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Tips from the Top

|Written By Robert Todd

Law and politics are intimately intertwined. Canadian Lawyer 4Students went to four leading political figures to get their take on how law students with political aspirations should position themselves. We asked the following questions:

1. Why did you want to make the transition from law to politics

2. What’s the hardest part of being a politician, and how do you deal with it?

3. What’s your advice for a law student with political ambitions?

4. Is there a book you’ve read that has inspired you in your career?

5. Where’s your favourite place to celebrate an election win?

Martha Hall Findlay

Ontario Liberal MP 

1. I had long been interested in where the country was going. Politics was a logical progression for me, to be able to use both my legal and business backgrounds to affect policies I saw as important for Canada

2. Some find that being under such a public microscope is hard. For me, if you’re proud of what you’re trying to achieve, and how, the microscope isn’t the problem — in fact, it’s welcome in highlighting some of the important issues of the day. For me, the hardest part is juggling time. For MPs who want to work hard, there is no shortage of work to be done — constituency matters, events, and communications; standing committees, in which we review and amend legislation; caucus work; party issues; media interviews; writing opinion pieces; giving speeches; meetings with stakeholders. Because of these time demands, the life of an MP is very hard on families — the divorce rate is very high.

3. Get involved and get engaged in anything that interests you. I would counsel against getting involved in party politics too soon. I did not join the Liberal party until 2004 and had not been involved in anything partisan before then. Pick an environmental organization; a public affairs group; join your local ratepayer organization; help a group providing foreign aid; provide legal aid for new immigrants. The list is almost endless, and some kind of community, policy, or advocacy involvement will provide great experience for future political participation. If already keen on a party, get involved in your local riding association. And when an election comes along, go help a candidate you like.

4. Yes, of course, but far too many to pick only one. I loved biographies and autobiographies, and history and historical novels. There are many books about inspiring people meeting extraordinary challenges.

5. It’s not the place that matters, but who you are with. No victory can be celebrated without properly thanking the people without whom victory would not have happened. In Willowdale, we have a terrific group of people who work hard and laugh a lot. That is worth celebrating.

Michael Bryant

Ontario Liberal MPP, minister of Economic Development 

1. Law was always a means to the end of a political career, for me. It gave me skills and some experience that has served me well in my work as a local representative and an executive in the government.

2. There is no hardest part other than getting elected in the first place (see below). It's a fantastic calling and there are only opportunities, occasionally disguised as challenges. The harder the challenge, the more fun — for me.

3. You're best to be strategic. First, formulate a plan, determining when and where (geographically and jurisdictionally) you want to run. That involves some homework. Then imagine your future campaign material: imagine what you want it to say. Then execute the plan; fill in those blanks on your imaginary campaign material, gaining community credentials, professional experience, etc. Plus, you must network, network, network — which includes volunteering and fundraising for other politicians and their teams. Amend the plan where necessary.

4. Biographies on Canadian, U.S., and overseas politicians. But my inspiration came from my dad and grandfather, who were both municipal politicians when I was young.

5. The bigger the better. The Sports Cafe at Yonge and [St. Clair] in the great [Toronto] riding of St. Paul’s does the trick. For me, it's more about thanking volunteers and family than celebrating a personal achievement. No politician gets elected alone.

Leonard Krog

British Columbia NDP MLA 

1. From the time I was 10, I was interested in seeking political office at some point in my life. It was part of a long-term plan for my life. I did however become involved earlier than I anticipated, elected the first time at age 38 with young children. I ran as a result of the redistribution of provincial constituencies. In or out of office though, I have maintained my practising certificate because one should never regard politics as a life-long career.

2. The hardest part is reserving time for your family. By virtue of making the decision to pursue politics, you have already decided essentially to place your family second — and anyone who tells you the contrary is deluding themselves and failing to face the reality of modern political life, which is family destroying. Nevertheless, hopefully your family understands your contribution to public life, which can only be made successful by people whose families are prepared to sacrifice as well.

3. Develop your own career and skills and gather as many life experiences as you can. Take an active interest in your local constituency and/or riding association and keep your nose clean because everything you do in life will come back to assist you — or haunt you!

4. No particular books, but the biographies of political leaders such as TC Douglas, Dave Barrett, Sir John A. Macdonald, Lyndon Johnson, Sir Winston Churchill, etc. are always helpful.

5. My favourite place is wherever the people who have actually helped me get elected gather. Never flatter yourself that it is your charm, brilliance, and good looks that win the election. It is largely the party label and the hard-working volunteers who make it happen.

Thomas Marshall

Attorney general and minister of Justice, Newfoundland and Labrador 

1. Since my childhood I have had a strong interest in politics. I had been very active throughout my early life as a teenager and young adult and hoped someday to offer myself for public life. As a member of Parliament, my father, Jack Marshall, instilled upon me the value of public service and encouraged me to offer myself when the time was appropriate. The lessons my father taught me about being an elected official influe nce me each day. The main reason I wanted to enter public life was to help my province, and indeed my country, through public service. Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot to offer, but our elected officials were not always achieving what I felt we were capable of and deserved. To that point, I felt I could make a worthwhile contribution to my province and decided to run in the 2003 provincial general election.

2. The hardest part about being a politician certainly is time management, particularly as it relates to being able to spend time with your family. It is important to strike the right balance. As my district is located at the opposite end of the province as my ministerial office, I spend a significant amount of time away from home. I attempt to spend as many weekends as possible with my family but even when I am home it is a balance to address the needs of my constituents as well as my family. Support of your family is critical and I do not believe success in politics is possible without it.

3. The best advice I can give you is to work hard, but do not base your career on becoming a “politician.” Work hard at your legal career, learn as much as you can, enjoy it, and if you want to serve public life it will happen for you.

4. I’m sure libraries could be filled with books solely about politics and while I have read many of them, covering broad subjects of politics, I cannot say one particular book has inspired me. I can say that I have enjoyed reading about Bobby Kennedy and his too-short political career. I think if you want to be a successful lawyer, a successful politician, or a successful parent, friend, or individual, the more you read the more successful you can become.

5. My favourite place to celebrate an election win is Corner Brook with my family and election supporters.