CANFest 2017 – Milestones and Room to GROW

Posted: 12/13/2017

CANFESTBy: Kerry Boniface

It was a celebration! CANFest 2017 was a-buzz with volunteers and those interested in CAN’s work. Between sets of music performed by the Big Smoke Brass Band, volunteers chatted about their experiences, offered up testimonials and connected with each other.

Treasurer Schabas came with remarks that focussed on thanking the 180 CAN Coaches and Advisors for all of their efforts and on the impact they have already had in responding to over 570 Requests for Time.

Kate Dewhirst, founder of Kate Dewhirst Health Law, an early supporter and a CAN Coach and Advisor provided the key note address which spoke to the “magic” of coaching, as she put it “in the context of someone’s commitment to change – coaching questions create pathways to magic.”

The impact of coaching doesn’t come from providing answers. It comes from standing as a witness. Showing up as a mirror. Providing an objective ear. Asking great questions. Acting as an anchor holding participants to remember what’s important to them and acting as a kite inspiring them with questions of what else is possible.

Using examples from her own experience as both a coaching participant and as a coach, Kate spoke to the importance of the CAN initiative and illustrated how coaching can be a powerful tool for positive change.

Newsreels ran in the background, providing some key data and insight into CAN’s goals, reality, options and way forward. Here are some of the highlights:

Regional Representation

I can’t say enough good things about this program, and how useful and important it is for practitioners outside of the GTA and the “big law” environment. Thank you!
– CAN Participant

CAN accepted 11 speaking engagements at various county law association, making inroads across Ontario. But with roughly 40% of all coaching requests originating outside the Greater Toronto Area, CAN needs to enhance partnerships with regional leaders, to better meet locally-specific requests when they arise.

Access to the right help

All CAN Advisors have a minimum of 5 years of legal experience, but on average a CAN volunteer has about 20 years of experience. As one participant put it: “The expertise available via this network is capable of dealing with any problem.” While that might be an overstatement, the bench strength is reflected in the early feedback received as 93% of Participants report that their CAN Advisor helped them to resolve their issue.

As a lawyer practising in a northern community, now in my own practice, I don’t have a lot of colleagues to discuss tricky legal issues that come up. Just being able to bounce ideas off seasoned practitioners is incredibly helpful.
– CAN Participant

Given that roughly 63% of requests for an Advisor are made by sole practitioners, the value of access to seasoned practitioners cannot be overstated. While the average date of call/license of CAN participants is 2012, many of them are in transitional stages in their career. To ensure that we can continue to meet this need and respond to volume, CAN is working to further refine our matching process to provide for a higher degree of specificity by practice area and sub-specialty.

A Model of Empowerment

By design, CAN is flexible but requires active engagement by the Participant. It allows lawyers and paralegals to choose the kind of they help need and to customize the sessions to meet their specific goals. It is designed to empower the Participant, to build capacity and resilience so they can then empower others. The emphasis in both Coaching and Advising is to involve the Participant so they take charge of their own professional development.

My Advisor was very, very helpful. In fact he provided me with pointers and information that helped me explore and research very creative ways of handling my file.
– CAN Participant

I have been working with my coach on a set of goals that I want to achieve, and so far I have been making great progress. The sessions have been going well, and I am very happy with what we have been able to achieve in such a short time.
– CAN Participant

Complementary programming

There is a wide variety of mentorship programs already doing good work and CAN is not designed to replace this vital resource. Although CAN has engaged in broad outreach, CAN has also focused on building relationships with those organizations who also have matching mentorship programs, in particular: the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the South Asian Bar Association.

Given that 40% of all coaching participants seek a shared community of interest, CAN welcomes connection with all organizations committed to advancing equality-seeking communities and wants to build a roster that reflects the diversity of the professions.

Supporting CAN volunteers

CAN knows that legal professionals are busy and time is precious, and CAN wants to be a top choice for those who want to give back. CAN has created 19 resources, templates and forms to support the engagements, has hosted seven in-person workshops (including one offered in French) and has created one webcast. At the same time, CAN has been exploring asynchronous and virtual learning options to enhance volunteer skills and to provide interesting and interactive training that supports the goals of the program. CAN’s training and networking schedule for 2018 will be posted soon.

Looking back and Looking forward

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

Only a year ago, at the launch to the leadership of the professions, John Rosen and Venus Sayed spoke of the skills gap they observed and the duty we have as self-regulating professionals to educate our own. That evening, they, along with the Treasurer, issued a call to action to the professions. The professions have responded and CAN has emerged as a vital resource.

This year, at CANFest, the Treasurer reflected on the best work of CAN’s volunteers and noted that it is in the connection that we are most involved and which holds the greatest promise. He closed his remarks with a renewed call to action: “We are all on a continuum of learning. Nous profitons tous de cette connexion à la profession. We can do more, and we can do better, together.” Will you connect with CAN?