Good timing -- I just got back after a few months away on a personal thing. (For context, OP, I'm a 7th year Bay Street litigation associate.)
1) I spoke to older students and they indicated opportunities in family law are limited, esp. with OCIs. Further, it became apparent that those Toronto firms/big firms that do specialize in family law don't hire too often/a lot. Is this true?
Okay, some more detail is obviously warranted. First of all, you should barely even be relying on people like me to give you insight into the legal market. There's tons I don't know about everything outside of my own experience. You may have noticed that law students from time to time may lack for humility when in fact they don't know anything about a given subject. The legal market is one of those subjects.
To say that opportunities in family law are limited is like saying that forestry is a pretty limited industry. Paper's cheap. Now gold mining --- that's where it's at! Do you even know how expensive gold is?!
If you have a passion for family law and will apply yourself to it, you will stand to do very, very well. People that can afford lawyers get divorced a lot, and custody disputes and property equalization bring clients back over and over and over again to resolve or amend settlements. Some of the wealthiest lawyers I know are family lawyers in boutique shops.
Family law is also extremely portable in a way most other areas of practice are not. I'm a class action lawyer --- ooo! look at those millions and billions of dollars in issue! --- and there's no way I could practice in Thunder Bay. I'd have to completely retool my skill set. And if I ever wanted to work in the kind of small town I grew up in, I'd have to become a family or criminal lawyer.
Now, these folks are correct that family law boutiques don't participate in the OCI process. You'll have to get those jobs through some good old-fashioned shoe leather. But they're confusing opportunity with convenience.
All of family law involves repeat business, which is great, and people are willing to pay lawyers whatever they charge when it comes to access to their kids. They're less inclined to shell out to defend a slip-and-fall, or to accept a big contingency payment in a personal injury case. So the top end of family lawyers is sky-is-the-limit. You could be a partner in a specialized firm and be worth millions. The average salary for family lawyers will likely be lower than average, but not as low as some other work like (most) criminal defence and immigration consulting. And you'll also have very high labour mobility.
Lots of opportunity, below-average to above-average pay, no ceiling on earnings, freedom to practice wherever you wish. Not a bad field to get into.
2a) Is personal injury lucrative/are there opportunities? I know there are some PI firms on Bay.
Yes, but personal injury law is generally a volume business. Because you're only getting 20-30% of a settlement that could come out to $80,000 or so for a strong case that you've been working on all year, you have to carry dozens, if not hundreds, of cases at a time in order to keep the lights on.
The alternative is to work at a firm that specializes in catastrophic injury: places where the average case swings around $200,000-$400,000 and you walk away with $50,000-$100,000 (minus tax).
The reason why the PI bar takes a lot of heat is because of the perception this completely necessary business model creates. If you're dealing with dozens of cases at a time, you might forget details, ask generic questions, submit largely generic pleadings, and so on. You can't invest two whole weeks in each case and still work on 150 of them. And the work becomes largely transactional: here are the medicals, what will you give me for this claim?
That's not to say you're not lawyering -- no one will ever do more examinations for discovery than a PI lawyer. But most of your day will be kept up in administration and negotiation, rather than drafting a compelling factum and preparing for a jury trial.
That all being said, any practice is lucrative if you work hard at it. A PI firm does well if it either manages a tremendous slough of cases, or if it manages to attract the most significant injuries. That's why PI firms advertise all over the city. Some of the best-off lawyers in the province of Ontario were PI lawyers that built a significant apparatus below them to deal with claims and handled the most significant injuries (and, yes, class actions) themselves.
2b) I read about insurance defence, is this in the scope of personal injury and tort law? Would this be considered as "corporate law"?
Nope, it's a different thing. Insurance defence is the mirror image of personal injury: the voice on the other end of the phone during their negotiations. They also have a massive caseload and spend most of their time doing discoveries and negotiating settlements. Insurance defence lawyers represent the insurance companies that cover and defend the people blamed for personal injury claims, and seek to minimize the amount paid out under the relevant policies. Insurance defence lawyers also have a bit of a broader legal role in that they have to be mindful of precedents that are being set that could damage their clients in the future, and keeping legal results in line with corporate expectations.
3) What is corporate/business law? I understand its law pertaining to corporate/business needs. But when people tell me they want to go into corporate and/or business law, what kind of law do they want to practice? Is it just that they want to be legal counsel for a corporation/business?
"Corporate" or "business" law is generally understood as the law pertaining to the day-to-day operation of a business, including acquiring other businesses. Drafting shareholder agreements, conducting due diligence on the acquisition of a supplier, maintaining the minute books and share register... these are all "corporate lawyer" things to do. Corporate lawyers also act as the company's quarterback. When someone has done something shady and legal action needs to be taken, executives will typically call up their (corporate) counsel, who will then put them on the phone with me to talk about starting a lawsuit. They're the filter of legal needs from the client side out.
