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Hello all,

I know that empanelment with LAO simply gives you access to potential clients, with no guarantee of files. As a soon-to-be graduate who's interested in working family and criminal legal aid files as a solo, how realistic would it be to make a living by simply getting empanelled and sitting back? Would I also have to hunt for clients in court and heavily market myself, or can I expect a steady inflow of work? I guess an important factor is also where I intend on becoming empanelled; is rural Ontario more significantly starved for lawyers willing to take on legal aid files, than say, the GTA? 

Thanks in advance. 

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13 minutes ago, currywiththeshot said:

Hello all,

I know that empanelment with LAO simply gives you access to potential clients, with no guarantee of files. As a soon-to-be graduate who's interested in working family and criminal legal aid files as a solo, how realistic would it be to make a living by simply getting empanelled and sitting back? Would I also have to hunt for clients in court and heavily market myself, or can I expect a steady inflow of work? I guess an important factor is also where I intend on becoming empanelled; is rural Ontario more significantly starved for lawyers willing to take on legal aid files, than say, the GTA? 

Thanks in advance. 

I doubt anyone anywhere is going to make a living on family and criminal legal aid without hustling. 

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We can have a conversation about where and how to best establish a practice in this or any other area of law. But I can't imagine any area of practice where you just become a lawyer and then wait for the phone to ring. There's no area of law where people are so starved for anyone at all to represent them that they'll make all the effort to find you. Any time we're talking about paying clients (and yes, even legal aid clients are "paying" clients) there's another lawyer who also wants the work. So if you do nothing, and that lawyer does anything at all, guess where the client will probably end up?

If you want to continue the conversation, I can. But don't be a sole practitioner, in family, crim, or anything else - and not for legal aid or any other client base - and not in Toronto or anywhere else - unless you are prepared to build your practice. No one sits around and waits for the phone to ring. Not to start. Do a good job and 10 years from now you may have more referrals and repeat clients than you know what to do with. But no one starts that way. 

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14 minutes ago, Diplock said:

But I can't imagine any area of practice where you just become a lawyer and then wait for the phone to ring.

Bay St associate :)

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1 hour ago, Diplock said:

We can have a conversation about where and how to best establish a practice in this or any other area of law. But I can't imagine any area of practice where you just become a lawyer and then wait for the phone to ring. There's no area of law where people are so starved for anyone at all to represent them that they'll make all the effort to find you. Any time we're talking about paying clients (and yes, even legal aid clients are "paying" clients) there's another lawyer who also wants the work. So if you do nothing, and that lawyer does anything at all, guess where the client will probably end up?

If you want to continue the conversation, I can. But don't be a sole practitioner, in family, crim, or anything else - and not for legal aid or any other client base - and not in Toronto or anywhere else - unless you are prepared to build your practice. No one sits around and waits for the phone to ring. Not to start. Do a good job and 10 years from now you may have more referrals and repeat clients than you know what to do with. But no one starts that way. 

Thanks for the straightforward reply.

I guess I was being a little tongue-in-cheek when I mentioned "sitting back". What I really want to know is, as you say, how "we can have a conversation about where and how to best establish a practice in this or any other area of law." 

From my understanding of reading threads on this site, LAO files takes a lot of effort and pay little in return, so some lawyers "stack" their desks with as many files as possible. This leaves me questioning whether there are enough files to go around at all, let alone to future newbies like me. 

Obviously, one of the draws of LAO files is the assurance that your clients will pay, which is why I'm thinking it's a good place for a sole practitioner to get his/her feet wet. I'm simply trying to ascertain which area of LAO law, and whereabouts geographically, one can have an "easier" time entering the business. 

Thanks again for all the replies. 

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I don’t think a sole having a criminal and family practice out of the gate makes much sense. Others may disagree, but to me the timing of court appearances and deadlines might clash too much. Also family requires a fair bit of time in the office drafting documents, doing financial statements etc while criminal requires you to be in court, at the jail and out hustling. I would pick one or the other, personally.  

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Where do you intend to practice? The LAO list in Toronto is pages long. Anecdotally, I know of a few places that are starving for child protection lawyers.

I articled at LAO, worked as DC, went sole, then joined a small firm. PM me if you have questions.

