Substantive Law Questions

Leave substantive law questions at the door in Mentor Connect and Mentor Express

We are often asked why we exclude mentees from asking substantive law questions in Mentor Connect and Mentor Express. There are several reasons including mentors’ limited time, resources and liability exposure. 

The Law Society created these mentorship programs for more junior lawyers to get insight and advice in areas such as professional conduct, career planning and practice development.

Should mentees need help with a file, AdvisorLink is available to deal with substantive law questions. AdvisorLink has advisors in a wide range of practice areas who are available to respond to questions in their area of practice.  

Bringing substantive law questions into discussions meant for mentorship raises other concerns as well.

Knowing there is often a file behind substantive law questions and that mentees will apply what they learn to those files, mentors would need to understand all the facts of the file before giving substantive legal advice. That level of investigation and understanding requires a significant investment of time, leaving less time to discuss topics better suited for mentoring.

Substantive law questions also require participants to perform a conflict check before proceeding with any mentoring and raises significant liability issues, exposing mentors to risk and potential claims. Also, permitting substantive law questions would lead the Law Society to insist that all mentors maintain liability insurance. If that happened, mentees would potentially lose access to many mentors who are exempt from the insurance requirement — retired and inactive lawyers, judges, Crown prosecutors and other government lawyers, in-house counsel and lawyers doing exclusively pro bono work.

Allowing substantive law questions could also compromise the willingness of lawyers without current knowledge of certain practice areas from signing up as mentors, for fear that they might stumble into being asked questions beyond their ability or comfort level.

Some will say that the answer is for mentors to simply use their discretion and ‘just say no,’ but this places an unfair and often unrealistic expectation on mentors who want to assist their mentees as much as possible. Mentors have volunteered because of a heartfelt desire to engage with their mentees, not to refuse to engage, and saying no will not always be comfortable or possible.

There are a myriad of other topics to explore in your mentoring relationship. A list of ideas is available in our Mentor Express and Mentor Connect Discussion Topics for Mentors and Mentees resources.

Last modified: Thursday, 3 March 2022, 8:59 AM