Solving the mental health crisis in law requires invention and transformation.
Lawyer entrepreneurs are turning their minds to the challenge and bringing innovative offerings to the market aimed at making a difference.
Aaron Baer is one such entrepreneur, a corporate commercial lawyer who started his legal training company 4L Academy this year. 4L provides modern legal training for Canadian lawyers and law students.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Baer on June 7, 2021 – the very day 4L launched the summer pilot program.
The launch attracted lots of attention.
The response from law students was phenomenal—the summer program filled in a little over a week. I will tell you the secret of the 4L marketing program a little later, but first, here’s what Baer said to me about why he created 4L and what his goals are.
What’s 4L all about?
4L’s LinkedIn page says it is “providing the legal training that we wish we had so that others don’t have to feel the way we did. We teach you to understand the ‘why.’ We teach you to use legal tech. We ensure you receive the mentorship and feedback that you’ve been craving. We’re on a mission to improve training in the legal profession.”
Baer is clear that 4L is “a mental health play.” He says, “it’s not marketed that way, but at the end of the day, that is what it is all about.”
His reason for launching 4L comes from his own experience as a newly called lawyer suffering from high degrees of anxiety. He had been top of his class in first-year law, but like all law students, lacked the technical legal skills needed for legal practice.
Baer learned that he was not alone in this struggle. In his conversations with law students, young lawyers, and senior lawyers, the same themes emerged. Some of the biggest mental health challenges for young lawyers come from entering legal practice with little or no training on the technical skills while facing exacting professional standards. The result is junior lawyers are stressed out and struggling to survive a very steep learning curve.
Baer’s audacious goal?
The goal is for 4L to be the go-to source for young lawyer training in Canada and, in the years to come, beyond.
Baer reflected that for every hurdle encountered, another appears. “We want to be that guide to get you from a law student truly not knowing what you are doing, through that learning journey to a lawyer running your own file and being happy and healthy while doing it.”
Baer and the 4L team have built the training he says, “we wish we’d had.” It’s highly interactive, hands-on, and experiential, with only little bits of lecturing sprinkled through. There are breakout rooms, some gamification, and opportunities for students to ask questions and see results. 4L employed the assistance of experts in teaching for help in developing this approach.
For example, in the closing class, classes three to eight in the program are a practical group exercise in running a fake deal in an anxiety-free way. The entire goal is to learn by doing, like a pilot first learning to fly a jet first by practicing in a flight simulator.
Baer is also keen for the students to learn how to use technology along with substantive legal skills. He hopes that in experiencing the benefits of various technologies in improving speed and efficiency, the students will put these technologies into play in their firms.
Baer told me: “There is no way I would have stayed in law if I had to do the grunt work as I did when I started; there is no chance. The tech makes you happier.”
I asked him how long 4L had been in the planning stages.
Baer told me he had the idea in his head for over ten months. But, he said, “this has been anything but a linear journey. It might look straightforward. But the reality has been that there were many tough conversations behind the scenes, a lot of tough decisions. But it’s something, as you can tell, that I am passionate about, and at the end of the day, I said, look, we’re going to try this. If we fail, we fail, but I can’t not try it.”
I asked Baer what he is grateful for:
“One, getting this off the ground.” This has been “an idea marinating in my head” for ten months or so. Over that time, there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes. “Over the last year, I’ve spoken to so many people. I am grateful to the many people who’ve given their time to launching this, getting this off the ground. We have four classes, all of which were created by people working full time, and then some.”
For Baer, it has been a marathon and a sprint in the lead-up to launch.
Baer and the team have thrown themselves into getting the pilot ready, and with full-time legal practices, that meant working nights and weekends. Not only that, but in the final lead-up, Baer transitioned from one firm to another. He told me: “I literally left my former firm on Monday, started at a new firm on Tuesday, and we’re launching this today [Monday the following week].”
Now, about that marketing plan that led to the highly successful launch… the secret? Baer approached a number of large Toronto law firms for support, and while this was helpful, what was most successful in driving enrollment was one LinkedIn post.
I recorded my conversation with Baer and will post highlights to my blog in July. So do listen in to hear more about the 4L Academy program, the challenges, and how Aaron manages to do it all while practicing law!