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Aureliuse

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  1. @QuincyWagstaffFamily litigation burns through retainers and trusts fast. Arrears can accumulate despite your best efforts. Let me elaborate: Financial abuse looms large in family law. I had files where one spouse maliciously manipulated corporate and personal tax returns to create massive tax debts for the CRA to collect against their ex. Often the wife is at the mercy of the breadwinner husband. I had incidents where I found myself on the eve of a motion or conference without an adequate trust (and with the client assuring me that I will be paid). This was still the case despite writing a reporting letter quoting a fee range and multiple emails to remind the client to top up his/her retainer given the anticipated cost of the proceeding. Yet, if the funds still do not appear? If you don't go on a motion, you might prejudice your less affluent spouse's claims in the litigation (as motions can set a status quo). But if you go, there is no guarantee that you will be paid. Even if there is a cost award granted in your favor, there is no guarantee the upset ex would ever pay that cost. Sometimes at the end of the litigation, you know your client has exhausted all his/her family resources (after doing your client's financial disclosure for years) and had probably drained all of his/her parents' retirement funds. What is left is the children's RESP and emergency funds to pay for interests on numerous growing debts. I can only speak for myself, I rather know that there will be a roof over the children's head and the family would not end up at a shelter. As such, I have written off thousands for some clients at the end.
  2. I would like to throw one massive wrench into your calculation on paper to provide that reality check you asked for: Collectibility of Billings. Most family law clients do not have deep pockets and are often reluctant or hesitant (even worse, try to find a way to avoid paying your bills) to pay you $5,000.00 to $10,000.00 constantly. In a small city or town, most of your clients are likely going to be middle class with limited means to sustain prolonged litigation without parental contribution or significant debt financing. When managing contested divorces, you might find your client could be the first to run out of funds to pay you. This is the MASSIVE unknown factor when you start up your practice. I trust you can imagine what would follow if you run into collectibility issues. During COVID, my friend's startup sole practice went under for this reason. Secondly, every city has a demand for family law lawyers. However, there is a difference between demand for legal advice and actually retaining a lawyer. A lot of prospective clients will pay for your consultation to get a general sense of where the strengths and weaknesses are in their case, then proceed solo to court. It is often when their ex "lawyered up" then they decide to retain a lawyer - even then, a portion will never hire a lawyer for a variety of reasons. On a minor note: Don't forget to hire a receptionist too! Your clerk will be quite wroth with you if you ask him or her to do your filings and answer calls.
  3. I am very sorry that you had to go through this. It is not an easy time and everything you feel is natural. I am a family law lawyer. I had clients with two failed attempts and a client's teenage child who succeeded. Telling my case management judge what happened to the child is something that will stick with me until I die. The pandemic by no means is helping in any way. I find myself spending more and more time on Zoom with clients in distress trying to talk them through some difficult situations and referring them to mental health assistance. This is just an unfortunate aspect of our profession due to the fact that in criminal law and family law, we see people at their most vulnerable and their lives in a series of crises. A lot of the times, we are given absolutely disastrous files with little time for us to remedy a developing crisis. Please please please don't take this personally. It will destroy you from the inside if you blame yourself for the situation. I had been through this myself reflecting on my actions and advice. Let me tell you the answer: in 99% of the times, there is nothing more you can do if you had been diligent and conscientious in practice. If you want to talk, please PM me.
  4. While I do agree that no one is ever entitled to a job (one must work hard for it), I can also understand the frustration from unfulfilled expectations after years of hard work and significant financial investment. The pandemic does not hit everyone the same way. We are not in the same boat in this sense. Some will be better off than others. The pandemic is a time when there needs to be greater patience, compassion, and perseverance. It is a time I think I get to see a lot of my friends and clients' true colors and inner strength. Although I am grateful having a secure job doing what I love, I understand that many had to make some difficult choices individually and for their families. The least I can do is listen to them and not judge them when they resort to unkind words and use me as an outlet. I think a lot of this is "episodic," aka "seeing and hearing someone at their worst." Let's not be quick to draw a conclusion without knowing a person holistically. Not all of us are saints and gurus of stress management. I tell my clients "It's a bad day, not a bad life" and "better days are ahead."
