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maybemaybe

Am I being too naive about my possible career in law?

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Hi all. I'm a female undergrad interested in law, specifically working with the provincial or municipal government as a legal counsel or solicitor. I am not interested in litigation or criminal law. In addition to the interesting work, the work life balance also interests me in government law. The pay seems comfortable for a regular 40 hour work week with the occasional hectic weeks thrown in. On top of that there are benefits, paid maternity leave, health and dental, and a pension. However, I am hesitant to commit to law school because I am wondering if I am being naive as to where I may end up.

First of all, am I too optimistic about the work load I will have? I asked a question on this forum yesterday and it seemed like people working in law in the government worked around 35-45 hours a week and occasionally more. Secondly, my sister advised against law school for me because she said my plan was too specific. Like what if I don't end up securing a government job as a student or article and end up somewhere that I don't want to be. Lastly I looked at different government roles within the BC government and assume there are similar roles where I live (Alberta). It seems like a legal background would help you progress to many of the roles. However, I am worried that I may end up locking myself into government and if I ever need to move anywhere, it would be hard to transfer my skills. I'd rather not have to move from where I currently live due to some family related reasons but you never know.

 

I don't really have a desire to make boatloads of money, just about around 120k in around 6 years. I just want a comfortable job where the work is interesting but at the end of the day, I can enjoy my free time. Do you think I am being too naïve? 

Edited by maybemaybe

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20 minutes ago, maybemaybe said:

Hi all. I'm a female undergrad interested in law, specifically working with the provincial or municipal government as a legal counsel or barrister. I am not interested in litigation or criminal law. In addition to the interesting work, the work life balance also interests me in government law. The pay seems comfortable for a regular 40 hour work week with the occasional hectic weeks thrown in. On top of that there are benefits, paid maternity leave, health and dental, and a pension. However, I am hesitant to commit to law school because I am wondering if I am being naive as to where I may end up.

First of all, am I too optimistic about the work load I will have? I asked a question on this forum yesterday and it seemed like people working in law in the government worked around 35-45 hours a week and occasionally more. Secondly, my sister advised against law school for me because she said my plan was too specific. Like what if I don't end up securing a government job as a student or article and end up somewhere that I don't want to be. Lastly I looked at different government roles within the BC government and assume there are similar roles where I live (Alberta). It seems like a legal background would help you progress to many of the roles. However, I am worried that I may end up locking myself into government and if I ever need to move anywhere, it would be hard to transfer my skills. I'd rather not have to move from where I currently live due to some family related reasons but you never know.

I don't really have a desire to make boatloads of money, just about around 120k in around 6 years. I just want a comfortable job where the work is interesting but at the end of the day, I can enjoy my free time. Do you think I am being too naïve? 

Yes you are being naive, but perhaps understandably so given that you are still in undergrad.

$120,000 is a 95th percentile income in Canada. If you are making that in roughly your second year of legal practice you are definitely making "boatloads" of money. If you want sweet working hours and work/life balance but also a 95th+ percentile income, your desires will work against each other and probably be incompatible. 

Government lawyer jobs can be hard to get. 

You said you want to work for the government as a "barrister" but then say you are not interested in litigation. This makes no sense. 

How would you even know that you aren't interested in litigation? A large portion of government jobs would involve advocacy work, so if litigation is a hard no for you your options in government would be limited. 

If you pursue law school you should probably be more open minded at the outset and you should appreciate the possibility that you won't end up in your preferred landing spot. There is no easy path to six figure salaries and 40 hour work weeks. 

Edited by BringBackCrunchBerries
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Yes, you're being naive.

But that's okay!

I don't mean to come across as condescending here, so please don't take it that way, but you're young and I'm guessing that you don't have much (any?) work experience in a professional, white collar setting. The average salary in Canada is closer to $55K a year, so if you're expecting to earn $120K / year as a comfortable spot, while doing interesting work no less (and even if you've built in 6 years to get there), well, you're going to have to work for it. 

Most careers that pay that kind of money are going to require you to put in long(er) hours. That's not limited to just the legal field. I've spent close to a decade working in film and television where the expected hours start at 55-60 hours / week (buy you're working in the movies!). 

I think the best advice I can give to you is put off going to law school for a couple of years. Finish your undergrad strong, and then get out into the world. Work in a couple of different fields. Explore some other interests. Figure out what you like doing before committing to a path that's going to result in taking on a fair bit of debt.

 

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7 minutes ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Yes you are being naive, but perhaps understandably so given that you are still in undergrad.

$120,000 is a 95th percentile income in Canada. If you are making that in roughly your second year of legal practice you are definitely making "boatloads" of money. If you want sweet working hours and work/life balance but also a 95th+ percentile income, your desires will work against each other and probably be incompatible. 

Government lawyer jobs can be hard to get. 

