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Working as a Crown - Answering Questions


Judgelight
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Judgelight
  • Lawyer

Hello,

I'm a crown in Ontario. I'm a junior lawyer. I'm willing to answer questions people may have about my day-to-day work, etc.

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Lsat Struggles
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Hello, I hear that government positions are hard to come by and my current goal is to potentially work as a crown. (1) how did you land a job as a crown in Ontario? (2) what are you typical hours? (3) is being a crown a plausible career path?

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CleanHands
  • Articling Student
20 minutes ago, Lsat Struggles said:

(3) is being a crown a plausible career path?

I'm not the OP, but how would you figure it would be "implausible"? It's a reasonably competitive position, nobody knows how you will perform in law school, and nothing is ever guaranteed, but our system needs a good number of Crowns to function and it's not super a remote possibility like getting an SCC clerkship or something. I'm just curious what you mean more specifically by your question.

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Lsat Struggles
  • Applicant
26 minutes ago, CleanHands said:

I'm not the OP, but how would you figure it would be "implausible"? It's a reasonably competitive position, nobody knows how you will perform in law school, and nothing is ever guaranteed, but our system needs a good number of Crowns to function and it's not super a remote possibility like getting an SCC clerkship or something. I'm just curious what you mean more specifically by your question.

Sorry for the lack of clarification. I heard that anything dealing with government lawyer positions are extremely competitive and rare to get. I've read that the best bet would be to get in and work within province departments early (summer student/articling), or for federal, through the legal experience program. Otherwise, it's pretty rare?

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ZineZ
  • Lawyer
5 hours ago, Lsat Struggles said:

Sorry for the lack of clarification. I heard that anything dealing with government lawyer positions are extremely competitive and rare to get. I've read that the best bet would be to get in and work within province departments early (summer student/articling), or for federal, through the legal experience program. Otherwise, it's pretty rare?

You are correct that government positions are quite competitive and I'll leave it to @Judgelightto answer this question in greater detail, but there is usually more availability on the crim side. I would, however, make sure try to go for an articling position as it gives you access to "closed" competitions in places such as Ontario. 

It's the summer so there aren't as many openings - but you'll find that Ontario typically has more positions available on the criminal side than civil.

https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/maglawyers/

 

 

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Judgelight
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Posted (edited)
On 8/27/2021 at 11:00 AM, Lsat Struggles said:

Hello, I hear that government positions are hard to come by and my current goal is to potentially work as a crown. (1) how did you land a job as a crown in Ontario? (2) what are you typical hours? (3) is being a crown a plausible career path?

My advice to students is... if your "goal" is to be a crown, you are doing it wrong. Your goal should be to be a criminal lawyer first and foremost. If you don't love criminal law enough to do def work, you should look elsewhere.

To me, "wanting" to be a crown is a red flag - I'd question if you'd be able to assess things objectively and if you'd be able to "look at the other side".

 

1) How did I get into the system?

I've got a wealth of public sector experience and volunteer experience. While in law school I summered in the MAG system. I then get an articling gig with MAG. Then I dicked around for a couple of months and finally got a contract at a crown office after doing a few interviews.

My "route" to being a crown is fairly typical - most people in the Crown system have "grown-up" in it.  Due to how the government hiring regime works, it's very difficult to get a job as a Crown later in your career (although it does happen if you are good and a Crown wants you). 

 

2) What are your typical hours?

It depends.  During COVID: most days I get-up at 7, start preparing for court. I'm in court at 9 until 4:30 or 5 (working through lunch and breaks). Then I have dinner, then work for another hour or two. Then I go about my days.  Pre-COVID, I'd get to the office around 7:45-8 and leave around 6pm.

Pre-Covid I had many late nights in the office - a lot of that was just printing stuff out, preparing materials, binding, etc. Now I spend less time doing that (although there's a lot of electronic document preparation now).

I typically spend 3 - 5 hours on weekends working. 

Obviously all of that varies depending on what you are doing. For example, last week (or the week before, I don't remember) I was throw into day 3 of a sexual assault, so I had to spend my weekend reading transcripts, preparing for cross-examination of an accused and legal submissions.

This friday I worked till 11 or 12 trying to get something out of the way for a count matter on monday.

Crowns typically work more hours than def lawyers. In my experience the hours are comparable to many bay street firms. 

The NICE thing about being a crown is you don't get bothered by people to do stuff. I have never got a call from my Crown asking me to do something for him on saturday, for example. If you have a vacation - you can leave your phone/laptop off. There's no expectation you be ready to return to the office at a moment' call.

