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The pros and cons of. . . Fall 2008

St. John's, community legal clinics, Winnipeg, health law
|Written By Jeffrey H. Waugh

PRACTISING IN ST. JOHN’S

 

STACEY GRANT
McInnes Cooper    

Pros:
• The bar in St. John’s is relatively small and collegial. As a result, lawyers encounter each other much more frequently than in larger cities. This allows lawyers to be more social with each other, and often lends to more agreeable professional relationships and less confrontation on files.

• The opportunity to work and gain experience in a variety of areas. The size of the bar also lends to this advantage. There is a lot going on in St. John’s right now, and a lot of practice areas are being covered. It is perfect for getting your feet wet and trying out different areas.


• Hours in St. John’s are not as high as in Toronto, Calgary, or Vancouver. They are tough but fair.


• The cost of living in Newfoundland is relatively low.


• The economy in Newfoundland and Labrador has really taken off. It is an incredibly exciting time in the province.


• Newfoundland has a distinct and diverse culture. The unique and inviting character brings people home and draws others in.


Cons:
•Practice is more generalized than specialized.


•Courtroom experience can be hard to come by for junior litigators. The good news is that there are other ways to glean experience during that time. This is becoming more of a reality for all levels of practitioners as we move more towards dispute-resolution and mediation measures.


•Weather. Bring your raincoat! Rain, drizzle, and fog will be your closest companions.


•Isolation and travel. Being on an island, and as far east as you can go in Canada, can lead to isolation from your mainland counterparts. Travel to and from the province can be difficult at times.


COLIN FELTHAM
Roebothan McKay Marshall

Pros:
•St. John’s has a small, collegial bar. As a young lawyer you can very quickly develop close working relationships with your colleagues in the local bar, ranging from the most junior to the most senior members. This is particularly true in the litigation field.


• Scope of work and degree of file responsibility. There is plenty of opportunity to quickly develop progressive file responsibility and involvement. In the litigation sector a young lawyer can very quickly get into court and begin to hone advocacy and litigation skills.


• Quality of life in St. John’s is second to none. The natural and cultural attractions seem endless, and there are myriad restaurants and bars with excellent entertainment and nightlife. Yet, the city is very laid-back with a small-town charm. Most lawyers I know practising in St. John’s are able to find a good balance between their work and family lives.


• St. John’s is enjoying an economic revival, benefiting from oil and gas as well as other resource revenues. There is an optimism here like no other time in the history of our province. This translates into a steady supply of new and exciting opportunities in the practice of law.


• Affordability. While real estate and other prices are on the rise, when compared to many other Canadian cities St. John’s remains affordable when it comes to owning your home.

Cons:
• Climate. As much as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians love their province, there is no denying the weather could be better if you are a sun hound. Although, for winter weather lovers, there are few better places to live.


•There is little opportunity to develop a boutique practice of any kind. The market is just not large enough in most cases.



PRACTISING IN COMMUNITY LEGAL CLINICS

 

MARY VELTRI — staff lawyer, Kinna-aweya Legal Clinic (Thunder Bay, Ont.)

Pros:
•Using law to advance social justice is very satisfying.


•There are rich opportunities to network with other lawyers practising poverty law in the clinic system: through training sessions, case conferencing by web interface, and various law-reform campaigns.


•The clinics foster a strong spirit of collegiality and offer a supportive work environment.


•There is no stress associated with billing clients and running a business. Our entire overhead is covered, and we are paid a salary that is not dependent on the number of billable hours.


•Our clients like us because we provide free legal services.

Cons:
•We don’t get paid as much as lawyers in private practice or other government agencies. We are losing a lot of talented lawyers to other agencies that pay better salaries.


•The work can get monotonous at times.


•Representing the downtrodden can make you weary. Our clients’ lives are pretty depressing. It can lead to burnout.


ANDREA LUEY — staff lawyer, Kensington-Bellwoods Community Legal Services (Toronto, Ont.)

Pros:

•There is never a dull moment — clinic work is fast-paced and chaotic. Each workday brings new challenges and surprises.


•I get to use law as a tool to realize social justice. While I don’t always get perfect results, my legal advice and
representation really make a difference to the lives of my clients.


•Activism and public legal education are part of my job description. In addition to working on law-reform projects, I also get to provide legal education to low-income members of the community, as well as help them organize to assert their legal rights.


•Since I do many hearings, often on short notice, I am getting incredible advocacy experience for a young lawyer.


•There is a community among legal clinics — the legal workers at Ontario’s 80 community legal clinics are well connected. This is especially true of the many Toronto clinics, which are geographically close to each other. It’s like having our own little radical bar association.

Cons:
•My salary is modest. If I stay at this job for 10 years, I will still be making less than my private-bar peers from
my year of call do now.


•I am my own assistant. I do everything myself: letters, faxing, photocopying, filing. This takes some of my time away from doing the legal work.


