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anonymouslawyer

Moving from Policy back into Law

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hi all,

I'm contemplating making a move into policy with the federal government, but am worried about whether that will limit my ability to move back into law in the future (should I decide that I want to).  has anyone made the jump?  anything I should be aware of / take into account now?  

I've been offered a fairly senior position in my field of interest, and my perspective is that the position will give me the chance to develop transferable skills (such as communication with clients, drafting and providing advice to senior individuals, and being the one to actually give the advice) much more than a junior associate position might.

the job search has been incredibly long and daunting during the pandemic, with countless interviews leading to no offers so far.  after 10 months of no success, I'm really just in need of a FT paying position.

thanks for your advice!

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Posted (edited)

My impression from people I know who've done it is that it's easier to move back if you're headed to law from policy after first having had some legal work under your belt (prior to the move to policy).  If you're a June 2020 call + 10 months unemployed, you may find it quite a bit more difficult , for obvious reasons.

Another big factor is how long you stay in policy and the reasons you can give for returning to law if you choose to do so.

I take your point on acquiring transferable skills but senior professionals also don't slide easily into junior associate roles, often due to hesitancy about hiring someone who may not want to perform the grunt work that is part and parcel of being a junior associate.

Regardless, a federal policy job, and especially a senior policy position, beats unemployment.  I'd take it over my law job at the moment.

Edited by Ruthenium
typo

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hi @Ruthenium, thanks for your response! I have been doing some contract legal work over the last 10 months, but I take your point on having essentially no hands-on work as an associate.  

I'm honestly not sure whether I'll love policy work or if it's for me, but I've been trying to explore all facets of law and law-related work both throughout law school and after before I really commit to anything.  all of my summer positions + articling job + post-call work has been in quite a niche practice area, and this policy opportunity aligns with my interests in that regard, and quite honestly I'd rather take a non-law job than a junior associate role doing something like insurance defence or commercial litigation, which are both so far outside of my area of interest (and I know I'd be miserable). 

I think my ideal transition would be to move to DOJ, and having access to internal federal job postings might make that a little easier as there would be more opportunity.

hope your law job improves with time!

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I can tell you that it is very difficult to move from a policy position to the DOJ. I know a few people in the current waiting pool in one of the departments in Toronto and they're all private practice and legal clinic lawyers. DOJ specifically cares if you have legal experience, and litigation is a big part and parcel of the work they do there. You may have a chance at the DOJ advisory roles in Ottawa but these are difficult to attain, and you'll still be competing with lawyers with legal experience. Policy experience is no substitute for legal experience for a place like the DOJ who have a line of experienced lawyers waiting to work there along with their clerkship candidates. 

We can advise you better if you tell us what this area of law is that you are going into. Why are you not able to pursue this area of law in private practice? 

I would take this position for now seeing as how you don't have anything else to fall back on, but my advice is to not become complacent as most people who get comfortable jobs do, and keep your eyes on the long-term prize. Because if you stay in that role for years, it will be very difficult to move into a legal position after with little to no experience practicing law. 

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all excellent points, @Deadpool.  thank you for providing insight re those who have tried to make the move.

I work in environmental/Aboriginal law, and am open to municipal law work as well.  all of my summer, articling, volunteering, and post-call experience is in this area.  I'm currently anchored to Toronto, which has been the one thing really holding me back in terms of finding work in this field.  I feel like I've either interviewed at (sometimes multiple interviews) or applied to every place there is to work in this field in the city.  Toronto is certainly not a hub for this type of work and I'm finding the opportunities minimal as it's not necessarily a field that's gotten busier as a result of the pandemic.

I'm not planning to stay long-term (unless, of course, I love it), but was worried moreso about working in policy for a year and making the switch back at that time if I decide policy work isn't for me.

 

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24 minutes ago, anonymouslawyer said:

all excellent points, @Deadpool.  thank you for providing insight re those who have tried to make the move.

I work in environmental/Aboriginal law, and am open to municipal law work as well.  all of my summer, articling, volunteering, and post-call experience is in this area.  I'm currently anchored to Toronto, which has been the one thing really holding me back in terms of finding work in this field.  I feel like I've either interviewed at (sometimes multiple interviews) or applied to every place there is to work in this field in the city.  Toronto is certainly not a hub for this type of work and I'm finding the opportunities minimal as it's not necessarily a field that's gotten busier as a result of the pandemic.

I'm not planning to stay long-term (unless, of course, I love it), but was worried moreso about working in policy for a year and making the switch back at that time if I decide policy work isn't for me.

