I can sense this thread being very helpful.
How many hours, on average, do you work a week?
I'll give the truth, which is both the most and least helpful answer. There's no uniformity. Zero. I'll do 35 billable hours one week and 90 the next. It really depends on your practice and what's going on with it. A litigator like me could have a 90-100 hour week getting ready for trial and a 30 hour week catching up on letters once the trial's over.
Generally speaking, I roll into the office around 10:00 (I drop off my daughter at daycare and spend some of each morning with her) and stay late (9:00-11:00) three nights a week and come home early two nights a week. No two lawyers have the same schedule, but this works out beautifully for me.
I'd say on average, I'm working (not necessarily billing) 55-60 hours a week, with very heavy weeks once or twice a month.
I'm a 0L and going to Law school next year, but not completely sure where yet.
I've done a tremendous amount of research the past couple years in terms of what I would actually like to do, through either personal research or getting advice from lawyers and professors. That being said, I realize it's almost likely I completely change what I want to do once I actually start classes, but I may as well be as informed as I can be along the way. That being said, here's where I am now:
Ideally, yes, i'd like to go after the unicorn that is "international law". I also realize that reasonably, this may never happen, or even if it does, most likely much later on in my career. I would like to work for organizations like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, etc, with the ultimate cherry on top being work at the ICC or ICJ.
I also understand that, at this point at least, it's looking likely that i'd be taking on close to a hundred grand in loans to fund my education. I also know that court experience is basically necessary, especially for the ICJ, etc.
Now, I'm not really at all interested in working criminal defence, so criminal prosecution would be the rational and most relevant choice here. But I also know it's not likely I pay off my school loans in 5 years on a Crown's salary (which isn't anything to scoff at in its own right).
So to wind down this unnecessarily long summary, how tough is it to go from litigation in a field like your own (with the research i've done, this actually seems the most enjoyable to me) to crown's prosecutor after 4-5 years? I also feel like I already know the answer to this, and that it's very difficult, but I thought I might ask anyway.
Cool! So, first things first, that's not international law --- it's criminal law. International law generally deals with treaties and trade pacts, and the conflict of laws when the Taiwanese manufacturer screws up an order for the American retailer.
Next up, as I'm sure you realize, it's virtually impossible to plot out a career that gets you where you want to go. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I am saying that fully 50% of your class has the same ambition as you, and there are only a handful of extraordinarily accomplished, superlatively brilliant, exceptionally experienced people that get to appear before the ICC in a given year.
In several cases, you clearly already know this but for the benefit of others, a few of the leading misconceptions in aiming at a public interest career are as follows:
- Non-profits hire in-house lawyers. (I mean, they do, but their budget generally goes elsewhere. They might have one or two on staff, but largely they rely on pro bono work from practicing lawyers.)
- Non-profits hire students fresh out of law school. (When you have the best lawyers in the country salivating to take on Amnesty's high-profile, feel-good, change-the-world cases for free, why on earth would they hire someone with no experience for money?)
- I can specialize in non-profit law and work my way up. (You can, especially if you're a tax lawyer, but when it comes to the court battles you imagine, why would Human Rights Watch take on someone that's been toiling in obscurity on noble causes when the best, most illustrious lawyers in the country would do that work for free? If anyone has a shot at arguing something at the ICC, it's going to be Marie Henein, not a Crown prosecutor. And when I've worked for big, noble causes I've gotten the job because the client wanted to hire a really, really great litigator, so they called my Bay Street firm for a big-name trial lawyer.)
- I'm the only one willing to make the salary sacrifice. (There is no one in your class that does not want a job where they change the world. Only a few are there to get rich; most are there, frankly, to get respect and admiration. There are several non-profits that I can't even get to return my phone calls when I'm offering work for free.)
- Non-profits are the good guys or the most dedicated lawyers. (I have gone up against several white-hat non-profits and in some cases they have been the most bare-knuckle, underhanded, borderline incompetent, ethically dubious counsel I've ever had to face.)
- Crown prosecution is the way to the ICC. (I'm not an expert in the ICC or criminal stuff generally, but it's hard to imagine that working in a government job is a fast-track to getting that job. I mean, it worked for one guy. By far the better way to get to the ICC would seem to be specializing in criminal defence and being retained by the accused. There are just simply more of them than there are prosecutors. That being said, it looks like the path tends to involve being appointed to numerous international justice panels, which will involve more wheeling and dealing and taking risks than hard work in a given spot.
And in response to your last question, it would be extremely difficult for me to segue over to the Crown at this point, maybe not because they wouldn't hire me --- though they might not --- but because I'm just not competent to do that job. There are kids in law school that know more about criminal procedure than me. Certainly I'm in a better spot than someone doing real estate deals trying to get into the prosecutor's office, but one would think criminal experience would be something they're looking for on the resume.
If we were to meet or discuss in private, I'd start asking questions about what it is you'd really like to see in your career that has made you aim at those non-profits and the ICC. Often a dose of harsh introspection goes a long way to promoting career satisfaction. It could be that public interest law is what you really, really want to do, and you might be the one to do it... but that's a very expensive proposition and it's extremely difficult to find your way to getting started. It certainly doesn't come with any financial certainty or job security.
Would you rather kill a man with your bear hands, or a bear with your man hands?
Well, one makes you a criminal and one makes you a legend, so that's a pretty straight-shootin' answer there.
What are the exit options for corporate litigators? Do people still go in-house after doing their biglaw time or is that something that mostly for people who do transnational? Also do you like your job and do you feel it was worth the U of T debt?
Exit options: There's always the bench! But seriously, there are growing options in the private sector as large corporations start to take more and more of their legal spend in-house. There are also opportunities for legal support work --- summarizing cases, doing eDiscovery --- but in most cases people just go to smaller litigation shops.
Do I Like My Job: Absolutely. Love this job. Sometimes it can be a bit much in terms of hours, but I never wake up feeling like I'm going to work. I feel like I'm going to go help some people and play chess against some (generally) smart opponents. You can't say enough about a job that lets you set your own hours, be your own boss (for the most part) and think for a living. Outstanding pay doesn't hurt either.
Worth the U of T Debt: No. I'll never know for sure if I would have gotten this job anywhere else, but the U of T premium isn't worth that amount of extra debt; I work with stellar lawyers that got similar educations all over the place. The main benefits I got out of the U of T were a really great group of nerd friends and the opportunity to study with a handful of academic superstars that made me fall in love with the law. Was it worth an extra $20,000 or whatever it is now? Almost certainly not. Maybe I'd be singing a different tune if I hadn't gotten this job.