•There can be times of high stress — the stakes are very high for my clients. I am aware that the quality of my work and the end results affect their basic human needs. That’s pressure!


•The cases are very fact-based. In preparing my cases I spend most of my time interviewing witnesses and constructing examination questions. Sometimes I miss the more academic side of law.


•I am often frustrated with administrative tribunals. There are some serious flaws in the system, which is sad given it is here where most regular people have their interaction with the justice system.


PRACTISING IN WINNIPEG

 

 
LILLIAN SENGMANY
MacKenzie & Sengmany LLP

Pros:
•The bar in Winnipeg is small, which allows for a great deal of collegiality and discourages “sharp” practice.


•Achieving a work-life balance in Winnipeg is possible; we have shorter commutes, lower costs of living, etc.


•The established lawyer base in Manitoba is aging and not enough young lawyers are staying to replace them; this provides, and will continue to provide, young lawyers who do choose to continue to practise in Manitoba lots of opportunity.


•A judiciary that takes an active interest in improving the legal system (e.g. the provincial court’s award-winning Domestic Violence Front End Project) and in fellowship events with the bar.


•Owing to the law society’s self-insurance initiative, we have extremely low insurance rates — $115 this year.

Cons:
•The bar in Winnipeg is small, and bad news travels fast, so preserving your reputation as professional and integral is essential.


• Winnipeg lawyers are not remunerated as handsomely as lawyers in other capital cities, but money isn’t everything.


•There are fewer options available for specialization.


•As a result of overregulation, a bloated public sector, and a shrinking private sector, there are few new private business starts.


•There are no interprovincial firms.


FARON J. TRIPPIER
Hill Dewar Vincent

Pros:
•There is a collegial atmosphere amongst members of the Manitoba bar.


•The local Winnipeg economy is doing well, and so is the legal profession. Most lawyers find that now is a good time to practise law in the city of Winnipeg, as far as the availability of work and commensurate remuneration are concerned.


•Whether you are in a small firm or a large firm, lawyers have the opportunity to be exposed to a high quality of work and an excellent client base. There are many lawyers in the city of Winnipeg who are at law firms not in the downtown area who have excellent practices.


•Winnipeg has a reputation for being a “big small town.” This means that lawyers are known to each other and known by the courts. In this sense, it is possible to build a good reputation and basis for future referrals of work.

Cons:
•Hourly rates are not as high in Winnipeg as they are in other centres.


•In a commercial context and in a litigation context, it seems other centres will have access to larger commercial transactions and larger litigation matters than Winnipeg would have on a regular basis.


•In particular, starting salaries for young lawyers in Winnipeg are not as high as they are in other centres.


PRACTISING HEALTH LAW

 

 
LINDA PARSONS
Davis LLP (Vancouver, B.C.)

Pros:
•Practising health law is multidisciplinary and often involves issues within administrative law, general corporate-commercial law, litigation, labour and employment law, intellectual property law, privacy law, tort law, property law, human rights law, among other areas.


•Each day you see matters in news headlines — locally, nationally, and internationally — that are of direct relevance to your practice.


•Health law clients are often focused on the impact that their initiatives can have, and genuinely care about contributing to a greater cause.


•Because health law involves such a wide range of legal practice areas and health policy will remain an important public policy issue, health lawyers can expect to experience a steady stream of work.

Cons:
•Some health law clients may have established budgets and fee sensitivities for working with legal advisers. In these cases, optimal time management and prioritization must be applied, to maximize the legal services provided for the client, while ensuring appropriate fees for work completed by the adviser.


•The socio-economic and/or political challenges inherent in a health law practice are usually big and complex. Legal solutions are often used as “blunt instruments” to move things forward; however, optimal results can be difficult to achieve.


•Navigating the grey areas within health legislation. Providing a definitive answer to a legal issue can be difficult because the applicable law may be unclear, inconsistent, and is constantly changing.


•There are not very many lawyers or law firms that practise health law, and therefore it can sometimes be difficult to find peer support.


MARTINA MUNDEN
Patterson Law (Truro, N.S.)

Pros:
•The combination of ethics with law takes the practice outside the typical law framework — it provides for an interesting and challenging practice.


•There are many components of health law, which provide a great deal of variety to the practice. It is never boring or repetitive.


•The opportunity to work in various sectors — law firms, in-house counsel to hospitals and health boards, government (both federal- and provincial-level policy issues), academia.


•Health law is a smaller practice area, which means that you get to know other practitioners in the field quite well.

Cons:
•In working for hospitals and health boards many issues that involve patient care need to be dealt with on an emergency basis. This can be quite stressful.


•Doctors don’t like lawyers!


•The opportunities to maintain a full-time health law practice in private practice in Nova Scotia (and possibly other smaller provinces as well) are somewhat limited.


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