My Career Path: How I Became a Criminal Lawyer

May 8, 2019

Probably the number one question I get asked in life is how I became a criminal lawyer. I certainly did not start out wanting to be a criminal lawyer … if you haven’t seen my ‘about me‘ page yet, it gives a pretty succinct run down of my original career goal haha.

I had no idea I would fall in love with criminal law, but here we are. I can’t imagine myself doing any other job (other than blogging full time) and I certainly wouldn’t be interested in any other area of law. Criminal law is a unique, sometimes dark & twisty, field that I find engaging, rewarding, and complex.

So with that, I am finally sitting down to share my career path; how I became a criminal lawyer.

As a child I wanted to be an actress. I spent my childhood quite dedicated to it; taking every acting, singing, and musical theatre class I could find. By grade one I had an agent and, thanks to my unbelievably supportive parents, was able to go to auditions for commercials and tv shows quite regularly.

While I never booked anything huge, I was able to get to know the industry and throughout high school still wanted to be an actress. That said, I also always knew I would be getting a university education. Academics were very important to my parents (who are a judge and a veterinarian) and luckily school came easily for me. Academics “were my thing”; so to speak.

I decided to attend the University of British Columbia for my undergraduate degree, with a focus on theatre acting & political science. I chose UBC for two reasons. First, because I knew I wanted to be in a city where I could still get work in the film industry (which in Canada means your options are Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver) and second, because southern BC is the warmest climate / the only place in Canada that has palm trees; and I was determined to get as far away from snow and cold as I could!

I ended up getting a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in International Relations. During my 4 years of undergrad I began acting less and less. In my 3rd year, way back in 2007, I had a small role on a tv show (I literally had only 5 lines) and that was the last show I ever worked on. The reasons why I left acting could probably make up an entire blog post of it’s own, but the main thing would be:

I can’t act. lol

I love being in front of a camera, but I am mediocre (at best) and I realized that I wouldn’t actually be happy with the kind of roles I would be able to get as an actress. I don’t want this to come off as “I gave up my dream!” or that I am in any way advising anyone else to do that; rather, I realized that another path would be better for my happiness. Auditioning sucks. If you truly love acting and that is all you want to do will put up with it because of that. But for me, I realized that I did love other things and that while this was my dream, I had others which I could pursue.

The main other thing I loved, which I learned during my poli sci degree, was the world of non-profits and the ability to help people. I focused my poli sci / IR degree on non-profits and charities and so when I graduated I knew that was the field I wanted to work in.

The summer after graduating UBC, I got an internship at Invisible Children. Post-“Kony 2012” Invisible Children is now rather infamous, but way back in 2008 it was a just a small San Diego based non-profit working to stop the use of child soldiers. In May of 2008 I packed my bags and moved to California for this dream position.

My time at IC was invaluable for so many reasons that I won’t go into now. It came to an end however as I simply had a 4 month internship position. In the fall of 2008 I went back to school.

I did a 1 year Master’s Degree in International Development at the University of Toronto. My goal in getting my Master’s Degree was to better position myself to get a job in the non-profit sector; with my sights set on organizations like Free the Children, Unicef, Invisible Children, etc.

Unsurprising to probably everyone, graduating with a Master’s Degree and trying to find work in the the non-profit sector in the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, sucked. lol.  I spent a year applying for different jobs, but not seeing a whole lot of results. It was a difficult year working crappy temp jobs and feeling very uncertain about what my future career would look like.

During this period my mom suggested I go to law school. I was adamant that there was no way in h*ll I was going to become a lawyer. I insisted that I only wanted to do work that helped people; specifically, helped kids.

My mom however persisted and introduced me to a friend of hers who worked for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer. During this time where I was huffing and puffing about how I would never be a lawyer… I probably should have expanded my knowledge on what types of lawyers there are and what they actually do. When I shadowed this Office of the Children’s Lawyer woman, I realized how diverse law actually is as a profession, and realized that I could pursue exactly the goal I wanted to get out of non-profit work (helping kids) by becoming a lawyer and working for the Office of the Children’s Lawyer.

