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What are the differences between being a lawyer in the U.S., and being one in Canada?

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Apart from the large paychecks that many U.S. firms offer, what are the differences between the experience of being a lawyer in those two countries? Are some law fields more popular in one country than the other? Is one more modern and tech-oriented than the other? (and more stuff like that) What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

Also, would American podcasts (like the Lawyerist podcast) and blogs that give general advice on the experience of being a lawyer translate well to Canada?

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20 minutes ago, Aryaa said:

Apart from the large paychecks that many U.S. firms offer

this is only true for biglaw. e.g., being a public defender can be much more challenging in the US given chronic underfunding of public defender's offices -- not to say we don't have similar problems in Ontario with underfunding of legal aid certificates and recent major slashes to LAO. 

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Are some law fields more popular in one country than the other?

off the top of my mind, product liability and class actions are much more common down south given lax regulation in the front end. 

crim law in the states is also much more egregious. see, e.g., civil forfeiture, third party doctrine, and generally overcriminalization and oversentencing 

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Is one more modern and tech-oriented than the other?

well, the Ontario courts still don't have e-file (at least before covid...) 

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What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

robes for sup ct and above; also: "my friend"

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Also, would American podcasts (like the Lawyerist podcast) and blogs that give general advice on the experience of being a lawyer translate well to Canada?

doubt

my $0.02

Edited by katurian
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I've worked in Canada and the US as a lawyer. My experience is limited to solicitor-type work. The two are more similar than they are different, but there are differences. For example, they wouldn't call my work "solicitor-type work"; they also generally referred to me as an "attorney" instead of the Canadian terminology you see. In fact, they use a lot of different terminology, but generally the concepts are the same.

It's a big topic; not sure you'll get someone willing to give a comprehensive answer on here. I'd do some research on the topic.

 

  

 

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1 hour ago, FingersCr0ssed said:

Honestly sounds like you’re asking the answers to a high school law class assignment.

They're an international student doing undergrad in the states and contemplating doing law school in Canada. The questions make sense when you keep that in mind.

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OP, I will try to answer, but my understanding of the US market is based off of second-hand information and a few direct interactions with US big law interviewers/lawyers. I am also going to make the following assumption: you are interested in working a large law firm with corporate and institutional clients.

My hot take is that the differences between the markets are the logical consequence of the US being the center for global capitalism.

Q - Apart from the large paychecks that many U.S. firms offer, what are the differences between the experience of being a lawyer in those two countries?

A – One major distinction is that the world’s leading international law firms (many of which are headquartered in the US or UK) have not seriously penetrated the Canadian legal market. The Canadian legal market is dominated by Canadian (i.e. national) law firms, regional law firms, and boutique/niche law firms.

The other difference is scale. The NYC big law firm machine employs, generally an order of magnitude more people, and works on files that are typically an order of magnitude (or more) larger than what you might find in Toronto or wherever. In general, the larger the organization and its files, the less individual responsibility you will get as a young associate. So, some of your skill development will be delayed in NYC as compared to a smaller operation in Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary or wherever. The same phenomenon exists within markets as between large law firms and boutique law firms. The flip side is that in NYC you work on files that are rarely if ever seen in smaller markets.

Q - Are some law fields more popular in one country than the other? Is one more modern and tech-oriented than the other? (and more stuff like that)

A – The US legal market features some practice areas which are not as strong in Canada. For example, in the US, the big law firms have serious white collar crime practices. DC also hosts the international center for the settlement of investment disputes, which makes DC offices a location for serious international investment arbitration practices. In Canada, investment arbitration claims are few and far between.

On legal tech, many of the leading Canadian firms appear to be making investments and adopting technology to improve their service delivery, but I can’t really comment comparatively.

Q - What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

A – Canadian legal culture remains heavily influenced by its contact with the English common law tradition. We retain references to the British Crown in the courtroom, we swear oaths of loyalty to the British Crown, we wear Barrister gowns in court, some jurisdictions retain traditions like designating senior lawyers as “Queen’s Counsel”, etc…  The Americans have a mostly common law system too, and I understand they remain interested in English law in some respects, but I get the sense its to a far lesser degree.

