Lawyer - Employment/Labour Law

Kim, 33, practices employment/labour law at a large firm in Calgary, Alberta. She moved from small-town Kelowna, B.C. to attend the University of Calgary. She attended university part-time for a portion of her first degree and worked full-time as a restaurant manager. She graduated in 1994 with a bachelor of arts in American history and political science. She took a few years off from school and travelled, then attended the University of Calgary's law school. She graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of laws. She was in school for a total of seven years. She articled in Calgary at a small criminal defence firm and joined a large law firm in 2000. She is now a third-year associate.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become a lawyer? What is your field of specialty, and how did you decide on that field? How did you become a lawyer?
I have always wanted to be a lawyer. Ever since I was 12 years old, I always thought I had the gift of the gab and a knack for arguing. I thought I could transcend those gifts into becoming a litigator.

My specialty is as an employment/labour litigator as well as a criminal defence lawyer. I got involved with criminal law in my articling year when I articled at a small but prestigious criminal defence firm in Calgary. I truly loved criminal law but moved into an extremely large firm after my articling year due to financial considerations (i.e., student loan debt). Criminal defence firms rarely pay a salary and you would make a portion of the business you brought into the firm. This was far too much pressure for a first-year associate loaded down with a mortgage and student loans.

When I moved to the large firm, I began to work with a dynamic and truly gifted partner specializing in employment/labour law. I was trained by him and began to love the area. To this day, my practice consists of approximately 80% employment/labour work, 10% criminal defence work and 10% medical defence work.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
I love solving problems and getting results for clients. I also truly enjoy the people I work with everyday. They make coming to work everyday a truly good time. I consider some of them my best friends.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
My least favourite part of the job is the extreme number of hours that are required of young lawyers working in large firms. Knowing that you have to be at the office for at least 12 hours a day to meet your billable targets is the hardest part of being a lawyer in a large firm. It often makes you feel guilty when you are sick and have to stay at home. (Small firms do not have these large targets, although lawyers working there generally do not get paid as much as either.)

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a lawyer?
Realize that there are many ways to practice law these days. Don't think that you have to practice in a large firm and work crazy hours. I choose to because ultimately I love my work and the people I work with.

Work hard, get good grades, volunteer your spare time and keep your options open. You may think that you want to be a corporate finance lawyer going into law school, but by the time you have finished your first year, you may want to be a criminal defence lawyer. You may change your mind for the next five years, so keep you mind open to the possibilities. There are so many new areas of the law popping up - you never know what you may be interested in and ultimately good at.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be a lawyer? What kind of education did you get?
In Canada, you need an LLB (bachelor of laws degree) from an accredited law school in Canada. To get into law school, most students will have an undergraduate degree in anything. It could be in science, engineering, nursing, social sciences ... anything. Some students are admitted to law school without an undergraduate degree but they are typically straight-A students who apply after two full years of undergraduate work. Some students are admitted without undergrad degrees if they are mature students with work experience, but these are also rare.

After graduating from law school, all provinces require that you article in some fashion. This is traditionally done for approximately one year. Within that year, you are essentially working as a practicum student at a law firm. You are also required to take your bar exams during that year. If you pass your exams and complete your year of articling, you are then "called to the bar" and can practice law.

Stephanie: What is your favourite law-based TV show?
My favourite law-based TV show is "Law and Order".

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