The biggest challenges for new lawyers // Bencher Election Watch
On Monday April 11th, 2011Print
On Monday April 11th, 2011Print
“What, in your opinion, is the single most important issue affecting young lawyers in Ontario?”
This was the lead-off question in a survey Precedent sent to bencher election candidates in their first 15 years of practice. This segment of the candidate field is a diverse bunch, and this is reflected in their answers — which touch on everything from work-life balance and mentoring to debt and the lack of articling positions.
We’re proud to provide a forum for these candidates to express their ideas. Our intent with this coverage is not to endorse one candidate or group of candidates over any others; we simply feel that, since lawyers near the beginning of their careers tend to have fewer resources and shorter contact lists than their longer-serving colleagues, an effort should be made to shine a spotlight on those who have chosen to run for bencher at or near the beginning of their careers.
Here, then, is the first set of answers in our bencher election survey.
Q: What, in your opinion, is the single most important issue affecting young lawyers in Ontario?
In my view, most issues I hear about are some manifestation of work-life balance. There are open questions as to where one should draw the balances between future career progression, family and friends, money and debt management, mentoring and networking, work hours, quality/type of work and many other things. Each person also draws the balances differently. Regardless, we must acknowledge that the practice of law has changed a lot over the past few decades, and there has been a significant corresponding impact on the lives of young lawyers. We should try to help young lawyers where we can on these issues by examining and understanding them and their causes. As well, I believe that young lawyers need to take a break sometimes and critically think about what they need and want to be happy. After all, the path of least resistance often involves one avoiding such analysis, and it is only after such an analysis is done that one can take start to take steps to achieve any resulting goals.
Law school debt is the most important issue facing young lawyers in Ontario. Students commonly graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt. The high monthly debt repayments over a ten or 20 year period, often lead students interested in non-traditional law careers, especially in the public interest sector, to reluctantly turn away from pursuing areas of law they love. Law graduates are commonly advised to get a well-paying traditional law job upon graduation, stay there for a few years, pay their debts down and get good training. Only after years of this can they leave to pursue other interests. Faced with this discouraging advice, a new law grad passionate about public interest law, or hoping to use their law degree in a non-traditional way, may begin to regret their decision to become a lawyer. Moreover, looming debt adds extra stress to the search for an articling position and post-articling employment. Every year, some law graduates fail to find an articling position or take low paying or unpaid positions to meet the requirement of being called to the bar. They must then pay their debts without even the benefit of being a lawyer.
The most important issue facing young lawyers is the lack of articling positions. Law students graduate with very large student debts. The lack of sufficient articling positions is an access to justice issue. The public will suffer as many talented students will either pick another career or decide not to enter the profession for lack of financial resources. Unfortunately, this issue seems likely to get worse — especially if Ontario opens another law school, as it is scheduled to do.
Practicing law in some ways is like boxing. You can study the sport for years but the real learning begins in the ring. You can get knocked down but each time you get back up you’re a little stronger and a little wiser. And like boxing, you will be better off if you are taught the right techniques from the start. I think it is important to provide new lawyers with resources that instill the right habits at an early stage. For example, support in the form of mentorship, effective practice management, and balancing work and life are all important things to know, and the earlier the better.
Katherine I. Henshell:
The cost of membership and insurance creates a huge expense on young lawyers who choose to enter the profession as sole practitioners. Young lawyers not only have to build their client base but they have to generate enough monthly revenue to support running an office and paying of expenses. Young lawyers have to be businessmen/women first and lawyers second. High start up costs prohibit young lawyers from becoming sole practitioners.
Upon being called to the Bar, young lawyers are seeking to find a meaningful job to start their careers and earn a livelihood. Many do not look to our regulator for assistance. This disconnect with our Law Society is reflected in the few that even bother to vote in the Bencher Elections. We need a voice to represent this segment of the membership.
I think that the most important issue facing young lawyers today is financial stability. The crushing debt load which afflicts most of my peers in combination with the exceptionally competitive job market and employers who are increasingly looking to limit their “long term financial” liabilities has created a situation where many young lawyers are struggling to achieve financial security.
Retention: This is not a problem unique to women in the private sector. It is not uncommon for male lawyers in the public sector to move around at least once in the first two years of practice.
A. Michael Rothe:
With my articles only ten short years behind me and having hired my first articling student last year, I believe the single most important issue affection young lawyers today is the lack of quality articles. With the ever increasing cost of a legal education and the economy taking some time to recover to previously robust levels, it is more difficult than ever for a articling students to find articles which not only provide adequate compensation but actually provide the student with a level of training and experience that will not only make them marketable once they are finally called to the bar but more importantly will provide them with the tools necessary to pursue a successful career in law.
Lack of mentorship for younger lawyers, especially those lawyers who choose to strike out on their own and start their own law firm/practice.
Osgoode Hall photo by Oliver Mallich