do we use technology better at home so that we can manage our own time and get the work done?
Aly Haji: That’s why this reverse mentorship idea is so important, because I feel like there’s a disconnect between more senior people and more junior people where senior people say, “OK, if you’re working at home you’re not really going to do anything. You’re going to kind of sit on your laptop and watch YouTube videos” because they have this impression. And more junior people see senior people as, you know, something like the senior partners you see on Suits that are like taskmasters. Like I feel like …
I talked to a prospective l as well student the other day and he was like, “Are they all like Louis Litt?” And that was kind of disparaging. But I feel like, if you bridge that disconnect, I think a lot of things kind of come into line, including how to appropriately use technology and how to effectively use technology.
Vivene Salmon: So last question for today, how can law firms in North America develop a more generationally-inclusive work environment?
Aly Haji: I feel like if you want to be truly generationally-inclusive you not only have to look at the relationships between Baby Boomers and millennials in terms of work but also – sorry, I should also mention Generation X which is kind of in between. You know normally you have to look at the working relationships but also the challenges these people are facing outside of work and the environment that they’re growing up in. I mean there’s a whole generation of lawyers now who will have grown up not only through the 2008/2009 financial crisis but also through whatever’s going to happen after COVID.
And that drastically changes their experience of the profession and the way that they’re going to experience work and view work, as opposed to Baby Boomers who primarily grew up in, you know, primarily went into the profession during the ‘80s and ‘90s when things were all great and were pretty well off. So I think you need to look at the situation that someone comes up in, and you need to look at how they interact with that situation.
I'm sure I don’t have to tell anyone that’s listen, or even yourself, that there’s a housing crisis right now and millennials are overwhelmingly worried about where they’re going to live and making crazy rents. And if you consider generational relationships outside of that context, you’re ignoring the key aspect of why do I need to work here. What is my motivation for working here? What drives me? What’s my passion? Can I achieve that passion? And I think that if those aspects are more clearly appreciated and more clearly addressed by law firms as a workplace, then I think you really try to get buy in from your millennials and try to become more, like you said, generationally-inclusive.
A lot of this is going to change post COVID and this is one of those evolutionary moments where a paradigm shifts. And I feel like the way we’re going to be the profession and the interactions between millennials and Baby Boomers and the interactions between seniors and juniors of law firms is going to change significantly after this, including their attitudes towards work, the way work is done and what drives them. And I feel like this and the economic situation surrounding this needs to be one of the things that’s addressed going forward.
Vivene Salmon: Aly Haji is a young lawyer who is an expert on millennial lawyers in the 21st century law firm. His research on why millennials are leaving big law to chart their own path is thought-provoking. Many senior lawyers may have harboured the same sentiments on law firm culture, but Gen Y seems to be really shaking things up and affecting real change.
My goal in this podcast series was to create an intergenerational dialogue to speak with lawyers at all stages of their careers about things that matter to them. My first guest for this final episode was one of our youngest, and I won't say the last guest in the series is our oldest but perhaps he is among the most venerable. Allan Rock is President Emeritus of the University of Ottawa and a full professor in the Faculty of Law, where I earned my JD.
He also served for a decade as a Senior Minister in the government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, including four years as Justice Minister and Attorney General. He has been an Ambassador to the United Nations, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Ottawa, and was a visiting scholar at Harvard University with their program on international law and conflict.
Allan Rock, welcome to the podcast.
Allan Rock: Well thank you very much. It’s delightful to be here and thank you for doing this.
Vivene Salmon: And is it OK if I call you Allan? Or would you prefer to be called Mr. Rock throughout the podcast?
Allan Rock: I'd much prefer to be called Allan. And may I call you Vivene?
Vivene Salmon: Yes, perfect.
Allan Rock: Thank you, Madam President.
Vivene Salmon: So our first guest in this episode is Aly Haji who talked about why millennials are dissatisfied with traditional law firms. Allan, take us back to when you were a young lawyer. What was your experience like?
