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ZineZ
  • Lawyer

Hi Everyone,

As there is still a lack of information available online related to government positions, @azure, @ThisCatalyst and I are happy to host this panel AMA. We are available to answer your questions about public sector work, our experiences and how we found our positions. 

As context, we are three public sector lawyers who work in different jurisdictions throughout the country. We are either solicitors, or work in hybrid positions that deal with both law and policy. You’ll find short bios below. 

One note of caution - our experiences only represent a small subset of government work. There are many lawyers employed by government bodies, and the breadth of work done encompasses most major areas of law including civil litigation, criminal law and tax. As such, we may not be able to answer every question (though you can find a Crown AMA here). 

Short Bios:

@azure works for the British Columbia Ministry of Attorney General, Legal Services Branch. She mainly works in the area of administrative law, including advising statutory decision makers and practicing before administrative tribunals. Over the course of 5+ years with LSB, she has also practiced in aboriginal law, natural resources law and procurement and has been exposed to a lot other varied work that LSB lawyers do.

@ThisCatalyst works for a financial services regulator in Ontario in a joint policy and legal counsel role.  She summered with her current employer and articled with another financial services regulator.  She spent her first few years of practice in the private sector, first in a typical suburban solicitor practice (real estate, wills and estates, corporate commercial) and later in-house in the financial services sector, before returning to public service this year.

@ZineZworks for a territorial government in Northern Canada. He summered and articled for the Ministry of the Attorney General in Ontario, and then moved to the North for the purposes of his current position. He works in a hybrid legal and policy role that revolves around natural resources, Indigenous rights and contract law. 

As a note, we are aware that there are other public sector lawyers on this forum. Please feel free to hop in if there is a question that catches your interest!

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Whist
  • Law Student

Hello and thank you for the AMA!

For @ThisCatalyst: Did you have any experience in finance-related roles prior to law school or during law school?

For @ZineZ: Is it normal when working for a governmental body to be able to request/change which location you want to work? (Re you moving to a position up north.) How has your experience been working in the territories in the legal field?

For anyone: Do you have any tips for pursuing jobs with the government that aren't in criminal law? Or is there a lot of variance in what employers look for depending on which niche? (Civil litigation, versus tax, versus policy, etc.) Also, for those of you who made the move from private practice to public (or the other way around), what made you want to shift?

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bolobao
  • Lawyer

So glad to see this AMA. Kudos to @ZineZ, @ThisCatalyst, @azure!

For context to my answers, I am a handful of years into a mostly litigation role in the Ontario public service.

15 hours ago, Whist said:

For @ZineZ: Is it normal when working for a governmental body to be able to request/change which location you want to work? (Re you moving to a position up north.) How has your experience been working in the territories in the legal field?

Assuming you didn't specifically mean geographic location, I can say that within MAG, it seems common enough for lawyers to do secondments at another legal branches. These are effectively contract positions that you get with another Ministry. You go off and work for that other Ministry while still holding on to rights to your original "home position" with your regular Ministry. A decent amount of the time, lawyers find the new Ministry a good fit and stay on long-term. Other times, they return back to their home position. 

15 hours ago, Whist said:

For anyone: Do you have any tips for pursuing jobs with the government that aren't in criminal law? Or is there a lot of variance in what employers look for depending on which niche? (Civil litigation, versus tax, versus policy, etc.) Also, for those of you who made the move from private practice to public (or the other way around), what made you want to shift?

I can say that one of the most important things is to be able to compellingly communicate your interest in the legal work done by your employer. The advice I give interviewees is that state your interest and back it up. Meaning, be clear, and connect it you your experiences -- whether it be personal values, stories, clinicals/moots/other extra curriculars, etc.

Yes, it definitely helps when, say, an applicant for Treasury Board has experience that demonstrates interest in labour relations. 

We can often tell when candidates are, for example, more interested in the private sector than the public service and they think of us as a backup. We generally don't favour such students. 

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ZineZ
  • Lawyer
4 hours ago, bolobao said:

So glad to see this AMA. Kudos to @ZineZ, @ThisCatalyst, @azure!

For context to my answers, I am a handful of years into a mostly litigation role in the Ontario public service.

So happy to see you here!! Thanks for joining us, it's wonderful to see more government folks around the forum. 

20 hours ago, Whist said:

For @ZineZ: Is it normal when working for a governmental body to be able to request/change which location you want to work? (Re you moving to a position up north.) How has your experience been working in the territories in the legal field?

Location Changes:

I'll answer this question on a more geographic basis, I think @bolobao's answer above covers it for Ontario and I couldn't say anything more there.