Q - Also, would American podcasts (like the Lawyerist podcast) and blogs that give general advice on the experience of being a lawyer translate well to Canada?

A – I’m sure the podcasts are helpful. You can find Canadian lawyer podcasts as well.

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I think Mansfield's post is spot on. 

From a junior lawyer's perspective, I'll just add two cultural differences:  First, the US business model is premised on more churn among junior lawyers.  There's rarely any pretense of a firm 'recruiting their future partners' and the average tenure of a lawyer in US Big Law is shorter than Canada.  Second, while it's firm-dependent, I think some of the US firms tend to feel quite 'corporate' in their structure and management, perhaps by necessity given their scale.  Neither of these points are necessarily downsides, especially as a Canadian who may intend to return home a few years into their career.  

Oh, the third big difference is pro bono, especially if you are interested in litigation.  My impression is that, as a junior, there's a much greater emphasis on pro bono work in the US.  (I'm a cynic, so I've wondered if there's a financial rationale. Can you write off those expenses?)  In any case, I think it goes some way to addressing the relative lack of individual responsibility for client files in the US Big Law.  Pro bono is often where junior lawyers will get their first opportunity to stand up in court.  

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5 hours ago, MansfieldCJ said:

OP, I will try to answer, but my understanding of the US market is based off of second-hand information and a few direct interactions with US big law interviewers/lawyers. I am also going to make the following assumption: you are interested in working a large law firm with corporate and institutional clients.

My hot take is that the differences between the markets are the logical consequence of the US being the center for global capitalism.

Q - Apart from the large paychecks that many U.S. firms offer, what are the differences between the experience of being a lawyer in those two countries?

A – One major distinction is that the world’s leading international law firms (many of which are headquartered in the US or UK) have not seriously penetrated the Canadian legal market. The Canadian legal market is dominated by Canadian (i.e. national) law firms, regional law firms, and boutique/niche law firms.

The other difference is scale. The NYC big law firm machine employs, generally an order of magnitude more people, and works on files that are typically an order of magnitude (or more) larger than what you might find in Toronto or wherever. In general, the larger the organization and its files, the less individual responsibility you will get as a young associate. So, some of your skill development will be delayed in NYC as compared to a smaller operation in Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary or wherever. The same phenomenon exists within markets as between large law firms and boutique law firms. The flip side is that in NYC you work on files that are rarely if ever seen in smaller markets.

Q - Are some law fields more popular in one country than the other? Is one more modern and tech-oriented than the other? (and more stuff like that)

A – The US legal market features some practice areas which are not as strong in Canada. For example, in the US, the big law firms have serious white collar crime practices. DC also hosts the international center for the settlement of investment disputes, which makes DC offices a location for serious international investment arbitration practices. In Canada, investment arbitration claims are few and far between.

On legal tech, many of the leading Canadian firms appear to be making investments and adopting technology to improve their service delivery, but I can’t really comment comparatively.

Q - What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

A – Canadian legal culture remains heavily influenced by its contact with the English common law tradition. We retain references to the British Crown in the courtroom, we swear oaths of loyalty to the British Crown, we wear Barrister gowns in court, some jurisdictions retain traditions like designating senior lawyers as “Queen’s Counsel”, etc…  The Americans have a mostly common law system too, and I understand they remain interested in English law in some respects, but I get the sense its to a far lesser degree.

Q - Also, would American podcasts (like the Lawyerist podcast) and blogs that give general advice on the experience of being a lawyer translate well to Canada?

A – I’m sure the podcasts are helpful. You can find Canadian lawyer podcasts as well.

@MansfieldCJ Thanks so much for this! It was really informative! I am planning to work in small to mid size firms for the first few years and then launch my own practice but I'm very young so things can change. But it totally makes sense! I've had some experiences with American lawyers, and it definitely feels like a very fast-paced profession where junior lawyers barely ever get to meet the clients whose files they are working on, and as a lot of podcasts have also mentioned the big-law scene is starting to look a lot like general corporate/management style of a structure where there is lesser and lesser hope of people becoming partners and there's also a lot of outsourcing of legal work which affects how these firms work.

