We sat down with Micheline Gray-Smith, who volunteers her time at the Ryerson Law & Business Clinic. The Law & Business Clinic provides free legal services in a variety of business law matters to entrepreneurs and small businesses that cannot afford to retain a lawyer. Micheline shared with us her experience and the mentorship opportunities she has been able to provide.
Micheline, tell us how you got involved with the Ryerson Business & Law Clinic?
I was first introduced to the organization as a first-year Associate by Rick Moscone. Seeing a Partner with a full practice make the Clinic a priority, tells you that it’s something important. His commitment inspired me to stay involved with the Clinic and my role has evolved over time. At the beginning, I was working with one group of students and I would supervise their work, provide them with precedents, give them instructions on how to communicate with clients, and coach them through the process of advising clients. Now, in addition to providing that guidance, I have taken on a mentorship role to coach our first-year Associates alongside the group of volunteer Ryerson students and I supervise the whole process – answering any questions and guiding the our Associates, the student volunteers and the Clinic’s clients through the program. The reason I stay involved in the program is twofold: one it’s helping under-served individuals and businesses who need legal services and potentially don’t have the resources to pay for them and secondly, it is being able to provide students with exposure to the practice of law, which can help them decide whether they want to pursue attending law school. I have mentored four cohorts of students and being able to stay in touch with them over LinkedIn and see what they’ve done with their careers after graduating from the Ryerson Law & Business Program is really interesting – especially when they decide to go to law school in part because of conversations and experiences I’ve shared with them.
What advice would you give to a new lawyer who is looking for more opportunity to give back to their own community?
I would say the most important thing is finding something that is rewarding for you personally because that will give you that extra boost in your contribution. For example, when I was in law school, I was involved in a similar law clinic program. It’s something that I really enjoyed as a law student. Now that I’m participating in this program as a lawyer, I remember what it was like as a law student – not really knowing what my career would look like; not knowing what practice area I would pursue; and discovering that along the way. It’s really rewarding for me to see students discovering what they want to do and how they want their careers to unfold. It gives me energy, a sense of purpose, and encourages me to dedicate the time because I know what it was like, especially having graduated so recently.
Does this experience give you a different perspective, which you can bring to your law practice?
Helping the businesses in this program is really interesting because you get to see their growth from a start-up stage as they figure out how to structure their business. After three years, I can look back at the companies we helped initially and see how the decisions that we made together impacted the trajectory of the business.
The experience has even helped me when working with our firm clients, whose businesses are more established, because I now understand why their entity is set up the way it is and what challenges they might have faced early on. Seeing the whole evolution and working with entrepreneurs is inspiring. I can understand how they got to where they are now and what types of decisions they had to make at a really early stage that led them to where they are. Sometimes it is about what legal advice they should have gotten — but didn’t, and how we fix that at the point when they seek our advice. The reason I stay involved in the program is twofold: one it’s helping under-served individuals who need legal services and potentially don’t have the resources to pay for them and secondly, it’s being able to provide students with exposure to the practice of law, which can help them decide whether they want to pursue attending law school.
What has been the most rewarding aspect about volunteering with the Clinic? Do you have an anecdote about an experience that really moved you?
Firstly, it’s a great opportunity to grow as a lawyer. Particularly as a young lawyer, it was a chance to interact closely with clients and be their main point of reference. Secondly, being able to give back to the legal community because we were all in that position at one point. Wondering whether we should go to law school and whether it was the right path for us and looking for someone who can give you that kind of guidance and mentorship. If you can be that for a student, it’s very rewarding. Thirdly, I enjoy seeing the impact that some of the services and advice the students provide have on the Clinic’s clients. We work with entrepreneurs who are taking a risk in starting something new, who are looking to pursue what is often a lifelong vision and start their business. Being able to contribute to that dream, even in a small way, is really rewarding.
To learn more about Ryerson Business Law Clinic visit: https://www.ryerson.ca/tedrogersschool/lawbusinessclinic/