I don't think merging businesses will bring me joy. Is there more to it?
I've gone into some detail as to why M&A is actually very interesting elsewhere, but briefly put, if you don't already think it's interesting to build a business from nothing, to see it grow and adapt to change, then no. If you don't think it would be immensely rewarding to help an entrepreneur land a giant customer and hire 50 new people, gradually becoming a brand name of some repute, then it's unlikely you'll be able to talk yourself into it.
To answer this, I reached out to some older students.
They indicated that most corporate law firms are full service, where they offer legal services to a wide variety of cases. So, if a lawyer were to work/apply there, would they be expected to be well rounded in regards to the type of law they specialize in?
This is only kind of true. Most corporate law firms are small. Bay Street is an institutional corporate law practice. Banks, blue-chip companies. Most of Canada's businesses are small- to medium-sized, and they rely on the competence and professionalism of small, 1-10 lawyer shops. And so, yes, those firms offer a broad range of services, but I think that your informal mentors intend to suggest that most corporate law firms are Bay Street firms that practice everything, and that's not true.
Regardless of where you choose to work, we know you don't know anything and are willing to train you. That's our job, and we welcome it. You don't have to be well-rounded coming in. You just have to be smart and work hard.
If I wanted to pursue a legal career with a specialization/interest in tort law, do I have a place in a corporate law firm? I hope you can see my confusion.
Again, depends on what you mean by a corporate law firm. If there's a small business law firm that specializes in advising small businesses, then there's unlikely to be work for a torts litigator. If you mean Bay Street, then yeah. I'm someone with a legal career with a specialization/interest in tort law, and here I am.
4) I have people telling me they want to do litigation. I know what that is, but what is that in the sense of a career?
It's the warrior class of lawyers: the people whose expertise is in advocacy. Although we might also have other areas of expertise, we are all adept at the rules of court and tribunals, and the law of evidence. Another way of thinking of litigation is to call it "dispute resolution". Litigators get involved when there's a fight.
Do firms explicitly hire litigators?
No, they tend to imply it subtly and you wink back and then you work there.
I thought a lawyer once called are litigators and solicitors.
Barristers and solicitors. I could go off on a whole legal history tangent here about how these names no longer really have any connection to their original meaning, but suffice to say that you're all called barristers ("courtroom lawyers") and solicitors ("paperwork lawyers") because you're qualified to do both. That's not to say you're going to be adept at one or the other. When I have to fill in "Occupation" on my kids' school forms, I write "Barrister". I'm not much of a solicitor at all.
Are litigators people that only do litigation?
By definition, yes, but there's always going to be a lot of leak-through. I handle things like recalls and trying to avoid lawsuits, which puts me in more of an advisory role from time to time. Municipal litigators might do tribunal work, courtroom work, and urban planning. Securities litigators might also be able to help you with public disclosures. Is a sailor someone that only sails a ship? I mean, by definition yes, but he might also be a cook or lobster fisherman.
And if so, do they have a certain type of law the specialize in or is it mixed (I think you can see my confusion lies somewhere with the idea of specializing)? I am assuming they need to be hired at a firm that has good amount of litigation cases.
It depends on the shop. Not much more to say about it, since very small shops and very elite shops both take any case that comes through the door and there are entire litigation firms in the middle that only do, say, labour disputes or pharmacy regulation or bankruptcy and insolvency litigation, etc.
Lastly, is it the case that a law student will find a type of law they want to practice, and apply to a firm that specializes in that type of law? Or is it more complicated than that?
That's up to the student! We get a lot of people here that have no idea what they want to do, and we welcome their exploration with open arms around here. Smaller shops are going to expect that student to have demonstrated an interest in the kind of work they do, because it will cut down on extensive training time that they might not be able to afford.
Also, often students end up taking jobs they don't expect to take that guide their decision-path for the rest of their careers. Like my friend that wanted to do banking regulation but did a summer of immigration law and couldn't imagine doing anything else. Or another friend that fluked into a pension law boutique when he wasn't hired back on Bay Street, and by virtue of his unique experience had his pick of dozens of lucrative in-house positions.
All you can really do is pursue your interests, look into what employers can advance those interests, and make a decision accordingly.
One last point I try to make as often as I can: your friends are going to be emphasizing over and over that you need to get the "best" job you can. Usually they base these decisions on rigged and under-inclusive magazine rankings. Try to tune that out. Bay Street jobs are 1-3 year gigs for most people, and after that time it can be hard to transition to something completely different.
If you really do have a passion for family law, I strongly encourage you to start making connections now. Go to industry events, introduce yourself as a 1L with an interest in family law, employers will be all over you. Finding someone with a genuine interest in an area of law people tend to avoid is like finding gold in a stream. Your path to a lucrative partnership might be faster and easier than your friends as they mount the rugged slopes of Bay Street.