Also, are there any Canadian lawyer podcasts you can recommend? Thanks so much for this!

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16 hours ago, onepost said:

I think Mansfield's post is spot on. 

From a junior lawyer's perspective, I'll just add two cultural differences:  First, the US business model is premised on more churn among junior lawyers.  There's rarely any pretense of a firm 'recruiting their future partners' and the average tenure of a lawyer in US Big Law is shorter than Canada.  Second, while it's firm-dependent, I think some of the US firms tend to feel quite 'corporate' in their structure and management, perhaps by necessity given their scale.  Neither of these points are necessarily downsides, especially as a Canadian who may intend to return home a few years into their career.  

Oh, the third big difference is pro bono, especially if you are interested in litigation.  My impression is that, as a junior, there's a much greater emphasis on pro bono work in the US.  (I'm a cynic, so I've wondered if there's a financial rationale. Can you write off those expenses?)  In any case, I think it goes some way to addressing the relative lack of individual responsibility for client files in the US Big Law.  Pro bono is often where junior lawyers will get their first opportunity to stand up in court.  

These observations are supported by my limited experience as well.

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21 hours ago, MansfieldCJ said:

Q - What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

A – Canadian legal culture remains heavily influenced by its contact with the English common law tradition. We retain references to the British Crown in the courtroom, we swear oaths of loyalty to the British Crown, we wear Barrister gowns in court, some jurisdictions retain traditions like designating senior lawyers as “Queen’s Counsel”, etc…  The Americans have a mostly common law system too, and I understand they remain interested in English law in some respects, but I get the sense its to a far lesser degree.

Question about this. Are these references to the crown actually refering to the British Crown or to the Canadian Crown? Practically speaking I'm sure it doesn't matter whatsoever but I'm curious on a personal level.

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Our Sovereign Lady, Her Majesty the Queen of Canada, of course.

 

I suppose referring to the British Crown was inaccurate. I was referring to the coat of arms, my oath as a barrister and solicitor, and the courts which are still styled Court of Queen's Bench. Things like that.

Edited by MansfieldCJ
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1 hour ago, Cheech said:

Question about this. Are these references to the crown actually refering to the British Crown or to the Canadian Crown? Practically speaking I'm sure it doesn't matter whatsoever but I'm curious on a personal level.

 

37 minutes ago, MansfieldCJ said:

Our Sovereign Lady, Her Majesty the Queen of Canada, of course.

 

I suppose referring to the British Crown was inaccurate. I was referring to the coat of arms, my oath as a barrister and solicitor, and the courts which are still styled Court of Queen's Bench. Things like that.

This is made even further murky by the divisibility of the Crown within the Canadian federation. One Queen of Canada, but eleven Crowns (or more technically, one 'Crown in right of Canada' and ten 'Crowns in right of (insert province)'). 

But yes, you swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen of Canada, who is advised by eleven distinct ministerial councils.

Note: Read Liquidators of the Maritime Bank v Receiver General of New Brunswick, [1892] AC 437 (not on CanLii, unfortunately) for the seminal authority on the divisibility of the Canadian Crown.

Edited by PerisoreusCanadensis
Case citation

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37 minutes ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

 

This is made even further murky by the divisibility of the Crown within the Canadian federation. One Queen of Canada, but eleven Crowns (or more technically, one 'Crown in right of Canada' and ten 'Crowns in right of (insert province)'). 

But yes, you swear allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen of Canada, who is advised by eleven distinct ministerial councils.

Note: Read Liquidators of the Maritime Bank v Receiver General of New Brunswick, [1892] AC 437 (not on CanLii, unfortunately) for the seminal authority on the divisibility of the Canadian Crown.

It’s on BAILII

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12 hours ago, PerisoreusCanadensis said:

Note: Read Liquidators of the Maritime Bank v Receiver General of New Brunswick, [1892] AC 437 (not on CanLii, unfortunately) for the seminal authority on the divisibility of the Canadian Crown.

