Program lets articling student ‘give back’

Program lets articling student ‘give back’

As one of the top business law firms in Canada and a major presence in Toronto, Torys LLP is already quite well known in the legal community. However, what may not be known about the firm is the fact that it participates in a unique mentoring program through the University of Toronto’s Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS) program.

Started in 2005, the LAWS program is an academic and extracurricular program for students in three Toronto high schools: Central Technical School, Harbord Collegiate Institute, and Monarch Park Collegiate. The program provides students the chance to learn about a career in the legal field through workshops, after-school tutoring, and working alongside a mentor. Lawyers, law clerks, and articling students are paired with the high school students, and act as a guiding hand, providing advice and practical hands-on experience.

There is also the opportunity for students to take part in a summer job program, where they gain early work experience through a four-week employment at a law firm or legal department.

Last September, Torys followed the example of several of Toronto’s top law firms and officially became a part of the LAWS program, working specifically with students from Harbord Collegiate. The firm holds monthly events for the mentors and mentees, and in the summer months it will hire LAWS students to expose them to a professional setting filled with positive role models.

Miriam Levin is a student-at-law with Torys and through the firm became a mentor with the LAWS program. At 26, her law career is just beginning. A recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s law school, she will finish up her articling at Torys in mid-June.

Sitting on the 33rd floor of the TD Centre in the heart of downtown Toronto, she doesn’t hesitate when asked why she volunteered to become a mentor through the LAWS program.

“I think a program like this is really important for young people, both women and men, because it gives them the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in a professional environment,” says Levin.

“It also provides them with a person to talk to — someone who’s not their parents, not a teacher, but someone who they can talk to about their personal and professional goals, what they want to accomplish in university. Having someone to provide advice, someone who already has a bit of experience, is really important.”

After her first year of law school, Levin won a Torys scholarship that allowed her to go to Israel for two months, where she worked in the legal department at a battered women’s shelter. This experience, along with the firm’s reputation for working with social justice causes, sold her on the notion of working at Torys long-term.

When the opportunity to act as a mentor presented itself, Levin took it.

“When I heard about it, I realized how important the program is,” she says. “Growing up, I was fortunate to have people around to guide me and help me pursue my professional career ambitions. A lot of kids don’t have that, and I wanted to give something back.”

She now acts as a mentor to 16-year-old Eden Asegahagn, a student at Harbord Collegiate who Levin clearly admires. Her eyes light up as she talks about the monthly meetings with her mentee, and the activities that the two partake in along with the rest of the mentor/mentee pairs at Torys.

“We e-mail each other a couple of times every month in addition to the face-to-face meetings,” says Levin. “She recently sent me her resumé to review for summer jobs. I helped her with her cover letters, and we also went over some of the questions that she might get asked at interviews.”

The monthly sessions that take place at Torys are usually an hour and a half long. For the first hour, the mentors and mentees meet together in one room for group discussions and activities. The last half-hour allows each pair to have some one-on-one time, giving the students the opportunity to ask questions that they might not be comfortable asking in a larger group setting.

“As a group, we do a lot of fun and educational activities — the students love them,” says Levin.

“Torys is lucky to have Frank Iacobucci, a former justice of the Supreme Court, serving as counsel to the firm, and he chatted with the students about his journey to the Supreme Court, and about how a teacher of his inspired him to pursue law. The students really enjoyed that session.”

While Levin clearly enjoys being a part of the program and being a mentor, she admits it can be challenging.

“Sometimes it can be hard to give the right advice, especially since I’m only 10 years older than my mentee,” she says.

“For example, if she asks me what courses she should take in school, or what summer jobs she should apply for, I sometimes have to stop myself from getting too involved and let her come to her own decisions in regards to certain things.”

At the end of the day, Levin knows all of the students who participate in the program may not end up working in the law. However, she doesn’t believe this takes anything away from the program and its success.

“This program provides the students with some important skills and gives them a good experience, and not just in regards to law,” says Levin.

“These students are interested in law, which is why they take part in the program. But ultimately, whether they chose to pursue law as a career or not, I think the mentorship program gives them the tools and resources to be successful at whatever they do.”

For more information on the LAWS program, please visit the program’s web site.

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