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What young lawyers in Ontario need to know about practicing law in rural communities

This blog is based on the thoughts and contributions of a number of the practitioners who presented with me at the recent Articling and Beyond Symposium presented by the Law Society of Upper Canada.

Working in a small town is a fine way to highlight the traditions of service and commitment of the legal profession in Ontario, and offers rewards beyond simply drawing a salary. While there certainly is an opportunity to make a positive impact in a rural community as a new professional, the more planning and research you do up front, the more likely you are to succeed in this endeavour.A valid concern of many lawyers thinking about moving to a smaller community, is the lack of a support network.  However, in this technology driven world, many of these concerns can be addressed by cultivating connections by using digital networking tools such as Linkedin or Twitter.  Attending events within the community prior to your transition will also help you seize opportunities to become acquainted with lawyer contacts within the community.

Here are some other key takeaways brought forward by some of the panelists at the recent Articling and Beyond Symposium presented by the Law Society of Upper Canada:

 

Research the community.

Know where you’re going – each town is unique – it may be a pretty place to visit on a weekend, but  day to day needs and life will be entirely different.  Speak to practitioners who already work in that area – they don’t have to be potential employers, but they may well become your neighbours and fellow professionals if you decide to transition to the community.  (For all you know, one of the people you speak to may not have even thought about selling their practice or taking on a potential partner until you call.)

Be prepared to create and live with a higher profile in a smaller centre.

You can expect to become involved in the community, both on a personal and professional basis.  That is one of the best things about moving to a smaller centre, but it takes an adjustment.  The odds of meeting a client in the supermarket in a city are far lower than they are in a small town.  Be prepared to meet your clients on a more informal basis while you are out in the community.

Consider what you can offer as a potential buyer of a small firm.

Many practitioners who you may join in a smaller town will likely be looking at you as a potential buyer of the practice, but they may not have given it much thought.   Consider not only what they have to offer you in the practice, but what you could bring to the practice that would appeal to them.

Respect the historical reputation of the firm within the community.

They’ve been members of the community for years and will have pride in what they have built, so you will be under consideration not only as a buyer, but as an ongoing representative of what they have built in the community.  Whether you are taking over or building a successful practice in a smaller community, you are very likely going to find yourself an ambassador for your firm and your profession within that community.

 

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