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Law Faculty-provided Bar Association membership makes “great difference” to law students

August 31, 2018 — 

For the first time in its history, the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law paid for Manitoba Bar Association (MBA) memberships for all of its registered students starting in the fall of 2017. “I can report that there was a great difference,” said second-year law student Jennifer Sokal, who was the Manitoba Law Students’ Association (MLSA) representative on the MBA Council for 2017 – 2018.

During Sokal’s first year, law students were responsible for purchasing their own $20 memberships in the Manitoba chapter of Canada’s professional association for lawyers, as was the practice. During the 2017 – 2018 academic year, as an active member of the MLSA, she noticed an increase in students benefitting from educational and networking events and opportunities offered by the MBA.

“In the past, we always encouraged students to purchase their own memberships,” said Lisa Griffin, Career Development Coordinator at Robson Hall since 2014. “Some did choose to take advantage of that, but I am not certain there was enough awareness of what the MBA had to offer in terms of mentorship, workshops, and networking events.”

Beyond networking, students can learn about developments in their areas of interest alongside Manitoba lawyers. For example, because of her membership, Sokal said she attended a lunch last year at which two Supreme Court Justices spoke. Further, she noted that a large number of Robson Hall students attended a wine and cheese put on by the Young Lawyers’ MBA section in November, and that several students attended the MBA Mid-Winter Conference in January, which hundreds of lawyers also attend. Throughout the year, the Legal Research section of the MBA put on events of direct interest to students in Robson Hall’s Moot Courtroom.

The main activity that students participated in, according to Sokal, was the MBA/MLSA Mentorship Program, which matches students and mentors one-on-one based on their shared interests including area of law. The Program holds two formal events during the year including a wine and cheese at Winnipeg law firm Thompson Dorfman Sweatman (TDS), and a casual event at a downtown restaurant. “Mentors and students are also encouraged to interact outside of these events,” said Sokal, noting that only MBA members can join the Program. In the past, about 70 matches were made but this year, matches totaled 97. A follow-up survey conducted by the Manitoba Bar Association regarding the Mentorship Program sent to students in April, showed that 40% of students stated that they may not have signed up for the Program had their membership not been paid for. “This would have been a great loss to those students,” Sokal said, “as the survey reported that 80% of students were satisfied or highly satisfied with the Program.” 

“I’ve had students come to me this year and say that they feel having a mentor is invaluable, someone they can connect with and ask questions about the field of law,” said Griffin. “I tend to tell students that people are bridges to people,” she added. “I try to drive home how important that networking piece is when looking for summer jobs and articling positions.”

Without joining the CBA, Sokal observed, students would not interact with lawyers as often. “Entering law school, I did not know any lawyers,” she said. “Through my participation in the Mentorship Program in my first year, I made connections with lawyers that increased my confidence and my knowledge about practicing law in Manitoba. Networking is a key part of gaining employment as an articling student,” she added. “In my opinion, a CBA membership may be the difference for some students in finding a job.”

Griffin likewise saw benefits from the faculty’s actions in making memberships available at no cost to all its students. “Providing memberships for each and every law student in the faculty this year made a huge difference compared to what I’ve seen in past years when students were encouraged to register for their own memberships,” she said. Having worked for the past four years with law students seeking articling positions, Griffin noted that having a mentor and the opportunity to network within the profession is key to increasing chances of finding a job after graduation.“I have noticed that the number of students attending MBA workshops and events has increased this past year compared to previous,” she said.

Other positive aspects of the MBA/MLSA Mentorship Program (source: MBA):

  • 62% of students reported that interactions with their mentors have better prepared them for the job application process;
  • 71% of students reported that interactions with their mentors have reinforced that law school was the right decision for them;
  • 74% of students reported that interactions with their mentors have helped them learn about a particular area of practice;
  • 79% of students reported that interactions with their mentors have helped them understand more about the practice of law in Manitoba; and 
  • 52% of students reported that interactions with their mentors have provided them with contacts in the legal profession.

This year, the CBA introduced a Law Student Solutions Series, free webinars for Canadian law students with CBA chapter memberships. Member-students can watch the following webinars in the CBA website after logging in (source: MBA):

  1. Effortless Schmoozing: A Lawyer’s Guide to Authentic Networking;
  2. Practical Project Management: Proven Strategies to Keep You on Track;
  3. The Resilient Lawyer: Tools for Coping with Adversity, Setbacks and Stress;
  4. Overcome Perfectionism: Improve Your Performance and Get Stuff Done;
  5. Making Smarter Decisions: Mitigating the Effects of the Irrational Brain;
  6. Breaking Deadlock: Reopening Hopelessly Blocked Negotiations;
  7. Persuasion for Lawyers: Applying the Science of Influence; and
  8. Tough Conversations: Setting the Stage for Productive Outcomes.

MBA events where students were specifically invited to attend, were created with students in mind, or offered to them for free or at a reduced rate included (source: MBA):

  • October 10, 2017 – Labour & Employment Law Section – Preparing for and Conducting Labour Arbitrations
  • October 24, 2017 – Canadian Corporate (in-house) Counsel Section – What is an In-House Counsel (held in the Moot Courtroom at Robson Hall)
  • December 14, 2017 – Wills & Estates Section – Basic Will Drafting:  Tips and Challenges
  • January 2018 – Women Lawyers’ Section & Robson Hall Feminist Legal Forum – Women in the Practice of Law (held at Robson Hall)
  • January 18, 2018 – Young Lawyers’ Section Session at the MBA Mid-Winter Conference – Reading Financial Statements
  • January 18, 2018 – MBA Mid-Winter Working Lunch – Next Gen Dragon Nicole Verkindt, presented on changes to the way consumers interact with products and services and the implications that these trends will have on the legal sector
  • January 18, 2018 – Legal Research Section Session at the MBA Mid-Winter Conference – Wikipedia and Legal Research
  • March 1, 2018 – Legal Research Section – Value of a LL.M. Degree (held in the Moot Courtroom at Robson Hall)
  • May 14, 2018 – Alternative Dispute Resolution Section – Judicially Assisted Dispute Resolution (JADR)

Additionally, law students were invited to attend any of the MBA Mid-Winter conference sessions at no charge. 

MBA Events that were organized and held specifically for students included (source: MBA):

  • September 5, 2017 – Sponsored the Champagne Reception for 1stYear Law Students with MLSA and Law Society at Robson Hall
  • October 25, 2017 – Women Lawyers’ Section – Roundtable discussion topic of interest to women, allowing attendees to share their knowledge and experiences and to learn from one another
  • November 8, 2017 – Young Lawyers’ Section – Wine & Cheese Reception
  • November 14, 2017 – Aboriginal Law Section – Aboriginal Law Student reception held with the Manitoba Indigenous Law Students Association
  • November 15, 2017 – MBA/MLSA Mentorship Reception
  • November 16, 2017 – Women Lawyers’ Section – Wine, Women & Song – Coffeehouse Edition
  • November 22, 2017 – Labour & Employment Law Section – Wine & Cheese reception
  • January 18, 2018 – MBA Mid-Winter Bench & Bar Reception
  • February 28, 2018 – MBA/MLSA Mentorship Event
  • April 3, 2018 – Sponsored the MLSA Exam Cram Breakfast at Dinner at Robson Hall

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