Allan Rock: Well, I graduated from law school and I'd grown up in Ottawa, went to university and to law school in Ottawa. I was anxious to leave the city and so I sought and obtained an articling position in Toronto at what was then called a big firm. I think there were 34 lawyers at Fasken’s at the time. That was a big firm.
So my experience was, articling in Toronto, a new city for me, a big place, exciting, a very challenging change in my life, working very hard as an articling student, being fortunate enough to get a job offer at the end of articles so I kind of came back and practiced at Fasken’s. And my dream was always to be an advocate, a litigation lawyer, a trial council. And I was hired back in Fasken’s litigation department which at the time was regarded as if not the best in the country then one of the top two or three in the country.
So, my experience as a young lawyer was nothing but positive. It was exciting. It was a dream come true. I found myself articling and then practicing as a junior to some of Canada’s best litigation council, John Sopinka, Walter Williston, Ron Rolls who in their generation were absolute leaders at the Bar. So, quite the opposite of the experience of your other guest, I can honestly say that my time as a young lawyer was characterized by absolute joy. I loved what I was doing. I was grateful for the opportunity.
I was working very hard. I mean it was, you know, 18 hours a day seven days a week. But I loved every minute of it. It was just a pleasure.
Vivene Salmon: So take us back. Why did you want to become a lawyer in the first place? For example, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer or a journalist. I've always wanted a writing career. What was it like for you? Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer? Or was that something that changed over time?
Allan Rock: From my earliest memory I wanted to be a lawyer. The cynic would say that’s because I was no good at math and science and was looking for some other way to make a living. But the reality is that I always dreamed about being an advocate, about trying to persuade people, of marshalling facts, of putting together arguments. And I dreamed about being in a courtroom in front of a judge and a jury.
When I got the job at Fasken’s and began to practice, as I mentioned earlier, it truly was a dream come true. It’s what I always saw myself doing. It’s what I was born to do I think. And so it was a real confluence between my own image of myself, what I was able to do, and opportunity that just arose and that I was fortunate enough to have come to me.
Vivene Salmon: And the family that you grew up in, did it shape your passion at all for advocacy? Because, advocacy is pretty broad but did you feel that your family had a role in shaping that aspect of your life?
Allan Rock: I don’t think so, unless advocacy with my parents on behalf of my own cause was a part of it. But working class and neither of them with any education, they were excited at the idea that I would go to law school and become a lawyer because they had no education themselves. I don’t think that my experience in my family contributed to that. I'm not sure what it was.
I must tell you that my mother was a very strict Irish catholic. She was born in Dublin and brought up in Ireland. So we were off to church every Sunday. I learned the catholic mass responses in Latin as a grade school student. I served mass every Sunday and a couple of times a week. I was a practicing catholic in my youth and through high school until I got to university.
And I do wonder whether my experience in the church was an influence on my attraction to the courtroom. You know there’s something about the Catholic Church in particular that is analogous to the courtroom. It’s very heavy on ceremony, wearing special gowns, on formality. Everything’s quiet and under the control of the director which is the priest.
In the case of the courtroom, the courts, it’s the judge. I was very comfortable in that environment; orderly, governed by strict rules. One’s behaviour met expectations. Everything was mapped out in a ritual. And when I walked into the courtroom I felt like I was in a familiar environment. There were many aspects of the courtroom that were like the church.
Now I can't say that I continued as a practicing catholic after I got to university and drifted away from it. But that early influence in that austere place I think was a very deep one and may have contributed to my attraction for the courtroom which offered many of the same characteristics.
Vivene Salmon: I think many of our listeners will identify with you with that respect. So, let’s switch gears a little bit. You’ve held what many lawyers would consider dream jobs. You were an ambassador, federal justice minister, a trial at a big firm, Fasken’s, as you mentioned. Were those dream jobs for you?
Allan Rock: Yeah, yeah they were. When I was practicing, I took John Sopinka’s advice. And his advice to me – because I practiced with him for the first seven years of my practice – his advice was, “Look, if you want to become a general all-around council you take any case that comes in the door. No matter what it is, say yes and do it.”
