End of Year Review
April marks the end of the 2012-2013 academic year at LFTI. Our executives have temporarily hung up their leadership hats to hit the books, draft essays, and hunt down those elusive law school A’s.
Reflecting back on our year reveals some key areas for improvement and successes we can build on. For an organization that is only eight months old we’re proud of how far we’ve come.
LFTI is the product of a sidewalk conversation between LFTI co-founder Nik Sopow and myself in early September 2012. Our idea led to the successful recruitment of four student executives at Queen’s University’s Faculty of Law. We couldn’t be prouder of the executives we selected and the team we became over the course of the year.
One challenge LFTI overcame this year was adopting and maintaining an innovative organizational structure. Instead of limiting our executives to defined roles like Treasurer or Secretary, we provided every executive the chance to be “the boss” of their own project. In turn we expected execs to experiment with new skill sets while helping others.
With this new structure we were able to quickly form a cohesive team that generated ideas, had productive disagreements, and came together to execute complex projects.
One product of that teamwork was a well-coordinated event to celebrate the launch of two highly anticipated videogame titles, in partnership with Canadian Lawyers Abroad (CLA). The second was our Future of Legal Practice event, which involved the coordination of three guest speakers, fundraising, travel and venue bookings, recording equipment, and advertisement. From that talk we recorded and published two videos of the speakers’ presentations so the wider public could experience them.
Our other accomplishment was maintaining our team’s momentum, interest, and motivation throughout a very demanding year at law school. Every one of our executives balanced multiple commitments while contributing to LFTI until the final week before exams, and had a chance to debrief during year-end professional development interviews.
The team’s efforts this year were recognized with a nomination for the Queen’s Law Students’ Society (LSS) Professionalism Award. Although we didn’t win, we were honoured to be considered.
This year wasn’t all sunshine. LFTI made mistakes that affected the turnout at several of our events, limited student engagement with the club, and delayed achieving our goals.
1. Technology and Innovation is Unappealing for (Even Soon-to-Be) Lawyers
LFTI started the year by failing to predict the lack of interest in technology among our classmates. For us technology is just a means to an end, whether it’s increased access to justice, better legal education, or improved client service. Nik and I thought an interesting way to start the discussion would be with an extremely technology-heavy display.
Our display included a camera on tripod, a rotating slide deck on a big screen television, and taking sign-ups using an iPad. We made the mistake of assuming other people shared our interest and comfort with technology.
Even though LFTI execs got out in front of the table and engaged with students, the appearance of electronics seemed to scare people away (especially the video camera). Contrast that with the neighboring table Vino Veritas, a wine tasting club that generated 80+ signups on its sheet in close to an hour without a single person or display at the table.
2. Attention and Time is Limited
The mistake we made repeatedly was underestimating how important timing is in a small community like Queen’s Faculty of Law. Queen’s has a very active student academic and extracurricular culture and a strong spirit of volunteerism. The number of events and initiatives LFTI we had to compete with for our classmates’ attention was dizzying.
This hit us hard when we scheduled our Future of Legal Practice event four days before Queen’s “New York Trip,” where a large proportion of the student body goes to New York City NY for three nights to meet alumni and explore.
Four days before that event, students were on full lock-down trying to avoid falling behind. In addition, the law faculty planned two other highly distinguished academic speakers to visit that Monday. The result was an abysmal turnout to our speaker’s panel, which seemed amplified by our ambitious venue choice—the Faculty of Law’s largest lecture hall.
3. Failure to Secure Funds without Strings Attached
In our mission at the beginning of the year, I was determined that LFTI not only help law students, but raise funds for local computer literacy training as well. That way, more people could benefit in the future from legal advice and information dependent on computer access. Our goal was to donate any excess proceeds from fundraising initiatives to that cause.
However, our club leadership did not have a strong interest in fundraising. We had the momentum to raise enough funds from alumni to host our speakers, but most of what we did was for free. Without any significant revenues, I was determined to keep costs down so we could donate half of the money we were granted for being ratified in two of Queen’s student bodies.
My mistake was assuming that we could access those funds solely for the purpose of donating it to outside agencies. When I tried, the Society for Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) denied the claim, saying it paid out the money only for events that benefit the student body. So, half of our operating budget became inaccessible, and the general population of Kingston did not realize any benefit from our events this year. That was my failure, and I take full responsibility for it.
What we learned
1. LFTI Needs to Be Better at Communicating Who We Are
Our tech-heavy recruitment campaign was far from a disaster. We were able to recruit four highly capable executives that were not scared away by our flashy gadgets. Our failure was sending a message that was unclear.
When competing for attention in a high-noise environment like a recruitment event or conference, I think it’s important to condense what you’re all about into one word. When differentiating between similar clubs, firms, or products, one word might be all someone takes away. Glancing at our display, our message in one word was “technology.” It should have been “professionalism.”
2. Timing is Everything
LFTI exists in part as a response to the weak legal job market, the articling crisis, and the pressure for change from outside the legal profession. The timing is right for LFTI, but we need to think about our timing for events on a smaller scale as well.
Trying to compete with big events like the New York Trip is a recipe for disaster. We can do better, and plan events further in advance on smart dates unlikely to create conflicts.
3. Put Fundraising First
Fundraising is important for a few reasons. For one, putting an economic value on your organization’s services is a great barometer for how useful people find them. Hosting events for free is noble, but it may be short sighted. If an event is “worth attending” it should be worth a five dollar donation. LFTI should deliver donation-worthy value to our peers, even if it is on a pay-what-you-can basis. Also, accepting funds from external agencies needs to come after a complete understanding of the consequences. We cannot let another opportunity to help our surrounding community go by.
In 2013-2014 I’d like to see awareness about LFTI and its mission continue to spread. With a refined approach to recruitment, LFTI’s first goal should be to rebuild a high-calibre leadership team. To help make that happen, our executive team has to communicate a recruitment message that resonates with our values.
If the theme for this year was “build,” next year it will be “grow.” LFTI chapters should be at every law school in Canada by 2015. We haven’t had another law school pick our idea up yet, but it will happen this coming September.
If you’ve been following LFTI this year, please consider reaching out and joining our team. We’re looking for law students with a desire for change.
Until next time,