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Switching Career Path Post-Articles

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I applied to over 50 different articling positions through the formal recruit and did not get a single interview. I was then able to get an articling position at a mid-sized firm through networking. This firm only practices in the areas of business law, real estate, family, and wills and estates. However, I really want to work in public interest with specific interests in mental health, disability law, human rights and constitutional law. I feel like I have just ruined my chances of pursuing a career in what I really want because I didn't have enough experience/good enough grades to get an articling position that I am really passionate about. Is there any hope of me being able to get a job more suited to my interests even if during my articles I am not gaining experience in those areas? 

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Posted (edited)

I can't speak to other provinces, but if you're interested in mental health law I can assure you that in BC at least you would have no problem taking on Mental Health Review Panel hearing files after you get called. They always have trouble finding enough lawyers willing to take those files on and if you sign up for the list CLAS will beg you to take them. I don't imagine that the situation is much different in other provinces, as this is simply not an area many lawyers are interested in.

The only caveat I would issue is that I heard that more lawyers were dipping into this area during COVID as a result of their practices suffering, but that has only made the files slightly less abundant and readily available than usual, and I imagine most of those extra lawyers won't stick with this once things are back to normal.

Edited by CleanHands
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Do you have things showing interest in those areas otherwise? You're not a lost cause in any case, but that would help.

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4 hours ago, pzabbythesecond said:

Do you have things showing interest in those areas otherwise? You're not a lost cause in any case, but that would help.

Yes, I have done some legal and non-legal volunteer work to demonstrate an interest in these areas but I had no luck getting an articling position. I hope to volunteer with Access Pro Bono during my articles as well. 

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5 hours ago, CleanHands said:

I can't speak to other provinces, but if you're interested in mental health law I can assure you that in BC at least you would have no problem taking on Mental Health Review Panel hearing files after you get called. They always have trouble finding enough lawyers willing to take those files on and if you sign up for the list CLAS will beg you to take them. I don't imagine that the situation is much different in other provinces, as this is simply not an area many lawyers are interested in.

The only caveat I would issue is that I heard that more lawyers were dipping into this area during COVID as a result of their practices suffering, but that has only made the files slightly less abundant and readily available than usual, and I imagine most of those extra lawyers won't stick with this once things are back to normal.

Thank you, that is very helpful information! 

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There are very few summer student and articling student opportunities in those areas of law and public interest positions generally. Don't be disheartened that you were not able to secure one of these unicorn positions. The ones that exist also have little to no hireback after articles. The good news is that there are many more opportunities in these areas as a lawyer. So, get called to the bar and pursue the type of jobs that you are truly interested in. I would also join the relevant bar association sections and social media groups and network with lawyers working in the fields. 

Of course, this doesn't mean half-assing your articles. You want to work hard and leave on good terms with strong references. 

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9 minutes ago, Deadpool said:

There are very few summer student and articling student opportunities in those areas of law and public interest positions generally. Don't be disheartened that you were not able to secure one of these unicorn positions. The ones that exist also have little to no hireback after articles. The good news is that there are many more opportunities in these areas as a lawyer. So, get called to the bar and pursue the type of jobs that you are truly interested in. I would also join the relevant bar association sections and social media groups and network with lawyers working in the fields. 

Of course, this doesn't mean half-assing your articles. You want to work hard and leave on good terms with strong references. 

Thank you, it always feels better to have someone else reassure you! I will definitely be putting my best foot forward in my articling position/keeping an open mind but my heart is telling me public interest. I am very grateful to have secured an articling position, especially in light of Covid so I won't be taking it for granted. 

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Can you get on to any litigation files as part of the firm's family law practice? It sounds to me like building up a base of litigation experience - in whatever field - would be an asset to getting the kinds of jobs you want.

Also, if the 'business law' area includes any employment law, there may be a potential path to human rights law through there.

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15 hours ago, CleanHands said:

this is simply not an area many lawyers are interested in.

Do you have an idea of why it doesn't draw a lot of interest? 

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25 minutes ago, legallybrunette3 said:

Do you have an idea of why it doesn't draw a lot of interest? 

Yes.

It is one of the worst paying areas of law, but that's a secondary reason.

The main reason is that, put bluntly, sadly most lawyers don't want to work with "crazy" clients.

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3 minutes ago, CleanHands said:

Yes.

It is one of the worst paying areas of law, but that's a secondary reason.

The main reason is that, put bluntly, sadly most lawyers don't want to work with "crazy" clients.

A massive third reason is most lawyers don't want to work with that trauma for the rest of their career, and live with it for the rest of their lives.

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, pzabbythesecond said:

A massive third reason is most lawyers don't want to work with that trauma for the rest of their career, and live with it for the rest of their lives.

I'm not sure what you're talking about, to be honest.

I found my mental health clients to often have amazing senses of humour, to have dignity in the face of their challenges, and to be inspirational and make me want to be a better person. I certainly didn't find it "traumatic" working with them and there's nothing negative that I have to "live with" as a result, even though their situations as well as the RPH processes and outcomes were certainly often upsetting.

Edited to add: Criminal law is infinitely more "traumatic" due to the disclosure materials involved, but that area of law doesn't have the same issues with lack of interest from lawyers. You're being too generous here about the motivations of most lawyers for not wanting to take RPH files.