So I did that for the first 10 years of my practice. And for that first 10 years I did nothing but practice law. I wouldn’t say that I deliberately avoided getting married, but I didn’t want any entanglement at all to distract me from my intense and full-time exposure to the practice of law. And I loved every minute of it as I said.
After 10 years my life changed. I did get married. I ran for and was elected as a bencher. And I began to examine the possibility of enjoying the profession in ways other than just practicing. I loved being a bencher. I loved the regulatory aspect of the Law Society, talking about professional standards, professional discipline, the way the Law Society is governed. And I worked very hard at that and then I became treasurer of the Law Society after nine years as a bencher and I enjoyed that.
So, in answer to your question, becoming a bencher and then becoming treasurer, those were dream jobs and they were dreams come true. After 20 years of practice, 10 years as a bencher, I decided to run for parliament. The riding in which Debbie and I and our family lived was Etobicoke Centre. We had decided to work for the liberal candidate in the election of ’93.
When she was through – because she went to Europe to take another job – I sought the nomination, ran for that seat. After the election I was made Attorney General of Canada, Minister of Justice, another dream job. And then, you know, I spent 10 years in the federal cabinet. And from justice I went to health which hadn’t been my first choice but, you know, it was a fascinating portfolio and I learned about the Canadian healthcare system. And then from there to industry; I learned a lot about the economy of Canada and its industrial strengths. And after I left parliament in 2003, another dream job which was the Ambassador to the United Nations.
So you know I've been very, very fortunate in my life. And these experiences shaped me and I became a very different person at the end of it than I was when I was practicing. I went back to practice after I came back from the United Nations, just for a couple of years. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had the first time around, and so I left it to become president of a university which I did for eight years. It turned out to be another dream job. I hadn’t expected it would be but it was. It was a remarkable experience and a very different way of working.
So yeah, I look back on I guess a checkered career and I see how fortunate I was to have opportunities to do work that was fascinating, from which I'd learned a lot, that broadened me as a person. It made me ask questions about myself, about Canada, about the Canadian political and legal system, and then of course Canada and the world. And sitting behind the Canada nameplate at the United Nations, an enormous honour, seeing how others viewed Canada and the role that Canada can play in the world.
And then coming back to the University of Ottawa, you know, 43,000 students, 5,000 professors and staff, a major operation, a billion dollar a year budget, but also a bilingual university with a unique role to play, and working in that capacity also taught me a lot. So yeah, it’s been a fabulous experience or set of experiences and I feel very lucky to have lived them.
Vivene Salmon: Well it sounds like you took a lot of risk and saw a lot of opportunities and didn’t shut yourself off to opportunities that were offered to you. So, maybe we can go back a little bit, back in time. So as you moved from law firm practice to become a politician, what were the critical skills you had or needed to develop?
Allan Rock: You know, my training up to the point when I ran for parliament was in the courtroom. So I spoke like a lawyer and when I was asked a question I tried to respond based on evidence. I spoke in paragraphs. As Kim Campbell once jokingly said about herself, she was the master of the 30-minute sound bite. You know, I just didn’t know how to communicate as a politician should or would.
So, I had to learn a new way of communicating. Instead of responding to a question, thinking about where’s the evidence in the transcript that I can rely upon to support my answer, I started training myself to think, “Well what is an answer to the question that won't get me into political trouble but is still true and sufficient for the purpose?” So that was a very different skill.
Dealing with media; when I was practicing and the media and the media called me about a case I would say, every single time, “Please take it up with my client. I'm not going to make any comment.” I just completely avoided any contact with media. And of course it became very different in 1993 when I suddenly was surrounded by cameras and microphones and had to decide how to deal with them.
Beyond that I guess, just living in a political environment with people who talked and thought about what is the political issue here, what’s the political approach we should take. Instead of dealing with the four corners of the law and what the cases might say, what the Supreme Court of Canada might say, we were more worried about what the pollsters might say. And that too was very different. It was a very significant adjustment for me and one that I didn’t ever make successfully. Yeah, it was tough in many ways.