You're not taking clients that you assisted as duty counsel. You need to build a name for yourself. Depending where you are, working as DC may assist in getting your name out there. It did for me. You need to be very available early on. People call me because I am one of the few lawyers in my town that brings urgent case conferences. Most other lawyers either convince people to wait or pass on the certificate.

I disagree with providence - it IS possible to do both. LAO certs for family is more predictable so the cash flow is easier to control. Hourly billing as opposed to fixed rates. SHOULD you is a different story. I found it a steep learning curve going from crim DC to practice. I focus on family and cyfsa matters now, which I felt much more prepared for following my articles. There is a lot of overlap, especially on domestic files. It provides nice continuity of services when you can act for both issues. You may want to see how the court days go though. Where I practice, 1st appearance for family is scheduled slightly later than criminal remand. So that helps a bit when I have matters in both courts. You do need to be fairly organized that way.

New calls will need a mentor to get empaneled. You can use that mentor as a springboard to getting files. Mine was mentor on paper only - hustling was required on my end. It may be difficult to get a "mentor" especially when entering a new city.

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13 hours ago, currywiththeshot said:

Thanks for the straightforward reply.

I guess I was being a little tongue-in-cheek when I mentioned "sitting back". What I really want to know is, as you say, how "we can have a conversation about where and how to best establish a practice in this or any other area of law." 

From my understanding of reading threads on this site, LAO files takes a lot of effort and pay little in return, so some lawyers "stack" their desks with as many files as possible. This leaves me questioning whether there are enough files to go around at all, let alone to future newbies like me. 

Obviously, one of the draws of LAO files is the assurance that your clients will pay, which is why I'm thinking it's a good place for a sole practitioner to get his/her feet wet. I'm simply trying to ascertain which area of LAO law, and whereabouts geographically, one can have an "easier" time entering the business. 

Thanks again for all the replies. 

You will compete for work wherever you end up - in terms of practice area or in terms of geography. I'm in Toronto and I've always been in Toronto, so I can't speak to the markets elsewhere. Also, bear in mind that you're asking about Legal Aid in Ontario and lawyers from outside the providence, even if they practice in these areas of law, may have limited insight in some ways. That said, I want to highlight a point that I skipped mentioning in my last reply. I think you are using the term " empanelled " to mean more than it really does. You are thinking of panels as regional. They aren't. They are in practice areas and they are province-wide. So I'm "empanelled" in criminal law (and several other panels - they can be specific, such as Gladue, but that's not the main topic here) so I can accept those certificates anywhere in Ontario. I would not go to Sudbury, of course (well, maybe for a murder) but I could. Your instinct to think of panels as though they are geographic may be part of your idea that they somehow feed you work or that you can go somewhere there aren't many people "on" the panel. You can maybe go somewhere there are fewer lawyers, but it isn't going to be somehow clean or obvious that way.

In related news, I don't entirely share Providence's view that you should pick one of family or crim. I actually think of family and crim as 2/3 of the "legal aid triangle" of family, crim, and immigration - as the areas of law where ordinary people are caught in legal situations they can't entirely control, and many are poor, and many end up qualifying for legal aid funding. I know people who practice more than one. I don't recommend all three. But it's not at all unreasonable to learn two areas of law. Though I personally share the preference for learning less, rather than more, and specializing in what I do practice.

I'm racking my brain on ways to give real and meaningful advice in less than a full chapter of a book. There are books on starting and establishing a legal practice. They won't speak specifically to Ontario or to legal aid, but you should consider reading one or more of them. I did, and they were useful. I'll only say that being a sole practitioner means simultaneously being both the product and the entrepreneur who is selling the product. You want to learn the law and do the job well because that's your product, and you want to be a good product. But that much is obvious to most lawyers and I'll assume that's not what your worried about. The entrepreneurship - the salesmanship - is what comes harder to most people. But once you realize that's the problem, you realize that the challenge is very real but also simple. All the usual lessons relating to sales and entrepreneurship apply. Read The Greatest Salesman In The World. You could do a lot worse in terms of direction and inspiration.