In my case - I moved to the territory specifically for the purposes of my position, it was new and not a continuation of an older position. The territorial government is separate from the Federal Government so you can't apply for a transfer. However, the opportunities you may be thinking about *do* exist with the Feds. I believe PPSC in particular allows for lawyers to apply for a transfer to a different office. I know someone up here who started with the Feds down south, and then specifically asked for a transfer to the territory.  One thing I'll note - I met several lawyers who did this the other way. They got their start in with the PPSC in Nunavut, and then transferred to an office down South. I can't really speak to the details about this as it's not my area of practice. 

Overall Experience: 

My experience so far has been quite positive. I'm still quite junior and had been looking for something in the public service after my articles. One of the areas I was interested in had been natural resources/Indigenous law - and I had been flirting with the idea of taking a position up North for a while. I had met with a few lawyers who had worked up in the territories (mostly in the NWT/Nunavut) and had found their experiences to be really interesting. So I bit the bullet and jumped for my current position when it came up.  

I work in a hybrid role that varies in its daily tasks. I support our policy folks/operations folks on ad-hoc questions about departmental legislation, contracts and the law generally, assist with privacy matters and also work directly with legal counsel who are assigned to assist with us on specific files. I also handle a lot of of our intra-departmental and intra-jurisdictional work (IE - providing feedback on draft legislation/joint projects). It's often rewarding and the size of government means that I get to do work that I normally wouldn't in, let's say, Ontario, until I was more senior. I work closely with management, have briefed the Deputy and worked quite closely on issues related to Indigenous rights. In many ways, it's exactly what I had been hoping for when I moved up. And as it's a government position in the North, my hours are quite reasonable and I can access overtime when it's necessary.  As territorial governments often have an issue with retention, our benefits packages are often quite decent. 

That being said, the work comes with its challenges. The high turnover means that there is often a dearth of institutional knowledge, the learning curve can be immense and I've often had to take on extra work while we're short-staffed. In addition, the government still lacks some of what you'd expect down South - they are still working on pieces such as a work from home policy. We've been back in the offices since late last year. 

There is a lot more I could say on the social end of things - but I think that's out of the scope of what you asked. I hope this helps on the other end. 

20 hours ago, Whist said:

For anyone: Do you have any tips for pursuing jobs with the government that aren't in criminal law? Or is there a lot of variance in what employers look for depending on which niche? (Civil litigation, versus tax, versus policy, etc.) Also, for those of you who made the move from private practice to public (or the other way around), what made you want to shift?

IMHO this question can have a variety of answers depending on where you are in your career. Do you mean this in the context of looking for a job out of law school (articling/summer), as a junior lawyer or as someone who worked outside of government and is now trying to find a different position? 

 

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Archibald123
  • Applicant
1 hour ago, ZineZ said:

There is a lot more I could say on the social end of things - but I think that's out of the scope of what you asked. I hope this helps on the other end. 

I would actually be interested to know more about that! As someone who has been thinking of taking on a position in the North down the road (have had a number of acquaintances that spent a bit of time up in Iqaluit, not necessarily in the legal field however) I was wondering about how you found the transition from Ontario up to the territories, both in terms of work culture and in terms of what a weekend or an something like an after work drink looks like. Thank you!

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6 hours ago, bolobao said:

Assuming you didn't specifically mean geographic location, I can say that within MAG, it seems common enough for lawyers to do secondments at another legal branches. These are effectively contract positions that you get with another Ministry. You go off and work for that other Ministry while still holding on to rights to your original "home position" with your regular Ministry. A decent amount of the time, lawyers find the new Ministry a good fit and stay on long-term. Other times, they return back to their home position. 

 In BC, all the lawyers are held captive over at the Attorney General, rather than having lawyers located in Ministries.  It leads to some interesting issues (for example, having your work assigned to non-experts / having no control over who the AG hires to serve your area).

 

Azure may have a different view, but from the client side, it can be annoying and it often leads to getting legal advice late in the process, not realizing you needed legal advice, or having other ministries do really stupid shit because they consulted with the "AG" but got a lawyer who didn't have the relevant expertise.  

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azure
  • Lawyer
22 hours ago, Whist said:

For anyone: Do you have any tips for pursuing jobs with the government that aren't in criminal law? Or is there a lot of variance in what employers look for depending on which niche? (Civil litigation, versus tax, versus policy, etc.) Also, for those of you who made the move from private practice to public (or the other way around), what made you want to shift?

There is a TON of variety in the non-criminal law side of government, so pretty much anything you want to do is available. I can speak from BC MAG, Legal Services Branch (LSB) is broken down into several groups and sub-groups based on practice areas (we recently underwent a re-org which is still a bit confusing). For example, Civil Litigation, Legislative Counsel, Indigenous Legal Relations, Central Services (which does finance, procurement, etc.), Natural Resource/Environment, etc. When a job is posted, it is posted to that specific group, not LSB in general (with the exception of articling/summer students which is a general posting) and yes, the employer is usually looking for something specific. The job posting/competencies will set out the requirements, e.g. looking for expertise or interest in a particular area of law. Generally speaking, the employer wants someone who is interested in working for the public service, and understands the role of the Attorney General and the government lawyer. But as @bolobaomentioned, if it is a particular practice area, they may want applicants with expertise/background in that area, e.g. if you are applying for a job in the natural resources practice area, background/interest in environmental law would be an asset. That said, a lot of the skills are transferrable between branches.

