My Talk at the Queen’s Criminal Law Career Panel

This past Tuesday I had the unique opportunity to participate in two panel discussions hosted by the Queen’s Law School criminal law club.  I was joined on the panel by one of the event organizers and first-year law student Simon Borys (Simon is a former police officer who left the force to attend law school to become a criminal lawyer; he has become well-respected amongst criminal lawyers and provides a unique and useful perspective), Kingston criminal lawyer Michael Mandelcorn, Professor Lisa Dufraimont, and Kingston Assistant Crown Attorney Andrew Scott.  Besides providing me the opportunity to stroll around campus again (I did my undergrad at Queen’s), the event was a great chance to share my perspective on criminal law with law students (and my future colleagues).

The first discussion involved the recent Supreme Court decision of R. v. Sinclair, where the court, in a split decision, determined that an accused does not have the right to have counsel present at an interrogation.  I tried to present the practical implications this decision has in practice.  For example, the question arose as to how I would approach an interrogation if I were allowed to be present, and my answer was I would almost certainly prevent it from happening at all (or at least sit there repeatedly saying “don’t answer that question”.  My approach seemed to be appreciated by the students as it showed how law is applied outside of the classroom.

The next part of the evening was the careers panel.  Here, we all talked about our approach to practice and the various opportunities that are present in criminal law.  The panel allowed for some interesting discussion, particularly on the difference between practice in small and large jurisdictions.  The students were also interested in how I was able to start my own practice right after articling.  Questions focused on how to generate business as well as the financial realities of taking my approach.  I was also asked about private practice opportunities that do not involve hanging one’s own shingle.  I explained that there are certainly jobs out there but they often require some initiative on the part of the student to find them.

Many law students today focus on scoring jobs at big firms on Bay Street (which generally refers to large and medium-sized corporate, litigation, and boutique firms in the Toronto downtown core).  I don’t necessarily blame them.  The pay is great and these firms can be an excellent starting ground for a career.  Of course, there are plenty of negatives to Bay Street as well.  The purpose of the panel was to present an alternative career choice.  While it’s true that I’m not making as much money (at least not right now) as my law school colleagues who went the Bay Street, the experience of a criminal law career is second-to-none.  I doubt many third-year lawyers have as much courtroom experience as I do (including a jury trial).  Being a solo-practitioner also gives me a lot of freedom that one does not have when working for others.  I’ve also got some great stories.

The criminal law bar is very small, close-knit and cordial and can be very welcoming for a newcomer.  Senior counsel are generally willing to help out their junior colleagues (not once have I approached a senior lawyer with a question about a case and had my request refused).  I spent some time explaining this to the students as it helps alleviates a number of fears about jumping right into practice.

I quite enjoyed participating in the panel and hope I provided some assistance and insight to the law students.  Law school can be quite stressful especially with the pressure to make career decisions before even beginning practice (although one quickly learns their goals are constantly changing, even when they begin practice).  The reception seemed to be quite good.  I also learned a fair bit from my fellow panelists.  As always, I am more than open to discussing career options with law students and lawyers alike.

This blog post was written by Toronto Criminal Lawyer Adam Goodman.  For more information on Adam’s practice, please see his web site at www.aglaw.ca or contact him at 416-477-6793.

2 Responses to “My Talk at the Queen’s Criminal Law Career Panel”

  1. Simon Borys March 24, 2011 11:00 pm #

    I want to extend Adam our thanks on behalf of the Queen’s Criminal Law Association and the students who attended the panel. We really appreciated his thoughts and insights. Our purpose with this panel was to generate some interest in criminal law amongst law students and inform them that there are careers for them other than in corporate law; careers that have many benefits. Adam was able to enlighten us about those benefits and his blog post provides a good summary. Thanks Adam!

  2. Addy C. March 24, 2011 11:41 pm #

    Thank you for coming in to speak to us. I really enjoyed the panel.

    You are the first lawyer who’s spoken at the many events I’ve attended in the last two years of law school who has struck it out on their own after law school (besides possibly Greenspan but I’m not exactly sure when he started practising on his own) – interesting.

    Thanks,
    Addy C.
    J.D. Candidate ’12

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