You said you want to work for the government as a "barrister" but then say you are not interested in litigation. This makes no sense. 

How would you even know that you aren't interested in litigation? A large portion of government jobs would involve advocacy work, so if litigation is a hard no for you your options in government would be limited. 

If you pursue law school you should probably be more open minded at the outset and you should appreciate the possibility that you won't end up in your preferred landing spot. There is no easy path to six figure salaries and 40 hour work weeks. 

sorry i meant solicitor! my mistake, ill try changing that on the original post. i guess when i was talking about litigation i meant criminal law which im not interested in. to my understanding, i thought 120k would be quite reasonable for a lawyer working in the government after working 6-10 years for sure assuming they start at around 80k after articling

Edited by maybemaybe

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48 minutes ago, maybemaybe said:

sorry i meant solicitor! my mistake, ill try changing that on the original post. i guess when i was talking about litigation i meant criminal law which im not interested in. to my understanding, i thought 120k would be quite reasonable for a lawyer working in the government after working 6-10 years for sure assuming they start at around 80k after articling

Okay, it might be. I don't work in gov. I read your original post as saying $120k six years from now. 

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Hi maybemaybe, I think that you would benefit from speaking with a career counselor at your school or maybe trying to reach out to someone in a position you are interested for a zoom coffee chat to get an understanding of the path they took to get there and their day-to-day. 

I think that PlayALawyerOnTV and BringBackCrunchBerries' caution about earning expectations is not about whether $120k after 6 years in government is reasonable, but more about whether it is reasonable to embark on the costly journey into law with very specific expectations about where you will be working, for how many hours a week, for x amount of money. 

After reading some of your posts, I get the sense that you are considering law school because it seems like an acceptable and well-respected career path for a (probably) fairly high achieving person in undergrad and you are trying to balance a desire for having some sort of well-respected career with a reasonable work-life balance. To that I say....SAME. However, after seeing where me and my classmates ended up after law school I would caution against pursuing law with such a specific outcome in mind. I don't personally know many people who ended up where they thought they would be on day one of law school. 

I also get the sense that you have a limited understanding of what the hell it is that people are paid to do in offices all day i.e. your perspective on careers is lawyer, doctor, teacher, engineer etc. I had the exact same perspective when I was in my undergrad and to some extent still do. That is why I would highly recommend speaking with a career counselor who will help you explore other options which might be a good fit for you. Law and law school will always be there and it is probably better for you to make the law/law school decision with a bit more perspective. 

Edited by admitme
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Are you interested in policy making? If so, given your goal of working in government, you should look into a Masters in Public Policy / Public Administration. 

Edited by Byzantine
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1 hour ago, maybemaybe said:

she said my plan was too specific

Your sister is right. Not necessarily that you shouldn't go to law school, but going to law school on the assumption that you will get a government solicitor position for articling is a big risk if you don't have a backup plan.

I'm in a job that is very similar to the one you are aiming for. Articling positions in our office are very competitive (hundreds of applicants per spot). And for the people who get the articling job, hireback is unlikely. (We haven't been able to hire back an articling student, for a long-term role, in years.)

In deciding whether to go to law school, you should assume that your odds of getting a provincial or municipal solicitor position, early in your career, are ~50% as a very optimistic estimate. If that's the only legal job you're interested in, consider whether you really want to spend 3 years and a lot of money on that gamble.

I looooove working in the public sector and don't want to discourage that ambition! But I think every single day about how lucky I was to wind up where I did.

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2 hours ago, maybemaybe said:

Hi all. I'm a female undergrad interested in law, specifically working with the provincial or municipal government as a legal counsel or solicitor. I am not interested in litigation or criminal law. In addition to the interesting work, the work life balance also interests me in government law. The pay seems comfortable for a regular 40 hour work week with the occasional hectic weeks thrown in. On top of that there are benefits, paid maternity leave, health and dental, and a pension. However, I am hesitant to commit to law school because I am wondering if I am being naive as to where I may end up.

First of all, am I too optimistic about the work load I will have? I asked a question on this forum yesterday and it seemed like people working in law in the government worked around 35-45 hours a week and occasionally more. Secondly, my sister advised against law school for me because she said my plan was too specific. Like what if I don't end up securing a government job as a student or article and end up somewhere that I don't want to be. Lastly I looked at different government roles within the BC government and assume there are similar roles where I live (Alberta). It seems like a legal background would help you progress to many of the roles. However, I am worried that I may end up locking myself into government and if I ever need to move anywhere, it would be hard to transfer my skills. I'd rather not have to move from where I currently live due to some family related reasons but you never know.

 

I don't really have a desire to make boatloads of money, just about around 120k in around 6 years. I just want a comfortable job where the work is interesting but at the end of the day, I can enjoy my free time. Do you think I am being too naïve? 

Yes, you are being naive. 