Edited by CleanHands
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7 minutes ago, CleanHands said:

I'm not sure what you're talking about, to be honest.

I found my mental health clients to often have amazing senses of humour, to have dignity in the face of their challenges, and to be inspirational and make me want to be a better person. I certainly didn't find it "traumatic" working with them and there's nothing negative that I have to "live with" as a result, even though their situations as well as the RPH processes and outcomes were certainly often upsetting.

Edited to add: Criminal law is infinitely more "traumatic" due to the disclosure materials involved, but that area of law doesn't have the same issues with lack of interest from lawyers. You're being too generous here about the motivations of most lawyers for not wanting to take RPH files.

Fair enough. I'll defer here. I really would have thought mental health files would involve vicarious trauma.

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6 hours ago, whereverjustice said:

Can you get on to any litigation files as part of the firm's family law practice? It sounds to me like building up a base of litigation experience - in whatever field - would be an asset to getting the kinds of jobs you want.

Also, if the 'business law' area includes any employment law, there may be a potential path to human rights law through there.

The law firm said they are trying to expand their family law practice and I did express a specific interest in family law in my interviews so I  I hope I will have some opportunities there. Unfortunately, they don't do any employment law :( 

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5 hours ago, CleanHands said:

Yes.

It is one of the worst paying areas of law, but that's a secondary reason.

The main reason is that, put bluntly, sadly most lawyers don't want to work with "crazy" clients.

Do you not think it's mostly pay? That seems to be why most lawyers don't do public interest. Not saying that's a good reason, but it does seem to be the primary one. 

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Just now, Starling said:

Do you not think it's mostly pay? That seems to be why most lawyers don't do public interest. Not saying that's a good reason, but it does seem to be the primary one. 

In the case of mental health law specifically I feel quite confident that pay is not the main reason. I've had conversations about this with multiple lawyers who have worked in this area, and a professor who has done research and written reports on issues with representation in this area, and this impression was the consensus opinion of all of them.

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Just now, CleanHands said:

In the case of mental health law specifically I feel quite confident that pay is not the main reason. I've had conversations about this with multiple lawyers who have worked in this area, and a professor who has done research and written reports on issues with representation in this area, and this impression was the consensus opinion of all of them.

Interesting, that makes sense! I've known people who also did those types of files and they also found them quite rewarding. 

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Just now, Starling said:

Interesting, that makes sense! I've known people who also did those types of files and they also found them quite rewarding. 

I totally agree with that perspective. I won't be able to do RPHs while articling but I'm looking forward to getting back into running them some time after being called.

Just so I don't give people an overly rosy impression, I should mention that indeed some clients in that area can be very difficult. But not all or even most fall into that category. Most of them are very reasonable and grateful for the help and to have someone finally listen to their side of things.

Ethical issues around capacity, instructions, etc, are also a minefield so anyone who wants to do this work should think about such things beforehand so they don't have to figure out what the right thing to do is in the moment when put on the spot.

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16 minutes ago, Starling said:

 

Do you not think it's mostly pay? That seems to be why most lawyers don't do public interest. Not saying that's a good reason, but it does seem to be the primary one. 

I think the main reason is because there are very few public interest opportunities in law school, they are seldom advertised, and they don't pay well. Like most professions, lawyers don't want to backtrack on everything they've done up to that point in their career and many public interest positions call for experienced lawyers and don't hire law students and juniors. A lot of lawyers who've started building their careers in non-public interest fields don't want to leave everything they worked up to -- especially when they may also have student debt and family obligations to think about -- in order to pursue the uncertainty surrounding public interest fields. 

I think if public interest positions were more widely disseminated in law schools in the OCI recruit, there would be more students and lawyers pursuing those opportunities right from the beginning. I'm a few years out of law school and it's still difficult for someone in my year of call to secure a government or public interest opportunity more than it is to work at a law firm that does corporate/commercial, labour and employment, family, personal injury, insurance defence, etc. which are more commonly practiced by a lot more people and the jobs are advertised everywhere. 

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7 minutes ago, Deadpool said:

I think the main reason is because there are very few public interest opportunities in law school, they are seldom advertised, and they don't pay well. Like most professions, lawyers don't want to backtrack on everything they've done up to that point in their career and many public interest positions call for experienced lawyers and don't hire law students and juniors. A lot of lawyers who've started building their careers in non-public interest fields don't want to leave everything they worked up to -- especially when they may also have student debt and family obligations to think about -- in order to pursue the uncertainty surrounding public interest fields. 

I think if public interest positions were more widely disseminated in law schools in the OCI recruit, there would be more students and lawyers pursuing those opportunities right from the beginning. I'm a few years out of law school and it's still difficult for someone in my year of call to secure a government or public interest opportunity more than it is to work at a law firm that does corporate/commercial, labour and employment, family, personal injury, insurance defence, etc. which are more commonly practiced by a lot more people and the jobs are advertised everywhere. 

Yes, I think that's a really good point. And the very few public interest articling positions they did have were very, very competitive. 

I did not mean my initial comment as a dig either. I do understand (and relate!) to people not wanting to hop straight to public interest as well and wanting to make a bit more money to pay off debts. I have friends with ~$100k in debt from undergrad and law school. 

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