By Melanie Hodges Neufeld
Each year, the Saskatchewan Provincial Court Judges’ Association (SPCJA) awards a prize to a student enrolled full time in the Saskatchewan CPLED Bar Admissions Program for the best essay on one of the following topics:
The winner of the SPCJA Essay Contest, for 2016, is Mr. Kolade Oladokun. Mr. Oladokun is originally from Nigeria, and, as of May 2016, was completing his articles with the Merchant Law Group. He holds a Bachelors of Law (BL) from Nigerian Law School, where he was admitted to the bar, and further holds LLB and LLM degrees from the University of Wales in England. His essay entitled Learning the Practice in the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan is below. We congratulate Mr. Oladokun, and wish him the best in his legal career.
Learning the Practice in the Provincial Court of Saskatchewan.
The Provincial Court is a creation of statute, and as such its jurisdiction is limited to
those matters permitted by the Legislature. Notwithstanding this, quite a large volume
of charges are laid annually under the Criminal Code, provincial statutes and municipal
bylaws that are dealt with at Provincial Court. Judges of the Court also hear large
volume of family cases and civil cases, with a small claims limit of $20,000. For most
lawyers therefore, a significant part of their practice takes place in the Provincial Court.
To my mind, this is telling.
As an articling student in a law firm with a twenty-four hour toll free client hotline, I
have come to the realization that the pace of law practice today is faster and more
demanding than ever before. Technology has made lawyers accessible around the clock;
this has altered the rhythm of practice and allows firms and clients to impose
extraordinary demands on young lawyers. The current pace calls for proactive and
reflective thinking on the part of articling students and young lawyers to understand the
relationship between the development of legal knowledge, expertise and experience
within our court system to plan for future success in the profession.
Thus far in the course of my articles, I had been fortunate enough to present in
Provincial Court on a regular basis. In this short period I have grown and altered my
own advocacy style by watching and interacting with numerous lawyers and judges.
Judges at every level of court need skilled guidance from lawyers; lawyers must know
everything from their facts to appropriate sentencing submissions. They must be ready
and able to answer any and all questions to provide adequate assistance to the judge. It
is therefore imperative that young lawyers learn the practice of the court and become an
adept practitioner. The following represents a non-exhaustive outline of what I have
learned creates successful practice in Provincial Court.
Central to a successful practice is advocacy skill. Owing to the pace in Provincial court
which is often faster and where matters are often shorter than in other courts, there is
no gainsaying the fact that the sound advice available to counsel regarding good
advocacy skills is most important and applicable to lawyers appearing before Provincial
Litigation is process-driven and lawyers must have an eye to the central purpose of the
procedure. The job of lawyers in court is to advocate for their client and to assist the
judicial decision-maker. Given the shorter and faster nature of matters before
Provincial Court, those who appear there regularly must develop a certain type of
advocacy. Lawyers in this context must efficiently discuss and explain issues clearly,
cogently and concisely. These arguments will present how and why the crucial
questions should be resolved in favour of a particular party.
Successful advocacy envelops a multitude of other skills including negotiation, legal
research, writing and drafting, as well as knowledge of the rules, conventions and
courts. These rules include civil and criminal procedure, rules of evidence, rules guiding
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and the general laws in force in the jurisdiction.
Far from being mere eloquence, advocacy entails the ability to serve as a compass for the
judge to navigate the vast sea of factual material and to isolate the critical and factual
issues upon which a case is likely to turn.
File management is another prerequisite for successful practice at Provincial Court,
especially in criminal matters. The large volume of files a lawyer may possess is no
excuse for lackluster performance in Provincial Court. There are numerous
adjournments, elections, bail hearings, programming options and pre-trials dealt with at
Provincial Court before a trial is heard. Being able to interact with multiple files, and
keeping in mind that judges manage a much higher volume of cases, means that lawyers
must ensure their channels of communication with judges are respectful, succinct and
Further, it is important that lawyers practicing before Provincial Court develop
necessary skills to prepare and manage files, as well as diarize relevant schedules and
court dates to ensure punctuality and adequate representation. With this comes
effective time management. Being late or missing court comes with large consequences.
Lawyers must be careful not to waste judicial time and resources.
As the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ becomes widespread, success sometimes
depends on understanding the roles emotion and interpersonal relationships play in
otherwise logical activities. The successful lawyer is one who networks positively to gain
professional contacts. Professional networks may take the form of mentors who give
insight by sharing information about their own experiences and realities of practice or
colleagues who may serve as valuable sounding boards and helpful allies if you are
running late or cannot speak to an adjournment in court.
Ever since Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes stumbled upon his theory of
water displacement while bathing, humans have been intrigued with “Eureka!”
moments. There is no Eureka moment in the practice of law; success comes only
through meticulous planning, preparation and hard work. It is critical that young
lawyers understand early the relationship between future success in the profession and
the ability to learn the practice of the courts. This contextual experience never ends,
successful lawyers will continue to grow and learn and adapt to help the judicial
economy flourish. No matter how charismatic or eloquent one may be, true success in
the legal profession begins with learning the practice of the courts.
When it comes to Provincial Court practice, I have learned that I look forward to being
an integral part of the system, both to advocate for clients and further the legal