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Bridging a gap in law skills

April 15, 2009
Canwest News Services
Financial Post

Denise Deveau

Fraser Milner Casgrain's Michel Brunet says clients look for workplace diversity initiatives in their service providers.

Fraser Milner Casgrain's Michel Brunet says clients look for workplace diversity initiatives in their service providers.

While some companies talk diversity, the people at Fraser Milner Casgrain, LLP, or FMC, live and breathe it every day.

It isn’t just that the firm’s Diversity Committee is 50 members strong and continues to grow. Or that it is the first law office to offer an internship as part of its work with TRIEC’s (Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council) Mentoring Partnership program.

Success lies in the absolute commitment of everyone in the firm, which is cited on Mediacorp’s Best Employers for New Canadians list this year, to make the firm stand out as an employer, says Michel Brunet, chief executive and chairman of FMC. “We’ve been committed to programs such as these for years. However, it was last year that we actually adopted a formal strategic plan to make our company one of the best places to work.”

Elizabeth McIsaac, executive director for TRIEC says FMC excels as an employer. “It’s the first law firm we’ve worked with in our mentoring and partnership program,” she says. “The pace at which they delivered on their interest and promise — since joining last year –has been impressive.”

Right at the outset, 20 volunteers from FMC offered to serve as mentors from a broad range of disciplines — from legal to IT, she notes. “That tells us they are serious about doing it and want to be properly engaged.”

The FMC internship program is an innovative move that Ms. McIsaac says will help break down barriers. “This speaks extremely well to the company’s leadership and could be a very important first step for the [legal] profession.”

Phil Schalm, director at the Chang School at Ryerson University in Toronto says internships with law firms are sorely needed. “Regardless of how good these people are in their own countries, anyone in a regulated profession needs access to Canadian-specific knowledge. Having the opportunity to be in a workplace among friendly people is the single biggest thing that can be done to help someone move into this economy.”

Amrit Soar, a 52-year-old real estate lawyer from Nairobi, Kenya, was the first to be hired for FMC’s internship program. She says the six-month commitment will play an instrumental role in bridging the gap between her existing skills and acquiring what she needs to build her career in Canada as she waits to sit her qualifying exams.

“It’s really good that the firm realizes there is a void for immigrant lawyers arriving in Canada and have this time span where they have to sit exams,” she says. “Not only does it provide me with exposure to other areas of Canadian law — including corporate law, litigation and tax — FMC also has lots of personal and professional development programs that help me gather quite a bit of experience and insight into the structure of the legal system here.”

The best part for Ms. Soar is that from the day of the interview, “I got the impression that it wasn’t so much that they were taking me on. Rather, I felt I had something to offer. It’s the first time I attended an interview where the employer says they can give you something and vice versa. I really appreciate that.”

Mr. Brunet says fostering diversity through partnerships and programs is essential. “Yes we’re committed to internship and mentorships programs, but it’s no secret that clients look for formalized workforce diversity initiatives in their service providers. After all, our markets are not limited to our own country. It’s important to have that makeup that will assist us in executing business.”

Above all else, it’s good for morale, he says. “Being a motivator for our ‘troops’ to appreciate our work environment — well, that’s just the right thing to do. And it’s the good thing to do.”

Reference: Financial Post
Image: Phil Carpenter, Canwest News Service