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Rural Defence Practice


Icarus
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Icarus
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Is there anyone on the forum who has a small town/rural/northern criminal defence practice? I'm curious to generally hear how it differs (or not) from big city/urban practice. Is it generally less hectic, or is that a personal choice you make regardless of location? Is there any difference in how difficult it is to break into the market and establish a rural practice vs a big city practice? I am coming up on a couple years experience in a competitive criminal law position in TO.  There is a part of me that would be happy to build a criminal defence practice with a healthy work-life balance (no evenings and weekends except for emergencies/urgent client issues) in an area of the province with far, far cheaper real estate and easy access to the great outdoors. I feel no need to make an extravagant amount of money; I would be content to be able to afford a decent property and a responsible level of savings. I'm curious to hear from anyone who is in this type of position! 

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I did it for my first 3 years of practice. I didn’t work on my own  (I worked for an established firm in a rural area) but I did build the criminal law area of that firm on my own. Rural area with one main court and around 200k people spread out over a lot of area.

It was wasn’t hard to get clients (given how few lawyers there were that took certificates) but it was definitely hard making money. The paying clients gravitated to a few senior lawyers in the area who had made a name for themselves both in the community and offence type (I.e. DUI lawyer). Then the real serious stuff went to lawyers from the city who specialized and were willing to travel.

One interesting aspect of Covid-19 is that more and more city lawyers are handling matters out in country land. If  you don’t need to attend court in person, then travelling a few hours to meet with a client a few times and then the day(s) of trials isn’t too bad. From my experience, it’s resulted in less of a benefit for rural lawyers because the market isn’t as limited as it once was (obviously that varies depending on how far out you are).

In the end I left for greener pastures but there was certainly enough work to make a go out of it. Just not the kind of money your likely making now (at least not for the first few years unless you land some files going the length with clients that are willing to pay).

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Phaedrus
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On 3/18/2022 at 10:09 PM, JackyC said:

It was wasn’t hard to get clients (given how few lawyers there were that took certificates) but it was definitely hard making money. The paying clients gravitated to a few senior lawyers in the area who had made a name for themselves both in the community and offence type (I.e. DUI lawyer). Then the real serious stuff went to lawyers from the city who specialized and were willing to travel.

This hits the nail on the head. I practice in a rural community and almost all paying clients are going to the one senior lawyer the townsfolk know does DUI trials. The ones facing serious jail time that can afford counsel opt for the big names in the city. It's tough, and certificate work is hard to make a living on. In most cases, you end up adopting a general practice to pay the bills. 

I don't have experience with northern criminal practice, but I imagine it's the same. Northern regions have a circuit court, and legal aid/Crown are always on the move from community to community. That comes with its own set of challenges, including stability and client/community rapport. The pay is usually good, includes benefits (such as provided lodging/housing allowance), and the northern exposure pay can make it lucrative. However, you'll be expected to take on serious files at an earlier stage of your career than if you were in a similar position in a city or small town. Probably not a big deal if you have criminal boutique experience, but could be jarring for less experienced counsel.

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