I thought the leading authority on the divisibility of Sovereign authority within the Canadian federation was Lucien Bouchard?

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On 7/24/2020 at 3:12 PM, katurian said:

off the top of my mind, product liability and class actions are much more common down south given lax regulation in the front end. 

-> I'd be interested to know if there are actually more per capita.  Bearing in mind the mass tort restrictions, tort reform and MDL panels in the US, I'd be curious to know if there really are many more class actions per person that survive past cert down there.

robes for sup ct and above; also: "my friend"

-> This is meaningful.  Legal culture, like political culture, in the US tends to be polarized.  I get threatened by US lawyers; I get things suggested to me by Canadian lawyers.  American legal training conferences can get really aggressive as between plaintiffs and defendants and feel like war briefings; in Canada we often act on both sides and have a lot of non-partisan institutions.  Politics tend to require law as a stepping-stone in the US, so you'll also see strong Democrat/Republican splits in groups of lawyers that are more uncommon up here where we do not have to register with a party.  There is a taboo about rudeness between lawyers here.  There is no such taboo, in my experience, in the United States.

 

On 7/26/2020 at 11:55 AM, MansfieldCJ said:

OP, I will try to answer, but my understanding of the US market is based off of second-hand information and a few direct interactions with US big law interviewers/lawyers. I am also going to make the following assumption: you are interested in working a large law firm with corporate and institutional clients.

My hot take is that the differences between the markets are the logical consequence of the US being the center for global capitalism.

Q - Apart from the large paychecks that many U.S. firms offer, what are the differences between the experience of being a lawyer in those two countries?

 

-> Partnership is more of a possibility here, and your socio-economic background matters in a less pronounced way.  You do not have to have gone to the right school, or joined the right fraternity, or donated to the right super PAC to get 'in' with a partnership.  If your grades are good, you bill well and clients like you, you can make it -- but you do face the same unconscious biases that exist in upper-middle-class Canadian society generally.

Q - Are some law fields more popular in one country than the other? Is one more modern and tech-oriented than the other? (and more stuff like that)

A – The US legal market features some practice areas which are not as strong in Canada. For example, in the US, the big law firms have serious white collar crime practices.

-> This is because in the United States they prosecute white-collar crimes, whereas in Canada financial crimes are generally viewed as eccentricities.

Q - What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

A – Canadian legal culture remains heavily influenced by its contact with the English common law tradition. We retain references to the British Crown in the courtroom, we swear oaths of loyalty to the British Crown, we wear Barrister gowns in court, some jurisdictions retain traditions like designating senior lawyers as “Queen’s Counsel”, etc…  The Americans have a mostly common law system too, and I understand they remain interested in English law in some respects, but I get the sense its to a far lesser degree.

-> It's a halfway house.  We're also much more American than the Brits, with some court appearances in suits and no clear distinction between solicitors, barristers and attorneys in terms of preparing a case.  We don't have clerks that manage our dockets for us.  We're more polite, collegial American lawyers that dress in British robes and observe British traditions (rare juries, no gavels, etc.)

Q - Also, would American podcasts (like the Lawyerist podcast) and blogs that give general advice on the experience of being a lawyer translate well to Canada?

A – I’m sure the podcasts are helpful. You can find Canadian lawyer podcasts as well.

-> Try "Of Counsel".

 

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6 hours ago, Uriel said:

-> I'd be interested to know if there are actually more per capita.  Bearing in mind the mass tort restrictions, tort reform and MDL panels in the US, I'd be curious to know if there really are many more class actions per person that survive past cert down there.

At the risk of sharing too much, at least in the securities context, 10(b)(5) lawsuits (material misreps under private right of action) greatly outnumber 138.8(1) suits here. I obviously cannot speak to product liability/mass tort and will defer to you on that matter. 

 

6 hours ago, Uriel said:

-> This is meaningful.  Legal culture, like political culture, in the US tends to be polarized.  I get threatened by US lawyers; I get things suggested to me by Canadian lawyers.  American legal training conferences can get really aggressive as between plaintiffs and defendants and feel like war briefings; in Canada we often act on both sides and have a lot of non-partisan institutions.  Politics tend to require law as a stepping-stone in the US, so you'll also see strong Democrat/Republican splits in groups of lawyers that are more uncommon up here where we do not have to register with a party.  There is a taboo about rudeness between lawyers here.  There is no such taboo, in my experience, in the United States.

