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  • Writer's pictureChristopher New

From Melodies to Memorandums: My Journey from Musician to Ministry of Labour Articling Student

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

My name is Chris New. I came to the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa as a mature student. I had spent more than a decade working as a musician and performer - as well as a dozen other jobs. I wanted to move into a more stable career. The Parkdale Community Legal Clinic provided me with an empowering experience when I had a dispute with my landlord. I wanted to be able to provide that same agency for others and went to talk to them about how I could work with them.


From there, I set out to get licensed as a paralegal — but ended up graduating from law school. This summer, I will be starting my articles with the Ministry of Labour, working with Crown prosecutors, and gaining experience as a solicitor with the Ontario government.


What made you want to become a lawyer?

While studying to be a paralegal, I realized the limitations of the P1 license. While I enjoyed the work that I was doing in school, I felt that the scope of paralegal practice was very restricted. With a law degree, I could expand the scope of the jobs available to me, especially in the public sector. My main problem was that I had terrible undergraduate grades from when I partially completed a theatre degree more than a decade ago. One reason I had been reluctant to go back to school was the fear of those grades holding me back. But my grades in my current program were great. So I made a deal with myself.


I would take the LSAT to see if I had a competitive score. This would be a marker of whether I could go to law school. Looking back, the score on the LSAT shouldn’t have been determinative of my future, but it was a target that I set for myself. It was something tangible to measure myself against. I bought a copy of Mike Kim’s LSAT Trainer and slowly worked my way through the whole prep book. I bought practice tests and would do a couple of tests a week. I did this for just over two months, wrote the LSAT, and ended up scoring 162. I applied to uOttawa, TMU, and Windsor, three schools that advertised they used a holistic process or had a category specifically for mature students. I received my acceptance to Ottawa.


What was your experience like in law school?

Law school started at the height of COVID. I had carved out a little corner workspace for myself in the attic of my apartment. The first year of law school I spent mostly confined to that corner. I tried to make the most of that first year. I organized virtual social gatherings with my classmates and tried to participate in as many remote events as possible. I even took an extra French language course. (I do not advise taking extra first-year courses.) I moved to Ottawa in my second year and was back to almost all in-person courses. I got a summer job at the school legal clinic. I organized social events - which was especially useful after spending so much time staring at screens.


I ended up taking a wide variety of courses, learned more about what I liked about the law, and talked to a variety of practitioners and professors.


A few tips that helped me in school:


Borrow your course books on interlibrary loans. Reach out to friends and acquaintances for summaries. Some student associations have their own summary banks, so join one (or make friends with someone who has joined one). A lot of professors love to help, so chances are, if you ask for help, you’ll get it. Everyone around you is worried about the same things you are - even the ones who seem like they have everything together.


Law school was a lot of work, but I tried to keep it from taking over my entire life. I treated school like a job. I scheduled my assignments and readings around my classes. I would prioritize my readings and assignments based on the expectations of each professor. As you spend more time reading cases, you can get a sense of where to find the important things to read for the purposes of the class. If you can’t read all the cases, at least read the headnotes or the ruling at the end of the case. I would work 9-5 almost every weekday. Sometimes it ended up being more, sometimes less. But the goal was to get most of my work done during that time, then I would be able to have time after school for my partner, for family meals, and for social activities. I started a weekly pub trivia team that we went to every week. I dedicated separate time blocks for school, myself, and my life.


I would usually construct my own summaries for exams using OneNote. Given that most of my exams were online, OneNote gives you a great way to click between the tabs that you organize by topic. There are some exams where you don’t actually use the summary because of how little time is available to write. The worst ones are the two-hour exams where you feel rushed to get everything you want down on paper. When time is limited during the exam, it is the process of creating your own summary that is valuable. If you have access to summaries from previous years, I would recommend using them as resources to build your own summary to benefit from the creation process.


How did you find your first law-related job?

I knew that I wanted to work at a student law clinic because of my experience in receiving those same services. Coming into law school, my interest was in housing and human rights. So naturally, the uOttawa Community Legal Clinic was where I wanted to work. I attended the clinic information session and had a long chat with the supervising counsel for the Tenant division. When I eventually had my interview for the clinic, it was with the same counsel - so we already knew each other, and the interview went very smoothly. I ended up working for the clinic during my first summer of law school and continued to work there for class credit during the year. The work consisted mainly of client interviews and preparing summary advice. I also gained experience in negotiations, contacting landlords on behalf of clients, and attempting to come to settlements. It was very satisfying to be able to come back to clients with good settlement offers from their landlord. I would recommend a clinic to anyone who is interested in working directly with clients.


For my second summer job, I worked for the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development. I assisted prosecutors in provincial court in enforcing Employment Standards and Occupational Health and Safety. I also assisted with proceedings in front of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.


I took the same tactics when I was looking for that job. I wanted a job that had the opportunity for hands-on litigation experience. The ability to get exposure to courtrooms and tribunal proceedings. I picked the jobs that I really wanted to do, where I wanted them for a specific reason. I knew what I wanted out of my interviews and went prepared to ask questions about what they could do for me. Know what you want; find out where to get it.


If you could give one piece of advice to prospective or current law students to help them succeed, what would it be?

I admit the advice to know what you want may not be helpful. What if you don’t know? Talk to as many people who practice law as possible. In terms of the day-to-day work of a lawyer, there are so many different types of jobs out there. It’s up to you to figure out where you want to fit. The more you talk to working lawyers, the more that you’ll get the lay of the land and be able to plan out where you want to go. Think about what kind of life you want to lead, how much you want to work in a week, how much time you want to spend with family, how much money you want to make, where in Canada (or the world) you want to work, and what kind of work you want to fill your day. The more professionals you talk to, the more likely you’ll know at least what direction you want to be heading by the time you’re on your way out of law school.


What are your future career plans going forward, and how can our readers connect with you in the future?

For the next year, I will be articling at the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development of Ontario. You can find me on Linkedin here: Christopher New | LinkedIn.


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