  5. What is your practice area? There might be others here who can help you anonymously via PM if you share your practice area.
  6. Almost every boutique, full-service (with a sizable family law department) firm, large family law firm in downtown Toronto work with files involving inter alia, corporate, foreign business (U.S.A. and Europe mostly), and trust interests. These often come with a lot of shareholder agreements and unique corporate tax arrangements. You can be confident that you will be working with a lot of numbers. Equalization quantum can change significantly depending on when the valuation date is. Most of the numbers crunching is actually left to the various financial experts firms hire from time to time. It can be a LawPro-able claim to practice an area (e.g. conducting business valuations) which is outside your training. Never presume you understand something and leave it to those who have been doing financial analysis/business auditing for years to do the explanations. You should be comfortable with reviewing balance sheets, corporate tax returns etc. However, almost all of the business analysis and forecast are left to your hired experts (who are never your hired gun) to assist you and the court to understand someone's income and capital bases. The difference between a sweatshop firm and an intense firm lies in how the management treats junior associates/articling students. I overheard some unbelievably oppressive and abusive conversations between partners and juniors in court and in firm hallways. I was also on the receiving end of some of these dress downs. Frankly, if those conversations were made public, I doubt any prospective client would hire that firm. We all started from somewhere, let's not pretend some of us were born great advocates who can effectively cross-examine without any structure.
  7. I once received an email from a less-than-pleasant opposing counsel who wrote instead of "best regards," I received "best retards." I wanted to call to get some clarification, if failing that, some satisfaction. But at the end of the day, I just laughed it off with my clerk. Your typo is so minor that it is a matter of style in legal writing rather than a serious blunder such as misspelling your client's name or a date.
  8. Take care of your mental health and overall health before attending law school. I learned this after law school working in one of the most depressing areas of law. Nonetheless, I found the practice more rewarding than law school. Difficult work and stress are perpetual in this profession, but your health is worth more than any tuition or salary/bonus.
  9. One probing question you can ask is "why they are hiring?" Is it to fill a vacancy or are they expanding? (if you want to be passive aggressive, ask them why they are hiring ALL THE TIME). This of course, assumes that the answer you get would be an honest one.
  10. An abusive or oppressive work environment on top of high work load. There are firms where junior lawyer's work day mood depends on the mood of senior lawyers.
  11. 1) Family law lawyers have set initial retainers. I reasonably quote for my clients how much something is going to cost in a reporting letter BEFORE I take a step so they will not be shocked later. I secure funding first from my client if I retain an expert for valuation, child assessment, or forensic accountant. Some firms have payment plans, others maintain a retainer level for each file at a certain level. Most family law retainers have clear clauses about payment of fees and settlement of fee disputes. Different firms have unique billing practices (what to bill, what to discount). This is often the job of senior counsel or partners to review your bill and provide discount where reasonable as part of an overall client management strategy. This is part of client management which you will learn once you enter practice. 2) In Ontario, there are well known family law firms which all handle high value and/or high conflict files and have some exceptional senior lawyers in family law. There is usually one to two renowned firms in each region except major city centers where many old firms have established practices and family law talents in a big market. Everyone wants to join these firms. There is hardly any OCI family law firm in the Toronto OCI process. Family law is about what you do, how passionate you are, and how much effort you put into your practice. After a few years, you will get noticed when you go up against top lawyers in leading firms. To be honest, it is hard to tell if someone is a right fit just by looking at their grades, experiences, and course selection. A lot of family law is "people skills" and stress management. It is also about what you want out of your practice. Do you want to work 8 am to 11 pm 6 days a week for high paying clients during peak times? 