Vivene Salmon: So part of that I think, being a politician, is having a personal brand. And I think that’s something that a lot of young people bandy that term about now, having a personal brand. So what personal brand did you decide to develop in your career early on and project in your first 15 years of practice? So in other words, how did you get noticed?
Allan Rock: I got noticed I hope by two things; first of all, I was very conscious of the importance of reputation in the practice of law, and the extent to which reputation is determined by your personal dealings with other lawyers. So, I tried to characterize all of my dealings with colleagues in the profession by respect, honesty and directness.
And I am proud to say that I made an enormous number of friends in the practice of law. Sometimes we would fight like cats and dogs in the courtroom or in the special examiner’s office conducting an examination for discovery or a cross. But outside those fora I always made an effort to reach out and extend a hand to colleagues at the Bar. And I really enjoyed that so it wasn’t work. But over time, I think I developed a reputation as someone who was good to deal with, who could be trusted, who was a straight shooter. And that was what I wanted to achieve. I really, really wanted to achieve that.
The other thing I did, Vivene, is I very deliberately engaged, as early as possible and as often as possible, in continuing legal education. So whenever I felt I had something to offer – and my specialty really was civil procedure, the procedures and principles involved in interlocutory motions, getting before the court, conducting a civil proceeding, what are the ins and outs, how do you get from A to B. I taught civil procedure for 15 years in the Bar Admission course, ended up as the Head of Section in the Bar Admission course.
But I also did CLE seminars and lectures for the Bar Association, for the Law Society, for some of the private organizations, very consistently. So I got my name out in front of the profession as someone who knew something about a part of our profession and was willing and eager to share it. So those are the two things that I did, a personal brand of being a trustworthy colleague at the Bar for people I litigated with, and a personal brand of developing a defined expertise and being prepared to share it in CLEs.
Vivene Salmon: I think that’s something that, no matter what generation, is really salient then as it is today. What would you say to young lawyers who are interested in politics? What do they need to do to make that dream a reality?
Allan Rock: Well, very practically, depending what level of politics they’re interested in, municipal or provincial or federal – in my case it was federal – if you’re interested in federal politics, first of all, be as informed as you can about the issues, about what’s going on, about the role of government, what government can and should be doing. Second, decide whether you’re prepared to identify yourself with one of the political parties. And if you are, then join the local riding association on the federal level. Be prepared to work in that association doing research for them, taking part in their meetings, organizing on the ground, helping at election time.
And then maybe stand for election as president of the riding association. Become more and more involved. Get linked more and more broadly in the political party. And then look for an opportunity for a nomination. It’s not easy but it’d be an open riding. If it fits with your life plan, figure out how to run. Raise the money. Develop the contacts, the support network. Tell people of your interest. Sign them up as supporters. Seek the nomination.
And then from there it’s a matter of luck and hard work and trying to make it all happen. All you can do is put yourself in a position where, if a lucky break comes along you can grab it. So that would be my advice.
Vivene Salmon: So this generation of young lawyers is socially minded and well travelled. Many like me are first or second-generation Canadians with extensive links to many countries around the globe. Do you have any advice on how these links may be leveraged to develop an international legal career, or even here at home?
Allan Rock: Well, you’re inviting me to think about the profession in a way that I never did when I was practicing. My practice was purely domestic. It was purely Canadian, mostly Ontario and mostly Toronto, so there wasn’t really an international aspect to my practice. But as you say, things have changed. The current generation of young lawyers, first of all, they may be part of a – they may have a heritage from outside the country. Their family originally may have come from the Caribbean or from India or from Asia, South America. Canada’s been blessed with such a diversity of citizenship so our young lawyers derive their heritage from so many interesting places.
And that connection between that young lawyer and their community of heritage can be a bridge, a bridge to opportunity. It might be a bridge to establishing legal links with the person’s country of origin. It could lead to international arbitrations if they have a reputation in both countries or they have connections in both countries that would give opportunities to be part of international arbitrations, or being retained by a foreign company to represent its interests here in Canada, or getting word out that the diaspora from the country of origin that you’re available to do legal work and so retainers might come in that way.