I've been with government since articling so can't speak to the private practice thing, but I have a lot of colleagues who made the jump and a lot of the reasons were dissatisfaction with their job and wanting better work/life balance.

 

6 hours ago, bolobao said:

Assuming you didn't specifically mean geographic location, I can say that within MAG, it seems common enough for lawyers to do secondments at another legal branches. These are effectively contract positions that you get with another Ministry. You go off and work for that other Ministry while still holding on to rights to your original "home position" with your regular Ministry. A decent amount of the time, lawyers find the new Ministry a good fit and stay on long-term. Other times, they return back to their home position. 

In BC MAG, how it works is that as I mentioned above, the civil lawyers at in LSB and we have groups and subgroups that serve different practice areas. It is very common to take a temporary assignment at a different branch of LSB, usually for about a year. It is also very common to start on contract somewhere and then move around until you find a permanent position or find the branch that best suits you. I think this is one of the biggest advantages of working for LSB, since you can say, work on corporate/commercial and then switch to aboriginal law, or civil litigation, and it's relatively painless. Obviously there is a learning curve but I find that people are willing to support that transition. I think this tends to happen earlier in your career, once people get settled in their role they tend to stay put.

 

52 minutes ago, Kurrika said:

In BC, all the lawyers are held captive over at the Attorney General, rather than having lawyers located in Ministries.  It leads to some interesting issues (for example, having your work assigned to non-experts / having no control over who the AG hires to serve your area).

 

Azure may have a different view, but from the client side, it can be annoying and it often leads to getting legal advice late in the process, not realizing you needed legal advice, or having other ministries do really stupid shit because they consulted with the "AG" but got a lawyer who didn't have the relevant expertise.  

I think it might depend on the area you are working in on the client side. I know some lawyers have really good working relationships with their clients, I think especially in more specialized areas of practice. Some lawyers provide advice exclusively to one Ministry, or even one branch of a Ministry, so the relationship may be a bit better, and the client knows when to ask for advice, and the lawyer knows what advice has been given and they are an expert in the area. I can see your frustration, and it can be frustrating on my side too when someone comes to me with a last minute request for legal advice that they didn't know they needed or comes when it's too late and I'm rushed to provide advice on a file I don't have the background in.  

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ThisCatalyst
  • Lawyer
23 hours ago, Whist said:

Hello and thank you for the AMA!

For @ThisCatalyst: Did you have any experience in finance-related roles prior to law school or during law school?

For @ZineZ [...]

For anyone: Do you have any tips for pursuing jobs with the government that aren't in criminal law? Or is there a lot of variance in what employers look for depending on which niche? (Civil litigation, versus tax, versus policy, etc.) Also, for those of you who made the move from private practice to public (or the other way around), what made you want to shift?

Personally, I didn't have any experience in finance before law school, or during.  Quite the opposite - my background was actually in the social sciences, with some dabbling in tech.  It was the latter that led me down some rabbit holes of genuine interest - eg cryptocurrency and equity crowdfunding - back in 2013 or so, when those were emerging discussion areas.  

 

Having that genuine interest was really helpful, and I think that's what all my successful interviews had in common - I could really nerd out about at least one or two issues relevant to the work, even if my background didn't have any particular lean towards it.

Frankly, even after my summer law job, I kept trying new things that didn't necessarily directly align with my career path.  I did freelance writing in the tech space, I did some contracts in various roles in the mental health space, and I volunteered for non-profits that had no connection at all to my career or career goals. 

 

What I found is that especially in the public sector, there is often room for the enthusiastic generalist - my diverse experience is seen as something positive that I bring to my team, although many others have more traditional finance or corporate law backgrounds.  I might not be right for some legal jobs in my field that benefit from a lot of transactional knowledge or compliance experience, but I'm great for work that requires understanding and communicating with different stakeholders (other jurisdictions, industry, the public), I can manage a project, and I enjoy things like privacy law and procurement processes that can form part of legal practice in many areas of public service.  

As far as finding public sector work, something they really don't tell you is how important networking can be - especially when a lot of roles start with temporary contracts these days.  Informational interviews are also great ways to identify what ministries and branches have work that you might enjoy, how some people have ended up there, and where needs might exist in the future.  (But those interviews are often best when you're not immediately seeking a role, but genuinely looking to learn about someone's work and career path.  And it is a great way to find mentors!)

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Whist
  • Law Student
7 hours ago, ZineZ said:

IMHO this question can have a variety of answers depending on where you are in your career. Do you mean this in the context of looking for a job out of law school (articling/summer), as a junior lawyer or as someone who worked outside of government and is now trying to find a different position?

