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Ontario law schools abdicating training responsibility: Rosen

Graduates are being left to seek out advocacy training on their own, Toronto criminal lawyer John Rosen tells Law Times, and he wishes Ontario law schools would put a greater emphasis on teaching practical skills.

“A lot of young lawyers are desperate to do well. There is nobody there to help them. When I started, I did not have mentors, but we had a lot more opportunities to do trials, especially jury trials. That is how you learned your trade,” Rosen, founder of Rosen & Company Barristers, says in Law Times.

In fact, law schools are abdicating their duty to provide students with practical advocacy training, leaving a “hodge-podge approach to developing those skills,” Rosen further tells AdvocateDaily.com. "Those who want to do court work rely on the training they get, if any, during their articling year," he says.

“That’s not nearly enough. Advocacy skills are difficult to learn and develop over time. They require experience and some degree of oversight so that people have a way of measuring whether they are getting ahead,” Rosen adds. 

The Law Times article outlines the elimination of a four-and-half-month period of practical skills training for law students. The cut resulted from major changes to the bar admissions requirements in Ontario a decade ago.

Part of that training included advocacy, the article says.

In the aftermath, the Law Society of Ontario, The Advocates’ Society and private firms have been among those trying to fill the gap for lawyers seeking to hone their courtroom skills, Law Times reports.

“Law schools will tell you they are not in the business of producing lawyers,” Rosen tells AdvocateDaily.com.

"They are in the business of granting post-graduate degrees in law and that it's up to the individual to decide what to do with it. They don’t really care if graduates go into the practice of law or something else."

In response, Rosen has been conducting pro bono workshops for young lawyes over the past six years.

Rosen started the workshops, which consist of six three-hour sessions, after hearing judges’ comments about “poor advocacy,” he says.

Lawyers with less than five years of practical experience are eligible.

“I thought to myself, how do you actually teach this stuff and what exactly is the challenge," Rosen tells AdvocateDaily.com.

"I realized one of the problems was that nobody teaches how to critically analyze the problem with cross-examination in mind,” adds Rosen, who will be honoured in November by the Criminal Lawyers’ Association with the G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal. 

He says law schools could take a lesson from the training provided to medical students.

“Can you imagine a doctor who has never been in an operating room or an emergency room when they’re coming out to practise?

“So what they now do in medical school, and I know there are differences, is starting in first year they are already in the hospitals. There is a clear recognition their students are there to practise medicine,” Rosen tells AdvocateDaily.com.

"So why is it that we’re afraid to say people who go to law school are there to become lawyers, and of those, a certain percentage are there to go to court?”

Rosen's weekend workshops include sessions on "meeting the client, disclosure, conducting a preliminary hearing, cross-examination, preparing the client to testify and preserving the record for any appeal" using a prior case, says Law Times.

A courtroom is provided by The Superior Court of Justice in Toronto for the class to meet to get practical training, says the article.

“We can talk to young lawyers about trials at 10,000 feet. But they don’t take place there. They are at ground zero,” says Rosen, adding that effective advocacy needs advance planning.

“You have to know where am I going to stand? Is it the best spot? Am I blocking the jury? You can’t put on a stage show unless you have thought it out beforehand,” says Rosen in the article.

“It is constant advocacy. Judges and juries are human. They want to know what happened. You have to do your homework and put forward a scenario that you say is the correct scenario. The defence starts with the first [Crown] witness. I turn that witness into my witness,” he says.

 

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