Rural Practice

This edition of the Assist in Your Community is themed Rural Law. In this issue, Leighton Grey, QC of the newly established St. Paul CBA Section writes about his experience to support practitioners who work outside major urban centres, and to assist those considering practicing in rural and regional communities. Read on for initiatives and studies of legal stakeholders in Alberta and findings of a recent study by Ipsos Reid on lawyer wellness at it relates to this subject.

When law students think of where to begin a career after graduation, their minds can commonly gravitate toward the big cities. This may be due to myths that limit consideration or other options:

Myth: Positions in rural communities are not lucrative.
Truth: Based on the survey conducted by the Retention and Re-engagement Task Force for the Law Society of Alberta on lawyers in smaller communities, many positions in rural communities provide competitive salaries to their urban counterparts. The lower cost of living and little or no commute can save a lawyer or law student substantial amounts of money in the long term and provide a better quality of life.

Myth: There aren't any open positions in rural communities.
Truth: It is true that at times, it may appear that there aren't any open positions in small towns. As a lot of the firms in rural communities are smaller, some of them may be too busy to hire position coordinators for newcomers. This doesn't mean there isn't any room for a new lawyer or student. It may mean that the initiative needs to come from you. A simple phone call, or e-mail to a firm you are interested in can very well lead to a long term career.
Myth: Rural practice is boring.
Truth: It's impossible to guarantee with 100% certainty that a position will or will not be boring, but many individuals are aware that any type of work will likely be a little of both. It is important to remember a situation is always what you make of it. Often practicing in a smaller community can lead to more challenging work or opportunities for advancement. Students-at-law often gain valuable court and practical experience that they would not otherwise receive in a firm with more students, or in a research-focused role.

Myth: Practicing in a rural community means a poorer standard of living.
Although many individuals may have this perception, evidence shows that this myth is far from the truth. The respondents of the Ipsos Reid Survey conducted in 2012 on Canadian Lawyers' Wellness showed that practitioners in smaller communities have more time to do what they want outside work. More leisure times leads to more time spent exploring what makes you happy outside of the workplace.

Practicing in a rural community not only provides some of the same benefits found in the big city, but many say a lot of those perks are exclusive to the small town. Consider the above information the next time a thought about rural practice slips into your mind.

Tips for Rural Practitioners

The Spring 2013 issue by 'The Society Record' included an article geared specifically toward rural practitioners. A piece of this article focused on some key factors to remember when practicing in a small community:

Competence: Working at a small firm often provides lawyers a chance to broaden their areas of practice. This is a great benefit, but it does come with a challenge of finding a balance between tackling new cases, and providing a smooth experience for the client.

  • Tip: Always be honest with your clients about your comfort level regarding work, and look for opportunities to collaborate with a lawyer who may have the experience that could assist you.
Community Involvement: In small communities, this is normally very favourable to clients. It can, however, spark situations where conflict of interest is an issue.
  • Tip: Try to maintain and strongly establish separate work and personal boundaries. If these are clear from the beginning, it is more likely that clients won't place you in difficult situations.
Quality of Service: Some rural practitioners face the challenge of working on a multitude of different things (ie. several cases spanning all areas of law, managing the firm, etc.) at any given time. It is important to maintain a manageable workload so the quality of service to a client isn't jeopardized.
  • Tip: Try to realistically familiarize yourself with the type of lawyer you are, especially with how much work you can take on. Remember it is always better to say no instead of taking on too much, and creating more stress for yourself, and possibly your client.
For more tips and other information for rural practitioners from 'The Social Record', click here.
  • There are some great resources that lawyers can access to help deal with and mitigate stress. The Law Society of Alberta provides 'Practice Advisors' that can help lawyers with personal issues, or any inter-lawyer conflicts -- learn more about them here.
  • For more online resources that can assist you with maintaining a work/life balance and other causes of stress, check out the 'Resources' tab on our website here.

My Career in Rural Law
Leighton Grey, QC - Chair, St. Paul CBA Section

 “Anybody can be good in the country”—Oscar Wilde, from The Picture of Dorian Gray
Sadly, Wilde’s 19th Century aphorism seems to capture the prevailing image of rural lawyers, particularly within the profession.  As someone raised in Edmonton and who began my career there, but has now enjoyed nearly two decades of successful rural practice, I must contest Mr. Wilde’s assertion; indeed, I would go so far as to opine that the reverse may very well be more accurate, i.e. that a rural practitioner must by necessity have a broader range of legal knowledge and experience than his urban cousin.

In recent years, our society has witnessed a steady migration of our populace toward growing cities.  This same trend has been reflected in the career paths of young professionals, who seem more reluctant than ever to take up residence in smaller centres.  Granted, the allure of the big city job in the big law firm has always been there and was certainly the prevailing myth of success when I graduated from the U of A Law School way back in 1992.  I was very fortunate to have been exposed to the reality of a flourishing rural law practice while I was still law school.  Keep reading...

Did you know?

A recent survey of lawyers in smaller communities conducted by the Retention and Re-engagement Task Force of the Law Society of Alberta (2011) produced the following results:
  • Over 50% of lawyers practicing in communities fewer than 10,000 intend to stop practicing in less than 10 years.
  • 74% of respondents practice alone or in small firms: with 38% working as sole practitioners (alone, or sharing offices) and 36% working in private firms with 2-4 lawyers.
  • 80% of respondents fell between the ages of 55 and 64.
Ipsos Reid conducted a survey of Canadian lawyers regarding wellness issues for the Canadian Bar Association in 2012. The following are some key points gathered from the report:
  • Residents of the Prairies were more likely to work 40 hours or less during a typical week (32% of respondents).
  • 84% of lawyers with solo practices were more likely to state that their mental health is in 'excellent' or 'good' condition.
  • Those employed in the judiciary or a solo practice were among the groups more likely to answer that they 'have enough time for activities outside of work'.


What Assist has been up to:

- Assist presented at the CELF Energy & Law Fundamentals Seminar in Canmore
- Assist held our AGM in Calgary

- Assist presented at the Professional Responsibilities Course at University of Alberta
- Assist hosted a booth at the LESA Rural Properties Seminar in Red Deer
- Assist participated in the launch of the NWT Peer Support program

Rural Initiatives

Members of the Canadian Bar Association - Alberta Branch have launched initiatives to increase the presence of rural practitioners within the legal community.

Geographic Section Initiative
This initiative was created to better engage and involve members of the legal community outside of the two major cities in the province. Rather than having separation based on areas of law, the division of members is dependent on where they live. Some benefits of this initiative include:
  • Increased engagement on a province-wide basis.
  • Accessibility to CBA membership incentives, i.e. networking, professional development, etc.
Not only does this initiative allow rural practitioners to become more involved within the CBA community, the chairs of these sections have the ability to tailor their programs to better fit the needs their local community.
To learn more about the Geographic Section Initiative, read the "Reaching Out" article by Steven Mandziuk in the CBA Alberta Law Matters newsletter here.

Helpful Links
  • For more information about initiatives other provinces are working on regarding practicing in a rural community, click here.
  • University of Calgary law students who are interested in practicing in a rural community, click here.

Upcoming Events:

- Assist's Third Annual Calgary Walk for Wellness will be held on July 24, 2013 at Noon.

- Assist will be presenting at the CBA Canadian Law Conference in Saskatoon

- Assist's Second Annual Edmonton Walk for Wellness will be held on September 25, 2013
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