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Born2Law

Getting Pigeon-holed into a certain practice area

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Hi everyone, 

I am a 2020 call, and wanted to get people's advice on this issue I am struggling with: 

I have been offered a job in a litigation-heavy practice area that I have virtually no interest in. 0 courses in law school, 0 alignment with my background, etc. As a new call in this (quite horrible) Ontario job market, I feel like I should just take any offer, but I am scared about being pigeon-holed into this area. I do eventually wanna move away from this practice area and do something completely different (more solicitor-type work, ideally), so I don't know if its a good idea for me to take this position, and learn something, while filling the gaps in my resume, or just keep looking and wait a bit longer. 

Would love people's advice on lateraling, and how hard it is for someone to completely switch gears into a new practice area.

Thanks

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I won’t give you specific advice in terms of take it or leave it, but I find that oftentimes new Calls need to be encouraged to think long term.

A lawyer with three years of experience is a more desirable employee and has much more mobility than a brand new call no one has ever hired. 

If you are willing to learn the work and do the job you will acquire marketable skills. Even if it’s something as simple as interviewing clients, drafting documents, researching the law, appearing in court. Those are basics almost everyone can use. 

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4 minutes ago, Born2Law said:

Hi everyone, 

I am a 2020 call, and wanted to get people's advice on this issue I am struggling with: 

I have been offered a job in a litigation-heavy practice area that I have virtually no interest in. 0 courses in law school, 0 alignment with my background, etc. As a new call in this (quite horrible) Ontario job market, I feel like I should just take any offer, but I am scared about being pigeon-holed into this area. I do eventually wanna move away from this practice area and do something completely different (more solicitor-type work, ideally), so I don't know if its a good idea for me to take this position, and learn something, while filling the gaps in my resume, or just keep looking and wait a bit longer. 

Would love people's advice on lateraling, and how hard it is for someone to completely switch gears into a new practice area.

Thanks

Litigation can mean a lot of different subject areas. Some of them are applicable to forms of solicitor work.

Can you be more specific about the practice area? If so, some people here might be able to advise how many pigeons are in that hole. 

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1 minute ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Litigation can mean a lot of different subject areas. Some of them are applicable to forms of solicitor work.

Can you be more specific about the practice area? If so, some people here might be able to advise how many pigeons are in that hole. 

Haha, sorry, I was trying to be as vague as possible - but it's a personal injury role.

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Personal injury people do transfer across to criminal reasonably well. 

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@BringBackCrunchBerries Would it depend what type of solicitor work the person is transitioning to? For example, I can't really imagine any of the personal injury skill set being transferable to securities. But maybe I am just not thinking of the right skills. 

Edited by Starling

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6 minutes ago, Born2Law said:

Haha, sorry, I was trying to be as vague as possible - but it's a personal injury role.

Okay, yeah, that might not translate well into solicitor work. But you could still transition into a different litigation role that might blend into solicitor work down the road. The roadmap would be something like:

Step 1 - get your feet wet in PI for a few years

Step 2 - as an experienced and marketable lawyer, move into more of a general civil litigation position

Step 3 - transition your civil litigation practice into something more solicitor-like, over time

As far as step 3 goes it would help to think of some examples. I think some family lawyers start off as essentially trial lawyers but with experience you can end up being basically a family law solicitor. Construction litigation, or commercial litigation, can have crossover with real estate or corporate/commercial solicitor work. Estate litigation and estate planning is another obvious one. In any case when you get started on step 3 it would help to be at a firm that does both sides of the thing or thing(s), then when you are say a 6th year call and it's time for your first boring real estate deal that the firm got because of your litigation file, you have firm and staff support and learning is easy. And then when the solicitor-heavy partner retires the firm can hire a younger you to go to court and voila - you can get fat at your desk and watch your plants grow. 

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11 minutes ago, Starling said:

@BringBackCrunchBerries Would it depend what type of solicitor work the person is transitioning to? For example, I can't really imagine any of the personal injury skill set being transferable to securities. But maybe I am just not thinking of the right skills. 

