Don’t believe the hype

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Whenever I drop by a law school campus, I’m reminded of one tremendous difference from 10 or 15 years ago: the near omni-presence of the practising bar. Back then, you noticed the profession on Careers Day (no OCIs back then) and maybe when the CBA President came to speak; otherwise, law practice might as well have been on another planet. Legal periodicals didn’t bother going into the schools at all, and of course there was no Internet.

Today, you’re deluged with news, information and opinions about practice. It’s not only from the law firms, which have had a huge impact on many faculties through sponsorships, donations, lectures and marketing efforts. It’s also through legal magazines and newspapers, which provide pipelines of impressions about life at the bar, and websites like Lawbuzz, which provide pipelines with fewer facts but more interactivity.

The multiplicity of information sources available today could lead you to believe you’re getting a broad cross-section of legal life. But I don’t actually think that’s the case. What you’re really getting is an intense sales pitch from numerous directions. Every element of the legal profession with a law school presence is there for a reason: you’re a valuable demographic, and they’re trying to sell you something.

What you’ll often find offered to you is an image or a model of the profession. You’re already familiar, for example, with magazines that promote a certain type of career and lifestyle as the norm, when in fact the profession is far too fragmented and diverse for any one style to be predominant. Buy into that image if you want, but don’t mistake it for the mainstream of Canadian law practice.

There are other sales pitches going on, too: consider this or that law firm for your summer and articling positions. That’s your call — in fact, it’s all your call, in fact. It’s not always easy, but try to remember that the practising profession is far more diverse, nuanced and complex than the images pitched to you can express. Don’t feel boxed in by an illusion of limited choice.

There are as many different legal lives as there are lawyers, and you can choose any one of them — or reject them all and create your own. It’s your career, not theirs.

This post originally appeared as the editorial in the 2006 law student issue of National magazine.

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