Lucille D’Souza, senior counsel in the RBC General Counsel Group & co-chairwoman of RBC’s diversity committee, talks to 4Students assistant editor Heather Gardiner about the company’s aboriginal articling program.
It’s a program that the diversity committee developed in recognition of a couple of things. One of [RBC’s] values as a corporation is diversity. We believe that diversity in our people and employees is an important asset and helps to serve our customers well. The RBC General Counsel Group is also a member of Legal Leaders for Diversity. It’s a group of general counsel that have decided to focus on diversity, and support diversity and inclusion in the in-house legal departments. As a result of that, we’re focused on various diversity initiatives and we recognize that increasing enrolment by aboriginals and ensuring that aboriginal students from law school have opportunities in articling and elsewhere through their careers, that it was important for us start the program. So we launched the aboriginal articling program in 2011.
How is the program structured?
We recognize at RBC within the law group that we don’t have some of the areas that a student may be interested in practising or get exposure to. For example, we don’t have a family law practice, we don’t have a litigation practice where students are actually going into and gaining some courtroom experience. So to the extent that a student is interested in a practice area that we don’t offer, we do partner up with external law firms that we use and offer the student, based on what their interests are as expressed to us, an opportunity to do a secondment with a law firm. During that secondment we still continue to pay their salary and they’re still considered to be articling with RBC, they just go and do this secondment for a couple of months.
Which law firms offer secondments?
We have a number of Bay Street law firms that are willing to offer our articling student a secondment opportunity. They range — we had lots of offers by law firms that we work with closely, [including] Osler [Hoskin & Harcourt LLP], Norton Rose [Canada LLP], Fraser [Milner Casgrain LLP], [and] Gowling [Lafleur Henderson LLP]. Last year our student elected to go to Fraser and do a secondment there for two months. All the law firms were equally embracing of the program and the opportunity to work with our student, so the door’s open as far as what the student would like to do and where the student would like to work.
What areas within the RBC law group are available for the student to work in?
We have a number of different subgroups within the RBC law group. We’ve got the banking group, we’ve got the corporate services group that I’m in, we have a public company group, and a few others. So there are a number of different opportunities and rotations that the student can have. They are encouraged to try different work and see if they can get exposure to different areas. At the end of the day, what we’d like to ensure is that the student is getting a broad range of work, so while they might be doing research in a number of different areas, as long as they get exposure to different practice areas and they come out of it with a good insight as to what they liked, what they enjoyed doing, and maybe what they may not want to practise in the future.
How does RBC choose the areas for a student’s rotation?
It’s actually very much at the student’s discretion. They indicate their interests and we explain to them what the different groups do. There’s always a need for having students involved and an ability for a student to get engaged on a file and work and see how the law group interacts with the business clients.
What are the in-house continuing legal education seminars that are offered to students?
We have a very comprehensive continuing legal education program within the law group. We have a knowledge management lawyer who’s responsible for facilitating our training and ensuring that we can fulfil our requirements for law society CLE. We offer these CLE programs on a monthly basis, if not more frequently. The student is encouraged to attend those. It can range from intellectual property matters, to enforcement of guarantees, or other Bank Act issues, for example. The student gets to participate in these just the same as every other lawyer does within the law group, and gets an opportunity to see other areas that people may practise in, and if they’d like to follow up in that area then we can provide them with an opportunity to work in there.
Are there a number of seminars the student is required to attend?
No, there’s no absolute number. We do our in-house CLE programs in conjunction with encouraging the students to participate with our law firm partners. So the law firms that we work closely with also allow the students to tag along with their student programs. Because we only have the one articling student ourselves, what we don’t have is very comprehensive curriculum training that you might get at a law firm; how to write a legal opinion, [Pension Benefits Standards Act] matters, and other things that would be part of a curriculum structure that a law firm would offer. So we have partnered up with those same law firms — Fraser, Norton Rose, Osler — and they’ve absolutely embraced the idea of having our student attend their seminars along with their articling students. So they also get exposure to other law firm environments and get to network with other articling students on Bay Street.
What’s the biggest difference between articling in private practice and an in-house legal department?
