Dear LiL: I’m a newly called associate at a litigation-primary firm. With a career start in litigation, I’ve since discovered that I’m more interested in solicitor’s work (although I don’t have any real experience other than a few tasks done during my articles). Is the leap from litigator to solicitor a feasible one, regardless of my lack of experience? And do you have any advice on how to make that leap? Signed ~ Potential a Career Pivot
Guest blogger, Karissa Kelln, advocates that change is welcome, and shares valuable advice for those looking to pivot their career path.
Dear Potential a Career Pivot:
First of all, yes, it is definitely possible! In fact, making the switch from litigator to solicitor is far less of a leap than you might think (more on this later). Second, kudos to you for realizing so early on in your career that you want to make this change. It is probably easier to do so now than, say, in 5 years’ time when you have gained further litigation experience. That said, it is always possible to change your career path – I know of lawyers who have made the switch to being a solicitor many years on in their career for various reasons (for example, the type of litigation they did dried up, they had a really good client who had solicitor-side needs and they did not want to lose that client, or they were simply wanting to change things up and take on a new challenge). This is one of the great things about having a law degree; it is versatile and allows a person to pursue any of a number of different career paths.
I can very much relate to your situation. During my articling year and first year as an associate, I was getting a lot of litigation work and was concerned that I would be pulled in that direction despite being fairly certain that I wanted to be a solicitor. During my second and third year of practice, fortuitously I did more solicitor work as a result of there being a gap to fill in my then-firm’s solicitor group. However, I continued to be involved with some contaminated sites and First Nations litigation files because I have a strong interest in environmental and aboriginal law, and because one of the partners at the firm envisioned me to be a “solicigator”.
I truly believe that my litigation experience has made me a better solicitor since it allowed me to further develop the transferable skills that I mention below and, to this day, it causes me to take a more thorough approach to my solicitor work (for example, when drafting a contract, I always ask myself the question: what potential pitfalls would a judge find with this agreement if it were to be litigated?). Plus, it is pretty cool to be able to say to my fellow solicitors – many of whom (happily, they would say) have never “robed” – that I have run a small claims trial, made submissions in the BC Supreme Court, and juniored at the BC Court of Appeal.
So, how to make the leap from litigator to solicitor?
-Keep seeking out solicitor tasks at your current firm until you are able to move into a through and through solicitor role – whether that is at your current firm or elsewhere; if people ask why you are seeking out solicitor-side work, you might say that, as a junior lawyer, you are wanting to round out your skillset and that all experience is good experience.
-Make a list of the solicitor tasks that you performed during your articles so that you can speak to those (perhaps in an interview setting) and keep updating that list as you gain more experience in this area.
-If you are not a member already, sign up for the Canadian Bar Association Business Law Section and attend Section Meetings.
-Try to attend a few business law related courses, whether through The Continuing Legal Education Society of BC, the Pacific Business & Law Institute, or the like, to broaden your knowledge on core business law/solicitor-side concepts, such as contract drafting and shareholders’ agreements.
-Think about how you would answer the question: “Why do you want to be a solicitor?”, which might incorporate some of the points touched on above.
-When applying for a solicitor position, emphasize skills that are transferable between litigation and solicitor work, such as:
-Attention to detail (for example, when drafting pleadings in the litigation context and when drafting contracts in the solicitor context).
-Being thorough. *
-Organization/time management. *
-Listening skills. *
*Kim Jakeman elaborated on these skills in her recent October 20, 2020 Life in Law post – which you can read here.
Along the same lines, I would argue that there are many similarities between trial preparation and transactional work that you are able to draw upon. For example, in both contexts, the following apply:
-Frequent client updates/correspondence.
-You have your “To-do list” – whether it is in the form of a Closing Agenda for a transaction or action items that you have jotted down over the course of a day in trial – that you are constantly whittling down in preparation for the close of a transaction or closing submissions.
-Despite all of these demands, we still need to be putting our best foot forward – whether while making submissions before the judge or meeting with the client to sign transactional documents.
I would also encourage you to foster traits such as a positive attitude and strong work ethic, which are things that you can work on regardless of whether you are doing litigation or solicitor work, and that will ultimately lend to you landing the type of role that you want. Above all, do not lose sight of the fact that until you land that solicitor role, your litigation experience will only serve to make you a better solicitor, and lawyer, in the long run. Best of luck to you!
About the Author
Karissa Kelln is a lawyer at Harper Grey LLP. As a corporate solicitor, Karissa consistently demonstrates her ability to deliver solutions that help clients achieve their goals. Karissa is a member of a number of Canadian Bar Association (“CBA”) subsections, as well as the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association. She is also an active volunteer with the CBA BC’s Women Lawyers Forum Mentorship Committee, and a member of the Board of Directors of The Mission to Seafarers (an organization that cares for seafarers and their families around the world). Karissa obtained her J.D. from the University of Saskatchewan in 2016 and was called to the BC Bar in 2017.