Also known as: Why law school is a great way to help you figure this out, why as 3Ls most of us still don’t know, and why that can be a good thing!
I was originally asked to join this team of bloggers to share the experiences I will be having next semester as I join 7 other UBC law students (16 total for the year) who take part in the for-credit Judicial Externship Program at various Provincial Courts around the province. Until then, I hope to provide some perspective on the life of a third year law student who has been through through (most) of the ups and downs by now, and is nearing the terrifying and exciting finish line of this thing called law school.
This post will address the question I have most frequently been asked along this journey: “what area of law do you want to practice”? From the moment I mentioned an interest in law, through the recruiting process and now as I face my articling year ahead, this question has lingered and remains unanswered. In reflecting on how my answer as changed and why I am where I am today, I came to the following conclusions:
- While on the ground training undoubtedly important, law school can serve as a key step in helping you figure out where your legal interests lie
- Most 3Ls still don’t know (past a vague idea) what exactly they want to do
- Not knowing can be a good thing!
Point one – how law school can help.
A critical step in determining what type of law you want to practice is learning from the practical training received during your articling year. That said, law school remains an excellent tool for soon-to-be lawyers in navigating their future career path. While not all courses teach the ins and outs of practice, law school does provide an excellent opportunity to get exposure to a variety of subject matters and get involved in practical extra curricular activities such as pro bono work or the Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP). These opportunities definitely add value in the quest for vocational direction.
From my personal experiences, I found that some courses “clicked” and others didn’t, and those that clicked I naturally enjoyed more. I took part in first and second year moots to see a bit more what the whole courtroom thing would be like. I attended lunch time seminars on various practice areas (law school is FULL of these – anything from medical malpractice to animal law – if you are interested in any area you can guarantee there will be an info session on it, usually with practitioners form that area, at some point during the year!) and I joined groups like the Environmental Law Group which connects you with like-minded students.
Long story short, if you expose yourself to these sorts of opportunities you will learn SOMETHING. You may not leave saying, “Yes, I’ve found my calling, labour law is for me!” but at the very least you will have narrowed the field, learning some things you like, and often importantly, areas you definitely don’t like.
Point two – most of us still don’t know anyway!
Having talked with many of my fellow 3L colleagues after their various summering experiences, a common thread was that most people had a slightly better idea of what they wanted to do with their degree, but were still far from certain. There are some students who truly do know exactly want they want to do by third year (or maybe well before that), and kudos to them for getting there, but it is totally normal not to know.
Even after summering at a full service firm and trying out a bunch of different areas of practice, I am not entirely certain. One goal I did have from the summer was to reach some conclusions on the litigator/solicitor choice. I’m leaning towards solicitor, but that’s about all I can tell you for now.
Point three – don’t stress about it, not knowing can be beneficial!
So why am I not freaking out trying to find out the answer to this question that has now been lingering over me for the past 3 plus years? Because I truly believe that not knowing is a good thing! Flexibility and remaining open to new opportunities allows you to learn more without pigeonholing yourself too early on in the process. Also, most lawyers I have met actually practice in multiple, often overlapping, practice areas. With the multidisciplinary nature of most legal problems, few lawyers actual specialize as exhaustively as I once thought.
I also think that many of our career decisions might end up coming down to the people we work with. I heard this a lot from lawyers as I went through recruitment. They often said, “I always thought I wanted to do X, but in the end I really enjoyed a group of people rather than a specific practice area”. Law can be an intense profession, so it makes sense that if you have a good team to work with, and enjoy going to work everyday, a practice area might just find you, rather than the other way around.
So for all of you thinking that a selling point of law school is how many different things you can do with your degree and the wide array of practice areas open to you – I can assure you, that is true! Law school does an awesome job of exposing you to these opportunities and the rest is up to you… but not to worry, there’s no rush 🙂