When it comes to legal positions for lawyers just starting their careers, the first thoughts are usually to work as an associate at a law firm, as in-house counsel, or for the government. While these will remain common paths for many lawyers, the supply of junior lawyers is currently outstripping demand for these jobs. Fortunately, there are a number of interesting opportunities that are not only worth considering, but may even be a better fit when it comes to work-life balance or just personal tastes.
Practice outside the major cities
While there is an abundance of young lawyers looking for associate positions in Canada’s major cities, the situation is quite different in smaller communities, with many rural areas experiencing lawyer shortages. For a variety of reasons, smaller communities tend not to be as attractive to young lawyers as urban areas. This problem is worsening as experienced lawyers retire from rural areas and insufficient numbers of young lawyers take their places.
This situation provides an excellent opportunity for lawyers who are willing to practice in a rural area. Compared to an urban area, hardworking, entrepreneurial young lawyers can make names for themselves relatively quickly. Many opportunities exist to buy existing practices from retiring lawyers, or to join a small law office. Lawyers willing to hang their own shingles in a small town can also take advantage of low overhead and easier networking opportunities, not to mention an unbeatable work-life balance.
Between 2007 and 2012, sole practitioners grew by 33% in Ontario – considerably faster than either large firms (20%) or small firms (27%). Being a sole practitioner is hard work, but the opportunities are definitely there, not just for criminal, real estate and family law, but also for areas of business law that are traditionally associated with larger firms. Practicing law as a sole practitioner is primarily a referral business, so networking is crucial, as is putting in the time to build a solid reputation, especially in the first few years. One key to succeeding as a sole practitioner is to streamline operations and reduce costs. Luckily, there are many technology solutions available today to assist, from innovative industry software to more creative solutions like running a virtual office, where the lawyer will work mostly from home and meet clients in their own space or in temporary office space only when necessary.
Alternative providers of legal services
While business law was once the domain of large law firms, this is starting to shift, as clients increasingly rely on in-house counsel for routine matters, while at the same time demanding that outside legal assistance be provided at prices lower than traditional law firms. As a result, there are relative newcomers to the market who are now facilitating the provision of complex legal services in innovative, low-cost, non-traditional ways.
There are already a significant number of opportunities for junior lawyers in this space, and the number and variety of jobs is projected to continue to grow significantly. For example, LexLocom, www.lexlocom.ca a legal outsourcing provider, has a continuously updated roster of opportunities for lawyers of all experience levels. This includes everything from temporary full-time positions to hourly contract roles, working either in-house, remotely from home, or from LexLocom workspace.
Having a law degree does not limit your career to practising law. Far from it, many skills you learned in law school and while articling are transferrable to other careers. It will only enhance your chances to also be a lawyer, in addition to your other qualifications. There are many interesting, non-legal careers available to lawyers. Business is perhaps the most obvious, where skills like problem solving, analysis, negotiation, and conflict resolution are highly transferrable. Careers are also readily available in education, such as teaching paralegal courses or working in administrations services at a university; research, writing and editing; and government, non-government advocacy groups and politics.