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Redefining Law through Legal Innovation – Aaron Baer – S3E26

This week on the Legally Speaking Podcast, our host Rob Hanna welcomed process and legal tech enthusiast Aaron Baer on the show.

Aaron is currently a partner at Aird & Berlis LLP, and is based in Toronto. He’s redefining how law is conducted by making processes more efficient through smart use of legal technology and transparent client communication.

He’s played a leading role at the firm in introducing legal tech, overseeing its adoption of AI, project management tools and data analytics software. He regularly advises Canadian software-linked businesses on privacy law, and has advised the Canadian parliament on the issue.

Overall, he discusses:

  •  His journey, including what made him so interested in both legal innovation & communication improvements
  •  His experience in Toronto’s vibrant legal tech sector
  •  His volunteer ing work, including leading a law class at Ryerson University every week and mentoring through the Founder Institute

Transcript

Rob Hanna (00:00):

Welcome to the Legally Speaking Podcast. I’m your host, Rob Hanna. today I’m delighted to be joined by Aaron Baer. Aaron is a partner working for the law firm Aird and Berlis in Toronto. He specializes in corporate and commercial law with the emphasis on tech, mergers and acquisitions and privacy. In addition to Aaron’s work with Canadian tech companies, he regularly assits foreign tech companies and plays a leading role in his current firm, adaptation of artificial intelligence, legal project management and data analytics tools that are transforming the practice of law. He has published more than 30 editions of a weekly newsletter, Legal Tech and Changing Legal Services Industry, and in 2018, Aaron was seconded to a leading AI contract review management company based in Toronto. He’s also an active member of his firm’s technology advisory committee. So a very, very big welcome Aaron.

Aaron Baer (01:01):

Hi Rob, pleasure to be here with you today and look really looking forward to this chat.

Rob Hanna (01:06):

Yeah, likewise, it’s a, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show, but before we go through all the amazing work and everything you’ve achieved to date, we do have our customary icebreaker question on the show, which is, on the scale of 1 to 10, 10 being very real. How real would you rate the reality hit series Suits?

Aaron Baer (01:28):

Give it a 5. Uh, and I will say Suits was filmed in Toronto, which a lot of people don’t realize right down the street from our office. So, you know, used to walk by the set all the time and watch them film. I would say, you know, they, it’s a glamorous version of being a lawyer for sure. And I think I’ve definitely heard from enough younger lawyers or people who are considering law school. And I say, you know, well, why do you want to be a lawyer? And then they say, well, have you heard of the show suits? And I go, that is not a good reason to become a lawyer. You know, their lives seem pretty glamorous and exciting. And I really enjoy what I do at this stage, especially, but I mean, certainly the early years of being a lawyer are definitely not all fun and games, you know, a lot of hard work, sometimes monotonous and repetitive work. So I think suits gives a good glimpse in terms of what it can be like, but certainly not the best example.

Rob Hanna (02:11):

Yeah no, fair enough. And I think 5 is a good, fair reflection and yes, I actually did know that it was filmed in Toronto. So yeah, one of the, one of the very few, maybe because I’m one of those suits enthusiasts, but I never got to see them film. So that must have been quite cool. Did you ever get to meet, uh, any of the cast members.

Aaron Baer (02:29):

I have not. No, unfortunately not, but I know we had some UK visitors in the form of Prince Harry coming to Toronto when Meghan Markle was filming Suits here. So, uh, but now they kept that set pretty locked down as you, as you can imagine, but, uh, yeah. You know, right down the street from, from where we work.

Rob Hanna (02:44):

Good Stuff. Okay, so before we, we touch on all the great legal work that you do day to day, let’s start at the beginning. So tell us a bit about your family background and upbringing.

Aaron Baer (02:54):

For sure. So I was born in Toronto Canada, in a suburb just outside of there, uh, was always sort of interested in, in business and law. Those sort of things struck me as things I might want to do. It was probably a pretty argumentative or person who liked to debate, you know, as a child. Uh, certainly not somebody who was always accepting of, you know, because I said so, or we’ve always done it that way. And that’s sort of, you know, continued throughout my career, I would say and finally transformed probably more into a positive kind of thing. So I’ve got a twin brother, uh, went to school with him. He knew at a young age, you want it to be an Actuary, which is a kind of profession that almost nobody I think knows what it is, and definitely not, you know, when you’re a young kid. I sort of knew, you know, business and law, but I wasn’t fully sure.

Aaron Baer (03:34):

Uh, went to university, a school called Western, which is well known in Canada and not as well known around the world and was pre-accepted into this program at the business school there, which is called the Ivy, the Ivy business school. And your first two years, you can do whatever you want. And then the high school I went to actually didn’t offer any business courses. So I figured let’s take some business courses my first two years, cause I know nothing learned a lot, had some great experiences. And then I was trying to figure out, you know, what’s next, you know, we were up for recruiting in January of that year, my third year of school. And of course in Canada, you do a degree prior to law school, which is, which is not the case. I know in the UK at the time, my only options were like finance and consulting and investment banking and accounting.