3) This answer is unique to every firm and unique to every lawyer. Of course, we all follow the same set of rules and procedures. Nonetheless, how we actually comply with these rules in our written materials vary from lawyer to lawyer (if that makes sense). Research wise, we all follow leading and well-written Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada decisions. However, I prefer to find fact-based cases that run in parallel to my clients' situations and argue for a similar judgment or distinguish opposing counsel's legal research. How much time you put into research can pay dividends down the road. What distinguishes a competent family lawyer from an exceptional one is often found in the research involved in his or her written submissions. Make a habit of reading caselaw regularly and save good cases. My practice is always tailor my pleadings, research, legal strategy to individual clients. As a result, there is almost little rote work and no copy and pasting. There should be no laziness in your practice. No cutting corners. Clients can tell when you are going the extra mile to help them. While you will have your own or share a legal clerk/paralegal/assistant in your practice, never rely on them as their quality, like lawyers, can vary. In addition, when it comes to arbitration or trials, knowing that you did the grunt work will help as you can point to key facts quickly. It shows in front of your arbitrator/judge. This is part of "know your case." Also, if your assistant is sick or otherwise unavailable, you will not become helpless with filing, serving, or drafting. On an anecdotal level, I have gone to trials as counsel where I ripped my friend's Financial Statement and expert report into shreds because I had suspected they relied on their clerk and expert to do the grunt work. The cross-examination was a slow evisceration process where I could unravel every account and figure. In the end, the witness was completely confused and could not give straight-forward answers. In the end, you can advise the court in your closing submissions that "my friend's Financial Statement was neither frank nor complete. In fact, it did not belong to his/her client. Rather, it was the work of so-and-so expert or counsel to present a skewed view of his/her financial landscape because clearly, if it were actually his/her client's true financial landscape, he/she could be forthcoming no matter how he/she was led." You get the point.
  12. The points made by @SupportCalc are fully on target. I agree. 1) I heavily concentrated my law school course selection around family law. Like you, I went into law school with a family law tilt/lean. Here are the academic courses I recommend for your 2L and 3L: Evidence, Tax Law, Trusts, Estates, Mediation/ADR, Trial Advocacy, Family Law, Children and the Law, Securities, Criminal Procedure etc. (Try not to have Evidence and Tax in the same semester - I did that, wasn't fun). You will likely forget most of what you learned in school other than some family law-related courses when you actually hit first year of practice, but some of the experience of having conducted your own mock negotiation/trial will help lessen that initial nervousness going into your first motion/conference/trial. Courses such as securities, tax, trusts, estates, and criminal procedure are appetizers which will get you thinking about how family law can branch into other areas of law - especially when you have high income earners as clients. Get into family law clinics, mooting, or frontline volunteer positions such as the Family Law Project, law school legal clinic family division, family law moots, or shadow family law professors/practitioners. You will learn lots in these positions about family law and about yourself, as well as demonstrate interest on a cover letter later on when applying to family law firms. 2) Pros: You will almost never run out of work if you establish a good reputation among the legal community as a conscientious, ethical, and competent family law lawyer. Giving discounts here and there (e.g. waived consultation fees) also will encourage others to refer you clients. A sub-group of the general public is always looking for family law advice because of a bad divorce or new issues that have arisen due to their children growing older or re-partnering (e.g. marrying a new love interest). The Family Law Rules in Ontario are pretty intuitive and easy to understand (much logical than the Rules of Civil Procedure) because the former was created to assist self-reps and unreps in court. Flexible work hours - Many family law firms in rural/suburban locations have flexible work hours and manageable billable targets (1200+ to 1400+). Ability to choose the file you want to take - Some firms do not take legal aid/child protection/high conflict files. These files tend to the more difficult end of all family law files and they can be mentally taxing and emotionally draining. You can absolutely be your own boss as a solo practitioner or make a new firm with a former work colleague - It will be hard at first, but just be current with the law and establish a good reputation in the community. Some people actually appreciate your effort even when you don't get the best results. This will be their first time they are being heard and given a fair hearing. Cons: Personal safety - your clients or their ex