Look. It's really this simple. You are asking whether there is any work "left over" for new calls. That's almost a direct quote from above. Established lawyers are sucking it all in, so what's left for me? And you either need to kill that attitude entirely, or not even seriously contemplate entrepreneurship as a career path. If you are expecting to get clients anywhere at all simply because there is literally no one else left to serve them then that won't happen. Every client you get will be a client that at least some other lawyer potentially wants. There are more and less desirable clients, yes, but there's no great mass of people who are entirely neglected and unassisted. You will have to seek out work. You will have to justify why you are the better choice for a potential client than that other lawyer down the road. You will face frustration and self-doubt and times when you wonder why the hell you bother.

There will be clients who you can attract with the advantages you enjoy as a more recent call. Older lawyers get busy and attract baggage and lose their tolerance for bullshit. As a new lawyer, you can do things they can't or won't do and waste your time in ways they can't afford to - sometimes that's necessary to get a client. You present as a different sort of lawyer. Not everyone wants the lawyer with gray hair - some clients want the young gun who they perceive to be hungry and willing to work hard. Incidentally, be hungry and work hard. You can attract at least some clients to start, and as stated, when you serve those clients well they'll send you friends and family. Legal aid work in criminal and family law is very referral based. Most lawyers I know don't even advertise in any form.

But yeah. It's not easy. And no one should get into it believing that it might be.

Good luck.

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2 hours ago, Diplock said:

You will compete for work wherever you end up - in terms of practice area or in terms of geography. I'm in Toronto and I've always been in Toronto, so I can't speak to the markets elsewhere. Also, bear in mind that you're asking about Legal Aid in Ontario and lawyers from outside the providence, even if they practice in these areas of law, may have limited insight in some ways. That said, I want to highlight a point that I skipped mentioning in my last reply. I think you are using the term " empanelled " to mean more than it really does. You are thinking of panels as regional. They aren't. They are in practice areas and they are province-wide. So I'm "empanelled" in criminal law (and several other panels - they can be specific, such as Gladue, but that's not the main topic here) so I can accept those certificates anywhere in Ontario. I would not go to Sudbury, of course (well, maybe for a murder) but I could. Your instinct to think of panels as though they are geographic may be part of your idea that they somehow feed you work or that you can go somewhere there aren't many people "on" the panel. You can maybe go somewhere there are fewer lawyers, but it isn't going to be somehow clean or obvious that way.

In related news, I don't entirely share Providence's view that you should pick one of family or crim. I actually think of family and crim as 2/3 of the "legal aid triangle" of family, crim, and immigration - as the areas of law where ordinary people are caught in legal situations they can't entirely control, and many are poor, and many end up qualifying for legal aid funding. I know people who practice more than one. I don't recommend all three. But it's not at all unreasonable to learn two areas of law. Though I personally share the preference for learning less, rather than more, and specializing in what I do practice.

I'm racking my brain on ways to give real and meaningful advice in less than a full chapter of a book. There are books on starting and establishing a legal practice. They won't speak specifically to Ontario or to legal aid, but you should consider reading one or more of them. I did, and they were useful. I'll only say that being a sole practitioner means simultaneously being both the product and the entrepreneur who is selling the product. You want to learn the law and do the job well because that's your product, and you want to be a good product. But that much is obvious to most lawyers and I'll assume that's not what your worried about. The entrepreneurship - the salesmanship - is what comes harder to most people. But once you realize that's the problem, you realize that the challenge is very real but also simple. All the usual lessons relating to sales and entrepreneurship apply. Read The Greatest Salesman In The World. You could do a lot worse in terms of direction and inspiration.

Look. It's really this simple. You are asking whether there is any work "left over" for new calls. That's almost a direct quote from above. Established lawyers are sucking it all in, so what's left for me? And you either need to kill that attitude entirely, or not even seriously contemplate entrepreneurship as a career path. If you are expecting to get clients anywhere at all simply because there is literally no one else left to serve them then that won't happen. Every client you get will be a client that at least some other lawyer potentially wants. There are more and less desirable clients, yes, but there's no great mass of people who are entirely neglected and unassisted. You will have to seek out work. You will have to justify why you are the better choice for a potential client than that other lawyer down the road. You will face frustration and self-doubt and times when you wonder why the hell you bother.