So, I think there are opportunities. And I'm now sort of thinking out loud because it’s not something I personally lived, but I can imagine, I can imagine Vivene, that for a young lawyer who has experience in travel, who has connections with other countries, who may have had summer or other jobs that have exposed that young person to other countries and their perspectives, all of that could give rise to opportunities in the legal profession.
Vivene Salmon: So, around the world COVID-19 has disrupted social life and has really dealt a massive blow to the global economy. What advice do you have for this year’s law grads to help them thrive in a difficult economic environment?
Allan Rock: It’s such a difficult time. Even without COVID-19 it’s a challenging time. I'm now teaching at the University of Ottawa Law School. This is my third year teaching there, something that I really love, and I especially love being around students. But I've also been exposed to the anguish and the worry of today's law students about what will they do. Where will they find work? How will they use their preparation as a lawyer?
Obviously the traditional avenues have become very constrained or have disappeared. And we talk a lot in the law school about the alternative ways in which degrees can be used. I'm asked to speak with a lot of students and I regularly talk with my students about where they might find opportunities, especially internationally. And we talk about government; we talk about NGOs, multilateral organizations, as well as private practice.
With COVID-19, now the good news is we’re going to rebound from this. As everyone says, eventually we’ll get this thing under control. There’s be a vaccine. There’ll be treatments. The economy will reopen. And when it does reopen, I suspect the rate of growth to recover from what we’ve lost will be very rapid. So, the good news is a year or 18 months from now things will be booming again, but in the meantime it’s very difficult.
And I know that at our own law school we’ve developed programs for this summer using donations from a variety of foundations and individuals to create opportunities for students, to give them something to do to earn money either immediately after graduation or between years of law school. So we’re putting together as much money as we can, but that’s sort of an interim, temporary, partial response to your question.
The real response to your question is it’s going to be difficult. And we have to do everything we can to assist students, whether it’s hiring them part time, whether it’s giving them research assignments, whether it’s steering them in the direction of where we know there might be opportunity. It’s a difficult time and I feel very badly for the students who have to live through this, and we must all do everything we can to help. And I'm sure the CBA has its own approaches as well.
Vivene Salmon: Yes, I agree it’s important to stay positive. Allan, we’re getting close to the end of our time unfortunately, but one thing I want to ask you is – and I think our listeners want to hear – is what pearls of wisdom would you like to leave with young lawyers listening across the country today?
Allan Rock: Well I'm not sure I have any pearls of wisdom, Vivene. I just express the deepest respect for those who have chosen this as their profession, who have made it through school, have gone out there in the profession. I guess what I would say is just have faith in yourself. These are tough times, but you do have something to offer and you will find a way to offer it.
It may not be in the traditional practice of law and maybe, unlike me, you won't be able to use your degree exactly as you had dreamed or intended. But you will find a way to do work that’s fulfilling. You will find opportunities. Have faith in yourself. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Settle for second best if you have to for a while, and keep your eye open for the opportunity to do the very best you want to do. And I wish you every success.
Vivene Salmon: I've been speaking to Allan Rock. He’s had an amazing legal career. There’s so much to talk about but today he’s sharing with us highlights of his stellar career as a former Ambassador, liberal Justice Minister and President Emeritus of Ottawa University.
Over the course of this podcast series I've spoken to lawyers at all stages of their legal careers from across Canada about the impacts societal, economic and technological changes have had on their careers since the 2008 recession. When I began recording this series, I had no idea that 2020 would end up looking a lot like 2008 with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis creating its own economic and professional upheaval.
The COVID crisis is likely to accelerate changes already occurring in the legal profession and it’s clear that this year’s graduates will have to be more savvy and entrepreneurial than ever before to succeed. We want to hear your stories about the changes you’ve seen in the legal profession or think the profession needs to make. Where do you see generational conflict? And how do you suggest we overcome it? Let us know on Twitter at CBA_news, on Facebook and on Instagram at @canadianbarassociation.
It’s been so interesting hearing perspectives about intergenerational conflict, innovation and technology from lawyers all across Canada. Thank you to all my podcast guests and thanks to all my avid listeners from across the country.
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