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Alternative Lawyers

From Out-laws to In-laws

Every year, thousands of hopeful applicants submit personal statements describing who they hope to be and what they hope to accomplish with a JD from Osgoode Hall Law School. As someone whose interest in the law stemmed from a desire to better understand the related fields of public policy and governance, Osgoode made sense. But as I moved through first and second year, I eventually realized that as much as I admired Clair Huxtable, Jack McCoy, and Alicia Florrick, their professional lives didn’t suit me. Rather than succumb to my disappointment, I decided that there had to be more and I needed to find out what ‘more’ entailed. This desire for ‘more’ led me to seek out and interview a diverse and engaging group of legal professionals who have established alternative careers in law. But before delving into what I gleaned from these interviews, I should explain that I believe Alternative Lawyers fall somewhere between traditional practice[1] and post-practice[2] on the professional spectrum. Based on my reading of The Creative Lawyer[3] and Life After Law,[4] Alternative Lawyers appear to ground their careers in the intersection of law and other sectors including politics, business, arts and entertainment, education, journalism, and law enforcement, among others.

In each interview, I tried to deconstruct the participant’s decision to take the leap from a traditional legal practice environment to the ever-evolving hinterland of Canada’s legal services market, or the broader ‘lawscape,’ as I sometimes call it. My conversations with these professionals[5] revealed strategies for honing particular legal skills and leveraging them in a range of law-related sectors. Though some of their current careers fall outside traditional practice contexts, it became clear that these professionals all consistently draw on legal skills gained from law school and subsequent experience in conventional law jobs. During Osgoode’s 2016 Career Week, students will meet Renatta Austin and Doron Gold—two Alternative Lawyers who will be participating in the JD Advantage Panel taking place on February 3rd.

lisamarie1Renatta Austin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology and Political Science from University of Toronto, a JD from the University of Toronto, as well as a Master of Arts degree focused on Public Policy and Public Administration from the University of Western Ontario. Currently, Renatta is a Toronto-based lawyer committed to providing flexible and affordable legal services to the public. She provides government relations advice and support to non-profit organizations and community groups.

lisamarie2Doron Gold holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Government from York University, a JD from Osgoode Hall Law School, as well as a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Windsor. Doron is a psychotherapist and former practicing lawyer. Doron’s current practice focuses on individual, family, and group therapy related to issues of depression, anxiety, career and family stress and addiction. Doron works primarily with lawyers, law students, judges, as well as other professionals.

As panelists, Renatta and Doron (along with other Alternative Lawyers) will address students’ increasing anxiety and curiosity about where (else) a JD can take them. Renatta and Doron will share: (i) what they learned about themselves as a result of going to law school and practicing law, (ii) how they leverage their law degrees in their current work, and (iii) what steps students can take to engage in or pursue a career in Alternative Lawyering. Osgoode’s 2016 Career Week will engage high caliber professionals, like Renatta and Doron, from sectors perceived as existing on the fringe of traditional black letter law to participate in a series of experiential learning workshops and panels. Osgoode students will use these events as spaces for reflecting on:

(i)                  What Alternative Lawyering entails,

(ii)                Where in the broader legal services market Alternative Lawyering exists,

(iii)               When to pursue Alternative Lawyering,

(iv)              How law students might prepare for Alternative Lawyering careers,

(v)                Who might be best suited for an Alternative Lawyering path, and

(vi)              Why all Canadian law schools should take a more aggressive and coordinated approach to connecting students with Alternative Lawyering opportunities.

It is important to state openly that we (as the organizers and hosts of Osgoode’s 2016 Career Week) do not seek to pull students away from their dreams of being partner in a Bay Street firm or a Crown prosecutor. Instead, we are hoping to facilitate an interactive dialogue about how the profession is evolving by providing students with access to professionals willing to offer insight into the habits that transformed their careers and transitioned them to an Alternative Lawyering lifestyle. Osgoode’s 2016 Career week will essentially teach attendees how to tap into their potential and leverage their unique contributions in careers not often or openly lauded in a law school context.

While we acknowledge and admire professionals who have thrilling careers practicing law in a traditional context, we also celebrate the ways in which the legal profession is reinventing itself to respond to new-age market demand. I hope that this article (and others in this series) will cultivate an awareness and appreciation of how professionals like Renatta and Doronhave customized their legal careers, partially by confronting some of the issues that haunt us as a professional community. As Alternative Lawyers, they have had to overcome their fear of failure and any aversion to risk-taking, and we are grateful that they have opted to share their strategies for doing so.

While many may dismiss or disagree with the essence of this article, I consider that resistance a healthy response to a subject that disturbs the typical law narrative. Events like Osgoode’s 2016 Career Week are designed to frustrate the boundaries of professional practice and identity. By exposing students to the seemingly obscure world of Alternative Lawyering, we are challenging notions of what it means to be a lawyer and practice law. We are hopeful that Career Week will offer some reprieve to students who fear a stunted career trajectory or, worse, no longer identify with Clair, Jack, and Alicia. It is for those students that we offer Osgoode’s 2016 Career Week as a means of expanding our collective perception of what it means to know, practice, and experience the law. With that, I hope you’ll attend Career Week (1–5 February 2016) to see how professionals engaged in Alternative Lawyering have successfully and elegantly transitioned from out-laws to in-laws.

[1] Barristers and solicitors engaging in typical forms of legal work.

[2] Ex-lawyers who have joined other professional communities and no longer engage with the law as part of their work.

[3] This amazing work-book was written by Michael F. Melcher.

[4]Another amazing book written by Liz Brown.

[5] I interviewed a legal journalist, policy and government relations advisor, law enforcement officer, former Member of Provincial Parliament, artist, and legal entrepreneur.