There will be clients who you can attract with the advantages you enjoy as a more recent call. Older lawyers get busy and attract baggage and lose their tolerance for bullshit. As a new lawyer, you can do things they can't or won't do and waste your time in ways they can't afford to - sometimes that's necessary to get a client. You present as a different sort of lawyer. Not everyone wants the lawyer with gray hair - some clients want the young gun who they perceive to be hungry and willing to work hard. Incidentally, be hungry and work hard. You can attract at least some clients to start, and as stated, when you serve those clients well they'll send you friends and family. Legal aid work in criminal and family law is very referral based. Most lawyers I know don't even advertise in any form.

But yeah. It's not easy. And no one should get into it believing that it might be.

Good luck.

Thank you for the lengthy insight.

Also thanks for correcting me re panels not being regional, but rather areas of legal practice that are province wide. 

I will have to look into the recommended book. 

Re @providence opinion that one shouldn't practice both areas of law + both yours and @artsydork suggestions, I'll have to do more considering/researching before making a decision. 

I appreciate the pep talk and will take all you've said to heart. Much thanks. 

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6 hours ago, artsydork said:

Where do you intend to practice? The LAO list in Toronto is pages long. Anecdotally, I know of a few places that are starving for child protection lawyers.

I articled at LAO, worked as DC, went sole, then joined a small firm. PM me if you have questions.

You're not taking clients that you assisted as duty counsel. You need to build a name for yourself. Depending where you are, working as DC may assist in getting your name out there. It did for me. You need to be very available early on. People call me because I am one of the few lawyers in my town that brings urgent case conferences. Most other lawyers either convince people to wait or pass on the certificate.

I disagree with providence - it IS possible to do both. LAO certs for family is more predictable so the cash flow is easier to control. Hourly billing as opposed to fixed rates. SHOULD you is a different story. I found it a steep learning curve going from crim DC to practice. I focus on family and cyfsa matters now, which I felt much more prepared for following my articles. There is a lot of overlap, especially on domestic files. It provides nice continuity of services when you can act for both issues. You may want to see how the court days go though. Where I practice, 1st appearance for family is scheduled slightly later than criminal remand. So that helps a bit when I have matters in both courts. You do need to be fairly organized that way.

New calls will need a mentor to get empaneled. You can use that mentor as a springboard to getting files. Mine was mentor on paper only - hustling was required on my end. It may be difficult to get a "mentor" especially when entering a new city.

I haven't yet decided where it is I want to practice, but I am, for the most part, open to where "the market" takes me. 

I do have several questions for you, which I'll address in a PM. 

Thanks so much. 

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On 6/8/2018 at 11:08 AM, Diplock said:

You will compete for work wherever you end up - in terms of practice area or in terms of geography. I'm in Toronto and I've always been in Toronto, so I can't speak to the markets elsewhere. Also, bear in mind that you're asking about Legal Aid in Ontario and lawyers from outside the providence, even if they practice in these areas of law, may have limited insight in some ways. That said, I want to highlight a point that I skipped mentioning in my last reply. I think you are using the term " empanelled " to mean more than it really does. You are thinking of panels as regional. They aren't. They are in practice areas and they are province-wide. So I'm "empanelled" in criminal law (and several other panels - they can be specific, such as Gladue, but that's not the main topic here) so I can accept those certificates anywhere in Ontario. I would not go to Sudbury, of course (well, maybe for a murder) but I could. Your instinct to think of panels as though they are geographic may be part of your idea that they somehow feed you work or that you can go somewhere there aren't many people "on" the panel. You can maybe go somewhere there are fewer lawyers, but it isn't going to be somehow clean or obvious that way.

In related news, I don't entirely share Providence's view that you should pick one of family or crim. I actually think of family and crim as 2/3 of the "legal aid triangle" of family, crim, and immigration - as the areas of law where ordinary people are caught in legal situations they can't entirely control, and many are poor, and many end up qualifying for legal aid funding. I know people who practice more than one. I don't recommend all three. But it's not at all unreasonable to learn two areas of law. Though I personally share the preference for learning less, rather than more, and specializing in what I do practice.