Yes, of course. Like you I am having trouble thinking of any solicitor work that PI could lead into without a big detour. I've never done PI or been a litigator though so I am ignorant on that front. I would imagine that there are in-house, insurance side PI roles that for most intents and purposes are solicitor work.

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I was interested in personal injury when I started, but I was always interested in it, and solicitor work was not high on my priority list.  I've done several years of work in PI and am now transitioning to another area of civil litigation, which is much easier than transitioning to solicitor work.

The whole draw of being a few years call is that you don't need to be supervised as if you were a 1 year call.  You can work independently, are familiar with the things you need to do, can learn them on your own if you are not, and have enough practice sense to know when to check in with a senior lawyer.

If solicitor work is what you truly want to do, you have to find a way to start doing some version of it.  Find out what that work actually entails.  What do those lawyers do every day?  Then focus as best as you can at refining those skills in the course of your litigation.  Do volunteer work that is more related to the solicitor work you are interested in.

If you are truly interested in the practice area and make strides to do as much as you can to build yourself up for it, despite working in a different area, it is likely to pay dividends in terms of you feeling like the work you do now is worth it and make you more useful in that practice area.

I would not turn down a job as a first year lawyer unless it was realistic I could get what I wanted just by waiting.  As a fresh call, I turned down an offer to work at a plaintiff firm to hold out for a defence firm.  I don't think I'd do if what I wanted was solicitor work, unless I knew my chances were good for a solicitor job because of some other means (like a connection with a friend or family, etc).

 

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1 hour ago, Born2Law said:

I have been offered a job in a litigation-heavy practice area that I have virtually no interest in. 0 courses in law school, 0 alignment with my background, etc. As a new call in this (quite horrible) Ontario job market, I feel like I should just take any offer, but I am scared about being pigeon-holed into this area. I do eventually wanna move away from this practice area and do something completely different (more solicitor-type work, ideally), so I don't know if its a good idea for me to take this position, and learn something, while filling the gaps in my resume, or just keep looking and wait a bit longer. 

I echo the above but I'll add my personal experience:

Litigation skills are highly transferable. It is easier to shift from a litigation role to non-litigation than the inverse. Also, you may like what you wind up doing. Since my call I've worked in litigation but very little in my main area of interest or aligned with my background (whatever that means). It's all been fun and engaging. Plus, I have zero concern about my marketability as a lawyer nor do I feel pigeonholed. All considered, without more information, it doesn't sound like it would be a mistake to take the job.

Your concern might be better placed toward assessing the quality of senior lawyers you'll be working with and learning from. If you work with good counsel, you're more likely to gain strong lawyering skills and a good reputation. If you work at a bad shop with problematic lawyers, that will likely have a worse overall effect on your marketability than the subject area you practice or that you were a litigator instead of a solicitor. 

Your decision also really depends on your current options and prospects and how long you can afford to wait. If you have absolutely nothing else cooking, then I would take the position.

 

Edited by FineCanadianFXs
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I would also comment that practice area is just one of many factors, I'd rather be at a great litigation firm than weak unrelated solicitor practice. A friend of my sister's articling experience was basically limited to filling in paperwork for small real estate conveyancing. That isn't something you want for career development.

 

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Perhaps we need to circle back why you applied for the job in the first place if you had no intention of taking it. If there are financial pressures, then you gotta make a personal decision here.

Anecdotally, I disagree that the market is "tough" for new calls. I am also a 2020 call. It might be tough to get a bay street job (but still some people have done so), but there are tons of jobs. Everyone in my year who was not hired back at their firm have gone on to find employment elsewhere. 