might threaten you and act upon it. There are certain personality types which are difficult to please and always felt like they have been victimized. Not surprisingly, they are going through a divorce. Emotionally taxing. You can "take the work home" often because this area of law is so visceral. Clients gaslight you all the time, whether intentionally or unintentionally with "I never said that, you remembered it wrong, how could you forget?" It is so easy to get sucked in and lose your objectivity. Losing when you think you are in the "right" - judges might not see the family dynamic and the best cure the same way as you do. Relatively lower salary compared to other areas of law - This is related to your client's ability to pay - unless you are Downtown Toronto or Bay St handling all high value clients at a top firm. Lack of Mentorship - Until you are lucky enough to article at one of the few firms where the partner/senior associate don't see you as a notetaker or basic drafters (who actually wants to teach you and prepare you for practice), you will likely enter this field with little to no knowledge of the law/best practices/self-protection techniques etc. A lot of us learn from bruises and crushed spirits. The first few years hit hard. 3) Try not to get your expectations so high about protecting the children. Most of the damage done to the children came/would come from parents. In day-to-day general family law practice, you almost never get to see the clients' kids. When you need an older child's input, there is the Office of the Children Lawyer with assigned professional social workers who can provide you with a report. Also keep in mind that they are not your kids. Therefore, a lot of their traumatic/questionable behavior come from their parents and there is nothing you can do about it. Focus on making the parents' divorce "less awful" because every dollar saved from a lawyer is a dollar that can be put towards a child. 4) WHERE YOU GO/ARTICLE WILL ABSOLUTELY MATTER (Emphasis mine). This is the only point I will repeat. DO. NOT. WORK. FOR. A. REVOLVING. DOOR. FAMILY. FIRM. (full stop). A revolving door firm is a firm where the management has a history of not being able to retain associates. The revolving door nature suggests that there are chronic internal issues such as a toxic personality, less-than-ethical legal practices, high workload little pay, apathy in the ranks, or overemphasis on billing. A hallmark is the constant changes in staff, especially among junior associates. Family law can attract some serious LAWPRO claims (e.g. negligence claims). You don't want to be that junior lawyer who is so overworked that you could miss deadlines and due diligence requirements. You should shadow a senior family law lawyer who can explain why certain things are done a certain way. Protect yourself before you protect your clients. Your work colleague and environment can break or save your practice. Some firms will not stick behind their associates or provide perspective/mental health support during times when you are in crisis. Your fellow family law associates at your firm are your best friends at work for a second opinion. They should never be your rivals. Money is not everything. Your mental health matters more than what your boss thinks of you or that bonus. You need that perspective outside of work. Let me send this message home by saying that I rather give up my license than work for some family law firms. @artsydorkOff to you.
  13. Established family practices constantly get referrals from associates in other areas of law. There is also a lot of word-of-mouth referrals from former clients who were not terribly upset with the results they had received. Advertising is almost unheard of in family law practice.
  14. ... By keeping your head high and keep living your life. Reflect, but don't kick yourself over it. Your work and careers are defined by what you do as a lawyer in everyday moments (to be interpreted broadly), not by a few bad grades. Do you still ache over bad grades from high school or bad assignments from university? Of course not. It is silly. EDIT: Btw, Bay Street is not the defining metric of your personal worth. It is not the ultimate goal of life. I am a Bay Street practitioner with 2x "C+" on my transcript.
  15. After you are 4-5 years into practice, no one even cares about your grades - Though I am still looking for that classmate who "stole" my "A" in Family Law I. It's a work in progress... Stop getting advice from other anxious law students with big dreams. I am on Bay St now and I did apply for OCIs (there was only 1 firm for family law, so you can imagine how competitive it was). I did not get it. Oh well... Life goes on. Many years later, Bay St found me (not to be confused with "thug life"). If you are interested in a career on Bay St, you can also try to join later as an associate. Many joined this way and many found other joys in life such as kids, pets, traveling, hobbies, and businesses. Did I tell you? I have 2 "C+" on my transcript, one in 1L and one in 2L?
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