In the context of getting a job out of law school mostly, although I'm sure the latter could potentially be helpful in the future or for others right now.

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ZineZ
  • Lawyer
On 11/23/2021 at 4:02 PM, Archibald123 said:

I would actually be interested to know more about that! As someone who has been thinking of taking on a position in the North down the road (have had a number of acquaintances that spent a bit of time up in Iqaluit, not necessarily in the legal field however) I was wondering about how you found the transition from Ontario up to the territories, both in terms of work culture and in terms of what a weekend or an something like an after work drink looks like. Thank you!

I moved from Ontario to the North in the middle of the pandemic. In many ways, the change was fantastic as the territory had zero cases at the time due to their mandatory 14 day quarantine policy (this has since been loosened for vaccinated folks). We also got our first doses back in March and second doses in April. So I went from being under a rather strict lockdown to being able to work from the office and socialize at restaurants/pubs/other gatherings much earlier than my friends in the south.  This was quite a blessing, as moving to a new city can be quite difficult and normal isolation would have been hell. I've tried to summarize some normal points below:

  • My city is very transient - a lot of people are originally from different places across Canada and are used to folks either moving up or leaving to go back down South. This is both a blessing in a curse - people are very welcoming/are looking to make friends, but there's also an inherent acceptance that your friends will eventually leave. In my case, I had coworkers who started inviting me to social gatherings pretty early and I also met a friend through someone from Ontario. She then introduced me to quite a few of the folks I'm friends with today. The Law Society is also good about trying to host social events for us. 
  • People are very outdoorsy - so hiking, swimming and camping are staples of the summer. Swap that for cross-country skiing and skating in the winter. I spent more time outdoors this summer than I have at any point in the past. I'm not very big on playing sports - but baseball, hockey, curling and ultimate are a huge thing up here. In the summer, this is massively influenced by the fact that we get 24 hour daylight. 
  • Summer and winter both come with their own major events - there are music festivals, ice castles, street festivals and outdoor performances . It's not as vibrant as a much larger city, but there's certainly more than enough to do. 
  • That being said, there are certainly also negatives. As mentioned, your friends leave (two people I was close with already have), the options for food/drink are more limited and travelling out of territory is expensive. In our case, we're lucky to be connected to the South by road. So you *can* get out relatively easily. But this move has been challenging at times. The territories have had to deal with lockdowns as our immunities waned recently, and the combination of the isolation with rapidly reducing daylight was not fun. 
  • One thing worth noting - a huge portion of this city is between the ages of 25-35. It's younger professionals who were either looking for a job, or had an interest in something that is more common in the North (IE - natural resources work, aviation). It has its benefits as I'm inside that age range. 

 

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azure
  • Lawyer
On 11/23/2021 at 7:54 PM, ThisCatalyst said:

Personally, I didn't have any experience in finance before law school, or during.  Quite the opposite - my background was actually in the social sciences, with some dabbling in tech.  It was the latter that led me down some rabbit holes of genuine interest - eg cryptocurrency and equity crowdfunding - back in 2013 or so, when those were emerging discussion areas.  

 

Having that genuine interest was really helpful, and I think that's what all my successful interviews had in common - I could really nerd out about at least one or two issues relevant to the work, even if my background didn't have any particular lean towards it.

I think this is a really good point. I do think most public sector lawyers are passionate about working for the public service in general, and have a genuine interest in government work. I think most regulatory regimes are learnable, so lets say even if you didn't have a background in finance, you can learn how the Financial Administration Act works. A lot of the challenge I find is actually learning about the government beaurocracy and how the internal processes work, so it's not just knowing the law, it's knowing, for example, the Treasury Board rules and processes and all the idiosyncrasies of government finance, which you can really only learn on the job (I don't know who would even want to learn this if you aren't in government!). 

 

On 11/23/2021 at 8:49 PM, Whist said:

In the context of getting a job out of law school mostly, although I'm sure the latter could potentially be helpful in the future or for others right now.

The most straight forward path to working for government is articling with government (this is what I did). Yes, I realize this is easier said than done. But if you really want to work for government, put the effort into tailoring your applications and prepping for interviews. As I said above, demonstrate that you have an interest in working for government. Government follows a particular process for interviews that is different than many firms (much more formal, and a focus on competencies). Your careers office should be able to help. There's likely some information on the government's website generally about hiring in the public service, which can help with the process (e.g. look into the STAR Technique for interview questions).

If you don't find one of the articling positions in government, don't fret too much, as they are competitive, and this is not the end of the road. If you are coming from another position outside of government, my #1 tip is just focus on finding any job in government, even if it is not your dream branch/Ministry. The reason is that once you are in, you have access to internal job postings that are not accessible to the general public. The vast majority of people who join government join on a contract, which could be a new position, or more likely covering someone's parental or other leave. Don't stress about this. You may find yourself in several different contract positions before finding a permanent position. The annoying this is that you will have to compete (i.e. interview) for the permanent position even if you are on contract. 

