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Thursday, 12 December 2013

Is there a place for lawyers in government?

by Esther de Vos

Three things you need to know about being a lawyer in government…

1.  Lawyers can serve in a wide variety of roles within governmentSome positions exist specifically for lawyers, working on behalf government client departments or drafting legislation.  However, the skills you learn as a lawyer are applicable to many roles in government, including policy development.

2.  There are many opportunities to expand your knowledge and skills in government.  If you work as a legal counsel, working for government means you get to work for one of the largest law firms in the country.  More importantly, you are exposed to the various and diverse aspects of issues beyond just the legal perspective.  If you are not working as legal counsel, the knowledge gained through law school and the practice of law about legislation and process are invaluable in a government context.

3.  Your legal training is highly valued.  Whether working as a lawyer or in another capacity, the legal training you have as a lawyer is prized by government.  The manner in which lawyers are taught to identify and evaluate issues, characterize possible solutions, and mitigate risks supports the work of government in the policy development process or in delivering programs.

Three myths about being a lawyer in government…

Myth #1: You are constrained in the type of work you can do.

Reality: Even for those lawyers who work as a legal officer there is diversity in work.  Many lawyers are not limited to only providing legal advice or representing their client departments in court.  They are involved in giving strategic and policy advice as well.  For those lawyers who do not work in a legal officer role, there is a breadth of roles in both policy development and program or service delivery.  Aside from the variety of roles, there are also opportunities to get involved in cross ministry work and larger government strategic pieces.

Myth #2: Advancement within the government is limited.

Reality: Working for government allows you to move within subject matters or areas of expertise while building your skills and knowledge.  Advancement within the legal officer stream is available where you become senior counsel and supervise teams of lawyers.  As a non-legal officer, there are vast opportunities available to move your career forward in many different ways.  Many lawyers move into the policy stream and lead teams working on key policy initiatives and deliverables.

Myth #3: There is no ability to affect real change in government.

Reality: The opportunities for lawyers in government often relate to making change in government.  While lawyers outside of government are involved in the court system and making case law, lawyers in government, either in the more traditional role or non-traditional role can get involved in shaping the direction of laws and providing recommendations to decision makers about government policy.

Esther de Vos is the Executive Director, Policy and Planning Services for the Government of Alberta’s Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General.  She joined the Government of Alberta as a policy analyst after working for a couple of years as a lawyer.  She holds a Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Alberta and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Victoria.

1 comment:

  1. The question of effecting change in government, whether as a lawyer or otherwise, is a tough and complex issue. Insofar as a lawyer or public servant is concerned they are part of a governmental system which by and large is part of the "status quo". As such they must conform to the value sets of the governing party (e.g. market forces, transparency, economic growth, etc.) Lawyers and policy-makers must be aware of these values and also rely on precedent and making a difference by challenging the status quo is a difficult position to be in as an official. I believe that politicians have more legitimacy to claim that they want to make a difference and this customarily involves a change of political parties through general elections- or, in Alberta's case, through a change in leader. In short, I do think that lawyers as policy-makers can "make a difference" but only if you consider incremental change as making a difference.