Working in Law
As a practicing lawyer, you can work in the private or public sectors:
Private Practice: In private practice, you work as a sole practitioner or as part of a firm. You service the needs of individuals and clients and advocate for them in the legal system. Many private practitioners specialize in a particular area of law, however, some sole practitioners are capable of practicing many different kinds of law.
Public Service: Lawyers in the public service work for the government, and by extension ‘the people’. Crown prosecutors are a prime example, and they work for the Ministry of the Attorney General. There are also lawyers assigned to different ministries in the provincial and federal governments. A legal education is excellent preparation for work in government, as you will study Canadian political and judicial institutions in great detail in the course of your studies.
Public Interest: Lawyers who work in the public interest may work in legal aid or take on pro bono cases. Many law programs require students to satisfy a public interest requirement before graduation, so you will have a taste of this kind of work well before you graduate.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
Obtaining a legal education takes a lot of time, preparation, and it is exceedingly costly. In fact, tuition fees at many universities are increasing, and the cost of a legal education has skyrocketed since fees were deregulated. The annual tuition at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, which is the most expensive in Canada, exceeds $25,000 a year. It can be a worthy investment, but before you go there are some things to consider:
- Opportunity Cost: You will miss out on potential income for the three years you are in law school.
- Expense: As mentioned, the cost of a legal education is immense. Unless your parents, family, or partner are able to support you financially, you will likely have to take loans from the government or a bank. It will take years to pay them back, and while you hold them interest will accrue.
- Mental Health Issues: Studies have shown that law students suffer disproportionately from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. If you have these tendencies, be sure to reach out for help and support while in school.
- Competition: Law is an extremely competitive field, and you must be prepared to write lots of exams and tests to qualify for school. In fact, many exams count for 100% of your final grade. If you are bad at writing tests, reconsider your decision to attend law school.
- Abysmal Job Market: Since the end of the recent recession, the legal job market has been tough. Many students have difficulty securing legal placements, articling positions, and associate roles. It is no longer a fabled ‘golden parachute’.
- Versatility: A legal degree is extremely versatile. Beyond the practice of law, it equips you with core reasoning and analytical skills that are useful in many other professions such as politics and business.
- Value: Like other professional degrees, a law degree is extremely valuable in and of itself. However, unlike most professional degrees (with the exception of medicine), it is extremely hard to gain admission to law school, and therefore there are fewer graduates in the labour market. As such, lawyers who are able to secure work tend to be compensated well.
- Perspective: The law is extremely complex, and a legal education will give you a unique appreciation of the justice system.
Canadian Bar Association – cba.org
Law School Admission Test – lsac.org
Law School Forum – lawstudents.ca
Ontario Law School Application Service – ouac.on.ca/olsas