I know some people who have taken a government policy job as a way to get into government, and then they have access to those internal postings and can find their way to LSB (or others find they really enjoy policy work!)

On 11/23/2021 at 7:54 PM, ThisCatalyst said:

As far as finding public sector work, something they really don't tell you is how important networking can be - especially when a lot of roles start with temporary contracts these days.  Informational interviews are also great ways to identify what ministries and branches have work that you might enjoy, how some people have ended up there, and where needs might exist in the future.  (But those interviews are often best when you're not immediately seeking a role, but genuinely looking to learn about someone's work and career path.  And it is a great way to find mentors!)

I totally agree. Some people thing that networking is only done in the big firm context but it is important in government as well. This goes to what I was saying above, is that if you can get into government in a contract in an area you are maybe not super keen on, you may be able to network into a different area.  You may still have to compete for the job, though there are some positions that are short term contracts that the interview formal is more informal, where networking can go a long way. As I said in an earlier post, government legal services covers a broad spectrum of topics, so you may find out about practice areas that you had no idea existed but sound super interesting to you! 

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tiktok
  • Law Student

Hello and thank you for hosting this AMA! 

I am currently a law student who is considering entering the federal government as a tax litigator. How fulfilling do you find your job and do you ever regret choosing public sector over private sector? My friends who are also planning to become tax lawyers have secured summer jobs in the private sector and they are set to make 150k+bonus as a first year associate in Toronto.... Sometimes the money in private sector is attractive, but other times, I tell myself that I will be better off in public sector long term (i.e. better hours, decent benefits and defined-benefit pension)

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whereverjustice
  • Lawyer
23 hours ago, azure said:

know some people who have taken a government policy job as a way to get into government, and then they have access to those internal postings and can find their way to LSB

Just a word of warning to the reader: this doesn't work the same way in Ontario. Working in a non-legal position in the Ontario Public Service does not make you an internal applicant for MAG lawyer positions.

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goosie
  • Law Student

Hi all! I'm going to be articling with a municipality and am getting a bit concerned with what will happen after I end my term. I know that in the public sector it can be harder to be hired back since budgets are tight and there's normally a limited amount of lawyer spots in the department. Does anyone have any tips on looking for public sector jobs post-articling as a new call? Is there anything I can do during 3L to make it easier for me down the line (besides keeping my grades up)? I'm hoping to be hired back but I want to be prepared for the possibility that I won't. Thanks!

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Deadpool
  • Lawyer
14 minutes ago, goosie said:

Hi all! I'm going to be articling with a municipality and am getting a bit concerned with what will happen after I end my term. I know that in the public sector it can be harder to be hired back since budgets are tight and there's normally a limited amount of lawyer spots in the department. Does anyone have any tips on looking for public sector jobs post-articling as a new call? Is there anything I can do during 3L to make it easier for me down the line (besides keeping my grades up)? I'm hoping to be hired back but I want to be prepared for the possibility that I won't. Thanks!

If this is the City of Toronto, there is almost always a 100% hireback rate. Hireback rates with municipalities and the federal government is much better than it is with the provincial government. Almost all lawyers working in these places got in as summer/articling students. They rarely run external hiring processes (especially the federal government) and these processes are very competitive and generally for mid-level to senior lawyers. If you are with a smaller municipality where hireback is not guaranteed, it should still not be too difficult for you to find a position in the private sector after, in an area of law that you worked in during your articling term - primarily civil litigation, real estate, environmental, prosecutions, employment, municipal, planning, and land development. It will be difficult to find a public sector legal job because they typically hire more experienced lawyers with specialized practice area experience.

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Deadpool
  • Lawyer
18 hours ago, tiktok said:

Hello and thank you for hosting this AMA! 

I am currently a law student who is considering entering the federal government as a tax litigator. How fulfilling do you find your job and do you ever regret choosing public sector over private sector? My friends who are also planning to become tax lawyers have secured summer jobs in the private sector and they are set to make 150k+bonus as a first year associate in Toronto.... Sometimes the money in private sector is attractive, but other times, I tell myself that I will be better off in public sector long term (i.e. better hours, decent benefits and defined-benefit pension)

I have absolutely no regrets starting my career in the federal government. I was working in a high-profile department with lots of great mentorship and training, the work was topnotch and interesting, my hours were typically 9-5, and my salary was around the 100k range as junior counsel. Almost every single one of my friends working in Big law on Bay Street and in the US said they wished they could switch places with me. The money in the private sector is fantastic and well beyond what you can make in the public sector, but you are also putting in your time and sweat for that. There is less job security in the private sector and lots of burnout. In the public sector, it is not uncommon to be evaluated based on performance targets and not have billable hours. It is also rare to be fired in the public sector, and most people here are lifers that stay on for many years, or until retirement. The benefits for people wanting to start families and take leaves of absence are also great. 

