March 2, 2017 Constitutional Law Career Panel Advice for students

On March 2, 2017 the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights convened a Constitutional Law career panel in response to law students’ common question: How can I practice Constitutional Law?

Four distinguished panelists provided their insight and advice to a room full of eager law students about practicing Constitutional Law in their fields. The panelists were: Joseph Cheng of the Department of Justice of Canada, Nader Hasan a partner in the firm of Stockwoods Barristers, Dan Rohde a staff lawyer at the Income Security Advocacy Centre, and Cara Zwibel, the Director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

The following pieces of advice were distilled from the panelists’ well-received presentations, in which they answered questions about their jobs, their personal career paths and their best pieces of advice to students.

  • Don’t expect to become a constitutional lawyer immediately and do not stress about not getting “the” job or articling position straight out of law school. The path to practice Constitutional Law is not always a straight one.
  • Pursue any opportunity to do pro-bono work within the firm that you are at. Sometimes this may mean working on pro-bono files in your personal time.
  • Present opportunities to do pro-bono work at your firm, assuring your principal(s) that this work will be done in your spare time; this way the “ask” of the firm is only to provide administrative or disbursement costs.
  • While large-scale pro-bono programs at the big Canadian law firms are in their nascent stage, pro-bono work in an American law firm with an entrenched pro-bono program can provide a lot of valuable experience and exposure.
  • The need to address Charter violations and challenge unconstitutional laws and government actions is unfortunately not dissipating so, rest assured if you want to work on a pro bono case, you can find a case. Don’t give up.
  • To get excellent litigation experience, which is beneficial if you are interested in becoming a Constitutional litigator, seek to do a clerkship. Do not only focus on the top courts, as you may get a more valuable experience in the Superior Court of Justice, for example.
  • Pursue extra-curricular activities that clearly demonstrate your Constitutional law passion.
  • Focus your career pursuits in the public law sphere, more specifically in a field of law that intersects most closely with Charter issues i.e. Criminal defense work, refugee law, labour law, or administrative law.
  • Expect to earn comparably less in public interest legal work than in corporate law, but to otherwise feel rewarded as being an instrument for social change.
  • Attend events where other Constitutional lawyers would attend i.e. CBA and OBA Constitutional Law chapter events, relevant CPD events and network, network, network!

In addition to the above, we urge law students to actively engage with the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights. You can do so in a number of ways. For example: take our upper year clinical legal education course, volunteer for one of our student working groups, or write a case comment for our Newsletter on a constitutional law case that you have an interest in.

We welcome your feedback about this event and if you have any thoughts about an event that you would like to see the Asper Centre organize, please get in touch.