I did also practise in a law firm and when I was in law school I did a co-op law program at the University of Victoria. That was one of our opportunities to see the difference between working in a law firm and in-house. I think still to this day I’m of the belief that in a law firm you might see more sophisticated transactions sometimes — [RBC] does a fair number of complex transactions — but your role might be more discrete and less involved. [At RBC] I think you get more involved in transactional type of work. I think you also get exposure to clients more. So you understand a little bit more about why we’re doing something or what we want to do. I think in a law firm, also, you get the luxury of saying, “Here are the 104 legal issues with what you’re proposing and we’re going to outline them all to you here in this memo that we’ll put together and send to you.” In an in-house legal department, your business partners don’t want to see a 50-page memo or a 50-page opinion, they just want a very practical discussion and analysis that outlines the risks. So it’s a little bit more practical and I’d say quicker turnaround in some aspects because you understand a bit more about the business and you need to get involved more with your business partners here.
How many articling students do you hire per year?
We hire one student per year. We’ve had one student so far, we’ve got another hired for May, and we tried to sync up with the rest of the articling student experience so that they graduate from law school, write their bar exams, and then start to work for us. So we’re excited to have our second student start next May or June.
Is the position paid and are there any other benefits?
We absolutely do pay the articling student. We benchmark our salary for the student against the other law firms and in-house legal departments, so it’s a very competitive salary, and we pay during the entire articling term and also the fees during the bar exams.
What is the likelihood of students getting hired back?
During the last series of interviews we had for our next articling student, that was pretty much the first question. We don’t tend to have a lot of entry-level positions. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity. Once we get to know a student and understand their strengths and where they might fit in, there’s always an opportunity to develop that into something more. We certainly want to do as much as we can and, if possible, offer the student employment with the law group. That being said, we also have other opportunities within RBC. RBC is a very large financial institution and it has about 80,000 employees. There are lots of lawyers that don’t work within the law group. There are opportunities in compliance [and] in other functions that a trained lawyer can use their skills and actually have a very fulfilling job.
Who can apply for the program?
We would like to encourage any students who identify themselves as aboriginal to apply. We received a broad range of applicants last year from across Canada. We advertised with all the career offices of all the law schools, mostly common law law schools in Canada, so we did get applicants from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, and Ontario — pretty much every jurisdiction.
How can students apply for the program and when is the deadline for the next articling term?
We go along with the law society’s recruitment [deadlines] for articling students. So we’ve already hired for 2013. Our next interview season will be probably in August of 2013 and it will be for the following year. So we will be interviewing and looking for second-year law students going into their third year and those who are seeking an articling position for 2014.
What are you looking for in the person you hire?
What we’re looking to do is find someone who understands and realizes the difference between a law firm and an in-house legal department, and is interested in some of the work areas that we do. So if someone has a definitive interest in being a family lawyer, this is probably not the best place for them to get experience in. So we’re looking for someone who likely is more focused on a corporate field than a litigation field. That’s not to say we’re precluding anyone who has an interest in litigation because we do have many litigators that work for [RBC], but we can offer the best kind of work to those that are more interested in a corporate field.
Do you consider students’ marks and other experiences?
Absolutely. When we interview a student and short-list for interviews, we’re not just looking at transcripts, we’re looking beyond that to see what other activities the student is involved in. Certainly being a good lawyer isn’t dependent or indicative necessarily of how they did in law school. So we don’t need the best student in the class, we’re looking for someone who’s engaged and wants to practise law.
Click here to watch an exclusive video interview with Lucille D'Souza.
RBC's first aboriginal articling studentCasey Barnett was the first student in the RBC aboriginal articling program. She began her term in December 2011 after graduating from the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. Barnett says her articling experience at RBC has been very rewarding. One of her assignments involved trusts work that directly affected Aboriginal Peoples. “It added a different experience because it was something that I could bring my own voice to,” she says.
Barnett comes from the Algonquin community in the Ottawa Valley, although she grew up in Toronto and eventually ended up in Saskatchewan, which she says “changed the core of my personality. I got to actually spend some time with some communities and do some traditional stuff that I would’ve never had the opportunity to do before,” she says. “My identity is kind of a process that’s been going on since university. It’s something that my family has just been starting to embrace and it hasn’t been easy.”
Returning to Ontario presented a challenge since she didn’t know anyone in the legal community. “This was the perfect opportunity for me,” says Barnett. “After I met with Lucille [D’Souza] and a couple of the other people, I decided [RBC] was the place for me.”
During her articles, Barnett was able to network with other lawyers and articling students through her secondment at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and various continuing legal education programs at other law firms.