Regarding tax specifically, the Tax Division at the Department of Justice is one of their largest departments. It is the only department that is constantly hiring junior tax lawyers through external hiring processes, because there is also high turnover. You may find yourself working similar hours as in the private sector there. In that case, it may make more sense to be a tax lawyer in the private sector as you would make a lot more money for similar work hours. You should also look into places like the MAG - Ministry of Finance that have tax lawyers working there, and crown corporations that may hire tax lawyers. 

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ThisCatalyst
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, whereverjustice said:

Just a word of warning to the reader: this doesn't work the same way in Ontario. Working in a non-legal position in the Ontario Public Service does not make you an internal applicant for MAG lawyer positions.

This is accurate for OPS/MAG!  That said, there are also a couple other parts of the public sector (e.g. agencies, commissions, Crown Corps) where any role for the organization may count as "internal".  In these cases, research/coffee chats are your best friend - some like to hire internally, others tend to hire externally.  It's also not usually as big of an advantage to be an internal candidate for these orgs as it would be for OPS/MAG, where postings usually go through "pools" of past articling students and current lawyers before they are open to external candidates.

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ZineZ
  • Lawyer
On 11/23/2021 at 9:49 PM, Whist said:

In the context of getting a job out of law school mostly, although I'm sure the latter could potentially be helpful in the future or for others right now.

I think what @azure and @ThisCatalyst have said are excellent on this. I'm going to include a few more points in bullets. At some point before the next cycle, I also hope to make a larger post about the OPS and obtaining a student position with them generally. I was thinking of doing it now, but I think it would take me a bit more time to write out.

  • As mentioned already, you need to be able to show a genuine interest in public service work. I don't think this means that you need to have worked in the public sector beforehand, but I would encourage that you do a couple of virtual coffees with students who are there now. Infogo is terrific for this - you can look up any legal services branch and then find who the student is. If there's no student (which shouldn't really be the case), reach out to a lawyer.
    • On this note - even though interviews are substantive in nature, being able to reference what the ministry is doing can make a huge difference in an interview. Lawyers and students will also flag if they had a conversation with a student who was really great.
  • Expect interviews to be substantive and prepare for it. There's an excellent guide that was created by the CLCDN for Government Interviews. I'd go through it in preparation - see what kinds of questions have been asked in the past. And know some of the basic legislation that the Department administers. You don't need to read every provision, but at the very least understand *what* the pieces are. 
    • On a similar note, go check out press releases from the ministry or news articles. It'll give you a hint of what's been keeping the ministry busy.
  • Explore the different avenues available to get into the OPS. OCIs and articling get a lot of interest, but the Aboriginal Law Summer Student Program is phenomenal and needs more love. For folks who are interested in Indigenous law, applying for this should be a priority. I know someone who got their articling position after using this for the summer, and they had a great experience. 
  • Bigger offices will often have more maternity leaves/retirements/general movement. I went with a smaller office as it really fit my interests - but if hireback is of a huge concern to you, there are some inherent benefits in working for a bigger office. I loved my smaller ministry as I found it to be really collegial, but just wanted to mention this as a general factor.

I'll post a much larger guide before next year's OCI process, but I think that this is a decent start

On 11/25/2021 at 1:03 PM, azure said:

 

I totally agree. Some people thing that networking is only done in the big firm context but it is important in government as well. This goes to what I was saying above, is that if you can get into government in a contract in an area you are maybe not super keen on, you may be able to network into a different area.  You may still have to compete for the job, though there are some positions that are short term contracts that the interview formal is more informal, where networking can go a long way. As I said in an earlier post, government legal services covers a broad spectrum of topics, so you may find out about practice areas that you had no idea existed but sound super interesting to you! 

 

As @whereverjusticementioned, this does get complicated in Ontario due to the way hiring works. However, the one reprieve is that you stay on the internal hiring lists for two years if you articled with the government. So you can take a policy job in Ontario while you keep applying for legal positions. However, this can be really tricky - there are a small subset of directors who may not view it favorably (though my understanding is that this is becoming less of an issue over time).

 

19 hours ago, tiktok said:

Hello and thank you for hosting this AMA! 

I am currently a law student who is considering entering the federal government as a tax litigator. How fulfilling do you find your job and do you ever regret choosing public sector over private sector? My friends who are also planning to become tax lawyers have secured summer jobs in the private sector and they are set to make 150k+bonus as a first year associate in Toronto.... Sometimes the money in private sector is attractive, but other times, I tell myself that I will be better off in public sector long term (i.e. better hours, decent benefits and defined-benefit pension)

I love it and I couldn't have seen myself going any other way. I've found that the work I do can have an impact on the lives of people and is also generally interesting. I'm a policy wonk, so getting to work on, and influence, policy is something that I enjoy doing on a day-day-basis. 

