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Lawyer Skills – What a Lawyer Does 

From that first client meeting to closing the file, Bar-called lawyers must demonstrate that they can take a legal matter from start to finish through understanding their client’s unique situation, researching and analysing potential options, executing a solution, and managing all the administrative and client management matters along the way. This takes more than knowledge of the law; it takes organization and discipline.

It also requires lawyers to communicate clearly with clients, the courts, colleagues and other stakeholders. Communication is more than plain language, or a well-crafted brief – it is about understanding your audience, showing empathy, communicating across different channels and making sure your message is understood, while taking care to listen.

The Competency Framework provides articling students with two of the most critical elements that make a lawyer ready to handle legal issues with clarity and capability.

1.1 Communication skills – Take legal concepts and ideas and explain them clearly, no matter the medium or the audience

  1. Selects the appropriate medium of communication, whether written, in person, phone call, etc.) in consideration of the message and the audience.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to identify the audience and adapts oral and written communication appropriately in recognition of diverse backgrounds and the needs and sensitivities created by individual circumstances.
  3. Demonstrates the importance of requesting and providing clarification of meaning when appropriate.
  4. Expresses oral and written concepts with precision, logic, and economy.
  5. Uses language and tone consistent with the formality of the context in both oral and written communications.
  6. Uses appropriate and logical organization and structure in both oral and written communications.
  7. Uses correct grammar and punctuation, including accurate and clear pronoun references and subject-verb agreement.
  8. Uses correct spelling, including correct use of plural and possessive spelling, correct spelling of names, and correct use of homophones.
  9. Uses consistent sentence structure.

  1. Demonstrates ability to speak English articulately and fluently.
  2. Expresses oral concepts with precision, logic, and economy.
  3. Uses appropriate speaking volume, enunciation, and pace.
  4. Uses appropriate eye contact, distance, and posture.
  5. Demonstrates ability to maintain focus while speaking and avoids excessive oral fillers or physical distractions.

  1. Demonstrates ability to identify and discuss relevant legal concepts using plain language that the audience, avoiding abstruse legal language in both oral and written communications.
  2. Demonstrates appropriate citation methodology (e.g., McGill Guide or jurisdictional requirements). 
  3. Demonstrates the ability to explain to the intended audience the procedural steps relevant to the matter.
  4. Demonstrates ability to articulate relevant theories and principles accurately and coherently.
  5. Demonstrates an understanding of the importance of summarizing and reiterating any requested action.   

1.1.4.1 Legal drafting

  1. Demonstrates the ability to consider context, goals and intended use of all communication.
  2. Demonstrates consideration of the direct and potential audiences of the communication.
  3. Identifies the facts that define what must be addressed in the document.
  4. Demonstrates the ability to research the law implicated by the facts and the subject matter of the document.
  5. Addresses all relevant legal, factual and practical issues.
  6. Uses appropriate structure and organization for the document.
  7. Demonstrates the ability to draft accurate and legally enforceable documents, whether contentious or non-contentious.
  8. Demonstrates appropriate use of precedents.
  9. Complies with appropriate formalities.

1.1.4.2 Specific drafting and writing

  1. Demonstrates the ability to constitute a valid, defensible, and practical contract that contemplates the client’s goals and objectives.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to prepare or respond to a motion or application (pleading).
  3. Demonstrates the ability to constitute an effective and professional letter that achieves its intended goal to inform and advise (advice letter).
  4. Demonstrates the ability to constitute an effective and professional letter that achieves its intended goal to persuade and advocate. (advocacy letter).

 

1.2 Legal matter management – Take a case from interview through resolution, researching and gathering facts, planning a strategy, and advising your client the entire way

1.2.1.1 Interviewing potential client

  1. Uses a structured interview approach taking notes throughout.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to identify potential client’s objectives and expectations and uses a client-centric approach to problem identification.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to identify if the client’s objectives and expectations are realistic.
  4. Determines, through questioning, the interviewee’s level of comprehension.
    Demonstrates the ability to identify the nature and scope of services required.
  5. Involves the client in the process of exploring potential solutions and making decisions when possible.
  6. Advises based on the client’s (not the lawyer’s) values.
  7. Acknowledges the client’s feelings and conveys desire to help.
  8. Communicates the fees and/or next steps to the client.

