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How lawyers are thriving in regional markets | Karen Perron

Wednesday, October 05, 2022 @ 1:29 PM | By Karen Perron


Karen Perron %>
Karen Perron
Ontario is a great place to practise law. From Kenora to St. Catharines, Leamington to Cornwall, there is no shortage of wonderful places to be a lawyer.

As president of the Ontario Bar Association, I regularly speak with lawyers who have chosen to work in small towns and cities right across the province. This connection to community is one of the reasons I gave my presidential mandate a robust regional focus. Yet, the idea that a lawyer can’t have a fulfilling career — or make tremendous impact — practising in places other than larger markets is something the profession is still trying to overcome.

Recently, a session at the OBA’s Career Building Bootcamp, part of our Ontario Legal Conference, tackled this issue head-on with two sessions dedicated to highlighting the many benefits of working in some of Ontario’s smaller communities. The main question posed to the speakers was simple: why do you practise law where you do?

Here are a few of the answers:

“The practice of law isn’t different where you practise, so why not practise where you want to live?”

“People’s main concern is always about whether they’ll have opportunity to do the kind of law they want to do. Well, virtually everything is done where I live.”

“There are lots of opportunities for people to come to a community and for there to be a steady stream of quality legal work.”

“Where I am, there is the benefit of meeting people where they are, and this can help better meet the needs of your clients. Every day is different because of the variety of practice I have. I help clients buy their first house, start a business, do estate planning — basically travel through the various milestones of life. And that is very fulfilling.”

You can see in these answers both a dedication to their practice and clients, as well as a passion and love for the places they call home. Too often, we see these as being mutually exclusive. But in today’s world, this is certainly not the case.

It’s not only possible to have a rewarding career in a smaller city or town, the potential lifestyle improvements might actually make the chances of doing so more likely. Having grown up in Cochrane and Timmins, I know the lifestyle advantages places that size offer. After attending the University of Ottawa, I made that city home because it felt like home. For me, it’s the right place to practise.

I couldn’t imagine practising anywhere else. And that was a sentiment shared by the session’s speakers. Where they live and work gives them what they want: a sense of community, support, a sense of integration in their lives, freedom, a short commute (which we all know is important), and that idea of a proper work-life blend.

I think that more and more lawyers are feeling this way. The past couple of years may have reinforced that idea and the need to find more joy in the profession we all love. The pandemic has truly allowed room to reflect on work: where we work, how we work, and the role work has in our lives.

Lawyers seem more willing now to see the once invisible doors opened before them. There is no template for what makes a lawyer, and there is no one career path. What works for me may not work for you. And vice versa. It’s important that students and new lawyers realize this.

As they are planning their own legal journeys — which will undoubtedly not turn out exactly as planned — defining what will make their careers successful and meaningful is as important as deciding what area they want to practise in. In the long run, it will benefit them and improve access to justice for everyone.

Karen Perron is the 11th female president in the 114-year history of the Ontario Bar Association. She is a partner at Borden, Ladner, Gervais in Ottawa.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients,
The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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