Aaron Baer (04:15):

And in some of these seemed interesting, some seemed completely not interesting, but I figured, you know, none of these are strike, you know, calling out to me as the thing you need to do or thing I really can see myself doing longterm. So I had already written the LSAT, which we need to do in Canada and got then a good enough score. And I figured, you know what, I’m going to do law school. And so my school had a dual degree program for, for law and business, which I had known about and got accepted into that program, which meant in my fourth year of university, instead of finishing my business degree, I started great as a kid. Uh, most likely because my brother, my twin brother was much smarter than me and he was skipping a grade and I said, right, If you’re skipping a grade, you know, can I take along too? So it skipped a grade as a kid. And then I was in law school way younger than everyone else. So it was my fourth year of undergrad.

Rob Hanna (04:58):

And in terms of sort of fast-forwarding then you are nowadays quoted as a lawyer who provides practical solutions to business problems. So unlike me, you hate all things that inefficient. So what do you do with your legal practice to solve problems efficiently for your clients?

Aaron Baer (05:17):

Yeah, no, that’s a great question, Rob. So I think what I started as a younger lawyer, you know, my first job I was, I was lucky enough, uh, to get a job my first year of law school at a big firm and at the firm I work at now, which is a full service law firm in Canada. It’s a very well-known firm, but I was 21. I had worked one summer job before. Um, but so, you know, I’m in this law firm, I’m 21 working at a major firm in Canada and just sort of looking around and observing how things work, questioning some things in my head, but not knowing, you know, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe this is just how it’s done. You know, you’re sort of observing what you’re doing. Over time you know, you come back for another summer, you come back in Canada you have to article like you have to do a pupillage, I think, in the UK and Training Contracts and things like that.

Aaron Baer (06:01):

And I’m going, some of this doesn’t seem right. Some of this doesn’t make sense and it’s not our firm. It’s just the industry as a whole, I’m watching, you know, how we’re interacting with other lawyers and I’ll never forget. So I do a lot of transactional work and I was working when I was articling. So when I finished law school, we do a 10 month program called articling in Canada. And we’re doing a closing on this big mergers and acquisition, M and A transaction. And at the time these were still done, I guess, the old school way where you set up a closing room and there’s these racks, uh, for all of, you may know what I’m talking about, maybe not, but for those who are younger and faithfully will never have to deal with this. There’s, you know, you have these metal racks, you set them up in this enormous boardroom and you have a file folder and they’re all numbered. and each folder is one document. And then people come into the room. You’ve tagged all these documents, man, with people to sign,. They sign them and you’re just praying or at least that was my interpretation, that the right document is in there. and that, you know, you’re signing something and it isn’t right. And then one firm would do this and the other firm would come in with a group of people and they would like chuck the documents and you’re going, like, what are you looking for? This documents a hundred pages and it’s one of the 150 documents. Like what are you looking for, what can you possibly check? Like you go to page 10 and look at the fifth line and be like, Hey, if that word’s right, that’s good enough. And you’re checking it out to make sure it’s been signed once they’ve signed. But the point is just sort of looking going like this makes no sense. We’re charging a lot of money. What value is being created here? I have no confidence it’s the right document. In my practice these days It’s all about tech and process. So leveraging off the shelf technology that some really amazing people are building, uh, Canada and Toronto particular is a huge center of technology. We’re one of the leaders in the world, uh, and especially legal technology as well. We have the first legal innovation zone in the world where it’s fully, you know, solely focused on legal tech startups out of Ryerson in Toronto. And we’ve got a lot of innovative people. So we’ve got people creating these tools. We’ve got all sorts of best practices and other industries. Then, you know, when they say faster, better, cheaper, how do you accomplish all three without sacrificing quality? You need good processes, you need good technology. And now, you know, I’ve become well known for that. And it’s a real differentiator because a lot of lawyers are just not comfortable with these kinds of exchanges.

Rob Hanna (08:09):

I love that. I just love the whole sort of practicality point of there. I never think that you’ve explained I was actually familiar with what you just said in terms of those big racks and those big visions. The reason being my grandfather ran a very successful law firm over here in the UK. So when I first sort of started out doing any legal work experience, I could find, I know exactly what you’re talking around. So, uh, yeah, it’s really interesting. You mentioned that. So moving on, you have successfully made partner with your current firm, so many congratulations. Tell us about your journey and how you got there. And also talk us through, you touched on it lightly there, but I think it’d be good to talk a little bit more around the, the training system in Canada as, as it is different to, to other jurisdictions around the world.

