Issue Archive

Illustration: Huan Tran
Illustration: Huan Tran
Law school is just the beginning of a legal career. With the call to the bar comes a whole new set of people and a whole new set of skills. What more do you need to know besides the law? Michael McKiernan canvassed practitioners across the country to find out what they’ve learned from the school of legal hard knocks.
Practising in Montreal

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawMichèle Denis, Stikeman Elliott LLP

• Montreal is a cosmopolitan, bilingual, and multicultural city with a bi-juridical law system offering a wide range of professional opportunities.
• Among various benefits of living and working in Montreal: affordable housing, less time commuting, great quality of life, vibrant culture, easy access to recreation, sports, and the surrounding countryside, etc.
• As for professional reasons, the city offers a tremendous range and breadth of legal work. It is an important centre for business in the aerospace, finance, pharmaceutical, technology, and cultural sectors. Many leading multinational corporations are headquartered here, and the city is a short flight away from a number of major east coast cities in the United States. Montreal is the ideal place for engaging in private practice at a high level, with major clients in and outside Canada, while still enjoying a wonderful quality of life.
• In addition, lawyers who want to join the public sector and contribute to social justice have many opportunities to do so in Montreal, home to several not-for-profit organizations and NGOs. For many, it’s not just about a job. It’s about the career you’re building and the ties you form, as well as the responsibilities you develop within your local community.

• Montreal remains a smaller business centre than many larger cities worldwide.
• Compensation and benefit packages offered to lawyers in Montreal are generally more modest than those offered in larger markets, commensurate with a lower cost of living, etc.
• Quebec is governed by a separate legal system and, consequently, lawyers who embrace a law practice in Montreal must be trained in civil law and be members of the Barreau du Québec.

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawGabriel Granatstein, Ogilvy Renault LLP

• Montreal is an amazing city to live and work in — it is both culturally and linguistically diverse.
• Being an anglophone lawyer is very rewarding and gives you a certain cachet given that we are in the minority and that there is definite demand from multinational clients to have work provided to them in English.
• Being exposed to common law and civil law is very interesting.

• For an anglophone (born and bred in Montreal) without much French education, pleading in French can be daunting at first.
• Given all of the festivals and parties in Montreal, it can be hard to focus on work. . . .
Practising oil & gas law

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawDon Edwards, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Calgary

• Oil and gas is a capital-intensive industry; it requires a large amount of legal work to raise capital via private placements, prospectus or otherwise and then use those funds for further exploration and development opportunities.
• The introduction of new technology has resulted in a number of new development opportunities and new investments.
• The challenge of working with clients to take advantage of new opportunities such as the oilsands.
• Changing regulatory and environment regulations have created numerous opportunities for legal work.
• Global clients often seek out Canadian lawyers because of their technical expertise and experience; this has allowed many BLG lawyers to work in other jurisdictions around the world.
• The western sedimentary basin is well-developed so major companies seek opportunities elsewhere; this creates new opportunities for lawyers to work with junior companies as they look to raise capital to conduct oil and gas exploration and development activities in the western sedimentary basin.

• The reality is that our clients are working in an industry that’s based on a non-renewable and depleting resource.
• The fact that the western sedimentary basin is well-developed can also be thought of as a con to working in the oil and gas sector because the major companies (clients) are seeking opportunities elsewhere.
• The industry can be very cyclical and the amount of legal work needed can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. For example, because it is a capital-intensive industry, the sector is subject to equity market fluctuations.

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawRosalie McGrath, Ottenheimer Baker, St. John’s, N.L.

• The number of lawyers practising in Canadian offshore oil and gas law is relatively small and this presents a great opportunity for lawyers to meet and interact with colleagues practising in this area.
• In Newfoundland and Labrador, oil and gas has become an extremely important part of our economy. It is exciting and rewarding to play a role in the development of this important resource.
• Given the importance of oil and gas to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, great legal resources have been developed by industry participants, government, and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board that are readily accessible to participants.