 

Because of the pandemic, it is a difficult time to be looking for a job now -- particularly in niche fields outside of corporate/commercial, family, labour and employment, personal injury and insurance defence, and US business immigration where most opportunities in Toronto seem to be in right now -- so I wouldn't give up. The fact that you landed a senior policy role in the federal government as a new call in a time like this is incredible. I wish you the best in this new role. I would definitely take it and see how it goes, all the while continuing to apply to environmental/aboriginal/municipal employers when the odd job posting shows up. I would also recommend joining these OBA sections and any other relevant groups on social media where you can network with lawyers in the field as job postings are often announced through word of mouth. 

The practice areas you want to go into are interesting. I certainly would not settle to do something else you are not interested in just because the jobs are there. You are approaching this the right way. Good luck. 

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Posted (edited)
13 hours ago, Deadpool said:

I can tell you that it is very difficult to move from a policy position to the DOJ. I know a few people in the current waiting pool in one of the departments in Toronto and they're all private practice and legal clinic lawyers. DOJ specifically cares if you have legal experience, and litigation is a big part and parcel of the work they do there. You may have a chance at the DOJ advisory roles in Ottawa but these are difficult to attain, and you'll still be competing with lawyers with legal experience. Policy experience is no substitute for legal experience for a place like the DOJ who have a line of experienced lawyers waiting to work there along with their clerkship candidates. 

I echo what Deadpool said. There are a lot of lawyers in policy roles, such as in the PM and EC pay groups, trying to break into the LP group. Unfortunately, internal postings for LP-01 positions (generally, lawyers with 0-4 years experience post-call) are very rare because the DOJ fills LP-01 positions with their own articling students and the SCC/FCA/FC/TCC law clerks through unadvertised processes. As a result, there’s not much use for internal only competitions and if they need additional people they’ll generally run an external competition.

Everyone I’ve heard of who transferred from a government policy role into the DOJ did so through networking and getting an unadvertised appointment. So if you take the policy job and want to get into the DOJ, do not rely on getting in through a formal internal posting. 

Edited by joeyman365
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If the policy position is in the same field, it would seem to be relevant experience and not just a "filler" position. I have no relative experience for this question, but would imagine the transfer from policy back to law would become more problematic the longer you held the policy position, but shouldn't be too problematic early on (and "I took an available position in my area, but am interested in moving back into law" is a decent sales pitch if you take a later job interview).

For example, if you did the policy job for 1 year, then went to move back to a firm, your "lost time" is less as you've hopefully gotten the relevant exposure to the law, but aren't senior enough that there's an issue in learning to be an associate (ie. handling grunt work). It may even be beneficial experience as it adds a different prospective to the problems. However, 5 years of policy before moving back? Might be a different story, as you are more closely aligned with a 2-3yr associate in realm of associate tasks you are familiar with, but probably don't want to be treated like an intro associate task-wise (all speculating, depends entirely on both policy experience and the tasks your transfer back into).

In short, you're not forever excluded from looking for openings while holding the policy job, so if it's of potential interest this may be a "FT is better than contract" conclusion.

And who knows, maybe you love the policy job?

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If your aim is to be in government, it's a different calculus than private.

Private firms seem to be more skeptical of policy roles, even in relevant subject matter. They prefer someone with an "interest" in the subject matter but who's picked up hard legal skills - even in a different subject.

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7 minutes ago, pzabbythesecond said:

If your aim is to be in government, it's a different calculus than private.

Private firms seem to be more skeptical of policy roles, even in relevant subject matter. They prefer someone with an "interest" in the subject matter but who's picked up hard legal skills - even in a different subject.

This is based on your extensive experience in private practice and hiring?

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5 minutes ago, Rashabon said:

This is based on your extensive experience in private practice and hiring?

This is based on my discussions with seasoned partners in the relevant niche area.

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16 hours ago, Deadpool said:

Because of the pandemic, it is a difficult time to be looking for a job now -- particularly in niche fields outside of corporate/commercial, family, labour and employment, personal injury and insurance defence, and US business immigration where most opportunities in Toronto seem to be in right now -- so I wouldn't give up. The fact that you landed a senior policy role in the federal government as a new call in a time like this is incredible. I wish you the best in this new role. I would definitely take it and see how it goes, all the while continuing to apply to environmental/aboriginal/municipal employers when the odd job posting shows up. I would also recommend joining these OBA sections and any other relevant groups on social media where you can network with lawyers in the field as job postings are often announced through word of mouth. 

