Myrna McCallum–a former prosecutor and Indian Residential School adjudicator–sees it as a critical competency requirement, yet one that’s missing from law school and bar course curriculums.
Today’s tip is to learn about trauma-informed lawyering through McCallum’s podcast, the Trauma-Informed Lawyer, which she has created in partnership with the Canadian Bar Association.
McCallum sets out to offer some of that education through in-depth conversations with fellow lawyers, judges, academics and others on vicarious trauma, restorative/transformative justice, cultural humility, trauma and diversity, and many more vitally important topics.
From episode 1:
“I created this podcast to educate, inform and inspire lawyers and all interested listeners. Although I originally had law students, lawyers and judges in mind when I thought about this podcast and who I wanted it to speak to, it really is for everyone, especially those who have worked inside the courtroom, or with police services, advocacy organizations, or just anyone committed to access to justice.”
Ethical lapses on the part of lawyers are often due to mistake, rather than known wrongdoing. The problem is not intention, but lack of attention. Taking the time to pause and ask yourself the following ethical questions before embarking on a course of action will help maintain your ethical obligations, your quality of representation, and the benefit you provide to the public.
1.Are you competent in the relevant legal areas? “Don’t dabble” is an oft-repeated mantra. Lawyers may sometimes feel pressure to expand the scope of their representation to encompass tangential or additional matters brought forward by a client. Sometimes the best legal advice you can give to a client is a referral to another lawyer with the necessary experience.
2. Who is your client? Lawyers can sometimes find themselves in a situation where they are, perhaps inadvertently, representing multiple parties with potentially adverse interests. Be careful to specify and remind yourself who you have agreed to represent, and then ensure that the instructions you take and the advice you give are from and to that person.
3. What are your client’s intentions? Fraudsters often use inattentive lawyers as unknowing instruments and accomplices for unethical and illegal conduct. Willful blindness or unreasonable ignorance in such circumstances will not prevent a potential finding of liability for malpractice, or worse. Take the time to confirm your client is not leading everyone, including you, down the garden path.
4. What are the parameters of your retainer? Lawyers can run into trouble when they act without client instructions or fail to act in accordance with instructions. This can leave you torn between bad choices if time-sensitive developments occur and your client is unavailable to instruct. Ensure you set out at the beginning of the retainer the exact scope of your representation, the circumstances in which you will seek instructions, and the ways in which you will obtain those instructions.
5. Are you maintaining confidentiality? An inadvertent failure to keep client confidentiality can be a serious breach of a lawyer’s ethical obligations. For example, border crossing with electronic devices containing privileged information can expose those devices to search by Canadian or foreign officials. Only bring “clean” devices across a border (without any confidential information on them). In the alternative, encrypting the contents of your devices or segregating privileged material into clearly marked folders or accounts will still provide some safeguards for your ethical obligations.
Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.
When you post content on LinkedIn or even comment on someone else’s post, what part of your profile do your connections see in their feed? Three things. That’s it.
A mini thumbnail of your headshot
A headline (120 characters or less)
Most lawyers and other professionals use their LinkedIn profile headline for their literal job title. That’s not actually the best way to maximize this line. Job titles all tend to sound the same and they aren’t really that interesting. Imagine seeing a sea of these titles in a search result.
Your headline can convey more than your actual job title. It can become an advertisement for your profile page. So, for today’s tip, consider how you can update your LinkedIn headline to maximize the value of all your views:
Can you describe how you help your clients?
What types of clients do you work with?
How do clients benefit from working with your firm?
Can you describe the style in which you deliver your services?
Why did you choose this line of work?
Take 5 minutes today to update the most important line on your LinkedIn profile. It’s a worthwhile step, given the exposure it gets relative to the rest of your page.
For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:
Administrator’s note: thanks to Toronto legal communication expert and litigation consultantCaroline Mandell for this guest tip!
Here are five tips for virtual oral argument, now that I’ve watched some Zoom appeals:
Stand, don’t sit. The neuroscience shows we literally think better on our feet, and it’s the way you’re accustomed to arguing. Invest in a desktop lectern to make it feel more authentic.
File an oral argument compendium to direct the court to key documents rather than sharing your screen. It’s easier for judges to follow along and mark up their own copies. (Bonus: the compendium forces you to prep well in advance of the hearing.)
Enlist someone whose only job is to watch the judges’ faces and signal you when it looks like someone wants to ask a question. No legal training required—put a family member to work.
If you need a break, ask for it. If the court offers to take a break, agree to it. Even a 5-minute pause between your argument and your co-counsel or opposing counsel’s argument will be cognitively refreshing for everyone.
SLOW DOWN. Zoom deprives you of many of the non-verbal cues that normally tell you to put the brakes on. Pause when you’re directing the court to a document or moving onto a new point. Ask if they’re ready to proceed.
Now as always, the secret to good advocacy is empathy. Put yourself in the court’s position and ask yourself what you’d find most helpful. Then do that. Good luck!
Assuming we want to look as confident and professional on someone else’s computer screen as we do in person, here are a few tips for hosting or attending online meetings.
1) Ensure confidentiality and security
Not all video conferencing software provides the same security, so consider whether your meetings will require true end-to-end encryption. To avoid uninvited guests logging into your meeting and listening-in or causing disruption, require a password for entry. It’s also a good idea to use a virtual waiting room where attendees will log in and wait until they are specifically granted access by the host.