The BAD thing about being a Crown obviously is your brain is "on" the entire day when you are in court. You never have a "brain dead" day. That's very high stress. A survey recently came around that indicated 95% of crowns were suffering from (i believe) vicarious trauma/PTSD related to work.

 

EDIT: Sorry I see what you mean by #3 now:

Yes, anyone can become a Crown. It's an open and transparent process. You do an interview. Typically there will be 2 Crowns + a regional director "grading" your interview. The interview typically will consist of a written portion that you have some time to do prior to the start of the interview. Then there will be an oral advocacy question where you need to answer a few legal fact pattern questions.

The interview "grades" dictate who gets a contract. The higher the grades, the longer the contract.

I've had friends who were in the Crown system get cut after 6 - 12 months, getting replaced by another junior lawyer whose bright eyed like you but doesn't realize how tough the job actually is.


If you have any other questions feel free to ask.

Edited by Judgelight
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Judgelight
  • Lawyer
20 hours ago, ZineZ said:

You are correct that government positions are quite competitive and I'll leave it to @Judgelightto answer this question in greater detail, but there is usually more availability on the crim side. I would, however, make sure try to go for an articling position as it gives you access to "closed" competitions in places such as Ontario. 

It's the summer so there aren't as many openings - but you'll find that Ontario typically has more positions available on the criminal side than civil.

https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/maglawyers/

 

 

Absolutely, the easiest way to get in is to summer and article. Those positions are far and few between. I've known a few people who summered at Crown offices and then never got an articling offer anywhere. I also know one student that summered and articled at Crown offices, and then went to bay street.

 

There are more criminal postings, I don't believe there are more criminal positions than civil. Typically, each crown office will have 1 articling student and if they are lucky a summer student. 

Compare that to civil, where each civil law office will have 2 - 3 articling students, and then CLOC hires around 10 - 12 students.

The "lawyer" positions are deceiving. Those aren't "new" spots - there are contract crowns applying for those postings.

 

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CleanHands
  • Articling Student
24 minutes ago, Judgelight said:

My advice to students is... if your "goal" is to be a crown, you are doing it wrong. Your goal should be to be a criminal lawyer first and foremost. If you don't love criminal law enough to do def work, you should look elsewhere.

To me, "wanting" to be a crown is a red flag - I'd question if you'd be able to assess things objectively and if you'd be able to "look at the other side".

This times 1000. I wish I could like this post more than once. Overly "Crowny" Crowns are the worst kind of Crowns. People who end up Crowns because they are interested in criminal law generally tend to have far better judgement in their exercise of discretion than people who go to law school wanting to be Crowns from the outset (the latter group being basically wannabe cops with law degrees most of the time in my experience).

I just want to piggyback here to emphasize to any applicants that Crowns are "ministers of justice," it's a quasi-judicial role, the role of the Crown is to present evidence and ensure justice is done and procedural fairness is adhered to rather than to secure a conviction, etc, etc. I say this because few people actually know or appreciate this before going to law school (I certainly didn't have a good handle on it, being exposed to American media where prosecutors are elected and zealously pursue convictions).

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Darth Vader
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, Judgelight said:

The "lawyer" positions are deceiving. Those aren't "new" spots - there are contract crowns applying for those postings.

Tell me about it. I applied to a few jobs without checking properly to see that they were "Restricted" postings in Ontario and got a notification saying I didn't qualify. 

How difficult do you think it is to move between the different governments - municipal, provincial, and federal? I've seen people move from MAG to Legal Aid and vice-versa but that's pretty much it for the most part. 

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Judgelight
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6 hours ago, Darth Vader said:

Tell me about it. I applied to a few jobs without checking properly to see that they were "Restricted" postings in Ontario and got a notification saying I didn't qualify. 

How difficult do you think it is to move between the different governments - municipal, provincial, and federal? I've seen people move from MAG to Legal Aid and vice-versa but that's pretty much it for the most part. 

Legal aid to MAG is basically unheard of - most legal aid lawyers don't have the trial experience to cut it as a crown - no offence intended.

 

I've seen PPSC (staff) prosecutors move to the province. Agent work is too lucrative - they'd be insane to move.

Municipal? Never seen it. 

Of course, on the civil side of things, things may differ.

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Vizslaw
  • Lawyer
9 hours ago, Judgelight said:

Legal aid to MAG is basically unheard of - most legal aid lawyers don't have the trial experience to cut it as a crown - no offence intended.

 

I've seen PPSC (staff) prosecutors move to the province. Agent work is too lucrative - they'd be insane to move.

Municipal? Never seen it. 

Of course, on the civil side of things, things may differ.

