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Embracing diversity the secret sauce of Ryerson’s LPP

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Law graduates are increasingly choosing Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program (LPP) for the opportunity to learn with people of diverse ages, professional and educational backgrounds, and for exposure to a wide range of cultures, languages and ideas, says program director Gina Alexandris.

The program, also offered in French in Ottawa, has become a magnet for those who see the benefits of working in groups that reflect the true diversity of Canadian society, and the richness this brings to the experience — as well as the opportunities, she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

“Our candidates often come with master's degrees in different fields, and some have PhDs,” Alexandris says. “Just in the past year, 27 of our participants had practised law for an average of three years. We’ve even had law professors and judges come to Canada to go through the licensing process here.”

Others have degrees in everything from art history, economics and gender studies to industrial relations, sciences and chemical engineering, she says.

“This diversity of educational background shows up in how the candidates engage with each other during the training component of the program, and in our placements. If an employer wants someone with a science background or a candidate who is fluent in a particular language, we can typically look into our pool and find a great match for them.

"In the four years that LPP leaders have tracked so far, participating candidates have been fluent or proficient in 68 languages — from Yoruba, Korean, Portuguese, Pashto, Italian and German to American Sign Language and Latin, Alexandris says. “This adds to the experience for our candidates in the training program, where they learn from and share with each other and our mentors.”

The program mixes participants who have deep-life experience with those fresh out of law school, and that benefits everyone, she says.

“I think it’s critical to remember that they’re not just people going through a licensing process. They bring all of their life experiences to the profession.”

In December, the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) moved the LPP from a pilot program to a permanent stream of licensing alongside traditional articling.

“The LPP is the most successful equity program the LSO has,” Alexandris says.

Since its launch six years ago as a fallback for graduates who couldn’t find an articling position, the LPP has morphed into a legitimate equal pathway to licensing, she says.

"By the end of this year, more than 1,100 candidates will have successfully completed the program. People often choose the LPP over an articling position because they think they can get a better, broader experience with us," Alexandris says.

As a snapshot of the people choosing the LPP, half are graduates of Canadian law schools — Ryerson has representation from all common law schools across the nation. A quarter earned undergraduate degrees here and then studied law abroad, while immigrants to Canada who received their law degrees in another country make up the balance.

“We’ve had representation from 62 law schools from around the world,” she says.

In the virtual law firms that constitute the training portion of the program, members are chosen randomly, mimicking the experience they'll have in their professional lives.

“We don’t intentionally try to put someone with 10 years' experience with a person who has 12 years' experience because we think everyone can learn from each other. And when you’re out in the workplace, you don’t get to choose who you’re going to work with on a team or committee” Alexandris says.

The program includes group-work training to prevent interpersonal conflicts that might arise among candidates with a “lone wolf” style, she says.

“Our country is very diverse. This international flavour helps a Canadian who’s never been outside the country embrace those differences that clients and other professionals are going to bring to them down the road. For someone from another jurisdiction, they have the opportunity to engage with Canadians to help them understand and appreciate the culture we have here,” Alexandris says.

"It’s a real benefit for them in terms of understanding who their future clients or colleagues will be, and how these differences should be embraced, not feared," she says.

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