One note of caution - practice in government can get extremely busy and it's not always 9-5. There were many occasions during my articles when I had to work a ~14 hour day, especially once COVID hit. However, in my experience - the requests were normally reasonable and came because of a pressing priority. And I felt...appreciated for the extra time I'd have to put in. There was a particularly busy time when my Legal Director came up to me and essentially demanded that I go home as I had been working too much that month. Also offered me an extra day off to recuperate. It was a small thing, but it really stuck with me.  

Despite what I've mentioned above, I will say that I had a better work/life balance in my articles than most people in the private sector. That meant more time for hobbies, time with family and to work on myself. I took cooking classes - which were immediately useful once the pandemic started. 

As I've mentioned in another post, my current position is 9-5 with decent benefits. While I sometimes do get envious of the paychecks my friends in the private sector get, it doesn't happen often. Overall, I feel like I've found the sector that I'd want to be in.

 

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On 11/26/2021 at 11:43 AM, whereverjustice said:

Just a word of warning to the reader: this doesn't work the same way in Ontario. Working in a non-legal position in the Ontario Public Service does not make you an internal applicant for MAG lawyer positions.

Oh dang! So in BC, there are a couple different levels of "internal" postings where sometimes this is true. I should have been more specific but was posting in a rush. If they are posting and Expression of Interest (EOI), they are able to post it just to lawyers that are current working for LSB. These EOI positions are usually for a term of 1 year or less and the process is more informal. Then, there are internal BC Public Service job postings, where the job might be posted internally to all government employees. Then there are public postings. Sometimes they skip the EOI and just do an internal BCPS posting, usually if it is a permanent position. 

It does seem more common lately in my branch to use EOIs to fill positions internally first.  So coming from a policy job you wouldn't even have access to these EOIs. 

That said, I know a few people who went to policy first and then lawyer, since it does demonstrate an interest in working for government and can also give you an interesting perspective from the client side. 

 

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On 11/26/2021 at 2:40 PM, goosie said:

Hi all! I'm going to be articling with a municipality and am getting a bit concerned with what will happen after I end my term. I know that in the public sector it can be harder to be hired back since budgets are tight and there's normally a limited amount of lawyer spots in the department. Does anyone have any tips on looking for public sector jobs post-articling as a new call? Is there anything I can do during 3L to make it easier for me down the line (besides keeping my grades up)? I'm hoping to be hired back but I want to be prepared for the possibility that I won't. Thanks!

Maybe others can chime in but I don't think it's very common for employers to ask for transcripts for jobs after you finish articling. At least in BC Government I've never heard of it. I've perused some other public sector job posting and haven't seen the requirement there either.

Focus on doing a good job in articling and in the event they don't hire back you will at least have valuable experience and hopefully some good references. As others have mentioned, networking can't hurt either. 

On 11/26/2021 at 3:21 PM, ZineZ said:

As I've mentioned in another post, my current position is 9-5 with decent benefits. While I sometimes do get envious of the paychecks my friends in the private sector get, it doesn't happen often. Overall, I feel like I've found the sector that I'd want to be in.

One thing that I want to mention in terms of the salary question and public/private sector, is that it really depends on the market you are in. Things tend to be very Toronto-centric on this board (which I get, since it is the largest market), and yes, compared to a Bay St. salary in Toronto, public sectors lawyers don't make as much.

But, here in Victoria, BC, for example, the private legal market is primarily family law, real estate, crime defense, wills/estates. My friends and I discussed and for people in about 5 year call working in these practice areas in these firms, their salary was in the range of $75-85k, some with, some without bonuses. They were taking in $120-130k for the firm, but have to split the fee. Compared to a 5 year call in BC Government makes $117k. Yes, those people in those private firms have the potential to make more money down the road through partnership, but my salary will also continue to increase and I won't have to put in as many hours.  I know several people in Victoria who have jumped from private to the public sector for this reason. 

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Hitman9172
  • Lawyer
21 minutes ago, azure said:

But, here in Victoria, BC, for example, the private legal market is primarily family law, real estate, crime defense, wills/estates. My friends and I discussed and for people in about 5 year call working in these practice areas in these firms, their salary was in the range of $75-85k, some with, some without bonuses. They were taking in $120-130k for the firm, but have to split the fee. Compared to a 5 year call in BC Government makes $117k. Yes, those people in those private firms have the potential to make more money down the road through partnership, but my salary will also continue to increase and I won't have to put in as many hours.  I know several people in Victoria who have jumped from private to the public sector for this reason. 

This is valid. I know someone who did corporate/commercial law in Victoria at a firm and then went in-house in the public sector. Makes roughly the same for less hours.

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TheDevilIKnow
  • Law Student

I have a question about compensation.

