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I'm curious to know what it's like working for government as a lawyer.

What kind of position do you have (i.e., do you work for a Bureau, DoJ, etc)? 

How did you get your position, if not through a summer OCI job?

Does anyone have experience with the government job pool post FC/FCA clerkship? 

What is your work-life balance like?

What's the salary like?

Is it advisable to grind out a couple of years in private practice and then decide?

Lots of questions, I know... But I'm genuinely curious as someone who has only worked in private practice as a student. I don't enjoy the politics at big firms, and I find that it can be a bit toxic. While the work is interesting and the pay is great, I feel like life's just to short to do something that gives me immeasurable anxiety everyday. Something that I'm really thinking a lot about lately is work-life balance. I want to do litigation, and I want to know if a legal career in government allows for pursuing my career dreams while also living a more balanced life.

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My spouse is a government lawyer for Ontario. He says it's mostly in-house solicitor-type work. Lots of agreements to review and prepare. Lots of email questions. If you check out the job postings from the Ministry of the Attorney General you can get a general sense of what those work look life. For government of Ontario, most civil litigation work is done by Crown Law Office-Civil.

He articled there and then moved to a different Ministry within the same government to become a permanent counsel. He's now at a third new Ministry doing a one-year secondment because he wanted to experience and learn some new stuff.

From what I can observe, his work load is decent. He can turn work off after work most of the time.

Pay is good. Pension is good. Not as good as the big laws in downtown Toronto, but better than mine (mid-size firm associate).

Getting in is just a lot work for the interview. I saw him studying for the interview like it was a law school exam. Also need three references.


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I'm a civil litigation counsel for a major municipality. I was hired back after articling. Salary is comparable to other government offices, I think (never looked too much into it). Decent but not private firm levels. You can check out public sector salary disclosures to get a rough idea. The pension is great, or so I'm told. It's a "dee bee".

On the whole, work-life balance is better compared to my peers in private practice, and some of our more senior lawyers who came from firms have told me the hours factored in their decisions to move. That being said, there are times you have to bust your tail and work just as hard, sometimes for months in a row. By no means is it a 9-6 gig, even for the most senior counsel. And it's still a stressful job, at times.

I really enjoy not having to deal with the business side of a practice, and being able to focus just on the legal work. I don't have to worry about getting clients or schmoozing; I'm a cog in the machine and I do the work that lands on my desk. Obviously, you still need to know how to manage relationships and maintain trust, and when you're dealing with politicians it's a uniquely delicate dance. And there's always budgetary pressures which leads to things like our dockets being scrutinized for efficiency. But on the whole, my problems arise from the legal work and strategy, not extraneous stuff.

Sort of connected to the previous point, another thing I like is that my work is not dictated by money. As government, the bottom line is (or should be) the public interest. Yes, economics are a consideration, of course. But where a private party might not spend $15,000 to fight a dubious one-off $5,000 claim all the way to trial (opting to settle and avoid the headache), we can't simply pay out to get rid of an unmeritorious claim, even if it's way cheaper to do so. A public body is always in the crosshairs, and it would set a bad precedent to make nuisance settlements. All of that to say, I like being able to conduct litigation on principle.

In regard to office politics, my office is very collegial and I couldn't ask for better people to work with. I often wonder how they managed to foster this culture. Office politics are not a thing. If someone joined our group and started trying to play those games, they would stick out like a sore thumb. But I can only speak for my office.

Speaking for my group again, it would be very difficult to get in after a couple years in private practice. Our new junior lawyers are all hired directly from our articling pool. All the external hires I know of were at least eight years out. The only exception is a fourth-year call who was hired in a couple years ago, but he is in a very specific practice area we needed (and we actually advertised for a 10+ year call).

So, litigation for the government should offer better work-life balance (again, it's relative), and I mostly don't have to deal with the extraneous anxiety-inducing stuff you want to be rid of. Whether it can fulfil your career dreams is harder to answer.

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Thank you everyone for your responses, and I sincerely apologize for the delay in thanking you. I really appreciate these responses!

It has been a rough couple of months and I continue to be very uncertain about what I want out of my legal career.  Maybe government might be the way to go.

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