Ultra Vires


You Don’t Have to Work on Bay Street

Aurora Curtis (Class of 2015) 

So you’re going to U of T Law and, unlike the vast majority of your classmates, you think you want to work in public interest. It is true that our school has a well-earned reputation for being a conveyor belt to Big Law, and you’ll have to do more of your own legwork and ignore the stressed-out zeitgeist, but it is possible to avoid all that. I know, because I’ve done it: I was a student caseworker at our school’s in-house legal clinic, Downtown Legal Services (DLS), during my 1L summer. I spent my 2L summer working at Legal Aid Ontario (LAO), and am now articling there.

The following are some tips and tricks that I found helpful in opting out of Bay Street:

  1. Volunteer early. Volunteer often. Public interest law organizations will want to see that you actually want to work in the public interest, so it’s pretty critical to be able to show an interest through your CV. (Or, maybe through volunteering you’ll decide that public interest law is not for you, which is fine too—better to figure it out sooner than later.) Clinics such as DLS give you the opportunity to do real hands-on file work. Pro Bono Students Canada also has many wonderful opportunities. If you didn’t get the chance to volunteer with either organization, there are other community organizations that could use a hand. Think community centres, soup kitchens, adult literacy projects, that sort of thing.
  1. Learn to ignore your peers. Okay, that sounded a little harsh, but remember that just because everyone else seems to want to work for a certain few full-service firms with offices downtown, it doesn’t mean you have to apply there too. Life is too short and the legal field is too broad to do work that doesn’t, at the very least, interest you on some level. Remember, although your pay rate might be lower in public interest, your Bay Street peers will be bent over their computers under fluorescent lighting while you are spending your evenings and weekends on things that, in the long run, are likely to be more satisfying than drafting memos to help corporations make/hold on to their money. There is a great deal to be said for both enjoying your work and having the time to enjoy your life outside of work.


  1. Do your research early. Do you want to work for the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG)? LAO? A clinic? Other non-profits? Start learning what different ministries and organizations do, how they fit with your longer-term plans, what skills and interests you have that would be transferrable, and what paths their lawyers took to get there. If these organisations take volunteers, see if they’ll take you. If, for example, you want to be an environmental lawyer, join the Environmental Law Club. Don’t apply to places where you wouldn’t want to work if hired. A number of public interest organizations recruit through on-campus-interviews (OCIs) and Articling Week. Some don’t.


Here’s the takeaway: Your peers will by and large want to work on Bay Street. The Faculty has a very narrow definition of success, which is—wait for it—working on Bay Street. If you also want to work on Bay Street, you will have ample opportunity to do so. If, on the other hand, you’d rather work in public interest law, those opportunities exist as well.


This article was originally published on August 21, 2014 on the U of T Law Orientation Week 2014 blog.

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