Aaron Baer (08:56):

Perfect. So yeah, so on paper, it looks like my journey was pretty linear. I don’t know if that’s actually true at all. So on paper started as a first-year summer student came back for a second summer article. So this, this 10 months I was hired back as an associate, uh, worked as an associate in our firms, corporate and commercial group, and then became a partner, uh, in January, 2020. So just over a year ago, uh, I would say it’s. So when I said it sounds linear, what I mean is, yeah, I’ve been at one firm the whole time and that was certainly never my plan. I think, you know, coming out of law school, you know, the plan was to go in the house after a couple of years, you know, to get some good experience at a really well known firm and to leave and to, you know, go work in house for a company.

Aaron Baer (09:33):

And that never happened. Uh, I ended up actually really liking the work I do. And I really can say now, like I liked the work I do. I liked the people I work with. Uh, and that’s, that’s half the battle. And I work at a firm where the people are extremely friendly, extremely nice. And that goes a long way. Cause that’s not the norm, I think in a lot of big law firms. Um, but along the way, I’ve definitely deviated a ton. So when I got hired back into our corporate commercial group, uh, the people in that group, they do a lot of M and A work. So mergers and acquisitions, and then everyone has their own sort of specialty. So it might be privacy work. It might be transportation. It might be communications could be energy. You know, you name it. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted that to be.

Aaron Baer (10:12):

And my firm was great at saying, no, you’ve got time to figure it out, start broad and narrow eventually. And so for my first few years, it started pretty broad and I really was not that busy my first few years I was working, but not working the hours I was expecting. And that was fine, but it gave me time to get on some self discovery pass. And I stumbled my way into the legal tech space as it was just starting up, I would say around the world and in Toronto. And through that, I ended up actually getting in touch with a lot of these companies in the early days in Toronto and in other places because stumbled across and I’m like, wait a second. These things sound really interesting. They might help my practice. So reached out to them, brought a number of them in, and we ended up onboarding a number of these products, including Diligent, which was the company you alluded to in the intro, which is an AI conduct review company, where I did this a secondment a few years ago and a whole host of other tools.

Aaron Baer (11:00):

and these are things that now I use every single day. So I know the founders personally, a lot of cases, in some cases, I’m involved with their developers, helping them, you know, continue to develop the tool that I’m using. So it’s a mutually beneficial kind of thing. And then over time I got through this legal tech work, maybe more invested in the tech space and was lucky enough to start doing a lot of work with another lawyer, a firm who was building a pipeline of companies getting to come to Canada. Uh, and so I do a lot of work right now with, with companies from around the world, including Europe, Australia, but especially the U S who are coming to Canada because there’s so much incredible tech talent here. And the salaries are a lot lower. You don’t have to pay for healthcare unlike the US, I know in the UK, you have the NHS obviously, um, but you know, incredible value for money, incredible talent.

Aaron Baer (11:44):

And so all these companies were either coming here to tap into that or to build out, you know, the sales team here or do other great stuff. And so really got involved with all these leading tech companies, uh, really fell in love with the space, started doing a lot more M and A work in that space as well. And just really resonated with me. The clients in the tech space tend to be younger. They tend to be forward-thinking they’re open-minded they want things done, you know, efficiently. They want practical advice. They don’t want 50 page memos. Uh, they don’t dress up in fancy suits. And, uh, you know, I stopped wearing dress clothes and suits, I think probably three or so years ago where I said, enough’s enough, you know, I’m not meeting clients a lot in person, and what’s the point who am I pretending?

Aaron Baer (12:21):

And if I’m worried, if I’m the only guy in the room wearing a suit, what message am I sending? And is that the message I want to send and do I want to be wearing this? So the tech base just sort of was a natural fit for me. And I think privacy dovetails really well with that because when you’re talking technology, you’re talking privacy and Europe, I was going to say UK, but I guess in Europe, you’ve got the GDPR, uh, which is a major privacy law that came into effect a few years ago. And now we’re seeing all these other countries sort of piggyback on that, including Canada. So we’ve got a massive privacy overhaul coming in Canada. There’s tons of stuff going on and in Brazil and California and China, all sorts of places. So it all fits really well together, but it started actually with this legal tech journey and ended up now, where a substantial amount of the work I do is with tech clients all over the place and it’s work I really enjoy.

Rob Hanna (13:06):

Yeah. And I must say you’ve got a fantastic platform. I’m loving everything that you’re doing, I guess, in terms of advice for others, what would you say are the key things to learn early on in your career to be a sort of top corporate and commercial lawyer?

Aaron Baer (13:23):

So, uh, some people might be familiar with the T-shaped lawyer model and then there’s other equivalent ones that are, that are quite good as well. But basically it’s not just about your, your hard legal skills. It’s all about all the other stuff. And I think knowing the law is one thing you need to know the law, you need to be good at that, but it goes way beyond that. So I think, you know, my business background has become extremely handy and you don’t need it, but it helps like to be able to understand accounting, to be able to speak fluently with clients, to speak their language, to do that sort of stuff, to have, you know, like build your emotional intelligence, to be able to do those sort of things. And really, I think for me, it’s the good lawyers are the ones that are, you know, our partners with our clients, you know, they’re trusted advisors, they’re not just providing legal advice.

