Mentorship Speech to the Bermuda Bar Association, 29 April 2015

Mentorship Speech to the Bermuda Bar Association given on the 29th April,2015 in Hamilton, Bermuda

which was recognized as a Continuing Legal Education Programme for the local Bar Assocation.

Mentorship- Historical Background

Common Law traditions started in England and Lincoln’s Inn is one of the oldest Inns of Court in England founded more than 600 years ago. It was a forum for the Barristers to meet together and discuss the questions of legal jurisprudence as it evolved into the common law principles which are still applicable both in England and also in nearly 60 commonwealth countries which follow the English tradition. This was the environment of Mentorship.

The idea of meeting together and sharing of experiences and connecting and networking and supporting and inspiring others to achieve the best in professional practice of law is fundamental to the development of law and legal practice and culture of the law in all jurisdictions. Each country and the lawyers in that country develop their own individual traditions and culture which is passed on to the younger members of the profession so they begin with the skills of one generation and improve on what they have learnt. The culture of law and institutions continue to change ane evolve.

Much of the legal culture of the court room in each country is learnt from more experienced members of the profession and is passed on to the younger members. More often than not, the traditions of law are learnt from mentorship of senior members and passed on to pupils within the law firm or law chambers. Mentorship allows this sharing of knowledge and tradition between the members of the profession at large. Not enough is written on these subjects to be passed on to others who may not have the benefit of direct contact with experienced members of the profession.

The traditions of courtesy, making of social contacts and networking are similar in the four Inns of Court of England, namely, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, Gray’s Inn and Inner Temple. These four Inns of Court are responsible for arranging of dinners which are compulsory for the law students aspiring to be Barristers in England even today.

During the nineteen fifties and sixties many of the previous colonies of England became independent and became part of the commonwealth of countries, including, Bermuda, Canada and India which have continued the legal systems and traditions of the legal culture inherited from England but modified in the local jurisdictions.

I was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn and am a member of the Ontario Law Society of Upper Canada and am also an Advocate of the High Court of Gujarat, India. During the last 40 years I have seen first hand the traditions in these countries and watched them evolve. Each of these jurisdictions, have evolved their own traditions and legal culture based on the foundations of the English Law and traditions.

It is very helpful, in my view, to give the culture of the law a thought and help evolve it in the right direction for better and efficient resolution of the conflicts that the common law system helps us do. Common law system is adversarial and designed to have each lawyer acting for his client represent his interest. It is the role of the  unbiased Judge to determine a resolution based on the advocacy of the lawyer who presents the law and facts from the perspective of his client.

Canadian Traditions

Canadian Traditions, except for Quebec, follow the English model. Ontario follows traditions of England, except for some significant differences. Most lawyers are both Barristers as well as Solicitors which permits the client to have direct access to the Counsel who will represent him in the court. This helps to develop the trust and confidence needed for the client in the counsel during the course of litigation.

In the Ontario Courts, where I sit as a Deputy Judge, the traditions of the court room culture are similar to the Courts of England except for some differences. The lawyer bows to the Judge and the Judge bows to the lawyers at the opening of the hearing. In England the opposing counsel is called ‘my learned friend’ and in Ontario they are called ‘counsel’. Some of the American culture is beginning to come into the Canadian court room and also in the manner in which the lawyers deal with each other which in the United States is more adversarial.

Unlike Barristers Chambers in England which are small, the Canadian Law offices can be big with many lawyers in one law firm. Large law firms indicate their law firm name on the pleadings. In Canada access to the Barrister is direct by the client whereas it is through the Solicitor in England. Canadian lawyers are more assertive to the opposing counsel and more like American lawyers but not quite.

The adversarial nature of the profession reflects also in the way conveyancing is practiced for property closings in Canada and the ‘civility’ as it is called in Ontario, is affected by the culture of the profession as practiced in this jurisdiction.

New members of the Bar need to understand the culture of the profession and the way clients and opposing counsel are dealt with. It also affects the way fees are charged.

Mentorship programmes help to learn these traditions and customs. Understanding the relationships also helps to minimize negligence cases for the professionals.

Law Society in Ontario has a mentorship programme which permits a member of the Bar to call a senior member of the profession for advice. This is done on as needed basis and limited by time constraints of senior counsel.

My Experience

I started the mentorship group about 5 years ago. It started as  dinner meeting group. As a senior member I shared my experiences of about 40 years with younger members who were called to bar but were facing challenges of finding clients, learning to deal with them, deciding on fees to be charged, dealing with  opposing counsel relationship, trial preparation and advocacy in court and many other issues.

The most important experience to be passed on was the skill to weigh the principles of law, causes of action, and strategy to solve legal problems which requires the understanding and weighing of the evidence and law to reach a conclusion or advance an argument. In my view the pupilage or articling are not enough to achieve these skills. Each different area of law carries with it a different set of skills and it takes about a year or two to get comfortable in each area of law. Mentorship can speed up this learning process. In my observation academic learning at university provides the foundation of principles of law but not the practical problem solving.