• Since the number of lawyers practising in the area of offshore oil and gas law in Canada is relatively small, it can prove difficult to find lawyers who are in a position to act for a client when your own firm is in a conflict of interest.
• Most large offshore exploration and production companies operate on a global basis and, given this geographic challenge, it can be challenging to co-ordinate negotiations with all parties. Travel and time away from family is frequently required.
• In Newfoundland and Labrador, offshore oil exploration, development, and production are primarily governed by the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord and the legislation that implemented the accord. The unique nature of this body of law poses challenges when looking for comparisons of law in other jurisdictions.
Practising in London, Ont.

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawGlenn Jones, Miller Thomson LLP

• The smaller size of the law firms in London mean there are fewer junior lawyers in each firm, and accordingly greater involvement for students or young lawyers in the carriage of files than there would be, for example, in Toronto.
• As a result, students and junior lawyers find themselves in court much earlier in their careers, and much more frequently, and the smaller size of the offices provides greater access to senior lawyers and therefore a unique learning experience.
• From a quality of work standpoint, London is not only the 10th largest city in Canada, but also a major educational, health, insurance, and manufacturing centre, and the regional financial hub for southwestern Ontario, and accordingly the variety and complexity of the legal work is at least equal to that of other major centres.
• From a quality of life standpoint, I can point out the obvious, and that is that the cost of living is much more reasonable, there is an admirable educational, cultural, and sports milieu, a much shorter commute to the office, and overall a much better work-life balance.

• From my standpoint, the major disadvantage to practising law in London is that, as you become more senior in the practice, the most complex files, particularly those involving the public markets, tend to be focused in Toronto.
• The level of compensation at all levels of practice is substantially less than Toronto, which is accompanied by the proportionately lower cost of living.
• The opportunities for continuing education tend to be far more varied in Toronto.

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawJodi Simpson, Harrison Pensa LLP

• All the firms in London are small to mid-sized and offer articling students and associates the opportunity to get experience right out of the gate and yet be mentored by veterans in their field.
• London is a mid-sized city so students can meet with and build their personal and professional network fairly easily.
• The cost of living is comparatively low when compared to cities like Toronto and even smaller communities like Kitchener-Waterloo.
• London offers an impressive quality of life with an abundance of parks, trails, festivals, heritage homes, safe streets, world-class hospitals, and low traffic congestion, or quick and easy commutes.

• Although London offers great amenities for a medium-sized city, it may not be able to offer the “big city” experience and hustle and bustle.
• Salaries are lower in London than they are in Toronto but when you factor London’s low cost of living into the mix — students may actually fair better in London.
• Probably one of the biggest challenges is the perception that as a smaller city, London is not able to handle the big multinational client files. While it is not the case, the perception does exist and smaller centres like London frequently have to work with their clients to overcome it.
• The proximity to large centres like Toronto does occasionally mean (and depending on your practice area) that you will need to travel to your clients if they are located in those large centres.
Practising medical malpractice law

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawAnne Spafford, Lerners LLP, Toronto

• Doing medical malpractice work, you necessarily acquire a great deal of knowledge of medical matters, which is helpful in everyday life.
• Since it is a very specialized area, it is a small bar and there is a great deal of collegiality. Also, because there are very few “dabblers,” most lawyers doing the work are very knowledgeable in the area.
• Generally speaking, it is not a paper-intense practice so you won’t spend hours and hours going through/organizing documents.
• For the most part, the factual and legal issues are interesting and challenging.
• For those of us doing the defence work, the clients are very sophisticated.

• All of these cases involve someone having a bad outcome while receiving medical treatment. The plaintiffs/patients can be very sympathetic so whether you act for plaintiffs or defendants, it is important not to get involved from an emotional standpoint.
• Some cases literally involve blood and guts, so it is not for the faint-hearted.
• For those doing plaintiff work, these cases tend to be very difficult to succeed on.
• Since the area is very specialized, there is a steep learning curve. It is not for dabblers.
• All cases involve the retainer of experts so it is critical to determine what expert is needed and it helps tremendously to know who the experts are and be able to get them to agree to assist you on a case. Without experts, your case will likely fail, whether you are acting for the plaintiffs or defendants.