Agent work is an interesting gig, although I'm sure it depends which province. I'm in Ontario and did 5-6 years of PPSC Agent work while at my defence firm until we decided not to renew our contract a few years ago. My principal did agent work for 15 years before I joined in 2013. It's lucrative if you're running trials non-stop and have an army of lawyers to handle their files, but the PPSC sets the rate and caps the number of hours you can bill. Normally that's fine, but if you're running project cases or other lengthy matters, you're going to be working more than 10 hours a day, which was the cap for billing. The rates were also quite low. I would typically have to work at least 3x the hours as my colleagues who only did private files to generate the same revenue.

Our PPSC profile seemed to be unique, since we weren't assigned to manage a courthouse/jurisdiction, in the same way that Firm X would just BE the Federal Crown in Newmarket or Oshawa. We handled specific cases throughout the province and were called in for complex/project cases that would otherwise take away too many of the "local" PPSC Agents. It was a gruelling profile since we rarely had downtime and would be juggling cases in the GTA, London, Windsor, etc. at once. I guess it was better than running bail/plea/remand courts. I loved the agent work, but I'm also glad we shifted away from it. Now we have a very different firm profile but that PPSC foundation was pretty dope. 

 

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Lsat Struggles
  • Applicant
On 8/28/2021 at 1:52 PM, CleanHands said:

I just want to piggyback here to emphasize to any applicants that Crowns are "ministers of justice," it's a quasi-judicial role, the role of the Crown is to present evidence and ensure justice is done and procedural fairness is adhered to rather than to secure a conviction, etc, etc.

I totally agree, defence is there to win and the Crown should only pursue what is in the interest of justice. The only reason behind my motive is I did my BA in law/legal studies which gave me exposure to the criminal law, precedents (Stinchcombe), and special topics (wrongful convictions) which I would assume many 1L's don't have. 

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Vizslaw
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, Lsat Struggles said:

I totally agree, defence is there to win and the Crown should only pursue what is in the interest of justice. The only reason behind my motive is I did my BA in law/legal studies which gave me exposure to the criminal law, precedents (Stinchcombe), and special topics (wrongful convictions) which I would assume many 1L's don't have. 

It is important to recognize the different roles the Crown and defence play, but keep in mind that the defence lawyer is also an "officer of the court". So, while defence counsel want to win, they cannot do so at any cost. I'm sure you'll see a question about this on the bar exam and what to do with clients giving you physical inculpatory evidence or "smoking guns", which can often place defence counsel in an untenable position where it would be contrary to the Rules of Professional Conduct to keep possession of the evidence or try to win at any cost. Not exactly the same, but the Ken Murray case is the usual case study. Austin Cooper wrote this summary prior to his passing, which is a long but interesting read.

https://criminal-lawyers.ca/2009/10/16/the-ken-murray-case-defence-counsels-dilemma/

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maybemaybe
  • Applicant

did any part of your job surprise you?

whats a critical skill for your job or in criminal defense in general to have but most people don't consider?

whats your reasoning for being a crown rather than working in a firm? what are the pros and cons compared to firms?

what is the most difficult part of your work?

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1 hour ago, maybemaybe said:

did any part of your job surprise you?

whats a critical skill for your job or in criminal defense in general to have but most people don't consider?

whats your reasoning for being a crown rather than working in a firm? what are the pros and cons compared to firms?

what is the most difficult part of your work?

1. I was not prepared for the gratitude of families. I have been gifted amazing things: an incredible hand craved xmas ornament, a bottle of homemade blackberry wine (the best wine I have ever had bar none), a three hundred year old borscht recipe kept in the family that long, and - still - a bouquet of blue daisies leaking food dye everywhere. Each one has been precious. Each is a story. 

2. Boundaries. It’s not just teaching yourself to leave work at work. It is also teaching your clients when it is ok to call you and when it isn’t. A nine pm anxiety attack over trial next week is unfortunate but it is not something the lawyer handles. And while it doesn’t ever feel good to get a bad person off on a technicality, the overall cost to the system if you don’t challenge these things is greater. You need to draw these lines clearly or you will wear out. 

3. leaving this

4. Realizing you can’t save everyone. Another boundary, really. 

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Judgelight
  • Lawyer
4 hours ago, maybemaybe said:

did any part of your job surprise you?

whats a critical skill for your job or in criminal defense in general to have but most people don't consider?

whats your reasoning for being a crown rather than working in a firm? what are the pros and cons compared to firms?

what is the most difficult part of your work?

1.

