“Dear Lil – how did you decide over the articling year what area(s) of law you wanted to practice?” Signed ~ So Many Options
Dear So Many Options:
I am often asked by students how I decided on my chosen area of practice (I practice as a solicitor in business law with a focus on indigenous law). What worked for me was to have an open mind to opportunities I hadn’t previously considered and to follow my heart. We all start from a different place, and we all have our own journey to find a career that suits us. I believe staying true to yourself is universal to finding a career that is fulfilling and sustainable. Following are a few tips that helped me on my journey.
Start with options open
There are so many areas of practice in the law, it’s nearly impossible to know about them all as a student. You have more options than you know, so try to keep them open. I was very fortunate to secure articles at a large regional firm that offered many different areas of practice. I chose the firm in part because I wasn’t sure what areas of law or style of practice suited me and liked the idea of seeing a variety of options. I entered my articling year with some ideas of practice areas that might appeal to me, and a whole bunch I had no idea about. What is aviation law anyways, I wondered? During articles I tried to get exposure to as many different practice areas as I could, and to meet and get to know as many of the practicing lawyers as I could.
Curiosity can help you to explore and find new opportunities and new passions that you don’t know existed. At this stage, get out and explore and see what piques your interest. Then get curious about it, and dive in. This was how I got interested in solicitor work. I had a rotation through their group during my articles. I walked into that rotation with almost no concept of what solicitors do. I followed my curiosity with the work I was given and became fascinated with a whole world of lawyering I hadn’t known existed.
Follow your heart and communicate what you want
When you find something that lights you up, you know it. I loved the experiences I had in the solicitor rotation. I loved the feeling of helping our clients build and grow their ideas from dreams into realities. I loved the negotiation and relationship building between the parties. I’ve always loved building things, so this felt like a way to bring that love of building to my practice of law.
Sometimes that hardest part is the next step – what to do with that knowledge? Following your heart can feel vulnerable. My experience is that most people want to help others to follow their hearts and achieve their dreams, and those people will help you if you communicate what you want. After much deliberation, I told the head of the solicitor group and my principle that I was interested in applying for a solicitor position. The group hadn’t hired a student in many years, but luckily for me they were looking to expand and offered me a position. More importantly though, they would have helped me to find a junior solicitor position at another firm if they hadn’t been able to hire me because they knew what I wanted.
Don’t give up, you’re not stuck
The reality is that you might not find something that lights you up in your articling year. The good news is that there are so many options out there. You don’t have to make any final decision in the first few months of your career. Lots of lawyers try out different practice areas in their first few years to find what they like. If you keep your options open, remain curious, and keep following your heart you will find something that’s right for you. When you find it, make sure you tell someone and don’t be afraid to ask for help to achieve your goals. Once you’re there, try to look behind you and help another young lawyer to follow their heart and find their path.
About the Author
Jessica Wilson is an associate working with Harper Grey’s Business Law Group. She provides counsel to First Nations governments in relation to governance, policy and business development. Jessica is an active member of a number of Canadian Bar Association subsections in the areas that she practices. As a law student, Jessica acted as an executive of the UVIC Law Students Society and University of Victoria Environmental Law Club. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Jessica completed a B.Sc. in Geographical Biogeosciences at the University of British Columbia and worked for several years as an environmental scientist in Alberta. Outside of the office, Jessica enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing and gardening.