When we think of lawyers, we often picture them in their black robes passionately defending their client in a courtroom. However, only about 15% of lawyers regularly argue cases before the courts! Lawyers may work for law firms, in government, for corporations, for example, and usually specialize in specific areas of law (family, contract, corporate and commercial, etc.). They handle a wide variety of cases (divorce, accident, labour disputes, wills and estates, etc.) and provide legal advice and represent their clients.
Discover the many different aspects of a lawyer’s work!
A lawyer’s work can be broken down into three main activities: providing advice on possible legal solutions, representing clients against other parties or before a judge in court as well as conducting legal research and preparing legal documents such as laws and regulations.
Lawyers are specialists in their specific area of law. When offering legal advice, lawyers:
- Present possible solutions to a client’s legal difficulties;
- Advise a client on decisions that may have legal ramifications; and
- Explain the legal issues at hand and the various options so the client can make an informed decision.
Since it is impossible to be familiar with all the laws that exist in a country, particularly when governments pass new laws each day, lawyers usually specialize in one or several areas of law (family, corporate and commercial, immigration, labour, etc.).
Lawyers act on behalf of their clients because the client is in need of someone with specialized knowledge the client may not have. A lawyer cannot act on behalf of a party until given the authority to do so. Thus, it is the client who makes the decision, and the lawyer who represents the client.
When representing clients, a lawyer:
- Negotiates with the other parties on behalf of the client by mail, over the phone or in person; and
- Represents clients in court and argues their cases according to the mandate the client gave them.
Were you aware that some lawyers never go before the courts? Decisions from the courts are the last step in the process. Lawyers try to first resolve the client’s situation using other means, such as mediation, negotiation or arbitration. Court appearances represent less than a quarter of all the work these professionals do!
Research and writing
To prepare their cases, lawyers must do legal research. This involves consulting laws and judgments on cases similar to the one they are preparing. They do this research in libraries or using specialized databases. And because laws are constantly changing, lawyers must always be on top of the new laws and regulations coming into force.
What you should know:
- Often, simply reading through acts is not enough to understand how the law applies to a situation. As a result, lawyers must read many judgements and other texts in order to provide their clients with advice.
- Writing is a large part of a lawyer’s work. For example, lawyers write contracts, legal notices, procedures, bills and many other types of documents.
In addition to practising in different areas of law, lawyers can work in a variety of other areas. Working conditions and schedules vary from one place to another.
About half of all lawyers are in private practice, which means they either work independently or with other lawyers in a law firm.
The very large law firms can have several hundred lawyers working for them and just as many legal assistants and paralegals, while a small firm may have only a few lawyers and sometimes only one.
Private and public sectors
A lawyer may also choose to work for a company, in the public sector or in parapublic organizations. In these cases, we often say they work in the organization’s “legal department.” The business or organization becomes the lawyer’s only client.
A lawyer working for a company can, for example, be involved in litigation with clients or suppliers, work on acquisition and merger agreements or write work contracts.
Just as private sector organizations require lawyers, the public and parapublic sectors require these legal professionals to provide advice, represent them or even develop and write new regulations.
In the federal and provincial governments, the role of the public prosecution services is to prosecute offenders. These lawyers are known as crown prosecutors.
Lawyers with an interest in social issues can work in a community organization.
These lawyers may:
- Defend the rights of different minorities (linguistic minorities, refugees, etc.)
- Advise citizens on their rights and help them in their legal proceedings, write submissions for parliamentary committees, provide plain language legal information, etc.
- Legal aid
Legal aid lawyers offer services to individuals with low incomes who otherwise wouldn’t have the means to access legal professionals.
Lawyers can work for international organizations such:
- The United Nations
- The International Monetary Fund
- The International Bureau for Children’s Rights
They can also work for multinationals, providing them with the same type of services they would provide to Canadian companies.
Lawyers can also put their skills to work with organizations in a variety of economic, artistic and social sectors.
Lawyers can work in a number of other areas, such as:
- Culture and sports
Becoming a lawyer will open many doors. It’s up to you to decide which one!
Three easy steps to becoming a lawyer...