A) The fact that you are the "bad guy" for almost everyone involved in the process. The criminals don't like you (obviously). THEIR families don't like you. Victims are never satisfied with outcomes you achieve for them. 

B) The expectations. As the crown you are expected to know/do everything. Why is this release order not cancelled? What's the section of the criminal code that applies? Give me a copy of the forfeiture order. Give me a copy of the probation terms (even if you have no idea and weren't part of any CPTs). Judges and Justices AND def lawyers look to you with unrealistic expectations.

2.

Empathy and compassion are ones that everyone says but most crowns lack in my view. I'll leave it at that.

3.

I can practice criminal law and make good money - so I do it. I also don't have to deal with clients, which is a plus. I'm currently strongly considering options to switch to civil litigation (almost 50% salary increase).

I had some offers at def firms when I first started, but the pay was 20-30k less that what I would make as a crown. I have friends that are better lawyers than me - 10 year calls - who make the same as me working at a def firm.

4.

Not sure if this answers your question exactly, but: the hours; the lack of prep time; the lack of any real training; unrealistic expectations; the vicarious trauma; lack of job security; lack of health care benefits; zero vacation time.  

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CleanHands
  • Articling Student
10 minutes ago, Judgelight said:

1.

A) The fact that you are the "bad guy" for almost everyone involved in the process. The criminals don't like you (obviously). THEIR families don't like you. Victims are never satisfied with outcomes you achieve for them. 

While I do take your point I think that the last sentence overstates things with its absolutist terms. I am very inexperienced but already there have been a number of occasions where I expected victims to be upset with me over perceived leniency but they have been very nice, kind and thankful to an extent that surprised me.

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Judgelight
  • Lawyer
20 hours ago, CleanHands said:

While I do take your point I think that the last sentence overstates things with its absolutist terms. I am very inexperienced but already there have been a number of occasions where I expected victims to be upset with me over perceived leniency but they have been very nice, kind and thankful to an extent that surprised me.

Fair enough. I think there's a recognition that you've "done your job" but ultimately you are the one explaining to them why their rape is only worth 18 months, or why the judge chose to acquit, and so you are the one who is easiest to vent to and lash out too. 

 

Obviously everyone's experiences differ.

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CleanHands
  • Articling Student
3 hours ago, Judgelight said:

Fair enough. I think there's a recognition that you've "done your job" but ultimately you are the one explaining to them why their rape is only worth 18 months, or why the judge chose to acquit, and so you are the one who is easiest to vent to and lash out too. 

 

Obviously everyone's experiences differ.

Oh, I'm sure everyone gets all sorts of reactions (to varying extents). These are people dealing with the outcomes of some of the worst moments of their lives, so emotions are high. And more often than not the situation isn't fair to them.

I just didn't want people to get the impression that all victims are always pissed off about resolutions and/or Crowns, because I think that's sometimes true but certainly not always true.

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razraini
  • Lawyer

1) Did any part of your job surprise you?

How quickly otherwise stunning acts of violence became banal. The cruelty individuals visit upon one another. All the dimensions of it. The baffling and often bizarre expressions of sexuality of defendants and complainants. The depth of shame on display. 

I always knew that people did this. But there is less distance between me and that violence now. Just an arm's length. It is not sensational. It is plain. Literally it's my job to deal with it. I am desensitized to media depictions of violence. I can look at photos of injuries all day and not bat an eyelid. I am less dull to complainant's describing it, watching them crumple and freeze up as they re-live it. The immediacy of their fear.

It can feel at times like I'm standing outside of time. I can't help but feel that the conduct I am trying to prove or condemn is exactly the sort of brutality human beings have been exacting on one another for hundreds or thousands of years. The system may be more humane perhaps but the conduct of its subjects might not be.

It would be easy to just say that I deal with bad guys and evil people. But that is not true. So far I have come across only one person who could in good faith be characterized as evil in a literary sense. The reality is that people are tremendously complex and often governed by misshapen impulses and in that complexity and those impulses is a capacity to do evil that is sometimes exercised. But there is also capacity for kindness and a capacity to do good. These people often have partners and children (who might be the complainants), friends and parents--people love them and they love other people. Some of them just happen to beat their lovers to death with tire irons or rape their own children. That's a lot to reconcile but you are dealing with the entire package. 

Tldr: I thought I understood the complexity of human beings but never even scratched the surface and didn't expect the complexity of my own responses.

2) What's a critical skill for your job or in criminal defense in general to have but most people don't consider?