Aaron Baer (14:06):

And so you mentioned at the beginning, I think my bio says, you know, Aaron provides practical, uh, solutions to business problems or something along those lines. And to me, that’s just my nature, but that’s what I do. And that’s what clients want. They don’t want solutions to legal problems. Everything is a business problem or a personal problem, whether you’re a corporate lawyer, a family lawyer, it doesn’t matter. You know, you’re dealing with an issue that the person needs to resolve and they’re coming to you. And if you say to them, Hey, well, there’s risk, here’s a 30 page memo. That’s really just a CYA cover your kind of memo that doesn’t help the client because what the client really wants to know is what would you do if you were me, you know, understanding what I care about. And so really, I think providing practical advice and good advice is the key.

Aaron Baer (14:47):

And I think to do that, you really need to understand the big picture. And so for I’ve gotten there by asking the why, like an annoying child, you know, why, why, why a whole lot of times, and really trying to understand how everything fits together. Because one of the things I think I struggled with as a younger lawyer, and I’m sure many people listening can probably relate is you often don’t understand why you’re doing things. And so you’re doing stuff, but you’re not gaining as much from it as you could. And the advice you’re giving isn’t as good as it could be, but the more you can understand why you’re doing things and the context behind them, it just makes you a way better lawyer and your advice can be so much more actionable and so much more practical. So I would say, you know, hard skills, you’ve got to learn them. You really need to understand the why, uh, to be able to be a good negotiator and good advocate for your clients. And then really focusing on the soft skills or future skills or whatever people want to call them that it’s not just the legal skills clients. Don’t just want somebody who can provide legal advice, because that’s not that hard to find. They need someone who gets their business, gets the problems is practical. And that’s really, I think, where I’ve, I’ve really set myself apart and it would encourage people to really focus on those skills.

Rob Hanna (15:51):

Yeah. And I just love everything that you’re saying there Aaron, because I completely relate, obviously being on the other side of myself, having dealt with lawyers, I think, you know, lawyers are experts and experts are great at making things sound simple and easy. So the easier and simplistic you can make things, sound for your clients to understand using their language the better. So yeah, absolutely loved everything about that answer. Um, we’ve talked about it a lot already. It’s very obvious you’re a massive fan of legal tech, but just to deep dive a little bit more, um, you were one of the founding members of your firm’s technology advisory committee and its blockchain and cryptocurrencies group. So, you know, in terms of sort of day-to-day, what’s your level of involvement with all of that today and what does the future hold do you think for all things legal tech? And there’s a quirky question. When will we see if ever law firms being paid in Bitcoin, for example?

Aaron Baer (16:42):

So I think we have seen the occasional law firm paid in Bitcoin. Obviously it’s more rare. I think when, when the crypto boom was happening a few years ago, even though we’re in the midst of another one now, uh, you know, we saw a couple of firms, uh, accept Bitcoin, and all of a sudden they were doing that more from a publicity standpoint, the one challenge of Bitcoin is that the way it’s taxed is like, it’s just a huge pain because in theory, you got to convert it back, at least in Canada. And I think the US for sure as well, you got to convert it back to, you know, Canadian or us dollars every single time someone pays you. So it, it becomes sort of a nuisance in that sense, but I certainly think law firms have a long way to go in terms of simplifying payments, uh, for, for clients, you know, really making it easy and not this arduous process of like, you’d be amazed how many people are still paying by check, which, which blows my mind, but that’s a whole separate conversation, uh, in terms of, in terms of legal tech.

Aaron Baer (17:28):

So I would say I’m regularly on calls with legal tech companies, uh, founders. I know new companies I’m discovering, uh, attending events. So I’m part of a few events that some really great people in Canada hosts that these days are digital. I listened to a ton of podcasts, but really just, um, the way I look at it is you sort of have two choices. You can either be completely afraid of it and say, I’m going to lose job. A robot is going to take my job, which I don’t think is true at all. I really think legal tech is all about augmenting what we do. It’s the lawyer, the human, you know, plus the machine is going to get you where you want. It’s that synergy. It’s not just machine and it’s not just lawyer. Um, so you can either see that as a threat and say, well, I’m just going to ignore it, or you can embrace it and say, wait, if I’m one of these people that actually knows how to use this stuff actually is, you know, involved thinking about how to be more efficient, thinking about how to be better, how much better position am I going to be and how much happier are my clients going to be with that approach?