2) Check your tech
Place your camera at approximately eye-level. When speaking, look at the camera, not the screen. Use headphones to avoid audible echoes. And be sure to test any new software or equipment before logging into any meetings with others.
3) Don’t assume others know how to use the software
If you expect to be arranging online meetings with new contacts, it’s a good idea to prepare (or download, if one already exists) a brief step-by-step walkthrough for accessing the meeting, and provide those instructions to every attendee in advance. Ensure others have backup contact info for the host, should they be unable to access the meeting.
4) Dress (and set-dress) to impress
Maintain a look consistent with how you would appear in-person. Don’t forget proper leg-ware! Use a wall or tidy shelf as a backdrop—avoid windows as they can be distracting and can blow out your lighting, making you difficult to see.
5) Prepare to share
If you will be referring to documents during the meeting, prepare in advance what you will and will not be screen-sharing. Remember to close any non-relevant windows or programs you may have running in the background, as you probably don’t want others to see the online shopping or cat videos you were looking at earlier.
6) Mute, mute, and mute
For meetings with a large number of attendees, remind everyone at the start that they should mute their microphones if they’re not speaking (and unmute when they are).
7) Summarize and memorialize, and/or record with written consent
If meeting with a client, remember to memorialize the meeting immediately after it ends, and put any instructions received or advice given into writing. In some cases, it may be helpful to record the meeting. If you intend to do so, obtain the written consent of those attending, and confirm their consent at the start of recording.
Shawn Erker (@ShawnErker) is Legal Writer & Content Manager at LAWPRO.
It’s hard to believe that the COVID-19 lockdown began only three months ago. It feels like forever! And yet, many are predicting that we are just getting started.
Use this time for business planning. Don’t just dust off any old run-of-the-mill template, mind you. Take an honest and deeply introspective look at your future.
Whether your market has been irrevocably changed or you’re expecting things to pick up and return to normal (the new normal…), most lawyers have experienced some form of a shake up. As difficult as it may be to put a positive spin on a pandemic, this break could be treated as an opportunity to reimagine specific aspects of your practice.
Why go back to something that never really worked for you in the first place?
Instead, return to your original intentions. Why did you become a lawyer? Why did you choose this area of law? If you’re a business owner, why did you start your own firm? Which clients give you the most professional satisfaction? The best work / life balance? The highest profit margin?
Use this time to recommit to your objectives (or set new ones) and adjust your plans to support them. After all, when are you going to have a better chance to go for your goals?
Now is the time.
For related reading, see these past articles on Slaw:
Erin Cowling’s wonderful interview series, Women Leading in Law, is back up and running after a bit of a break.
In response to the difficult times we’re in, Cowling notes, “I don’t know about you but I need some good news right about now. And I believe there’s nothing better than reading positive stories about women kicking butt in law“.
In her series (at 45 interviews and counting!), Cowling asks women lawyers working in a wide variety of roles and practice areas a standard set of six questions:
Tell me a little about your practice or business.
Why did you go to law school?
How did you get to where you are today? Design? Chance? Both?
What is your most significant achievement? What are you proud of?
What are some key challenges, and more importantly, opportunities for women in law?
What advice would you give a woman starting her legal career?
The responses are fascinating and unexpected and contain excellent advice. Spending some time reading them is almost guaranteed to inspire you!
Our personal and professional lives have been dramatically impacted by COVID-19. We’re all trying our best to stay informed, remain physically and mentally healthy, and to live and work in this brave new world. I am not alone in suggesting that staying informed about this pandemic and experiencing this constant barrage of information about COVID-19 through the media, social media, and web has become mentally and physically exhausting. How do you stay informed, prevent information overload, and remain mentally well all at the same time?
As a law librarian, one of my skill sets is navigating, curating, aggregating, and communicating sources of information and content. In my workplace, the Law Society of Saskatchewan, we are doing our best to guide you towards reliable sources of information about COVID-19 and its impact on your physical and mental health, the practice of law, and the judicial system.
In this vein, we offer some suggestions that may help you to stay informed:
Misinformation and unsubstantiated stories about COVID-19 are rife. Don’t forget to critically evaluate and assess the content you view. In this infographic, the International Federation of Library Associations suggests you evaluate the source, check the author, consider the supporting sources, and more.
2. Follow These Information Sources to Learn More:
We encourage you to follow these excellent resources for frequent
posts and accurate information regarding COVID-19 and the practice of
This document provides practical guidance regarding the virus’s
impact on Canadian employment law, commercial law, corporate law, and
litigation practices. This material is only available to those with
access to LexisNexis Quicklaw.
The CBA resource hub provides legal and justice system updates, a
great collection of mental health resources, and a variety of
professional development resources you may want to take advantage of
during the pandemic.
How is the pandemic driving innovation in the legal sector and the
justice system? Follow Jordan Furlong’s Law21 blog to learn more!
3. Take a Break!
Finally, don’t be afraid to take an “information break” from the news media, social media, or any other sources of information about coronavirus. This is an overwhelming situation and we are experiencing a global pandemic, after all.
A version of this tip by Alan Kilpatrick first appeared on the Law Society of Saskatchewan Library’s Legal Sourcery Blog.
Toronto PR & communications pro Andrea Lekushoff posits that the coronavirus pandemic could be an “opportunity to begin moving away from the always-on, always-here law-firm culture, to step boldly into a new, flexible way of working.” (The Lawyer’s Daily)