Of course it is well-known that one doesn't work in the public sector to get rich, but that there are plenty of other pros (well-discussed by @ZineZ and @azure above). However, the pay also still seems "pretty good" compared to most other things that aren't BigLaw. I've got the sense that government associates start at about 75% of the salary of BigLaw, although that percentage would go down a little over time (and become inapplicable altogether when it comes to partnership).

What I'm wondering is, given the recent BigLaw pay increases in Toronto (and possibly coming in Vancouver and Calgary? I haven't followed closely), are government employers likely to also move up a little, for competitive reasons? With Toronto BigLaw going from 110K to 130k for first year associates, the DOJ (for example) as a comparator has gone from 75% of BigLaw salary, down to 63%. To me, that difference is enough to look significant, and I wonder if public sector employers will have to respond, at least a little bit, to keep looking realistically attractive.

Thanks!

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51 minutes ago, TheDevilIKnow said:

I have a question about compensation.

Of course it is well-known that one doesn't work in the public sector to get rich, but that there are plenty of other pros (well-discussed by @ZineZ and @azure above). However, the pay also still seems "pretty good" compared to most other things that aren't BigLaw. I've got the sense that government associates start at about 75% of the salary of BigLaw, although that percentage would go down a little over time (and become inapplicable altogether when it comes to partnership).

What I'm wondering is, given the recent BigLaw pay increases in Toronto (and possibly coming in Vancouver and Calgary? I haven't followed closely), are government employers likely to also move up a little, for competitive reasons? With Toronto BigLaw going from 110K to 130k for first year associates, the DOJ (for example) as a comparator has gone from 75% of BigLaw salary, down to 63%. To me, that difference is enough to look significant, and I wonder if public sector employers will have to respond, at least a little bit, to keep looking realistically attractive.

Thanks!

Big law firms have raised salaries because they have been losing many Associates to the US and other international markets. Big law firm clients are also wealthy individuals, corporations, and institutions. The driving force at these firms is to make a profit, so they need to pay higher salaries to retain employees and keep them happy and willing to work long hours.

In the public sector, your salary is dictated by the government and collective agreements. You are not there to make a profit for them. Recruiters are not hiring Canadian lawyers for public interest jobs abroad. Most people that are hired in the public sector stay for many years or until retirement, so it is still very competitive to get a position there. The Department of Justice had one recruitment process in 2019 where they had established a pool of candidates, but did not actually hire anyone from this pool until late 2021. This is a common facet of how hiring works in the public sector, which is generally a more selective and lengthy process. There are many lawyers in the private sector that would love to transition to the public sector, for a better work-life balance and other benefits. The public sector is not struggling to retain employees or talent. 

Finally, no amount of money offered in the public sector would keep someone that wanted to make Big law money from choosing the former. These two sectors look very different from one other. The type of people that are attracted to these jobs have different personalities. I tried my hand in the private sector, but ultimately I saw myself as a public servant and someone that wants to contribute to society in more meaningful ways than just making money. This is a common characteristic of people working here. If you want a lucrative public sector position, look into the City of Toronto and the Yukon and Northwest Territories. Otherwise, go private and hustle because that is where the money is. 

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Judgelight
  • Lawyer
On 11/25/2021 at 11:07 PM, tiktok said:

Hello and thank you for hosting this AMA! 

I am currently a law student who is considering entering the federal government as a tax litigator. How fulfilling do you find your job and do you ever regret choosing public sector over private sector? My friends who are also planning to become tax lawyers have secured summer jobs in the private sector and they are set to make 150k+bonus as a first year associate in Toronto.... Sometimes the money in private sector is attractive, but other times, I tell myself that I will be better off in public sector long term (i.e. better hours, decent benefits and defined-benefit pension)

I work for a provincial government, and do criminal law, so not exactly the same as you, but my friends that do litigation for the government are really not satisfied and are all trying to jump ship for the private sector OR are trying to find a civil law position elsewhere. 

From what i've been told you work big law hours with a 50k pay cut (no, pension doesn't compensation for that - pension is more like a 10-15k bonus if you do the math). 

Also, can't speak for feds, but keep in mind many juniors with the government re-compete for contracts every few months and have no benefits until they become permanent. 

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Darth Vader
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, Judgelight said:

I work for a provincial government, and do criminal law, so not exactly the same as you, but my friends that do litigation for the government are really not satisfied and are all trying to jump ship for the private sector OR are trying to find a civil law position elsewhere. 

From what i've been told you work big law hours with a 50k pay cut (no, pension doesn't compensation for that - pension is more like a 10-15k bonus if you do the math). 

Also, can't speak for feds, but keep in mind many juniors with the government re-compete for contracts every few months and have no benefits until they become permanent. 

Just wondering - what are the litigation offices you're mainly referring to? Crown attorney, MAG Crown Law Office - Civil and Ontario Securities Commission? Because I do see a lot more people leaving these places than the other provincial departments. 

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