Aaron Baer (18:24):

And the answer is you’re going to be way better off, you know, in the short term. And especially long-term because we’re seeing massively increased pressure, different clients, and more and more is coming and people want more fixed fees or alternative fee arrangements. They want their work done faster, better, cheaper, you know, they want all these things. And so I think legal tech has a lot of answers. Now, that being said, I think sometimes people focus too much on legal tech and not enough on usually say people process technology. And I think when I started my journey naively, I was a little bit too focused on the legal tech. And then I started realizing, wait a second process actually matters more than that, right? If I put a good technology solution in place, but it’s for a problem that we don’t need to solve or a really bad process, all I’ve done is automate a really bad process.

Aaron Baer (19:08):

So I haven’t actually solved the problem, but what I’ve come to realize as I get older and maybe a little bit wiser is that the people part at the end is also so important. And especially in bigger firms, if the biggest piece, right, you know, the legal profession is not exactly known as a culture of open-mindedness and desire for change and innovation. And you really have to get people to help, you know, help them understand the importance of this, how it can help them, how it can help their clients. And not just you should do this because fortunately many law firms have purchased all of this technology, but it’s not been widely adopted internally. And that’s no good. So rather than focusing on, well, let’s add this to the tech stack and let’s get this. It’s actually a lot more important often to say, well, how do we get people to use it? Why aren’t they using it? How can we incentivize people to use it? And let’s talk to our clients too and make sure they’re a part of the picture. Now let’s figure it out. Let’s get everyone involved. So the legal tech space, I think, is growing dramatically. We’ve seen a ton of investments this year and exits, and it’s only going to keep growing, especially with the shift from working from home. I think obviously there’s a lot more room for tech as a result.

Rob Hanna (20:07):

Yeah, no, absolutely. I completely agree. I think there’s going to be so many major, further advancements down the line. I’m excited to see what happens, but you keep very busy. So on top of the, the role day to day, I also know you’re a, I believe the knowledge management advisory board member for the Thomson Reuters. So tell us more about that role.

Aaron Baer (20:29):

That one’s actually a lot more minor, I would say, but there’s a, there’s a tool called practical law, which I think people are probably familiar with in the UK and the US, that that tool has been around for a lot longer than other jurisdictions. It came to Canada a few years ago. So I’ve been involved with them in some capacities, uh, sort of get updates from them on what’s going provide feedback in terms of changes. They’re making, it’s an incredible tool. Uh, and it’s sort of like the, I call it like the mentor in my pocket. You know, if I, if I want to know the answer to something and I don’t want to bug somebody and especially for younger lawyers, like practical law is just a really great tool, uh, you know, to, to get, you know, great insight, um, when you meet it, uh, it’s not just, you know, sample documents, but it’s also really like, they have all these practice notes and they’re really helpful.

Aaron Baer (21:10):

I’ve relied on them extensively, especially my earlier years, it’s been really a great school. Uh, you know, so there’s, there’s that role. I do a lot of mentorship these days, but I guess we’ll talk about it in a bit, but really I like to stay busy. And I think also with the pandemic and we’ve been working from home and I guess these days right now, we’re stuck at home, um, trying to keep busy, trying to give back, try to find ways to stay involved. Like I get a lot of joy out of it. So, uh, it’s a lot, as I said before, I really like the work I’m doing these days. And I like all these other things I’m involved with, but I think, you know, it’s, it’s about finding passion in your work and finding ways to, to make the profession better. I think we all have a role to play, and I’m excited to see some of these positive changes that are happening and keep working to, to help improve the legal profession and make it a lot more accessible, you know, a lot more modern and a lot more enjoyable for both lawyers and for clients.

Rob Hanna (21:59):

Yeah, no, I love that because that’s exactly what we stand for here on the Legally Speaking Podcast, as well, particularly for the legal industry and just touching, you touched a little bit on mentoring there. Um, but before that, I just want to ask a question around the, um, the law study groups. I believe you were the founder of the Ryersons law study group. So tell us more about what that does.

Aaron Baer (22:19):

Yeah, so Ryerson is a university in Canada, uh, and they opened up a law school this year. So year one, promote learning in the middle of pandemic, but it’s been in the works for a while. And there’s this perception in Canada and Ontario where I’m based and in other jurisdictions too, that there’s too many lawyers, there’s too many law schools. And because it’s tougher for younger lawyers to find a job, and there is some truth to that. And I feel for the younger lawyers in that position, because it’s not always easy, but there’s very clearly an access to justice crisis in Canada. And quite frankly, around the world, you know, if most people can’t afford a lawyer and you know, don’t, aren’t getting the legal advice they need, then clearly there may not be enough lawyers or maybe at least the way we’re delivering legal solutions.

