Law Matters | Winter 2017-18



When I first considered applying to law school, and mentioned this intent to family and friends, two schools of thought immediately emerged: those who viewed a law degree broadly, as a “golden ticket” granting entry to limitless fascinating career opportunities; and those who viewed a law degree narrowly, as a discrete technical degree preparing you for a slim set of options. I fall in the middle. While a law degree can be a stepping stone to many interesting careers in law, business, politics, and beyond, it is still a degree which, empirically speaking, tends to lead to certain job markets. But those markets are more diverse than you might think. This edition of Law Matters explores that diversity.

Whether you are a first-year law student, or a twenty-year call, I firmly believe that one’s enjoyment of their career (legal or otherwise) rests on its alignment with their personal values, not those of others. For example, your personal fulfillment will largely depend, not on whether others value how big your latest deal was, but on whether you genuinely value it (or, whether you genuinely value other people valuing it; hey, we’re only human). It is not always easy to interrogate what values we hold, but in her article in this issue (see pg. 19), Karmen Masson includes a series of questions we should all be asking ourselves as we reflect on what we want, and need, in our legal careers. She also, critically, details the professional counselling services available to those experiencing barriers to exploring alternate career paths in law.

I have friends in myriad practice environments, and those environments all include a mix of happy and unhappy lawyers. A firm’s size (small, medium, or large), subject matter (criminal, commercial, or constitutional), location (small town, big city, remote community, or international), and prestige (relatively unknown or well-established), simply cannot account for whether or not any one person will actually like spending time there. So what should you do? Know yourself; reflect; and be vigilant in preserving your happiness and mental health, while pursuing a fulfilling career, and more importantly, a balanced life.

The articles in this edition of Law Matters will, I hope, help you in this introspective journey. Law school recruitment events already provide more than enough information about the traditional “big firm” career path. Accordingly, we have strived, in this edition, to provide some background on alternate paths: international; entrepreneurial; small town; pro bono; and policy. Depending on your interests, one of these may just be your perfect fit.

Beverley Spencer (at pg. 7) discusses the Young Lawyers International Program, which provides junior lawyers with invaluable internship experiences that help those lawyers distill the values they hold, and the career paths that will reflect those values. Andrea James (at pgs. 8-9) discusses “Jamesco”, her unique entrepreneurial path in the law. In my experience, lawyers who start up their own shop consistently describe the same core regret: not doing it sooner. Rob Harvie, QC (at pgs. 10-11) discusses the virtues of small town practice. Some of the happiest lawyers I know — regardless of where they grew up — currently practice in smaller centres. From more reasonable hours, to greater responsibility early in their careers, small town practice has a lot to offer. Kendall Moholitny (at pg. 23) describes the rewarding experience of practicing as a staff lawyer in a community legal clinic. When I was in commercial practice, many of my most fulfilling experiences involved working with pro bono clients. Kendall’s account confirms the passion and gratification that a pro bono legal career can offer. Lastly, Katherine Mackenzie (at pgs. 24-25) discusses her experience with the Alberta Law Reform Institute, a fascinating role balancing legal analysis, policy recommendations, and collaborative discourse.

Whether you are just starting your career, or are reflecting on where your career has come so far, I hope that these articles assist your reflection as to where you are today, and where you would like to be in the future.

Joshua Sealy-Harrington
February 2, 2018