Institute for the Future of Law Practice Program trains law students for the modern profession
Now in its second year, the Institute for the Future of Law Practice Program – a summertime legal-training program for law students – has recently expanded to the University of Calgary, with positive reviews from student participants.
The IFLP is predicated on the idea that law schools are not equipping students with the practical, technological skills they need to valuably contribute to the workplaces they will be entering. The program consists of a three-week bootcamp, plus a paid internship. The bootcamp’s learning modules include lessons on business fundamentals, professional communication, project management, process improvement, innovation, technology, knowledge management, data analytics and AI, among other topics.
The director of the University of Calgary’s career and professional development office, Maryanne Forrayi, says the IFLP gives students “a range of skillsets to flex with the increasingly competitive and technological-smart legal market.”
“Students have been thrilled about the program,” she says. “IFLP surveyed students who participated in the 10-week internship… and all satisfaction indicators were very high. Our students also debriefed with our UCalgary Law Faculty on their participation in the boot camps through formal presentations and it was phenomenal the knowledge and skillsets they built from that experience.”
The IFLP grew out of the University of Colorado’s tech lawyer acceleration program, which ran from 2014 to 2018. Osgoode Hall Law School took part in the IFLP’s inaugural year in Canada and the University of Calgary joined in 2019.
The IFLP focuses largely on training students in the technological innovations that are changing the law profession and business but University of Calgary law dean Ian Holloway says the program is also relevant to the “sociological” changes he’s seen in the profession.
“When I was admitted to the bar, everyone in my firm had spent their entire career there. Assuming you did good legal work, your future was more or less assured,” Holloway says. “Now, that would be unheard of. Every lawyer – big firm or small – needs to be an entrepreneur.”
Second-year University of Calgary law student Daniel Frederiks did his undergrad at the University of British Columbia in cognitive systems. While studying what Frederiks says is a cross between computer science and neuroscience, he dealt with ethical issues stemming from emerging technology, such as AI, elder-care robots and drones. This led his interests towards negligence and product liability, which led to his decision to go to law school.
Initially, Frederiks says he wasn’t sure if a traditional law practice would interest him and he didn’t want to spend his first law-school summer at a downtown Calgary, corporate law firm. He worked at a tech-lab in B.C. and wasn’t sure there a traditional legal career would allow for the innovative, entrepreneurial mindset he wanted to develop. So, he opted for the IFLP because “it would also help me get a better idea of where the legal sector was going.”
But, having completed the program, he has changed his mind.
“I realized that I am indeed interested in tech. I am indeed interested in entrepreneurship. But I really do want to be a practising lawyer in those areas and in those fields, and be of added value there,” he says.
“The program really showed me that I do want to be a practising lawyer,” he says.
The main thing he learned in IFLP was why the legal profession can be hesitant to change: “Backward-looking,” precedent-based common law and the partnership, consensus-based model of doing business can lead to stubborn conservatism, Frederiks says. The IFLP taught him that is why firms and corporations need “champions” to be catalysts within an organization and force the innovation and adaptation to and implementation of technology, he says.
More than making a law student “practice-ready” for the law firm they join for articles, the program equips them for where the firm is headed in seven or 10 years from now, he says. Frederiks says he is hoping to get a spot in a law firm and is also open to working in a non-profit or business venture clinic.
“If there are people who don't want to end up having a traditional – don't want to end up practising at a law firm or for the government or in-house for a corporation – there are a lot of alternatives,” he says.
Kara Flaman just began her second year of law at the University of Calgary and participated in the IFLP this summer. She says the bootcamp gave her skills she immediately used in her internship.
“Everything that I learned in the boot camp was directly applicable to the internships. And I used pretty much every skill that I that we were taught in the modules at the boot camp in some way, shape or form,” she says.
For example, Flaman said she learned knowledge management at Simplex Legal, an in-house counsel boutique. After completing the knowledge-management module during her bootcamp, she was tasked, at Simplex, with creating an online knowledge-management system. She and a colleague took contracts and precedents from lawyers at the firm and built an online, searchable library of precedents the firm’s lawyers can access and download.
Flaman plans to pursue corporate law, possibly in the technology sphere and says the IFLP will likely benefit wherever she ends up.
“I think that I have a greater understanding of the legal technologies that firms and businesses are using or are looking to start to use. And I feel better equipped to collaborate and solve problems on different multidisciplinary teams,” she says.