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Avoid never-ending tournament, create different career path

Law students should consider taking the career path less travelled, Toronto criminal lawyer Ryan Handlarski suggests in an article penned for Law Times.

Handlarski, principal of RH Criminal Defence, tells the legal publication that the process of becoming a lawyer and career advancement is often akin to participating in a never-ending tournament — one that can be highly unfulfilling.  

He retells the career path of eBay founder Peter Thiel, who excelled in high school and earned entrance into Stanford. In the process, he advanced to the next stage of the tournament, Handlarski opines in Law Times.

Entrance into law school and a “highly coveted” job with a Wall Street law firm that would have fulfilled “his parents’ dreams” followed, he tells the legal publication. Eleven months later Thiel quit.

“When he looked around at the people in his firm and could begin to approximate what his future would look like, he realized something that changed his life forever,” Handlarski writes.

“The tournament that had dominated his life for so many years never ends. The Wall Street firm was just another phase of the tournament where he would have to try to compete, advance and eliminate yet more people. ‘Who would want to spend life this way?’ he thought, so he quit.”

Thiel eventually steered his way into business, founding eBay and becoming one of the first investors in Facebook.

“A lot of lawyers and law students feel unfulfilled because of a system that encourages people within it to copy something that has worked in the past. The trajectory of graduating law school, getting a job at a firm and trying to work your way up to become a partner is tried and true, they think,” Handlarski writes.

“But the emphasis on following traditional career paths and the systems in place in law school that influence students to compete with each other for jobs within traditional career paths, such as on-campus interviews and law firm recruiting, ignores another possibility that smart and creative students should be aware of and considering — the ability to create your own path within law.”

He says this is important for students and young lawyers because not all will want to leave the law world like Thiel, but many “do want to escape the tournament that never ends.”

He cites young lawyers and entrepreneurs who have branched out and found new, exciting ways to practise law.

“Glenford Jameson became a food lawyer. Camille Labchuk became an animal lawyer. Jack Lloyd and Caryma Sa’d became cannabis lawyers. Aaron Grinhaus became a corporate lawyer with an emphasis on cryptocurrency legal issues,” Handlarski writes. “These areas of law did not exist even 10 years ago. These lawyers are thriving, precisely because they resisted the systems that are in place in law school that encouraged them to copy what others had done and opted instead for the opportunity and adventure of the clear blue sea.”

He mentions other colleagues — Sean Robichaud who started a legal podcast, Annamaria Enenajor and Stephanie DiGiuseppe who founded Cannabis Amnesty, an advocacy organization devoted to lobbying the government to purge the records of Canadians with criminal records for possession of marijuana, and Gerald Chan and Nader Hasan, who wrote a book on digital privacy.

Handlarski says students and young lawyers disheartened by the never-ending tournament should be encouraged by these entrepreneurs who took the career path less travelled. He says, just like the avenues they ventured down that weren’t open to lawyers 10 years ago, new roads are on the horizon that will allow individuals to continue fulfilling legal careers.

“Start thinking about what areas of law are emerging. Instead of following a traditional path so you can make your parents’ dreams come true, have the courage to try something that has not been tried before and let other lawyers compete in the tournament that never ends,” Handlarski says.

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