Featured Educator: Metropolitan Community College
News – Feature (Employment Paper of BC)
Getting on the right side of the law
Lawyers, paralegals and legal administrative assistants appear to be in high demand in 2011
By Noa Glouberman
According to research conducted earlier this year by Robert Half International (RHI), hiring in the legal field remained strong in the second quarter of 2011, with 45% of lawyers interviewed planning to add legal staff in the months of May and June. “The majority of lawyers polled are at least somewhat confident in their organizations’ ability to expand,” RHI reported at the time. “Hiring activity is expected to take place predominantly at law firms.”
“I think the current job market is pretty good,” agrees Bill Maclagan, office managing partner for Vancouver law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP. “The general business economy … is rebounding. This increases the demand for legal services. “At this time, there is a strong demand in the securities, mergers and acquisitions, finance and commercial litigation areas,” he adds. “This is simply driven by client demand.”
When asked if baby boomer retirement will have an impact on legal hiring, Maclagan says, “More women will take on key senior management roles in law firms and … more and more significant client relationship roles. This change is already taking place.” If you want to be a lawyer, Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP partner Ludmila Herbst says your first step will be to enter law school after completing an undergraduate degree (or, the first three years of a course of study leading to an undergraduate degree) and writing the law school admission test. At law schools like the University of British Columbia (UBC) and University of Victoria, she adds, a law degree requires a further three years of study.
In order to qualify to practise law in B.C., which means having been “called to the B.C. bar,” Herbst says graduates must complete a one-year Law Society of BC (LSBC) admission program comprised of nine months of articles (practice and training) at a law firm or other legal workplace, a 10-week professional legal training course and two qualification exams.
While the steps to becoming a lawyer are numerous, the rewards seem well worth it.
“The law is a great career that offers many opportunities,” says Maclagan. “A lawyer gets exposed to many people, many challenges and many exciting opportunities. It also can be a great entry to a business career or public office if one chooses. I cannot think of a more interesting career.”
There are other types of legal careers, too. Among the most popular: legal administrative assistants and paralegals. Paralegals assist lawyers by taking care of duties like filing, preparing and writing legal documents, handling correspondence, drafting minutes and reports and doing research. They may also handle simple legal procedures such as files for small claims court, property disputes and disability appeals. And, thanks to recent plans by the LSBC to revisit talks on expanding their roles, paralegals in this province may soon be in greater demand than ever before.
“The implementation of such talks may result in a dramatic growth of paralegal practice in B.C.,” confirms Dr Cyril Okoye, president and consultant criminologist at Metropolitan Community College.
He quotes the summer issue of LSBC’s Bencher’s Bulletin, which reported that “the law society has a vision that would see paralegals taking on a broader range of legal tasks than are currently permitted. It is exciting, new ground that will be good for … paralegals.” To become a paralegal, a post-secondary education either to a diploma or degree level is essential. While some institutions require previous work experience as a pre-requisite for admission to a paralegal program, Okoye says that isn’t the case at Metropolitan “because of its 24-week, paid co-opprogram, which provides students with work experience before graduation.”
Bohdan Bilan, vice-president of academics for Vancouver Career College, agrees that hands-on training within the Canadian legal system is a key to success. “Our students not only receive their paralegal diploma, but also graduate with Internet and core computing certification and a five-week practicum on their resumé,” he says. “From here, graduates can apply for paralegal positions in the employment field.”
Legal administrative assistants, on the other hand, look after various secretarial duties in a legal office like filing and keeping track of the significant amount of paperwork that’s typically generated by a busy law firm.
Vancouver Career College offers a legal administrative assistant diploma that focuses on developing computer application and software skills specific to the legal industry.
“Students take courses in civic litigation, family, real estate, corporate, commercial and wills and estates law,” says Bilan. “All of this training, along with a hands-on, five-week practicum, prepares graduates for their role in maintaining an organized workflow in a legal office.”
He adds that the current job market for the Canadian legal sector is “looking up for qualified paralegals and legal administrative assistants.”
“Since their work provides support for lawyers and other legal staff, they are valuable assets to well-organized, fast-paced legal work environments,” he explains.
“Depending on the diversity of practice, law firms often attract a number of practitioners whose services are complementary to the daily law practice,” Okoye adds. “These include forensic accountants, certified fraud investigators and immigration consultants.”
On the immigration front, newcomers to Canada are often in need of legal professionals to help them resolve immigration matters. As such, court interpreters are currently in high demand.
“There are many work assignments in the courts but there is a big lack of qualified court interpreters,” confirms Tisha Nixon, director of interpretation and translation services for Aquinas Institute Corp., which specializes in court-judicial-legal interpreting services. A legal interpreter, according to Nixon, is a professional who “conveys in the first person exactly what a speaker says in one language in a different foreign language to another person or people. Generally, the statements are related to legal topics, matters or cases.” As such, legal interpreting requires proficiency in the source language and the target language as well as a good knowledge of legal terminology. This requires professional training.
“B.C. courts require that we send only experienced or trained court interpreters to court trials,” she stresses. “As an interpretation service company, [our] challenge … is recruiting qualified interpreters and how to make those with no experience realize that court interpreter training is necessary.”
To be considered an accredited interpreter by the Ministry of Attorney General’s Court Services Branch, you must have one of the following:
• a court interpreting certificate from Vancouver Community College;
• certification as a court interpreter by the Society of Translators and Interpreters of BC (STIBC); or
• certification as a court interpreter from a society belonging to the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council.
Aquinas also offers a court-judicial-legal interpreter training seminar to help new, inexperienced interpreters launch their careers by learning more about basic court interpreting duties, ethics, the Canadian court system and legal terminology, and provides practical interpreting exercises, as well.
Though only the STIBC can designate a certified court interpreter and only the Ministry of Attorney General can designate an accredited court interpreter, Aquinas’ seminar provides an excellent professional development opportunity to any interpreter or translator.
“A UBC student took the seminar … and within three months she sent an email stating that the seminar came in handy as she has been doing a lot of interpreting, especially court interpreting,” says Nixon.
“Other seminar attendees are now working in the government sector and with other agencies or have their own interpreting businesses.” firstname.lastname@example.org