As the second anniversary of Canada’s first observership program for internationally trained lawyers (ITLs) approaches, there is cause for celebration. Both employers and participants are benefiting from the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society initiative designed to help ITLs learn more about the legal system in this country.
For Farhan Raouf, his three-month observership with Cox & Palmer in Halifax has been invaluable. “I made connections, I learned about the law, I saw the law in action first hand,” the Pakistan native told Hearsay.
For Cox & Palmer, the experience of taking part in the observership program “opened our eyes up to the talents that people have who are not from Canada,” says Claude Baldachino, the firm’s director of professional development. “We’re going to continue involving ourselves in these programs.”
The initiative, launched in 2013 with funding from the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, was established to address the challenges, barriers, and gaps that internationally trained lawyers face. The intent is to expose ITLs to all facets of legal practice in Nova Scotia and, thereby, smooth their entry into the legal profession—if that is their goal.
[it] opened our eyes up to the talents that people have who are not from Canada.
Attention to detail and flexibility are two of the core components in a successful observership. Baldachino and his colleagues adapted an existing program for first-year law students built around shadowing lawyers in the firm as they go about their day-to-day work. Raouf, who has just completed his master’s of law at Dalhousie University, identified his areas of legal interest: privacy, health law, and corporate law. His program reflected those interests—and more. “We made sure he was paired with lawyers in those areas, but we also showed him other areas of the firm,” explains Baldachino. “He connected with approximately 90 per cent of our lawyers.”
The three-month calendar created for Raouf built his level of involvement over the length of the observership, recognizing that his time was not billable but that his skills should be showcased. He went from shadowing to sitting in on discoveries to going to court with counsel to writing memos. “They gave me enough room to show my abilities as well,” says Raouf.
But ultimately his observership program with Cox & Palmer was successful because the firm did more than put an agenda of activities together. “They welcomed me,” says Raouf. “The love of law I have, I saw in every lawyer here. They guided me. They corrected my mistakes in a way that made me feel valued.”