I think here the standards of civility and enforced more by the LSUC. Consider also that we have an institution like the LSUC: in most US states, regulation of lawyers is under the purview of the highest state court. I can't imagine ONCA (specifically a committee appointed by ONCA and not necessarily its judges) doing that here. The idea is so foreign and brazen to me. We still have our share of assholes here, but they seem fewer and farther between, and still more civil than some lawyers down south? See Groia, Dore, etc. 

 

6 hours ago, Uriel said:

-> Partnership is more of a possibility here, and your socio-economic background matters in a less pronounced way.  You do not have to have gone to the right school, or joined the right fraternity, or donated to the right super PAC to get 'in' with a partnership.  If your grades are good, you bill well and clients like you, you can make it -- but you do face the same unconscious biases that exist in upper-middle-class Canadian society generally.

Somewhat off topic: @Uriel, i'm curious if billing well is sufficient for partnership here (assuming clients like you). 

 

6 hours ago, Uriel said:

-> This is because in the United States they prosecute white-collar crimes, whereas in Canada financial crimes are generally viewed as eccentricities.

You say that, but then you flip thru the OSC roster of cases... some of these people... my god. 

 

On 7/24/2020 at 3:01 PM, Aryaa said:

 What are some unique things about being a lawyer in Canada that aren't a part of the American legal experience (or vice versa)?

One thing I forgot to mention which @Uriel touched on re partnership is just how differently the law school cultures here are. Here, law review is surely something the nerds like to do but it is not nearly as emphasized as a metric for employability as it is in the States--largely due to the lack of biglaw jobs per capital, in my opinion. We also don't have the white supremacist group known as the fedsoc up here, though runnymede is trying to sell a whitewashed version of it with funding from CPC donors. And we certainly don't employ the socratic method to the same extent/extreme as they do in the US. 

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5 minutes ago, katurian said:

At the risk of sharing too much, at least in the securities context, 10(b)(5) lawsuits (material misreps under private right of action) greatly outnumber 138.8(1) suits here. I obviously cannot speak to product liability/mass tort and will defer to you on that matter. 

I don't have any specific data on this, but I do work for a big company that operates in both Canada and the US, and has multiple ongoing class actions in both. Despite the company being of similar size in both countries, the number of active class actions is always much higher in the US and the overall risk of class actions is much more material. And there are more settlements, for bigger numbers, at earlier stages.

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Lol

Not that I think the federalist society is a good thing (it’s not), but I do find it unfortunate that Canadian law schools don’t teach and discuss judicial philosophy more openly. It leads a lot of students to the incorrect conclusion that Canadian judges are, to quote the Chief Justice of the United States, simply calling balls and strikes. I‘m biased, though, because I think judicial philosophy is very interesting. 

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11 hours ago, Uriel said:

There is a taboo about rudeness between lawyers here.  There is no such taboo, in my experience, in the United States.

Friend of mine is an American lawyer (ahem, sorry, attorney), and the stories he tells are sometimes jaw-dropping. He's in criminal defence, so maybe that's a different game even here (this lowly corporate solicitor has no idea what goes on at Old City Hall), but outright yelling matches in court are not uncommon. Phone calls with insults and cursing. Fast ones pulled by DAs and smug hallway conversations.

I've also had the pleasure of reading some U.S. civil pleadings, and they're written like dramatic novels with tons of threatening hyperbole. Don't even get me started on the few transcripts of depositions I've seen.

It's a whole different world. Makes me happy I'm not a lawyer there. Not sure how American solicitors fare, but I'd expect more combative behaviour, at least judging by the few anecdotes I've heard.

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My friend who works at a US firm told me even though his firm (large, international, massive) explicitely would train them to not use superlatives or "colourful" language, the clients would often demand it.

I do wonder how much of the legal culture differences are caused by Americans just being.. Americans.

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