The question any prospective law student has to answer is whether you will enjoy the work of being a lawyer. Once that question is answered, then you can think about where you want to work. So many people enter law school with the byproducts of being a lawyer in their minds (nice suits, high stakes cases, justice, comfortable government salaries) but not the actual work of a lawyer. It's not your fault. The public is largely clueless on what lawyers actually do. 

To put it simply, you have to be okay with your plans not working out. I think the most satisfied people in law are the people who continue to love the law long after 1L (when everyone has a brief love affair with the law). Sure, your context (e.g., employer, location) make a difference, but it's outweighed by the work. Focus on that first.

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Alright, let's break this down in numbers using an example. 

Out of my graduating class of 300, a few years out of law school, less than 10 are working in municipal or federal right now (I can see where people work via LinkedIn). The biggest employer of law students for federal is Department of Justice and Public Prosecution Service of Canada and they do a lot of litigation. 

I would say maybe 20-30 are currently working at the MAG or a Crown Corporation - many of these MAG jobs are in criminal law and litigation/prosecutor roles. A couple people are working in Legal Aid offices as a Staff Lawyer. This may be an option to consider as starting salary in Ontario is around 80k and you could have a decent work-life balance (not sure about BC).

Government jobs are tough to get out of law school, and if you want to limit your search to solicitor-only and non-criminal law, you're really shooting yourself in the foot. If you want government, be prepared to take anything you can get to get your foot in the door. 

I would do a master's in public policy or administration instead and get a policy analyst job in the government. This seems more like what you are looking for. Now you won't make as much money as lawyers do, but it'll still be a comfortable wage for the amount of hours you work. 

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If your goal is a government job, why do you need it to be as a lawyer?

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1 hour ago, Deadpool said:

Alright, let's break this down in numbers using an example. 

Out of my graduating class of 300, a few years out of law school, less than 10 are working in municipal or federal right now (I can see where people work via LinkedIn). The biggest employer of law students for federal is Department of Justice and Public Prosecution Service of Canada and they do a lot of litigation. 

I would say maybe 20-30 are currently working at the MAG or a Crown Corporation - many of these MAG jobs are in criminal law and litigation/prosecutor roles. A couple people are working in Legal Aid offices as a Staff Lawyer. This may be an option to consider as starting salary in Ontario is around 80k and you could have a decent work-life balance (not sure about BC).

Government jobs are tough to get out of law school, and if you want to limit your search to solicitor-only and non-criminal law, you're really shooting yourself in the foot. If you want government, be prepared to take anything you can get to get your foot in the door. 

I would do a master's in public policy or administration instead and get a policy analyst job in the government. This seems more like what you are looking for. Now you won't make as much money as lawyers do, but it'll still be a comfortable wage for the amount of hours you work. 

thank you, i appreciate your insight. I'm in Alberta so I'm not sure how competitive it is to get into the MAG but i'll definitely do some more research. 

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1 hour ago, Pyke said:

If your goal is a government job, why do you need it to be as a lawyer?

i mean, my goal is to work with the government as a lawyer. 

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2 hours ago, grishamlaw said:

Yes, you are being naive. 

The question any prospective law student has to answer is whether you will enjoy the work of being a lawyer. Once that question is answered, then you can think about where you want to work. So many people enter law school with the byproducts of being a lawyer in their minds (nice suits, high stakes cases, justice, comfortable government salaries) but not the actual work of a lawyer. It's not your fault. The public is largely clueless on what lawyers actually do. 

To put it simply, you have to be okay with your plans not working out. I think the most satisfied people in law are the people who continue to love the law long after 1L (when everyone has a brief love affair with the law). Sure, your context (e.g., employer, location) make a difference, but it's outweighed by the work. Focus on that first.

how can I know for sure if I will like it? Mostly, I have been looking into the classes that we need to take, the daily responsibilities of the lawyers in my field of interest and their job descriptions. I have also been looking at the LinkedIn profiles of people who are in my field of interest and reading the job descriptions. Lastly, I kind of just watched videos of a day in the life of a lawyer. 

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8 hours ago, maybemaybe said:

interested in law, specifically working with the provincial or municipal government as a legal counsel or solicitor

 

2 hours ago, maybemaybe said:

Lastly, I kind of just watched videos of a day in the life of a lawyer.

I just want to say that the lawyers (all solicitors) I work with spend 80-90% of their days staring at contracts and the other 10-20% in meetings. You really need to love reading, and reading things that don't make sense at all. I personally know a few people who quit law because they found cursing at a bunch of paper day-in-day-out to be, well, quite boring.

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On 2/19/2021 at 3:44 PM, maybemaybe said:

i mean, my goal is to work with the government as a lawyer. 