1.2.1.2 Confirmation of potential client identity

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify the client and verifies client identity where required.
  2. Understands the legal requirement to maintain appropriate client identification and verification documentation on file.

1.2.1.3 Confirmation of who is being represented

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify the client(s) and all other parties involved in the matter.
  2. Understands the need to receive confirmation in writing that an individual providing instructions has the requisite authority, where applicable.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to identify the name and status of the person(s) authorized to provide instructions and receive information.

1.2.1.4 Assessment of client’s capacity and fitness

  1. Demonstrates ability to identify indicators of potential capacity issues (cognitive, emotional and/or behavioural).
  2. Takes appropriate steps to address capacity issues, including seeking counsel of a senior lawyer or colleague.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to identify a lawfully authorized representative for a client who lacks legal capacity.

1.2.1.5 Obtaining instructions from client

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify the problem and the client’s goals, objectives, priorities, and expectations for the outcome.
  2. Develops, with the client, a plan to achieve the client’s goals.
  3. Confirms that the lawyer and client have a common understanding of the client’s instructions.
  4. Confirms that the lawyer and client have a common understanding of any future action, including timeframes and responsibilities.

1.2.1.6 Setting and communicating fees

  1. Establishes the scope of retainers and discusses fees with the client.
  2. Sets out and explains the basis for fees and disbursements in the retainer.
  3. Provides a range of fees when giving a forecast and circumstances that may result in a change.
  4. Informs and gains agreement in writing from the client in advance of any possible changes to the amount of work and fees.
  5. Informs and gains agreement from the client on billing methods including frequency, payment terms and consequences of the client’s failure to pay accounts.

1.2.1.7 Maintaining confidentiality

  1. Considers confidentiality, privacy and privilege issues related to third parties present during interviews.

1.2.2.1 Assessing courses of action and range of outcomes

    1. Demonstrates ability to identify legal and non-legal remedies applicable to the matter.
    2. Develops a range of practical options or strategies to meet the client’s goals and objectives.
    3. Demonstrates the ability to identify the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing each option or strategy, including costs, benefits, and risks.
    4. Analyzes and predicts likely consequences (e.g. legal, economic, social) of each option or strategy and communicates these with the client.

1.2.2.2 Developing a client-centric case strategy

      1. Examines the facts to develop the appropriate case strategy.
      2. Demonstrates the ability to identify the relevant facts and circumstances that may affect the case strategy.
      3. Demonstrates the ability to identify a legal strategy considering the client’s circumstances (for example, diversity, age, language, disability, socioeconomic, and cultural context).
      4. Demonstrates the ability to develop a legal strategy considering the client’s circumstances (for example, diversity, age, language, disability, socioeconomic, and cultural context).

1.2.3.1 Legal research

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify the legal areas of law and non-legal issues.
  2. Recognizes when legal and non-legal research is required.
  3. Uses appropriate and current research processes and methods.
  4. Demonstrates knowledge of available primary and secondary sources for legal research, including traditional paper and electronic resources, including data analytics, as appropriate.
  5. Chooses a variety of types of appropriate research materials in a cost-effective manner, considering client’s resources and the circumstances of the matter.
  6. Integrates the search resources and results with the facts and issues of the matter in a logical manner.
  7. Considers relevant facts to identify appropriate court jurisdiction, rules and other procedural matters.
  8. Cites sources and attributing appropriately.
  9. Demonstrates ability to properly analyze the law and analyze, evaluate and interpret the research.
  10. Draws legal and practical conclusions from the research in light of the issues identified.
  11. Demonstrates ability to clearly and accurately present results.

1.2.3.2 Due diligence

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify a range of due diligence searches.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to identify due diligence searches applicable to the matter and the client’s goals and objectives.

1.2.3.3 Information gathering from individuals: Planning

  1. Identifies sources of information.
  2. Considers the context and intended use when selecting the form of information gathering, whether an in-person or phone interview or written request for information, considerations including timeliness, availability, confidentiality, etc.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to identify the goal of the interview/communication.