Aaron Baer (22:59):

Isn’t great and maybe we need more technology and what have you. So Ryerson is a university, as I mentioned, and a few years ago, maybe five to seven years ago, they opened up the legal innovation zone, which as I think I alluded to before is this really incredible incubator for legal technologies. They have around 20 companies. There now, a number have left the incubator, they’ve graduated. Some of which have raised plenty of money. Some are quite well known, others, less known Ryerson also runs what’s called the LPP the Law Practice Program, which is sort of an alternative program to articling. So the third piece of that puzzle was I guess, their law school and the law school that they opened up is not like a normal law school, at least not in Canada. They are completely focused on technology, on practicality and on diversity.

Aaron Baer (23:42):

So I believe it’s the most diverse law school by far, uh, in Canada so far. Uh, they are the most practically oriented law school and definitely the most technology focused law school. So when I heard they were opening several years ago, I went, I need to get involved in this. Like, this is exactly the kind of law school I wish that had existed when I had almost going into law school. So, I stayed in touch with people there for a while. And as they got closer to starting, I reached back out and said, you know, let me know how I can get involved. I really want to help. And they came up with this idea of, you know, well, what if you run this sort of thing for, for some first years, we’ll choose some first years we think might want some help and, uh, you know, sort of carte blanche on my end to make it whatever I wanted.

Aaron Baer (24:22):

And so what it’s become is an hour and a half session once a week, uh, last semester it was Wednesday nights. This semester, we’re just ironing out what time it will be with a group of about 20 first year law students. And it’s entirely directed in terms of content by them. I asked them what they want to talk about, which is usually based on what they’re working on in school or questions they have or things like that. And it’s a free flowing discussion. This is not a lecture. This is not a graded class. This is a supplement sort of, where they can, you know, on top of their class and all their tutorials they’re doing, where they’re learning practical things. We can talk about stuff and I can give them context, you know, and say, you know, here’s actually, while you’re doing this assignment, you let me give you an example of something that happened to me today.

Aaron Baer (25:01):

And I’m actually, I’m jealous that you’re doing this assignment now. Cause I wish I had learned this in law school and not in my second year, as a lawyer when there was a clock and I needed to, you know, respond right away. And there’s all these pressures, you know, you’re doing great stuff, but it’s been great. It’s a great way to give back. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. And a lot of what I’ve been doing in general these days has been training and mentorship. And so this fits in perfectly and it’s the kind of thing I’ve been focusing on this year is really, you know, what do I wish I had when I was a law student, uh, when I’m as a first-year lawyer, you know, younger lawyer and trying to do those things because especially with a lot of students these days, uh, learning remotely, you know, via zoom and stuff like law school is hard enough. It’s even harder when you’re stuck at home on your own and you don’t have that support network and you’re not meeting people the same way you normally would. So it’s been a great initiative, excited to see how it grows and the school, the school has been fantastic law school. They’re really doing interesting and innovative things.

Rob Hanna (25:51):

Yeah, no, it sounds great. And I wish you the best of luck with that and look forward to seeing that sort of blossoming and or mentoring. Then I know it’s something you and I both, both, both value dearly, but tell us a bit about some of your roles, um, as a mentor.

Aaron Baer (26:05):

Yeah. So I mean, in the past I’ve had, I guess both formal and informal roles. So at our firm, I was often a formal mentor, I guess, for the articling students and our summer students and an informal mentor for, for many, uh, also was doing a lot of informal mentorship, uh, in the community. So with, with law students and prospective students and, and things like that, it’s always something I’ve enjoyed and been passionate about. And, you know, it’s like, I, I I’m doing it in part to give back, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. You know? So it’s, it’s really not a chore by any means. Uh, this year I’ve sort of started picking some of that up a lot more. Uh, when I was in university, you know, many years ago, I used to be involved in a trillion clubs and different leadership things at the same time.

Aaron Baer (26:45):

And when I started working full time, I sort of went away from that. You know, I was, you know, you didn’t really have control over my schedule the first few years as a lawyer. And, you know, you didn’t want, I didn’t want to commit to something I couldn’t couldn’t do. Uh, now that I, as a partner, you know, I have worked to have more opportunities to give back. So, uh, so my leadership tends to be lots in the legal space, but also in the tech space. So I’m a mentor with a program called the founder Institute, which is a great program for early stage founders. They’ve got chapters all over the world, including in Toronto, but also also in other places, um, got involved in a number of programs through my business school I went to .Got involved recently in this program called Windmill Micro Lending, which is a really interesting one working with sort of, uh, people that have immigrated to Canada who are skilled, uh, but helping them sort of get connected because it’s so hard coming here with no network and trying to get involved in the legal community.

Aaron Baer (27:34):

Uh, but a lot of the work I’ve been doing has been pretty informal. So recognizing again, you know, what do I wish I had as a student I’ve been trying to launch those kinds of things. So as an example for first-year lawyers or incoming, sorry, first-year law students, I should say, uh, law school here starts in September. So I figured let’s do a three part series. We’ll do, uh, all free, you know, all panels, all sessions, we’ll do one late August. So we ran that late August a session about like, you know, things we wish we had known when he went to law school and everyone on my panel, uh, you know, people that were top of their class or like top five in law school. So people that know how to do well in law school and were really successful and all got jobs from it halfway through the semester.

