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The many possibilities of lawyering post-pandemic | Samantha Peters

Friday, January 15, 2021 @ 11:00 AM | By Samantha Peters

Samantha Peters %>
Samantha Peters
I became a lawyer in two jurisdictions amidst a global pandemic. As a result, I knew early on that I would have to think creatively about how I wanted to use my law degree and how I wanted to practise law. With the legal profession (and lawyer licensing) being turned on its head, I had to imagine new possibilities, or simply create my own.

I recall in my first year of law school attending a CBA Legal Futures Initiative panel at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. It was exciting for me as a law student at the time to discuss the future of the legal profession and “doing law differently” with my peers in a profession that is known for pushing big law, making partner and working around the clock. However, this was not me. But when colleagues and TV shows tell you that this is the only possibility, how can we consider anything beyond such restrictive and rigid professional constraints?

I entered law school with a background in education and an interest in policy development and law reform. However, I did not know how that translated into a job. What can work at the intersection of law, policy and education look like? And more importantly, will it pay the bills while also allowing for work-life-balance?

During law school I said no to the on-campus interview process and yes to other opportunities. In the summer of my first year of law school, I received a National Social Justice Fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to support students in obtaining invaluable exposure to social justice advocacy in either a domestic or international context, and to enhance the capacity of future social justice lawyers to pursue social justice goals and work towards the protection of human rights.

I chose to complete the fellowship at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, which was a community-based organization in Toronto that provided legal services to African Canadians in Ontario and actively engaged in law reform, advocacy and public legal education to address anti-Black racism and other forms of systemic and institutional discrimination in Canadian society.

The University of Ottawa Faculty of Law also permits common law students to pursue self-proposed internships during their studies at the law school. These internships provide students with the opportunity to gain practical experience and expose them to a variety of practice areas and work environments. Furthermore, internships can be completed during any term.

During my first-year summer, in addition to the fellowship, I completed an internship at Sanctuary for Families — a New York City-based non-profit organization dedicated to aiding victims of domestic violence — in exchange for academic credit. During my second-year summer I worked at the Law Commission of Ontario as a research student and at South Ottawa Community Legal Services as a summer law student.

In these various roles I honed a wide range of skills and learned that there were many possibilities outside of law practice.

Fast-forward to COVID-19 reaching Canada. I had been out of the legal profession and legal community after a three-year hiatus and had to think quickly and creatively. How do I make connections in the legal community? How do I carve out space for Black queer femmes like myself who want to practise law in transformative and innovative ways? How will I practise law differently?

As the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law’s first Black Legal Mentor-in-Residence, I get a lot of questions from law students and prospective law students about summer law jobs, articling and professional possibilities once they become lawyers. The reality is that the pandemic has changed what law practice looks like — from virtual hearings to working from home — but it has also pushed new lawyers (and lawyers wanting to leave traditional law practice) to think outside the box.

Is there a legal project idea that you have? Consider applying for a grant through the Law Foundation of Ontario. Want to offer legal services on your own terms? Flex Legal has created opportunities for law students and lawyers alike. Have a passion for the arts? I have seen lawyers work as Filmmakers-in-Residence, make jewelry and even start podcasts.

One thing that this pandemic has shown me is that the law, the profession and the practice is always evolving and we all have a role to play. Not everyone will work at a law firm, and that’s absolutely OK.

Author’s note: This article is the opinion of Samantha Peters and does not reflect the opinion of her employers.

Samantha Peters (she/her/hers) is a lawyer who engages in work at the intersection of law, education and policy ranging from law reform initiatives to legal education to legislative research. Contact her at @SamPetersTO.

Photo credit / Charu Sharma

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