1.2.3.4 Information gathering: Interviewing and questioning

  1. Applies broad legal concepts from secondary research for overall guidance and direction.
  2. Evaluates and interprets the applicability of cases to the matter.
  3. Evaluates and interprets the applicability of statutory provisions to the matter.
  4. Evaluates the results of information gathering, including conflicting information and interprets applicability to the matter.

1.2.4.1 Analyzing legal issues and results of research and information gathering

  1. Applies broad legal concepts from secondary research for overall guidance and direction.
  2. Evaluates and interprets the applicability of cases to the matter.
  3. Evaluates and interprets the applicability of statutory provisions to the matter.
  4. Evaluates the results of information gathering, including conflicting information and interprets applicability to the matter.

1.2.4.2 Applying the law to the legal and factual context

  1. Demonstrates problem solving skills by applying researched law to the specific problem or problems taking into account relevant contextual factors of law and facts.
  2. Interprets the results of primary and secondary research to apply or distinguish legal principles.
  3. Demonstrates problem solving skills by identifying alternative legal arguments considering the information and facts gathered.

1.2.4.3 Applying effective analytical and evaluative skills to research/information

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify legal and non-legal remedies applicable to the matter.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to identify the appropriate forum(s) for the resolution of the dispute, including consideration of alternative dispute resolution.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to develop a range of practical options or strategies to meet the client’s goals and objectives.
  4. Demonstrates the ability to identify advantages and disadvantages of pursuing each option or strategy, including costs, benefits, and risks using objective criteria.
  5. Demonstrates the ability to evaluates the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing each option or strategy, including costs, benefits, and risks using objective criteria.
  6. Evaluates alternatives in light of the relevant facts, law, and the client’s goals and objectives.

1.2.5.1 Resolution alternatives and strategy

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify legal and non-legal remedies applicable to the matter.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to identify the appropriate forum(s) for the resolution of the dispute, including consideration of alternative dispute resolution.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to develop a range of practical options or strategies to meet the client’s goals and objectives.
  4. Demonstrates ability to identify advantages and disadvantages of pursuing each option or strategy, including costs, benefits, and risks using objective criteria.
  5. Demonstrates the ability to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing each option or strategy, including costs, benefits, and risks using objective criteria.
  6. Evaluates alternatives in light of the relevant facts, law, and the client’s goals and objectives.

1.2.5.2  Non-litigated dispute resolution

1.2.5.2.1 Alternative dispute resolution options

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify all parties’ interests, objectives and limits.
  2. Understands and evaluates the range of non-litigated mechanisms for resolving disputes, including negotiation, mediation and arbitration.
  3. Demonstrates an understanding of various dispute resolution processes.
  4. Determines whether alternative dispute resolution is mandatory or appropriate.
  5. Considers the advantages and disadvantages of available alternative dispute resolution options and remedies.

1.2.5.2.2 Advise client

  1. Demonstrates the ability to explain to the clients the likely consequences (legal, economic, social) of each course of action.
  2. Demonstrates the ability to provide a valid, defensible, and practical recommendation to help the client reach a decision.
  3. Documents advice given to the client and instructions received from the client.
  4. Manages client expectations.

1.2.5.2.3 Negotiation

  1. Demonstrates the ability to identify all parties’ interests, objectives and limits.
  2. Develops and formulates the best options for meeting the client’s objectives.
  3. Discusses the strategy and tactics to be used in negotiations, obtaining confirmation regarding the scope of authority from the client.
  4. Demonstrates skill at effectively carrying out negotiations having regard to the strategy and tactics adopted, the client’s goals and objectives, the circumstances of the case, effective negotiation skills and good practice.
  5. Demonstrates the ability to explore deficiencies in the information provided.
  6. Recognizes, evaluates and responds to options presented by the other side.
  7. Develops appropriate compromises consistent with the client’s instructions.
  8. Demonstrates the ability to identify disputed versus undisputed issues and issues that can be negotiated.
  9. Brings the negotiation to an appropriate conclusion for the client.
  10. Demonstrates the ability to document the negotiation and any resolution as required by law or good practice.
  11. Demonstrates the ability to clearly explain the negotiation and any resolution to the client.

