Questions from a high school student about the practice of criminal law:

questions criminal law high schoolA high school student asked me to answer several questions for one of her classes about my career choice and the profession of law.  I thought I might share it with everyone:

As a teenager, what did you think your career/job would be as an adult?

There were many things that I hoped to become in my adult years including a professional rock climber, a race car driver, a river guide, and several other aspirations that all seemed much more exciting than working in an office building.

What was your first paid work experience?  Was it during highs school or afterward?  How many hours a week did you work?  What did you get paid?

I first worked painting fences and cutting grass at  Windfield Farms: a horse breeding ranch in Oshawa.   It was horrible: long days, hot sun, little pay, and very little training on how to do anything.

What three things did you learn from the job?  Did these experiences help shape your career and current job?

The three things I learned are:

  • Being successful at any job, skill, or profession requires hard work – there is no way around that basic fact;
  • A higher education (university, college, etc.) is invaluable when working towards a reasonable income and a higher quality of life; and,
  • Horse manure really smells.

Yes, certainly the former two principles were essential to forming my present success and lifestyle.  Without understanding that everything rewarding in life requires hard work, you will forever be in a position of feeling entitled to something that you do not deserve.  The smell of horse manure has thankfully not been relevant in my life since then.

As you continued on your educational and career path, did you have a mentor who inspired you to approach the working world in a certain way?  Please explain.

There were several mentors along the way that inspired me.  They included teachers, professors, friends, and even celebrities.  Mentors are important because they give you guidance but also tangible goals that you can work towards.  Guidance is important and mentors can benefit an individual by showing them options and paths in which way to obtain the protégé’s goals.  However, it is important to understand that the ultimate decisions in life will be up to the individual and mentorship should never trump the importance of that decision making process.   A good mentor provides a protégé the freedom to decide in an informed manner.

Can you please provide a brief description of your current job position and your employer?  Did you ever expect to be working in this job?

I am a criminal defence lawyer.  I represent individuals who are charged with crimes ranging from possession of marijuana all the way to first degree murder.  I do not represent guilty people; I represent people who are accused of crimes and under our law, presumed innocent until a court finds them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is not my role to judge, to determine the innocence or guilt of my client – my role is to assess the evidence, advise the person of the legal principles that relate to his or her case, and then provide a defence that is vigorous and uncompromising.

For several years I worked for, what was at the time, Canada’s largest criminal defence firm.  I worked as a student, then as an associate, and then became a partner.  In 2009 I left the firm and started my own firm: Robichaud’s Criminal Defence Litigation.

I never expected to be working in this profession.  I use the term “profession” instead of “job” as a profession is an integral part of a person’s life that in large part defines who they are, whereas a job implies something that is temporary and done solely for the sake of an income – a person would never survive as a lawyer if they considered their work a job, instead of a profession.

Now that I am doing what I am doing, I cannot imagine doing anything else.  I love getting up in the morning and going to court, preparing defences for my client, fighting for society’s civil liberties, and making tangible differences in individuals’ lives on a day to day frequency.   There are few things more gratifying to me than hearing a “not guilty” verdict being read out in a Courtroom, or to hear back from a youth who turned their life around after facing charges that were managed in a way that allowed them to do so.  Every day as a defence lawyer has a different reward in different ways.

How many jobs did you have before this one?  What were they and how did these experiences prepare you for your current job?

Several jobs have contributed in their own ways to my present life perspective, and my success in my present profession.  They include: general labourer, retail salesperson, campus security guard, rock climbing instructor, river guide / trip leader, and bungee jumpmaster. The skills learned include, but are not limited to: work ethic, public speaking, negotiation, psychology of crime, business operation, and most importantly, the ability to put aside one’s fears in any situation to deal with issues in a calm, collected, and professional manner.

Did you need any specific education or training in order to qualify for your current job?  If so, what was it?  If not, what skills or education do you wish you had?  How did you get that education and training?

Yes, absolutely.  The education for a lawyer is significant and difficult, but very rewarding.  To become a lawyer an individual requires:

a)        University degree (3 to 4 years);

b)        Law degree (3 years);

c)         Articling with an accredited principal (1 year); and,

d)        Bar admissions exams.

In addition to that education, the Law Society of Upper Canada requires continuing legal education with a minimum amount of professional development each year.  In addition to the continuing legal education I am presently enrolled in, I am also working towards obtaining my Masters in Law (LL.M.) through Osgoode Law School.

What do you enjoy most about your work and what do you find most challenging?

There are countless reasons I love my profession as a lawyer, and in particular a criminal defence lawyer.   Practicing as a lawyer is often described as a “noble profession” as it strives to make a better society for everyone on a day-to-day basis.  With law, you can argue against laws that you feel are unjust, uphold rights and liberties, or even seek to modify existing or create laws that ought to be in place.   The law applies to all aspects of life from driving to school in the morning, how teachers are allowed to treat the students, how students are required to treat teachers, what televisions stations are permitted to broadcast, what music you are allowed to download or copy, and every corner of our every day living.  There is virtually nothing you can think of in our daily living that the law does not apply to in some manner or another.   Therefore, no matter what your interests, the law can apply to that and you can always stay intrigued.

As a criminal defence lawyer in particular, you are often the last defence between the State and the individual, between rights and tyranny, between what a person is allowed to do within the state, and what the state is allowed to do to that person.   What is most challenging is also what is most rewarding and that is every action you do as a lawyer as serious consequences on society in general, your client, the rights we share, and the future for us all.  Having a rewarding decision on an important case can be very gratifying, but the converse of losing one can be very disheartening – and therefore I strive to keep those low moments to an absolute minimum (so far, so good).

If you could give one piece of advice to high school students about planning their careers, what would it be?  Be specific.

Above all, enjoy what you do. It is very difficult to be successful at anything in life if you don’t enjoy it.  If you love your profession, hard work is gratifying.  With hard work you may become the best in your profession and once that happens you will be live a comfortable life – both financially and as a matter of personal satisfaction.

What would you have done differently in high school, knowing what you know now about careers and work experience?

I would have learned another language, particularly our other official language of French.   Aside from that, I don’t have many regrets.  I didn’t do exceptionally well as a high school student as my interests were more in being a youth and there is nothing wrong with that.  As long as you have good enough marks to get into the doors of opportunity you desire, the difference between grades is relatively insignificant in the long run in your career.   No judge has ever asked me what I grade I got on my grade 10 chemistry class (thank goodness).

What abilities and skills would you give to high school students wanting to become your career? Be specific.

The ability to think critically, the ability to challenge and question the accepted norm or rule in an objective and well reasoned manner.  A change to the prevailing authority or rule requires more than simply refusing to accept it – it requires persuasion and advocacy.   If you wish to be a litigator, public speaking abilities are essential.  If you wish to be a solicitor, research skills are required.  However, as mentioned, the law applies to all areas of life and therefore almost all skills can be accommodated as a lawyer in one way or another.

What inspired you or made you decide to become what you are today? Do you ever regret it?

It’s difficult to reduce significant influences or inspirations to a few areas.  Inspiration or influence can come from any source, on any day, and in ways that often go unnoticed.  Sometimes the most important decisions we make are made without us realizing how significant they are.  However, I can say with certainty that I don’t regret choosing to live my life as a lawyer and will likely continue practicing until the end of my days.

Sean Robichaud
Barrister & Solicitor