With that I decided there was no harm in at least applying to law school. I wrote the LSAT twice. The first time my score was okay, but not great (a 160) in part because I had been in a car accident a couple of days prior (broken arm) and was pretty much high as a kite on T3’s while writing it. I decided that while a 160 was okay I wanted to do better so I took one of those LSAT prep courses (Kaplan) and took the LSAT again.

The second time, I scored in the 99.9 percentile. I was accepted into all 7 law schools I applied for. After much back and forth, I decided on Osgoode Law School in Toronto because it is known in the legal world (or was then!? I don’t know if it still is… now I feel old lol) as the “social justice law school”.

Off to Osgoode I went, thinking I would have just have to suck it up and get through contract law (which was true) and that I would hate everything except family law (which was false).

My first week at Osgoode I sat down in my very first criminal law class and, honestly, that was it. I was hooked. I remember leaving the class and calling my best friend to say “HOW DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS WAS A JOB, THIS S*IT IS THE COOLEST EVER, OMG OMG OMG” 🤣

From then on I was exclusively criminal law focused. In my final year I participated in a clinical program that Osgoode offers, the criminal intensive, and was able to learn from practitioners and spend a semester job shadowing with the Crown Attorneys (… our version of DA’s, for any of my American readers).

I started out as a Crown Attorney, but became a defense lawyer just under 4 years ago. I now run my own practice.

And that, my friends, is my career path / how I became a criminal lawyer.

Phew! That was a long post! Feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I know from my instagram messages that you want to hear more about the law and my career, so I will try to do more posts like this.

Any career related posts in specific that you would like to see? Let me know in the comments below. One thing I am thinking of is a post on what I like and what I don’t like about my job as a criminal lawyer. Would you be interested in that?

34 comments so far.

34 responses to “My Career Path: How I Became a Criminal Lawyer”

  1. jenniferpickering22gmailcom says:

    This is so interesting!! Thank you for sharing.

    Jennifer
    Effortlessly Sophisticated

  2. Danielle says:

    Loved hearing about your career path! I think it’s so unbelievably cool that you own your own practice. I actually minored in Criminal Justice so I can definitely see how you had that ‘wait, this is a job?!’ moment. I find it really interesting as well! xo

    • Lee says:

      Thank you so much! And ahh that’s so interesting! We didnt have anything like that (crim related) at my undergrad school or Im sure I would have studied that as well. Definitely interesting stuff!

  3. LOVE your story and the path that got you there! I love to hear these stories of the acting etc!! My parents too persuaded me to become an RN and I was hesitant! You are SO smart! You go girl!!

    • Lee says:

      Thank you so much Ruthie! And that’s interesting that your parents guided you towards being an RN, sounds like you love the work?! I am so in awe of everything RN’s do and how much they handle.

  4. Cathy says:

    This is such an amazing post. I love hearing your journey to criminal law. Your passion and love for your job really comes through. Thank you for working so hard to help people!

    XOXO
    Cathy

  5. Jamie says:

    Yay! Loved this story and the evolution of it all. Yo be honest, I’m now thinking whether I should focus more on being a children’s lawyer. I love family law and after my call next year, I’m hoping to evolve more. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,
    JL, @lawyerdmag

    • Lee says:

      Thank you so much for reading! And ahh that is awesome! Yes, it’s a really small field (clearly) but the work would be so incredible. Definitely look into it!

  6. Jennifer Booth says:

    I loved reading this, thank you. I went back to school in 2018 (after 22 years) to become a nurse, I just changed my major to political science. Any advice?

    • Lee says:

      That is AMAZING! You should be so freaking proud of yourself for doing something like that.
      As far as advice – I guess I would just say sit down alone and journal/list about why you switched to political science – what you love about it, what your concerns are. That way you’ll be able to get a better idea of what sort of career you may want to do with your poli sci degree.