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6 hours ago, BringBackCrunchBerries said:

Okay, yeah, that might not translate well into solicitor work. But you could still transition into a different litigation role that might blend into solicitor work down the road. The roadmap would be something like:

Step 1 - get your feet wet in PI for a few years

Step 2 - as an experienced and marketable lawyer, move into more of a general civil litigation position

Step 3 - transition your civil litigation practice into something more solicitor-like, over time

As far as step 3 goes it would help to think of some examples. I think some family lawyers start off as essentially trial lawyers but with experience you can end up being basically a family law solicitor. Construction litigation, or commercial litigation, can have crossover with real estate or corporate/commercial solicitor work. Estate litigation and estate planning is another obvious one. In any case when you get started on step 3 it would help to be at a firm that does both sides of the thing or thing(s), then when you are say a 6th year call and it's time for your first boring real estate deal that the firm got because of your litigation file, you have firm and staff support and learning is easy. And then when the solicitor-heavy partner retires the firm can hire a younger you to go to court and voila - you can get fat at your desk and watch your plants grow. 

 

Ahh, this seems like a good plan. Thanks for the advice!

 

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6 hours ago, Another Hutz said:

I was interested in personal injury when I started, but I was always interested in it, and solicitor work was not high on my priority list.  I've done several years of work in PI and am now transitioning to another area of civil litigation, which is much easier than transitioning to solicitor work.

The whole draw of being a few years call is that you don't need to be supervised as if you were a 1 year call.  You can work independently, are familiar with the things you need to do, can learn them on your own if you are not, and have enough practice sense to know when to check in with a senior lawyer.

If solicitor work is what you truly want to do, you have to find a way to start doing some version of it.  Find out what that work actually entails.  What do those lawyers do every day?  Then focus as best as you can at refining those skills in the course of your litigation.  Do volunteer work that is more related to the solicitor work you are interested in.

If you are truly interested in the practice area and make strides to do as much as you can to build yourself up for it, despite working in a different area, it is likely to pay dividends in terms of you feeling like the work you do now is worth it and make you more useful in that practice area.

I would not turn down a job as a first year lawyer unless it was realistic I could get what I wanted just by waiting.  As a fresh call, I turned down an offer to work at a plaintiff firm to hold out for a defence firm.  I don't think I'd do if what I wanted was solicitor work, unless I knew my chances were good for a solicitor job because of some other means (like a connection with a friend or family, etc).

 

Hmm yah fair. I don't have any connections to the legal world, unfortunately, so might just have to suck it up and do the work for a few years, even if I dont fully enjoy it.

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2 hours ago, hmyo said:

Perhaps we need to circle back why you applied for the job in the first place if you had no intention of taking it. If there are financial pressures, then you gotta make a personal decision here.

Anecdotally, I disagree that the market is "tough" for new calls. I am also a 2020 call. It might be tough to get a bay street job (but still some people have done so), but there are tons of jobs. Everyone in my year who was not hired back at their firm have gone on to find employment elsewhere. 

To be honest, I was just getting scared about the gap in my resume and future employability prospects. Perhaps my application just isn't as good as yours haha, but I've really been struggling to get an associate position :(

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8 minutes ago, Born2Law said:

To be honest, I was just getting scared about the gap in my resume and future employability prospects. Perhaps my application just isn't as good as yours haha, but I've really been struggling to get an associate position :(

naw, it's a lot of luck. keep active and talking with people. 

 

fact of the matter is lawyers of our current vintage is so fungible, so we have to find ways to stand out.

If you want to scrub sensitive information from your application, i'm happy to take a look and let you know.

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7 hours ago, FineCanadianFXs said:

Litigation skills are highly transferable. It is easier to shift from a litigation role to non-litigation than the inverse.

Do you have any idea what the inverse actually looks like? Id assume the earlier you move from solicitor to lit the better? 

Edited by whoknows
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On 2/23/2021 at 12:15 AM, whoknows said:

Do you have any idea what the inverse actually looks like? Id assume the earlier you move from solicitor to lit the better? 

I don't have any personal data. I can think of lots of colleagues and acquaintainces who went from litigation to solicitor, advisory, or other non-litigation roles. If it happened the other way around, it happened so early it doesn't even register--probably first year of practice.

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