Aaron Baer (28:10):

Did another session. All right, now that you’ve gotten your feet wet, let’s talk about some stuff because sure. We told you some things back in August, but you know, now you’ve got something to really, you know, tie it to. And so that was a great session. And then right before exams ran an exam review session for people that want to come. Uh, because again, I remember being in first year law school and trying to navigate exams and you just have no idea what you’re doing. You’re praying things go well. And, and I wish I had had someone there to sort of help answer questions and explain practically how it works. And again, all of these sessions where myself and others who were all top of their class and people that really, you know, great at giving back, but great insight too, you know? And so that’s some examples, uh, of that a lot of one-on-one meetings and mentorship and connecting people and all that sort of stuff, and a whole lot more to come.

Aaron Baer (28:55):

Lots of ideas in my mind of interesting things to do. And we’re actually, it’ll be out by the time this launches, but for example, for the main recruitment process in Canada for first year and second year law students, myself, and a few colleagues have put together this free, pretty comprehensive guide on everything you need to know about the process, uh, from people from different backgrounds, different levels of experience, but from both sides of the table, I’ve been involved in interviewing law students for the past, you know, five or six or seven years. And it also been there. Uh, so I think it’ll be really helpful. And again, just trying to demystify some of these things that seem really complicated and no one really ever tells you how they work.

Rob Hanna (29:32):

I love that and that’s exactly, what’s going to be a beneficial, particularly to our junior listeners listening in. So I can’t wait to, uh, to see that. And another passion you and I both share is LinkedIn. And I believe that’s how we got connected initially. So, you know, as a, as a lawyer, why do you use the platform and why would you encourage other lawyers to embrace it?

Aaron Baer (29:54):

I mean, I looked at my options and I figured nobody wants to see me on Tik Tok or OnlyFans, so, uh, LinkedIn, where I can just write words, which is what I do for a living seemed like it seemed like a good option. So I actually had a post on LinkedIn, not too long ago in front of him listening, feel free to check it out or connect or follow me on there at Aaron Baer. I had a post on this a little while ago and it sort of went into the story. So, so back in March of 2020, we shifted to work from home pretty quickly like most people did in the world and our firm was service saying, yeah, you know, we should be embracing social media. I’ve got to think about doing stuff differently. And I thought like, yeah, that makes sense. We’re about 10 years late, but yeah, good time to start is now.

Aaron Baer (30:30):

And I figured, all right, if we’re going to make this work, I’m going to need to lead this initiative. I don’t need to wait for people to tell me in a month, like here’s a strategy. Like let’s just try something like the time to start is now the best time was yesterday or 10 years ago. But the next best time is now. And so I launched this initiative in my group of that 30 to 40 people, which is all sorts of different age ranges, a few people younger than me do people my age, most people older than me, some of your degrees, all I’m trying to say different degrees of social media, comfort experience, all that sort of stuff. And the goal was really, let’s, game-ify this let’s make this fun because it’s new and new is stressful. And I want us to do well and, you know, see what we can do.

Aaron Baer (31:10):

So it’s another, these bi-weekly emails and there was a scoring system in my first email, it was like a competition between us and Donald Trump’s Twitter account, which of course no longer, I guess, is able to tweet from. Uh, but basically there was a point system I’d made up when you got positive, the points for doing things and re-tweeting around LinkedIn sharing posts, you got negative points if you slandered women and other minorities. Cause that was the only way we’re going to keep up with Donald Trump was to have a negative score for him. Uh, you know, it was, it was meant to be a lighthearted kind of thing. And twice a week, I would publish updates on how we were doing other interesting things I learned. So I would take a look at my colleagues profiles and be like, Oh, I had no idea, Rob, you know, did this in the past.

Aaron Baer (31:44):

I was learning stuff about them too. And tried to gave him a fly in and doing some really interesting stuff in the process. I ended up building a habit of posting really because I was going to be this massive hypocrite if I was telling other people to post and why it was important and not doing it myself. And that is actually what I credit or attribute. Uh, some of my success on LinkedIn to was building this habit out of that, not wanting to be a hypocrite, which sounds ridiculous, but it was probably the truth over time, you know, started doing better. And I started playing around sort of learning more about how LinkedIn works. Ah, there’s this thing called the SSI, the social selling index, Oh, there’s an algorithm effecting this. Oh, I’m a day I post matters. Oh, hashtags content, this, that. And so started, you know, you get live data, which is amazing, right?

