So you want to be a criminal lawyer...

Ten Years Late For A Staff Meeting

I hit ten years of practice on my own on March 1, 2021 and wanted to write a blog about the top ten best things about being on your own in criminal defence. I have written about this over the years, including not having to participate in terrible conversations about lease terminations, making more money due to the tax incentives of being an entrepreneur and not being invited to a golf day and being forced to indulge the turgid egos of golfers. But as I started to make my list of ten, I realized there was one item on the list that I have not written about that may in fact be above all the others – not having to attend staff meetings.

Let me tell you something about staff meetings (said in the voice of Peter Gibbons from Office Space when he said ‘let me tell you something about TPS reports’).

When I articled at a Bay Street firm, there used to be a monthly group staff meeting that I would dread for days before the actual meeting occurred like I was going to come into contact with some sort of a plague. The meeting would occur on a Friday and all I remember about the meetings is that they were so boring and pointless that I often had to bite on my lip to prevent myself from falling asleep or screaming depending on my mood that day. As an articling student, I had absolutely nothing to contribute to this conversation and could not understand why I was forced to be there apart from the general thing about paying your dues and doing things you do not want to do for the sake of future success (which I am not sure is true).

The day of the staff meeting was far worse than the days of dread leading up to it. I was in full on panic mode before the meeting trying to gather up the internal resources to survive it. A minimum of five hours used to be sucked out of my day as a result of the staff meeting: one hour to prepare for the meeting, one hour for the meeting itself and at least three hours staring at my screen and “spacing out” to recover from the sheer monotony and fatuity of the staff meeting that had just taken place. 

spaced out gif

When I meet with clients or witnesses as a criminal defence lawyer, I always advance and achieve things. I learn about someone else’s life, about the case, think of ideas for a defence or some other good comes of it. I enjoy meeting with people from different walks of life, with people who have different experiences than I do and learning about them. One of the best things about criminal defence is that it is very much a human process and you get to know real human lives and confront real human problems by being a defence lawyer and just meeting with people.

My experience meeting people as a defence lawyer is in stark contrast to a staff meeting that goes on at a law firm. If I had a job where I had to regularly meet with co-workers for no reason who were going to talk about boring and pointless things that I did not care about and served no purpose at all, I don’t think I would have made it ten years. I don’t even think I would have made it one year. I was hanging on by a thread having to attend ten staff meetings during my articling term.

Criminal defence is definitely not for everyone. And there are a lot of negatives that have to be dealt with like the stress, difficult clients and long hours spent honing your craft and preparing for trials. There is also a lot of uncertainty in the practice of criminal defence when it comes to income and the results of cases. But I can live with all that uncertainty rather cheerfully when I think to myself that whatever happens in the future, one thing is certain - as long as I practice criminal defence, I am not attending a staff meeting. 

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