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

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.

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.

As a Toronto criminal lawyer,
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.