  7. Love learning more about bloggers day jobs. So great!

    xo Jessica
    My Style Vita

  8. Kayla Mckinnon says:

    This was a very interesting read! I work in the non product sector. I was working at the largest North American shelter the Calgary Drop In Centre) and was there for a little over a year and a half, and just recently moved to the YWCA and work with woman fleeing from domestic voiolent situations and addictions. It’s very rewarding but have had thoughts about going into non profit legal work. I guess a question for you is this: My best friend is wanting to apply for her LSATS and is worried that if she doesn’t do well on her first one that if she were to take it a second time it doesn’t look good. Did you find that to be true? Or does it really not matter?

    • Lee says:

      Thank you! 🙂 And that is such difficult, so needed work that you do; so thank you for doing it <3.
      To answer your question, obviously things may have changed in the past (almost) decade since I wrote it, but at least then it did not matter AT ALL. Schools only see one score, and you are allowed to take it up to 3 times. I would say at least half of my friends in my first year class wrote the LSAT twice.

  9. gretahollar says:

    I know we talked a little about this at fashion week but loved reading more about why you chose this path! Such a boss babe!

  10. Liz says:

    What an amazing post! It’s always so crazy to read other people’s stories and it’s so cool to see how your career path unfolded!

  11. Stephanie says:

    It just goes to show that dreams and plans can change, grow, and evolve so many times before truly settling into what someone loves to do! So cool now you really went through a ton of different potential careers and learning paths before law really chose YOU!

  12. What an interesting post!! I love the creative photoshoot! I have a friend that is really interested in Criminal Law, she is an attorney too. I will share this post with her.

    Candace Hampton
    http://www.thebeautybeau.com

    • Lee says:

      Thanks Candace! It was fun to shoot. And ahh that’s awesome, I’d love if you share it with her and I hope she likes it!

  13. Girl, I’m totally jealous of those LSAT scores! I studied for it in college and gave up after the first few months. I loved reading about your journey 🙂

    -xo, Azanique | https://www.lotsofsass.com

    • Lee says:

      Aw don’t be! I always tell people that there is a difference between testing well and being a good lawyer / being smart. I just test really, really well. My brain has always just intuitively liked standardized testing. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m particularly smart or a good lawyer (though I hope / do think Im a good lawyer – just unrelated to my test scores!) It really is a shame that law schools focus so much on LSAT scores; when it really doesn’t have any connection to how good or bad of a lawyer someone will be. Some of the best lawyers I know at the moment did horribly on their LSAT’s, barely got into law school, but are so so good at what they do!

  14. Absolutely loved this post Lee! Loved hearing more about your journey – thanks for sharing this with us!

    xo Laura Leigh
    http://www.louellareese.com

  15. Loved reading and learning about your career path. It’s always so fascinating to hear how people get from one career to another. Or how they use their degree(s).
    Xo, Deanie
    Deanie Michelle

  16. voguefauxreal says:

    What a great story! I headed over to your “About” page to see how your path started and just laughed – you’re so funny! Ninja turtle, indeed. Your photo shoot idea was fabulous for this post and I loved getting to read about your career and the journey you took to get there. And, yes, I’d love to read more!

    Ruth
    http://www.VogueFauxReal.com

    • Lee says:

      Thank you! And haha aww I’m so glad you liked my about me!! I often wonder if anyone has read that lol!
      And awesome! I’ve got another criminal law/career related post planned for the week after next. Stay tuned!

  17. Lillybeth says:

    Very inspiring! Thank you for sharing. Hopefully will start in January 2020 and a little bit scared. I work in. HR and was thinking about employment law, but recently have been drawn to criminal law.

    • Lee says:

      Thank you for reading! That’s so exciting, and I totally get feeling scared – just remember that at the end of the day everyone is scared when they’re taking a leap and pursuing something new. Criminal law is definitely interesting – just keep your options open and try out different areas of law – shadowing and junioring other counsel is such a great way to get experience and learn what you enjoy and what you’re good at.

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