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The pros & cons of practising...

The Pros and Cons
|Written By Zachary Pedersen

Practising in the 905, in Saint John, N.B., Aboriginal Law, Family Law


Practising in the 905

Annie Yektaeian, Epstein & Associates, Newmarket and Richmond Hill, Ont.

PROS:

• The 905 area is not oversaturated with firms and lawyers, so even though the population is smaller, you can have a healthy-sized practice.

• The bar is smaller, so you frequently work with the same lawyers, which can be advantageous because, not only do you build camaraderie, but you can learn each other’s styles and tendencies, which is always a boon to the client.

• If you’re working in a 905 firm, you’re almost certainly working at a smaller firm where the quality of your work is stressed over and beyond the numbers that you bring in.

CONS:

• Because of the smaller population, there are certain times of year when work slows down.

• There can be a great deal of travel to surrounding areas and courthouses because the smaller northern areas don’t always have a great many legal practitioners, which leads to litigants in those areas hiring from the 905.

• It is impossible to work here without a vehicle, as the public transit system is limited, to say the least.

Andrew Feldstein, Feldstein Family Law Group PC, Markham, Ont.

PROS:

• Family law touches almost everyone. The separation agreements we help clients with affect them for the rest of their lives.

• Practising family law where your clients live, in the suburbs, makes sense. Family law clients are stressed because their relationship has failed and their whole world will change. In the type of law you want to practise, think hard about where your clients are and how far they want to travel to buy legal services. Greater Toronto is a big geography with lots of legal talent; clients have choices and they vote with their feet.

• The women-to-men lawyer ratio is better in many small and mid-size firms. Meanwhile, this continues to be an issue for women lawyers in big Bay Street law firms.

• Commercial real estate is less expensive in the suburbs than downtown, generally speaking. This is good for your bottom line: the cost of setting up an office may be significantly less in the suburbs.

• Clients are increasingly sensitive to posh offices, as they realize that a portion of their legal fees are likely paying for luxurious offices. Smart lawyers are sensitive to the optics of their office space to their overall reputation.

• Traffic and parking are easier than downtown Toronto. For lawyers wanting a better work-life balance, practising in the suburbs makes sense.

CONS:

• You can see the other party while shopping in the neighbourhood. For example, you can get an order denying access and then see that person at the grocery store. This is much less likely in Toronto.

• Family law is stressful and emotional for lawyers, too. Do not allow yourself to get into a negative headspace. You have to take care of your health, including your fitness, to give savvy and balanced advice to your clients.

Practising aboriginal law

Michael Clark, MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP, Calgary

PROS:

• The work can cover a broad range of legal issues, from corporate and commercial,

to labour, employment, and litigation — and much more.

• Very often there is direct access to key decision-makers, even for junior lawyers.

• The close connection with clients and the project-specific character of much of the

work generally results in tangible outcomes influenced fairly directly by the lawyer.

• The field introduces the added complexity of jurisdictional issues to what might

otherwise be routine commercial work, adding an additional level of challenge.

• There are significant opportunities for growth in the practice area.

CONS:

• Working on commercial developments within the confines of the Indian Act can slow processes compared to off-reserve projects. This can cause frustration for everyone involved. Still, there are opportunities to work around the limitations and succeeding here can be a very positive thing.

Allan Donovan, Donovan & Co., Vancouver

PROS:

A unique opportunity to assist in the historic process of reconciling Canada with aboriginal nations.

• Aboriginal law practice is multi-faceted. On a daily basis, aboriginal law practitioners draw on a wide range of legal principles and techniques.

• Aboriginal practice brings lawyers into contact with rich and diverse aboriginal traditions and cultures. This is an opportunity to learn about our shared history as we try to resolve long outstanding issues and plan for the future.

• Often the legal counsel for government and industry will work collaboratively with counsel for First Nations to work out

creative and innovative solutions that provide benefits to all parties.

• It’s fun and interesting. The law in this area is evolving swiftly and practice requires collaboration with a wide range of experts in a variety of disciplines (from anthropology to forestry to energy production).

CONS:

• The legal process cannot always provide adequate remedies for historic injustice. Cash compensation for wrongs done to

children at residential schools, for example, can’t ever erase what happened. The limits of the legal process can sometimes

be frustrating for legal counsel (and even more so for the client).

• The process can sometimes be more adversarial than seems necessary. Governments and industry will sometimes spend

more money defending a claim or issue than it would have cost them to settle it in the first place.

• Issues that are decades or centuries old cannot be resolved overnight. Aboriginal law practitioners need to have the patience, resilience, and determination to work on issues that may take years, or even decades, to properly resolve.

Practising in Saint John, N.B.

Chris Marr, Stewart McKelvey

PROS:

• The bar in Saint John is very collegial and co-operative. Like the lawyers here, businesses in Saint John tend to be co-operative when working out the wrinkles in transactions, which reduces a lot of unnecessary stress.

• Saint John is home to a number of world-class businesses where you can be exposed to some of the most sophisticated transactions in the country. Saint John serves as the corporate hub to facilitate regional, national, and international transactions, as well as other business ventures.

• The work in Saint John exposes you to several areas of law and provides a multidisciplinary perspective to the client’s issue. This produces well-rounded lawyers who are ready to assist a client with many matters and a view to the big picture.