I'm racking my brain on ways to give real and meaningful advice in less than a full chapter of a book. There are books on starting and establishing a legal practice. They won't speak specifically to Ontario or to legal aid, but you should consider reading one or more of them. I did, and they were useful. I'll only say that being a sole practitioner means simultaneously being both the product and the entrepreneur who is selling the product. You want to learn the law and do the job well because that's your product, and you want to be a good product. But that much is obvious to most lawyers and I'll assume that's not what your worried about. The entrepreneurship - the salesmanship - is what comes harder to most people. But once you realize that's the problem, you realize that the challenge is very real but also simple. All the usual lessons relating to sales and entrepreneurship apply. Read The Greatest Salesman In The World. You could do a lot worse in terms of direction and inspiration.

Look. It's really this simple. You are asking whether there is any work "left over" for new calls. That's almost a direct quote from above. Established lawyers are sucking it all in, so what's left for me? And you either need to kill that attitude entirely, or not even seriously contemplate entrepreneurship as a career path. If you are expecting to get clients anywhere at all simply because there is literally no one else left to serve them then that won't happen. Every client you get will be a client that at least some other lawyer potentially wants. There are more and less desirable clients, yes, but there's no great mass of people who are entirely neglected and unassisted. You will have to seek out work. You will have to justify why you are the better choice for a potential client than that other lawyer down the road. You will face frustration and self-doubt and times when you wonder why the hell you bother.

There will be clients who you can attract with the advantages you enjoy as a more recent call. Older lawyers get busy and attract baggage and lose their tolerance for bullshit. As a new lawyer, you can do things they can't or won't do and waste your time in ways they can't afford to - sometimes that's necessary to get a client. You present as a different sort of lawyer. Not everyone wants the lawyer with gray hair - some clients want the young gun who they perceive to be hungry and willing to work hard. Incidentally, be hungry and work hard. You can attract at least some clients to start, and as stated, when you serve those clients well they'll send you friends and family. Legal aid work in criminal and family law is very referral based. Most lawyers I know don't even advertise in any form.

But yeah. It's not easy. And no one should get into it believing that it might be.

Good luck.

Re: Empaneled. Yes and no. The short answer is that you're right - you can practice anywhere in the province.

The long answer is slightly more complex. Each district generates a list. My name is on the list for my jurisdiction's CFYSA, Domestic Violence Family subpanel, and Family Law panel. A person who meets a JOT officer in London, ON will NOT find my name on their list. Neither will a person seeking counsel in Toronto or Sudbury. Your name is not on my local jurisdiction's criminal law list hanging in the library or that is printed and passed around when people apply in person, or ask the Legal Aid Office for a copy.

I (semi) regularly appear in 3 different jurisdictions - my name is not on the other 2 lists as I don't wish to travel. There are some of the (local large city) lawyers that put their names on my (smaller city) list.

Next, there are local panels for per diem duty counsel shifts. You have to apply to each and every jurisdiction. I am on my local jurisdiction's list. Not all family lawyers are on the list. Only empaneled lawyers may act as duty counsel.

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12 minutes ago, artsydork said:

Re: Empaneled. Yes and no. The short answer is that you're right - you can practice anywhere in the province.

The long answer is slightly more complex. Each district generates a list. My name is on the list for my jurisdiction's CFYSA, Domestic Violence Family subpanel, and Family Law panel. A person who meets a JOT officer in London, ON will NOT find my name on their list. Neither will a person seeking counsel in Toronto or Sudbury. Your name is not on my local jurisdiction's criminal law list hanging in the library or that is printed and passed around when people apply in person, or ask the Legal Aid Office for a copy.

I (semi) regularly appear in 3 different jurisdictions - my name is not on the other 2 lists as I don't wish to travel. There are some of the (local large city) lawyers that put their names on my (smaller city) list.

Next, there are local panels for per diem duty counsel shifts. You have to apply to each and every jurisdiction. I am on my local jurisdiction's list. Not all family lawyers are on the list. Only empaneled lawyers may act as duty counsel.

But to me, this is the operative question. Does being on any of these lists, simply of itself, generate work for you? Leaving aside duty counsel work (which I don't pretend to understand how to get) are you getting calls just by being on the list somewhere? If yes, I will prefer your expertise to mine, because that's never been my experience. I'm in Toronto - if there's a list it's surely pages and pages long, and I've never seen it. I've never to my knowledge gotten even one phone call by being on it. But maybe in smaller centres it's different. So I'm prepared to be wrong. Just saying - that hasn't been my own experience.