The practice areas you want to go into are interesting. I certainly would not settle to do something else you are not interested in just because the jobs are there. You are approaching this the right way. Good luck. 

thanks for the reassurance @Deadpool.  these were the types of thoughts that I've been having as well.  I like your suggestion of joining the relevant OBA sections, and to continue networking with lawyers in the field.

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3 hours ago, joeyman365 said:

Everyone I’ve heard of who transferred from a government policy role into the DOJ did so through networking and getting an unadvertised appointment. So if you take the policy job and want to get into the DOJ, do not rely on getting in through a formal internal posting. 

that is exactly how I landed this current opportunity, and I will take that advice to heart if I decide to try to make the move to DOJ.

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2 hours ago, TKNumber3 said:

If the policy position is in the same field, it would seem to be relevant experience and not just a "filler" position. I have no relative experience for this question, but would imagine the transfer from policy back to law would become more problematic the longer you held the policy position, but shouldn't be too problematic early on (and "I took an available position in my area, but am interested in moving back into law" is a decent sales pitch if you take a later job interview).

For example, if you did the policy job for 1 year, then went to move back to a firm, your "lost time" is less as you've hopefully gotten the relevant exposure to the law, but aren't senior enough that there's an issue in learning to be an associate (ie. handling grunt work). It may even be beneficial experience as it adds a different prospective to the problems. However, 5 years of policy before moving back? Might be a different story, as you are more closely aligned with a 2-3yr associate in realm of associate tasks you are familiar with, but probably don't want to be treated like an intro associate task-wise (all speculating, depends entirely on both policy experience and the tasks your transfer back into).

In short, you're not forever excluded from looking for openings while holding the policy job, so if it's of potential interest this may be a "FT is better than contract" conclusion.

And who knows, maybe you love the policy job?

I appreciate your perspective on this @TKNumber3.  I've been having internal debates about whether it's better to land an opportunity practicing law outside of my practice area just to develop legal skills (while knowing full well that I'll be miserable doing the work), or landing something in my area of interest that may be considered "relevant experience" that could help with a transition back into law. I've been careful to discuss with hiring managers whether these policy opportunities would still allow me to use legal skills, and have questioned how much they work directly with relevant laws, and have been satisfied with the answers given such that I wouldn't be losing substantive knowledge. 

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2 hours ago, pzabbythesecond said:

If your aim is to be in government, it's a different calculus than private.

Private firms seem to be more skeptical of policy roles, even in relevant subject matter. They prefer someone with an "interest" in the subject matter but who's picked up hard legal skills - even in a different subject.

I have heard the same, even directly from my own mentors

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2 minutes ago, anonymouslawyer said:

I have heard the same, even directly from my own mentors

You know, we may even run in the same circles or possibly know each other without knowing it 😂

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5 minutes ago, pzabbythesecond said:

You know, we may even run in the same circles or possibly know each other without knowing it 😂

I wouldn't be surprised if we do! the bar in this practice area is so small!

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Posted (edited)

My experience on the west coast at the provincial (not federal level) is that it is difficult to move from policy to being a provincial lawyer.

 

There are of course different levels of policy work - some people develop big changes to legislation, are involved in negotiations with other governments, shape agreements and contracts and stuff.  That sort of background and knowledge may be of greater interest to the corresponding group of solicitors advising on those issues.  Your opportunities for the informal networking will also be greater.

 

Some policy work is just paper pushing.  Legions of drones regurgitating stakeholder messaging and fiddlefucking around on the margins of issues.

Edited by kurrika
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Posted (edited)

My impression is that someone on the cutting edge of indigenous policy work will have a greater degree of mobility back to law than say, a climate change policy analyst.

 

Not that there is anything wrong with climate change policy per se, but your going to get a lot more overlap with legal issues supporting a negotiating table for example  (i've done some of both (climate / negotiating)).

Edited by kurrika
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17 minutes ago, kurrika said:

My experience on the west coast at the provincial (not federal level) is that it is difficult to move from policy to being a provincial lawyer.

 

There are of course different levels of policy work - some people develop big changes to legislation, are involved in negotiations with other governments, shape agreements and contracts and stuff.  That sort of background and knowledge may be of greater interest to the corresponding group of solicitors advising on those issues.  Your opportunities for the informal networking will also be greater.

 

Some policy work is just paper pushing.  Legions of drones regurgitating stakeholder messaging and fiddlefucking around on the margins of issues.

Do you mind if I send you a DM about your experience/insights?  I'm weighing a couple of options in the policy sphere and would love to avoid inadvertently landing in a paper-pushing role

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