• Saint John is home to some of the friendliest people in the country. It is Canada’s first city and has history, charm, and character in spades, with its own unique culture and way of living. It’s no wonder we receive more than 10 times our own population in visitors every year!

• Saint John provides a great quality of life. Housing is very affordable, and the city balances urban conveniences with an abundance of nature and beauty. Many offices overlook the breathtaking Bay of Fundy, one of Canada’s natural wonders, and within a 15-minute walk or drive, you can be on a river or lake, in the woods, or standing where land ends and ocean begins.

CONS:

• The Maritimes are hospitable, but experience a lot of inhospitable weather. Bring your raincoat, windbreaker, and winter jacket and you’ll be fine. If you think you’ve seen fog, wait for a foggy day in Saint John!

• There are only a few firms that attract high-level transactional work and most corporate lawyers tend to have more generalized practices with areas of specialized focus developing over a longer period of time.

Scott Brittain, City Solicitor’s Office

PROS:

• Saint John has a very collegial bar with an active local law society (established in 1878) that encourages the involvement of law students and all members of the bar, regardless of how junior or senior, through regular continuing legal education sessions and social events.

• Saint John is the home of offices for each of the three leading regional law firms (Stewart McKelvey, Cox & Palmer, and McInnes Cooper), as well as several established, dynamic, and growing local firms, which offers an excellent mix to prospective summer and articling students in terms of both size and variety of work.

• Saint John is the centre of industry and commerce in New Brunswick, which means there is an excellent range and quality of legal work available across many practice areas.

• Saint John has a burgeoning “foodie” scene, with many great restaurants and bars situated in the uptown area in historic buildings dating back to the Victorian period and many great housing opportunities at an affordable price.

CONS:

• As is the case with most cities the size of Saint John, air travel can be a challenge and more expensive than out of large urban hubs. But, service continues to improve with greater competition and it is now possible to inexpensively travel directly to many resort destinations between December and April.

Practising family law

Christine Murray, Cassels Murray, Victoria, B.C.

PROS:

• You can help your clients achieve positive results and changes during incredibly difficult and pivotal times in their life.

• There are many different dispute resolution methods (mediation/arbitration/negotiation/litigation) and practical solutions you can use to help your clients.

• You practise in an area of law that is rarely boring (it can feel like reading People magazine).

• You get to meet and work with interesting and positive people the majority of the time — clients, financial professionals, divorce coaches, and other professionals and experts.

• You can have the opportunity to build your own practice and start your own boutique firm.

• Even as a junior lawyer you can get significant court exposure.

CONS:

• Dealing with client expectations that are unrealistic or unsupported by the law can be stressful.

• It is an area of law that can lead to burnout as you are constantly confronted by adversarial and emotional situations.

• Court and trial preparation is time-consuming and can lead to very long hours of work.

• It can be hard to leave work at the office and get a true break from your practice — family law clients often have situations arise that they would like advice on or feedback on at all hours of the day (and night).

Jennifer Samara Shuber, Basman Smith LLP, Toronto

PROS:

• Family law is about people: their rights, entitlements, families, children, finances, etc. You are up close and personal, dealing with issues that affect a person’s day-to-day life.

• Every person has their own story. Family law clients may all be dealing with similar issues, but everyone has a unique and interesting perspective. Family law clients are a diverse group, with a wide range of cultural experiences and coming from different socio-economic backgrounds.

• There is a lot of variety when it comes to what makes up the practice of family law: client meetings; drafting; preparing financial statements; attending in court, on a mediation, or an arbitration; communicating with opposing counsel; negotiating; participating in a disclosure meeting following a custody and access assessment . . . the list is endless. No two days are ever the same.

• Family law is constantly changing in order to address new social structures and relationships (same-sex marriage, for example) or new technology and its related challenges (such as assisted reproductive technology). It is an exciting practice area that is always evolving.

• Family law touches many other practice areas, including wills and estates, real estate, immigration, business law, tax, and many more. The practice of family law also intersects with mental health (social work, psychiatry, and psychology), business valuation, medicine, and myriad other interesting areas. Family lawyers, therefore, have the opportunity to always be learning and expanding their knowledge of the law and much more.

• The family law bar is small and collegial. There is always someone to call for advice or a different take on a case.

CONS:

• Since family law is always evolving, you need to thrive on new experiences and be able to be creative about problem solving. Family lawyers can’t be afraid of unchartered territory.

• Family lawyers are typically contacted by clients who are at a crisis point. This means family law clients are usually emotional, sometimes irrational, and frequently demanding.

• Since the practice deals with intimate and personal aspects of a client’s life, a family lawyer has to empathize and sympathize without being drawn into issues and conflict. Retaining professional distance is key to properly advising clients.

• The general public does not know how family law works. What they do know is often incorrect and inaccurate. Clients are often unhappy when they learn of the impact of the law on their rights and entitlements from a family lawyer.

• No one plans or puts money away for a divorce. This means the high cost of legal services is of great concern to clients. When combined with the fact family lawyers are often not great business people, it means getting paid can be an issue.

• The family law system is the best we have, not the best it could be. The existing framework can be costly, cumbersome, and inefficient. Working in the current system can be frustrating — for lawyers and clients.

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