Aaron Baer (32:26):

Like, you know, I can see if people are liking my posts that they’re viewing them. I can get a sense pretty quickly of what’s working and not working. And if it’s not working, the good news is no one’s seeing it pretty much. So you don’t have to worry about, you know, you got to fail pretty much in. Um, but it started growing really nicely. And I think I sort of found my niche over time in terms of, uh, you know, my content, which tends to focus on, you know, things in the legal industry that could be improved and advice sort of for younger lawyers, all usually with a hint of sarcasm or some level of humor, basically try to buy litter, presentations, posts, you know, you name it, the stuff that, you know, you wouldn’t even read if you wrote it yourself. Uh, so my goal is no content that’s adds value to people, but also like, you know, makes you think makes you smile and makes you laugh and, and talks about issues that people are not talking about enough.

Aaron Baer (33:12):

And I think one of the unique things is I’m talking about, you know, the things law firms aren’t doing well, the legal industry isn’t doing well, but I’m talking about it as a partner at a big firm in the legal industry. So, you know, there are not enough people talking about that. Uh, and I think it’s, it’s been great. I’ve met so many people, including yourself, Rob, I’ve just met so many people. There’s been some business development. That’s obviously been positive, you know, actual clients from it. But really, I think, you know, when you look at 20, 20 in a year where social connectivity was so hard to come by, I think LinkedIn actually played a huge role in keeping my sanity, you know, meeting people, uh, talking on the platform, turning that into phone calls, turning that into friendships, turning that into relationships. And that’s been an incredible thing that I did not expect to happen when I started.

Rob Hanna (33:53):

Yeah, no, I’m a massive fan of LinkedIn. So thanks again. I can’t encourage people enough to, to chat the platform out. And as one final question from me, what one piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

Aaron Baer (34:07):

So, uh, that is a great question. Um, I wish I had understood a little bit better how some of the, you know, how people had been trained some of the incentives, some of those kinds of issues. I, as I said, I worked at work and did work in a large law firm. And some of the skills that I bring to the table are not necessarily the most valued skills in a firm. You know, they’re super valued in other industries, but they’re not always the most, the most highly sought after. Right. You know, if you just build a lot of hours and do things by the book and keep your head down and don’t challenge the status quo, that is generally what most firms are looking for. So I probably could have been a little bit more gentle early on, you know, some of the things that I thought were sort of obvious or given, or clearly things we should do, I learned over time were, were not necessarily views shared by others.

Aaron Baer (34:52):

And that’s not a good thing. I think like that’s a sign of just the industry as a whole. And I don’t mean our firm, I mean, in general, but I really think that, you know, if I had understood the perspective of other people who are starting from a little bit more and why they have held those views, I think that would have been helpful in sort of taking a little bit more of a gentle approach early on. I’ve definitely, you know, completely overhauled how I approach issues. And really what I focus on these days is, you know, it’s not about why somebody should change, why they should use legal tech or a better process. It’s really about, you know, how can I help them see what’s in it for them. And I think at the end of the day, that applies, you know, as a lawyer, when you’re negotiating, when you’re working with a client, you know, what are their goals? What are their concerns? How can you help them address that? That’s what you’re trying to do as a lawyer, as a problem solver, as a human. And I think I’d done a little bit better job of doing that early on, rather than assuming people would agree with me. Um, then I think that would’ve been really helpful. So just thinking about the people side, the interpersonal side, I think that would have been helpful and come a whole long way on that, for sure.

Rob Hanna (35:49):

Yeah. I love that advice, really, really Sage advice. So thanks so much for sharing that Erin. So if people want to follow you or get in touch about anything we’ve discussed today, um, I’m guessing which platform you might give a shout out to, but what’s the best, what’s the best platform for them to do that and feel free to shout out any web links or other relevant social media at which we’ll share with the steps.

Aaron Baer (36:11):

Absolutely. So LinkedIn is definitely the best place you can find me there, Aaron A AR O N Baer, B A E R. I think it’s Aaron Baer too, but you should be able to find me pretty easily. I post several times a week. I’m pretty active on there. So feel free to send out a connection request or follow me on there. Firm is Aird & Berlis great firms. So if anyone’s ever looking for Canadian legal advice, feel free to reach out. Uh, if you just search my name on Google and the firm name you’ll find me easily and I’ll link is also online profile. So always happy to chat and yeah, it’s been a pleasure to hear. What’s so great to be on the podcast. And I’ve been a huge fan for a long time.

Rob Hanna (36:44):

Thank you so much, Aaron. The pleasure is all mine. It’s been absolutely amazing hearing about your journey, all things, legal tech and looking forward to seeing all your future sort of innovations and what you’re doing, not only with your legal practice, but all your other pro bono initiatives, but from all of us on the legally speaking podcast over and out.

Rob Hanna (37:03):

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Legally Speaking Podcast. If you enjoyed the show and want to help support us, remember to leave us a rating and review on Apple iTunes, you can also support the show and gain exclusive benefits bonus content, uh, much more by signing up to our Patreon page, which is www.patreon.com/legallyspeakingpodcast. Thanks for listening.

 

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