1.2.5.3 Litigated dispute resolution

1.2.5.3.1 Plan for hearing

  1. Meets required timelines and limitation of actions for hearing.
  2. Determines the evidence required to support the case.
  3. Considers decision-maker (e.g., judge or jury).
  4. Obtains questioning or other relevant transcripts, where applicable
  5. Reviews and organizes relevant transcripts and hearing documents.
  6. Determines, of the evidence gathered andwhat evidence will be presented.
  7. Demonstrates an understanding of the applicability, relevance and requirements of expert evidence.
  8. Demonstrates the ability to identify the order of evidence to be presented demonstrating an understanding of notice and delivery requirements for documentary evidence including business or expert reports).
  9. Demonstrates an understanding of issues regarding admission of evidence.
  10. Demonstrates the ability to prepare submissions on penalties, remedies or disposition, where applicable.
  11. Recognizes the time requirements for filing pre-trial or prehearing materials.
  12. Demonstrates an understanding of the different requirements of effective opening and closing statements before a judge or a jury.
  13. Demonstrates an understanding of the onus and burden of proof at each stage.

1.2.5.3.2 Preparing for witnesses, questioning and cross-examination

  1. Makes decisions regarding calling witnesses.
  2. Demonstrates an understanding of the Rules of Professional Conduct related to a lawyer who is acting as an advocate or as a witness or communicating with a witness.
  3. Prepares own witnesses for examination.
  4. Ensures the attendance of witnesses (e.g., subpoena/summons to witness).
  5. Prepares for cross-examination of witnesses of other parties.
  6. Demonstrates an understanding of the purpose and proper form of re-examination.

1.2.5.3.3 Applications/Motions and interim/interlocutory proceedings

  1. Makes an organized submission, including introduction, argument, and conclusion.
  2. Describes the nature of the action, the history of the action, and the pleadings.
  3. Demonstrates knowledge of the subject matter and applicable Rules of Court pertaining to motions.
  4. Demonstrates the ability to cite relevant case law or textbook authority (whether in support or contrary to the application).
  5. Considers means of resolving procedural issues by agreement to avoid a motion.
  6. Demonstrates awareness of the availability and merits of interim relief.
  7. Advises clients of the costs and other consequences associated with a motion.

1.2.5.3.4 Document disclosure

  1. Demonstrates an understanding of applicable document disclosure and discovery requirements.
  2. Obtains or provides timely disclosure, production or discovery.
  3. Advises the client of disclosure obligations (e.g., full and complete disclosure, ensuring the preservation of relevant evidence for disclosure, knowledge of privilege issues).
  4. Prepares for the conduct of any discovery process (e.g., preliminary inquiry, examination for discovery).
  5. Prepares the client for any discovery process.
  6. Takes appropriate steps to enforce disclosure and discovery rights.
  7. Demonstrates awareness of the requirements for redaction.

1.2.5.3.5 Persuasive advocacy

  1. Applies effective analytical and evaluative skills to the matter.
  2. Assesses the client’s position.
  3. Demonstrates the ability to identify the relevant facts and evidence required to support the client’s position.
  4. Demonstrates the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses from different parties’ perspectives.
  5. Manages facts to support the argument or position in an ethical manner.
  6. Presents orally a reasoned argument in a clear, logical, succinct and persuasive way.
  7. Demonstrates ability to use and cite legal authority appropriately.
  8. Complies with all relevant formalities (required dress, accepted forms of address, observe formalities of proceedings, follow established conventions and customs in each forum where clients are represented.)
  9. Recognizes the role of different types of witness and uses appropriate techniques for witness handling, including vulnerable and expert witnesses.
  10. Prepares clients or witnesses for trial or other examination.
  11. Listens and responds effectively to questions and opposing arguments.
  12. Deploys advocacy skills efficiently and effectively.

  1. Demonstrates the ability to complete and document the matter in accordance with the disposition (e.g., minutes of settlement, judgment/order issued and entered, final releases, dismissal order).
  2. Prepares and delivers final reports and accounting to clients.
  3. Conducts a final review of the file prior to closing the file.
  4. Demonstrates the ability to retain or return file documentation and electronic data appropriately.