But... why? I ask this sincerely. I read your post - it doesn't sound like you know much about what being a lawyer is, except that you don't want to work in litigation or criminal law. Fair enough, there's plenty of "other" legal work (although, as others have pointed out, there is plenty of litigation work in government). There's also a lot of "law adjacent" jobs that a law degree is not necessarily required for, but for which you may have a competitive advantage with a law degree. Of course, law school is pretty expensive (both outright and in opportunity cost), so this needs to be factored in.

You say that you want "regular 40 hour work weeks" and "work life balance". These are words not generally attributable to being a lawyer. Sure, there are lawyers with these characteristics, but you also want to add on top of that a bunch of other variables that are uncommon in "law". They're not uncommon in "government" as you fairly point out, but then you don't need to be a lawyer to have those things in "government". In fact, I may make the argument that you're more likely to have some of them as a non-lawyer in government. 

If you want to become a lawyer, I don't want to dissuade you, but I do think it may be worth your time to figure out why exactly you think you want to be a lawyer, and then figure out what is more important (because it may be incompatible, at least for some stages of your career, with some of the other things you want).

 

Edited by Pyke
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It's been said before but don't go to law school if you don't want to be the typical lawyer. And frankly excluding barrister work at this stage excludes everything in the legal profession. Solicitor work does not work in a vacuum, it is so fundamentally informed by litigation that opposing it now is in essence opposing law. 

Quote

I don't really have a desire to make boatloads of money, just about around 120k in around 6 years. I just want a comfortable job where the work is interesting but at the end of the day, I can enjoy my free time. Do you think I am being too naïve? 

I don't know any career that offers this. Let me know cause I'm more than 6 years from law school, and while I have great work-life balance, I make slightly more than half that.

I can tell you, that this does not sound like law to me and it is not the type of thing that a great lawyer says. I have never met a great lawyer who wasn't driven.

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I'm sorry to come into all your threads and be cynical, but I would also caution you on the assumption you will enjoy government. I did my BA and MA in political science, I loved policy, regulation, and politics. I couldn't wait to be in government. 3 years of public service and I was applying to law school as a way to get out of government for good.

I'm glad I realized it after doing just an MA. If I had done 3 years if law school instead, just got into government, learn it's not for me, and then have to find a new career with 8 years committed.... Not my ideal scenario. Try and work in government or something government-adjacent like an NGO, in whatever level you can find a spot, and see if it's for you before committing 4 years of law school/articling to such a narrow dream career.  

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5 minutes ago, DoWellAndGood said:

I'm sorry to come into all your threads and be cynical, but I would also caution you on the assumption you will enjoy government. I did my BA and MA in political science, I loved policy, regulation, and politics. I couldn't wait to be in government. 3 years of public service and I was applying to law school as a way to get out of government for good.

I'm glad I realized it after doing just an MA. If I had done 3 years if law school instead, just got into government, learn it's not for me, and then have to find a new career with 8 years committed.... Not my ideal scenario. Try and work in government or something government-adjacent like an NGO, in whatever level you can find a spot, and see if it's for you before committing 4 years of law school/articling to such a narrow dream career.  

To echo this, I'm pretty sure there's a public servants subreddit where you can take the temperature of the room to find out what they think 

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OP, I feel like I may be shouting into an echo chamber at this point, but I think the overall message is important enough that it bears repeating.

You've mentioned a few times in a few different threads that you're specifically hoping to work in government in some form of solicitor role -- I'll echo what other people have said by reiterating that this is a very specific dream. During my own studies, I  met a friend who similarly had their sights set on a government role and on paper seemed the ideal candidate, which includes being a deans lister and competitive mooter, amongst a long list of other accomplishments I won't specify here for the sake of anonymity. In any event, they applied for government positions in 1L, 2L and during articling week and didn't get any offer for government positions. This is not surprising, considering the limited number of vacancies. As I recall, the City of Edmonton hired literally one articling student that year; one can only imagine what the odds were of getting that job, considering how many people probably applied for it. Alberta Justice hired more, but from what I can remember, there were fewer than 10 positions being filled. I'm not sure how much recruitment figures have changed since.

That being said, I also have a few friends who have transitioned into government work after several years in private practice. Some had applied in the intervening years but it was simply the case that the government positions of interest were looking for people with more experience. Sometimes it took a long time for government positions of interest to even show up, considering budget cuts and hiring freezes.

I say this not to discourage you, but to point out the realities of entering law school with highly specific future goals that may be shared by many other similarly qualified people. I don't think anyone here is suggesting that an end goal of having a dream government job is out of reach, but merely that it may take many more years to get there than people expect. Will you get to article with government? If no, will there be postings by government for legal roles that you're interested in after you graduate law school? Will you have the requisite experience to be competitive for these roles? These are not answers anyone here can provide at this stage but are questions that I think you sincerely should consider before embarking on the expensive and time consuming journey that is law school. 

Good luck!

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