FMC Takes Innovative Approach to Help Foreign-Trained Lawyer Overcome Licensing Barrier

Last fall, when Michael Schafler, a partner at law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain (FMC) in Toronto, met Deepshika Dutt, an Indian-trained lawyer with a Master’s of Law degree from the University of Western Ontario, he knew immediately her talent and training would make her a valuable asset to the firm and its clients.

“We and our clients insist on quality and she’s first rate,” says Mr. Schafler.

Unfortunately, Ms. Dutt still needed to complete a 10-month articling position before she could be licensed to practise law in Ontario and there were no articling positions available at FMC.

Thinking Outside the Box

That’s when Mr. Schafler decided to get creative. What if, instead of one law firm providing the articling position for 10 months, the time could be split amongst several different firms?

“Once I met Deepshika in person, I knew she deserved this opportunity,” says Mr. Schafler.

He called a friend and colleague, Deloitte’s general counsel Ken Fredeen, and asked if he would be interested in sharing an articling student.

“He immediately embraced the idea,” says Mr. Schafler.

The Way Things Have Always Been Done

Large law firms in Toronto are part of an institutionalized recruitment and placement system for articling students, says Mr. Schafler. Recruitment begins when these students are in the first year of law school and they are hired as first-year summer students. The same students then return to the same law firms as second-year summer students and again as articling students after graduation.

Ms. Dutt met all the necessary requirements to have her law degree from Punjab University recognized in Ontario and passed the bar exam. However, the Law Society of Upper Canada still required her to complete the same 10-month articling position required of all Ontario law school graduates.  But because she didn’t attend an Ontario law school, she was applying for positions that had been filled three years earlier.

To add insult to injury, many of those same articling students are hired back as first-year associates, which meant Ms. Dutt’s chances of finding a job with a large firm after being called to the bar were slim to none. “If you don’t get a good articling firm then you don’t get a good job,” she says.

She attended countless networking events and was told over and over again that her qualifications were great but the firms just didn’t have any positions available. Finally Ms. Dutt’s networking paid off when she was introduced to Mr. Schafler.

In the end, Ms. Dutt is splitting her 10-month articling position, which began last November, between three firms: four months with a sole practitioner she found through the Law Society of Upper Canada’s website, three months with Deloitte and three months with FMC.

“At the end of the day she’s going to get the kind of training that, first of all, she deserves, but also the kind of training that will allow her to go wherever she wants to be and be a really good lawyer in Ontario,” says Mr. Schafler.

The Business Case

For Mr. Schafler and FMC, there are two reasons for ensuring skilled immigrants like Ms. Dutt have the same chances as Canadian-born professionals.

The first is it’s the right thing to do, he says. The second, and most important, is it’s a business imperative.

“Many of our clients — the big banks, the big accounting firms, the big publicly traded companies — have requirements for diversity and inclusiveness. If their service providers don’t comply with those requirements, they will not get the work,” says Mr. Schafler.

“You have to be business savvy. Our experience teaches us that if you exclude a potential employee segment from your workforce, you will miss out on the best potential talent. Whether that talent comes from Napanee, Ont., originally or from Sri Lanka, it really shouldn’t matter.”

Tips for Employers

  • Don’t let traditional ways of doing things get in the way of hiring top talent. Just because something has “always been done that way,” doesn’t mean it’s the best way.
  • Be open to creative solutions that include working collaboratively with another organization.  Both organizations will end up benefiting in the end.
  • Don’t focus on country of origin or degree. Be open to the best talent wherever it comes from or else risk losing out.
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