Pros and cons of practising . . . in Montreal, oil & gas law, in London, Ont., medical malpractice lawLinda Wong, Pacific Medical Law, Vancouver

• If you’re curious and never want to be bored, then medical malpractice litigation is definitely an area of the law to explore. You will be faced with a dizzying array of human interest stories set within a complex area of the law.

• The personal challenge, or some may say “con,” of this area of the law is listening to so many despairing patients or their families, yet interacting with each individual with humanity and professionalism.
• The legal challenge is the great number of injured people medical malpractice lawyers cannot help because the economic risk of litigating their cases outweighs their potential monetary recovery.
Friday, 18 March 2011 12:05

3 p.m. shade

Written by
Rome, Italy 2010
Rome, Italy 2010
Maria Gergin is a third-year law student at the University of Ottawa, and a 2011-12 articling student with the Toronto office of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. Gergin is also a freelance writer and reviewer of theatre, art shows, and books. Some of her work has recently appeared in This and Guerilla magazines. She is continually awed by the way in which a photograph can unveil the unexpected wonder hidden in the ordinary and is hardly ever anywhere without her camera (her third eye!). She regularly posts her latest glimpses on
Friday, 18 March 2011 12:03

How things have changed

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In the spring of 2008, we ran a story in one of our sister publications about what it was like to be a gay or lesbian associate in a law firm. The initial focus had been to find out what was really happening for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lawyers in the big firms on Bay Street. But even just three years ago, it was very difficult to get any LGBT lawyers to speak on the record. We eventually found a few associates at large firms, not on Bay Street, to willingly talk about their experiences, but it was a tough slog.
Wednesday, 01 September 2010 07:52

Mentally preparing for the future

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Mentally preparing for the future Why are you studying or practising law? What are your values?

Monday, 23 August 2010 07:47

Pros & cons of practising . . .

Written by


• labour and employment law
• on Bay Street
• in Victoria
• tax law


Monday, 23 August 2010 07:35

Rowing to success

Written by

Morgan Jarvis, front, with fellow rowing team members Mike Lewis, centre, and Tim Myers
Morgan Jarvis, front, with fellow rowing team members Mike Lewis, centre, and Tim Myers
Morgan Jarvis has had two goals for most of his life: excel in his chosen career and become an Olympic rower. He achieved the first goal by finishing three degrees at Queen’s University, including graduating from law school earlier this year and securing an articling contract at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in Ottawa. But through it all, he rowed toward his second goal, becoming a member of the Canadian national rowing team and now trying to qualify for the Olympics.


Monday, 23 August 2010 07:28

Setting the standard

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Setting the standardOne of the quirky aspects of Canada’s legal system is its lack of any national standard for law grads or foreign students queuing for admission to bar exam programs in any province or territory. The closest de facto standard was issued by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1957 and revamped in 1969. However, not all law societies used the dated guidelines. 


Monday, 23 August 2010 07:08

Key to the kingdom

Written by
Key to the kingdomIn the blur of orientation week, between the bonding sessions, the pub-crawls, and the overwhelming stack of introductory materials, you may have a fuzzy memory of an introduction to one of the most important buildings on campus — the library. “Orientation days are programmed to the minute and I will get to talk to them for maybe three minutes,” says Kathryn Arbuckle, head law librarian at the University of Alberta’s John A. Weir Memorial Law Library. “For some of them, it’s the only chance I may have to speak to them in their whole first year.”

Monday, 23 August 2010 08:00

The path to partnership

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The path to partnershipFor McInnes Cooper’s Heather Black, being welcomed to her firm’s partnership on Jan. 1 this year was far more than a boost to her pocketbook; it was a watershed moment in her legal career. “It sort of signifies the end of your adolescence as a lawyer,” says the Fredericton, N.B., corporate and commercial law practitioner.
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