Torys moves from rotation system to a Facebook-like page for articling students
Published Tuesday 5/22/2012 9:00:00 AM
Last updated Wednesday 9/26/2012 2:15:44 PM
Historically, “articling” and “rotation” have gone hand in hand at Canada’s major firms. The thinking for the most part was that students should get as wide an exposure to practice areas and lawyers as possible.
That could be fine, especially for students who have no idea what area they wanted to practise in when they started their professional life. But many students have at least some inkling of what they prefer when they leave law school, and many more develop a taste for an area of practise during the course of their articles.
Whatever the case, a rotation system is not necessarily ideal. And the less flexibility that is built into a rotation system, the less ideal it’s likely to be. Three or four month rotations, for example, can prove too brief for students to get a real taste of what working a file from beginning to end entails, leaving them with an incomplete perspective on what practising in an area really involves. As well, a rotation system means students can be forced off files just when their experience is becoming meaty. It also means that they may endure long months of work that doesn’t interest them before getting to something they find both challenging and stimulating.
These are among the reasons that Torys LLP no longer has a rotation system. Instead, the firm has moved to what it calls a “workload system” that it believes will help students get more files in their areas of interest, which they are asked to provide to the firm before their articles start.
The workload system is online. “It’s like a Facebook page for each of the students,” says Deborah Dalfen (pictured above), Torys’ Director of Student Affairs. “On it, each student lists his or her area of interest as well as the files they are working on and with whom they are working.”
Designated workload coordinators from among the firms’ associates have up-to-the-minute access to the system. “So when a lawyer seeks help, the coordinator can immediately see who has the capacity for and the interest in the file,” Dalfen explains.
The system allows students to remain on files throughout their articles, giving them a more comprehensive overview of practice. “The lawyers like it because they don’t have to continuously retrain students for the same file,” Dalfen says. “And students can develop their skills more effectively when they can sink their teeth into something from beginning to end, which often results in them getting more and more responsibility over time.”
David Forrester, an articling student at Torys, says that the workload system is more realistic than a rotation. “At no point in your career do you drop what you’re doing every three months as you would in a rotation,” he says. “The workload system lets you see an entire project through and, in fact, work on different projects from different departments, just as you might as an associate.”
Forrester’s colleague Laura Redekop agrees that the workload system works well. “The more work you get in the area from workload coordinators, the more you’re going to have people seek you out on a more informal basis,” she says. “Over time, the work originates more from relationships than from the system and that’s probably the way it should be.”
Kevin Wall, another student at Torys, was undecided at the outset of his articles as to whether his interests lay in corporate or litigation. “I’m a huge proponent of the no-rotation system,” Wall says. “From the beginning, it allowed me to get exposure in both areas, so that by the time I was halfway through, I was able to make an informed decision that I preferred corporate work.”
Indeed, Forrester says the lack of a rotation system was one of the main reasons he accepted a position at Torys. “I was never interested in litigation, and most firms force you to do a litigation rotation, but that had no appeal to me and I regarded it as a waste of time,” he says. “Having said that, the system allowed me to take on a couple of small litigation assignments, which only confirmed that I had no interest in the area.”
Dalfen says – and the students interviewed confirm – that the firm encourages students to at least try working in several practice areas. “We would prefer that they find a balance between broad experience and following things through,” Dalfen says.
Redekop, like Forrester, says her exposure to other areas served to confirm her preference for litigation. “I’ve definitely done corporate work and taken assignments in some more obscure areas, like trusts and estates,” she says.
What students must do in Torys’ system, however, is change their physical location every four months, even if the change is to a different floor in the same department. “The change allows students to meet new people and get more integrated with the firm as a whole,” says Dalfen.
Wall, for example, found himself on a corporate floor even when he was doing litigation work: “But that helped build relationships with corporate lawyers that helped me decide what I wanted to do."
Finally, Redekop maintains that the workload system contributes to a supportive environment among the students. “Colleagues at other large firms tell me that they can find themselves fighting for work and struggling in certain rotations to keep their names out there,” she says. “I haven’t experienced that kind of stress, and in fact, students who know that my particular interest in litigation might ask me if I would prefer to take a litigation file that has been assigned to them — and that fosters a sense of community.”
Torys, however, is not the only major firm that doesn’t have a rotation system, and much depends on the nature of the firm and the particular office. Take Davis LLP, for example, a national firm with 50 lawyers in its Toronto office. “The students work in the busy areas, so that they’re not sitting there doing nothing when quiet times settle on a department,” says Mike Richards, Chair of Davis’ Toronto Recruitment & Development Committee.