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7 minutes ago, Diplock said:

But to me, this is the operative question. Does being on any of these lists, simply of itself, generate work for you? Leaving aside duty counsel work (which I don't pretend to understand how to get) are you getting calls just by being on the list somewhere? If yes, I will prefer your expertise to mine, because that's never been my experience. I'm in Toronto - if there's a list it's surely pages and pages long, and I've never seen it. I've never to my knowledge gotten even one phone call by being on it. But maybe in smaller centres it's different. So I'm prepared to be wrong. Just saying - that hasn't been my own experience.

In BC they may send you a few contracts if you ask for them. 

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2 hours ago, Diplock said:

But to me, this is the operative question. Does being on any of these lists, simply of itself, generate work for you? Leaving aside duty counsel work (which I don't pretend to understand how to get) are you getting calls just by being on the list somewhere? If yes, I will prefer your expertise to mine, because that's never been my experience. I'm in Toronto - if there's a list it's surely pages and pages long, and I've never seen it. I've never to my knowledge gotten even one phone call by being on it. But maybe in smaller centres it's different. So I'm prepared to be wrong. Just saying - that hasn't been my own experience.

Yes. I have gotten work simply by being on the list and answering the phone. Some clients, especially child protection ones, are calling at random and running through the list.

I agree that referrals are more powerful - most people are calling to speak to me as I've been in this jurisdiction for a year and a half and am getting referred by other clients and colleagues from the bar (who either aren't accepting certificates or can't commit at that time). I definitely did and still do get calls simply on being on the list.

The caveat is that all of my starting certificates stemmed from work passed along from other lawyers. Referrals are still the best way of gaining certificates. Also letting other lawyers know that you're accepting certificates, making yourself available for urgent/immediate meetings, offering decent service, etc.

DC work is easy - meet with the supervisory duty counsel at the court house. Ask them whether there is room on the panel. If so, you're on and monthly assignments are posted. DC work has been cut since 2015 though. I get maybe 3-6 hours per month now though can sometimes get more, depending on vacation time. I know that WASH court is generally a boon for per diems.

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All the lawyers I'm working with right now (all criminal) are actively talking about Ford's possible impact on legal aid funding. How realistic is that fear right now?

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Another question since we have some experienced folks here; what are your recommendations in regards to criminal practice after articling, is it feasible to make your way as a sole practitioner immediately following articles or is it more advisable to practice at a small firm to have mentors available for a period of time first? @artsydork you mentioned having went from sole practice to small firm following articling, any insight you have to share would be greatly appreciated! (I am also looking at eventually practicing in a small town upon graduation/articling)

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48 minutes ago, TrqTTs said:

Another question since we have some experienced folks here; what are your recommendations in regards to criminal practice after articling, is it feasible to make your way as a sole practitioner immediately following articles or is it more advisable to practice at a small firm to have mentors available for a period of time first? @artsydork you mentioned having went from sole practice to small firm following articling, any insight you have to share would be greatly appreciated! (I am also looking at eventually practicing in a small town upon graduation/articling)

If you at all have the option, it is far more preferable to practice at a firm where you have some built-in mentors to help you learn and develop. 

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53 minutes ago, TrqTTs said:

Another question since we have some experienced folks here; what are your recommendations in regards to criminal practice after articling, is it feasible to make your way as a sole practitioner immediately following articles or is it more advisable to practice at a small firm to have mentors available for a period of time first? @artsydork you mentioned having went from sole practice to small firm following articling, any insight you have to share would be greatly appreciated! (I am also looking at eventually practicing in a small town upon graduation/articling)

Much more advisable to have mentors first.

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I practiced as duty counsel for a year before going sole. I needed that experience before being comfortable enough to strike it out on my own. I echo providence and malicious and would strongly recommend having mentors. This can be simply working in association. Or having a verbal mentoring agreement.

I have seen freshly called sole practitioners in criminal court. It was painful. To be fair, one was a freshly called crown. So much cringe.

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