Having perspective. More of a trait rather than a skill but something you can and should nurture regardless of your role in the criminal justice system. In my humble opinion, some of the worst prosecutors approach every criminal allegation as though it is some kind of Biblical wrong. They will engineer reasonable likelihood of conviction and public interest no matter what. There is little regard for the process, only their preferred result. They will deny rather than work through weaknesses in their case. There is no appetite to meaningfully resolve or solve problems using lateral or creative thinking. There is no ability to prioritize what is worth fighting over at trial because there is no sense of what a trial may entail on even a procedural level. There is no room to re-assess the strength of the case as time passes. They simply assume that a case can be put in if disclosure aligns with the elements of the offence without much preliminary thought on issues of reliability or credibility. Disclosure, for them, is evidence per se rather that just some allegations of fact in a pile of stuff.

All of this, I think, is symptomatic of narrow-mindedness--an inability or unwillingness to entertain, let alone accept, that a case just might go beyond the four corners of disclosure and that a judge just might not mechanically accept the untested word of prospective witnesses (including the police).

Similarly, I think the strongest defence counsel are live to what a judge and the broader community are concerned about. They address these concerns in some way at any stage of proceedings. They can confidently take risks in advancing and protecting their clients interests because they can assure judges that their apprehensions will not come to pass. Of course judges are not always persuaded. But the most effective defence submissions I have seen recognize that criminal allegations do not occur in a vacuum--they occur in a community. But as strong advocates, they can take what they recognize and use it as a shield or a sword. That too, I think, takes some perspective.

3) What's your reasoning for being a crown rather than working in a firm? what are the pros and cons compared to firms?

Nah.

4) What is the most difficult part of your work? 

Leaving it at the office. I am on vacation right now and I am still working, just from home and at a slightly more controlled pace. 

Edited by razraini
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razraini
  • Lawyer
On 8/30/2021 at 7:46 PM, Judgelight said:

1.

A) The fact that you are the "bad guy" for almost everyone involved in the process. The criminals don't like you (obviously). 

Funny story--I recently prosecuted a guy for assault causing bodily harm. He was acquitted. I am also prosecuting two of his family members for very serious matters and he knows it. He approached me in court after trial, shook my hand, smiled, and said, "Oh, you are good. You are real good. You almost got me. I thought you were gonna get me too. I like you. You won't see me again." He was definitely on the charm offensive but I took it as a high compliment and really hope I don't see him again.

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4 minutes ago, razraini said:

Funny story--I recently prosecuted a guy for assault causing bodily harm. He was acquitted. I am also prosecuting two of his family members for very serious matters and he knows it. He approached me in court after trial, shook my hand, smiled, and said, "Oh, you are good. You are real good. You almost got me. I thought you were gonna get me too. I like you. You won't see me again." He was definitely on the charm offensive but I took it as a high compliment and really hope I don't see him again.

He shook your hand? What a classy guy.

And a compliment too?? He's a keeper.

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razraini
  • Lawyer
2 minutes ago, Thrive92 said:

He shook your hand? What a classy guy.

And a compliment too?? He's a keeper.

If I run into him again, I'll let him know we were all impressed 😉 

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  • 2 weeks later...
Judgelight
  • Lawyer

To the other Crowns out there... does it ever get better? This month I have 4 out of court days. Those days I'll probably spend doing other stuff. 

 

Last week I had 17 JPTs scheduled in a day. 5 self-reps. 10 + pleas a day for people with multiple infos. There obviously wasn't enough time to get through them all. Nor did I have any time to prep for them. Every day I feel like I'm jumping into trials or pleas or bails without having any prep time whatsoever. 

 

Would I be crazy to consider switching to def work for a better work life balance? The hours, stress and vicarious trauma doesn't seem to be worth the pittance of a salary I make, especially with short contracts and new interviews (what feels like) every few months.

 

Some days I love my jobs. Recently I've been getting burned out.

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28 minutes ago, Judgelight said:

To the other Crowns out there... does it ever get better? This month I have 4 out of court days. Those days I'll probably spend doing other stuff. 

 

Last week I had 17 JPTs scheduled in a day. 5 self-reps. 10 + pleas a day for people with multiple infos. There obviously wasn't enough time to get through them all. Nor did I have any time to prep for them. Every day I feel like I'm jumping into trials or pleas or bails without having any prep time whatsoever. 

 

Would I be crazy to consider switching to def work for a better work life balance? The hours, stress and vicarious trauma doesn't seem to be worth the pittance of a salary I make, especially with short contracts and new interviews (what feels like) every few months.

 

Some days I love my jobs. Recently I've been getting burned out.

You should ask OP. I bet as a junior crown lawyer he/she/they knows alot of stuff about it

Edited by Thrive92
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