- Step 1 : Complete university studies
You must first complete two and preferably three years of university studies in any subject area before you can be admitted to a faculty of law.
- Step 2 : Obtain a law degree
To become a lawyer in any province or territory outside Quebec you must obtain a common law degree (LLB or JD). In Quebec, you must follow a different path to become a lawyer.
These different requirements stem from the fact that Canada has two different legal systems. Quebec’s legal system is based on civil law, from France, while the rest of Canada follows the common law system, which has its roots in Britain.
The following Canadian universities offer common law programs in French. Visit the universities’ websites to learn more about what they have to offer:
Obtaining an undergraduate degree in common law requires three to four years of university studies.
- Step 3 : Licensing process
In Ontario, the licensing process for lawyers is regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada and consists of two mandatory requirements:
- You must pass two seven-hour licensing examinations, one barrister licensing exam (which will assess your competencies in areas such as criminal law and family law) and one solicitor licensing exam (which will assess your competencies in areas such as business law as well as wills, trusts and estate administration and planning).
- You must then complete a 10-month articling term, including completion of an online professional responsibility and practice course.
Once you have completed these steps, you are then eligible to practice law in Ontario. The legal profession is regulated by the Law Society of Upper Canada, which is the regulatory body responsible for developing and applying the competency and ethical standards. This body determines the rules for access to the profession as well as rules of conduct, particularly those related to ethical obligations. For example, a lawyer is bound, much like a doctor is, to provide clients with advice, defend them to the utmost of their ability and respect client confidentiality. A law society can suspend a member who does not comply with its rules of conduct or disbar the member.
To find out more about how to become a lawyer in your province or territory, visit the website of the appropriate law society listed below.
The field of law is constantly changing as social, economic and technological trends change:
- With globalization, many large law firms have begun setting up offices in other countries.
- The widespread use of the Internet and the introduction of new computer technologies means lawyers must understand these tools and how they work.
- New scientific discoveries often raise serious legal issues, particularly in the area of bioethics. This means lawyers who have training other areas, such as science or management and can speak more than one language are increasingly sought after.
- Many lawyers are now moving towards collaborative or cooperative law. These participatory methods generally achieve results more quickly and efficiently and at a lower cost than taking legal action.
These challenges may change how law is practised in the years to come
Do you have the skills needed to become a lawyer?
Consult this list of important skills and learn how to refine the skills you will need to become a successful lawyer.
Possess analytical skills
Lawyers have the ability to understand abstract concepts and analyze complex situations and issues. Whether they are writing contracts or preparing for trial, lawyers are well known for being able to assimilate large amounts of information and pick out the critical elements.
You have what it takes if:
- You find it easy to solve puzzles;
- You find it easy to understand new material; and
- You are curious and like to solve complex problems.
- Ability to interact well with others
Lawyers must earn the trust of their clients and encourage them to call upon their lawyer when the need arises. They also must deal with many different people during the course of their day, such as witnesses, mediators, clients and colleagues. They must be able to create a good first impression and instil a sense of confidence in them.
You have what it takes if:
- You are able to make friends easily;
- You adapt quickly to people of different backgrounds, cultures and age groups; and
- You are able to find compromises to situations involving your friends.
- Ability to be firm
Lawyers are definitely not shy when it comes to defending their clients’ interests! They do what it takes to get the job done. They are skilled negotiators who know how to get the best results for their clients.
You have what it takes if:
- You can defend a controversial position during a discussion;
- You can express your dissatisfaction when the circumstances warrant it; and
- You can exercise discipline when you are in a position of authority.
Lawyers must show leadership, take charge of things and take on many. They can be responsible for supervising teams made up of colleagues, paralegals and legal assistants, for example. They must also be good at providing advice to their clients in order to help them through the various steps of the legal process.
You have what it takes if:
- You have lots of ideas for projects and are able to get people interested in these projects;
- You show initiative when working in a team; and
- You are able to juggle a number of things at once and rarely feel overwhelmed by events.
These are just some examples of skills you would need. If you are hard working, can concentrate well, are determined and are someone who pays attention to detail, you might make an excellent lawyer.