The path to lawyerhood is not paved with OCIs. Many law students and recent graduates have confronted an increasingly competitive market for articling positions. They must venture down the road less travelled in order to get their foot in the door. Having ventured down that road myself, I feel it worthwhile to share my experience with those currently engaged in the struggle.
I graduated from law school in April 2015 without having secured an articling position. I exhausted the traditional route of applying for online job postings without any success. Next, I began to work my network for leads. These meetings were unlikely to result in a direct job offer. Still, my goal was simply to let those in my network know that I was in need of an articling position.
As luck would have it, a professor who I’d worked for as a research assistant contacted me out of the blue one day. I had informed him weeks prior that I was yet to obtain an articling position. He didn’t have one for me, but he did know a lawyer in town who was looking for someone to fill a 10 week contract to help out with a major file. I accepted with alacrity. I was tasked with performing document review for nearly every day of those 10 weeks. This was unglamorous work by any account. I knew if I worked hard the contract position might lead to something larger, there or elsewhere.
My efforts paid off. As my contract came to a close, the lawyer opened his network to me. He arranged meetings for me with other lawyers in town. I met with many of them. One meeting in particular led to a subsequent partner interview, which in turn led to an articling offer. My career was launched.
Looking back, my circuitous path to securing an articling position would not have been possible without persistence, a lot of hard work, and a healthy dose of luck. In my experience, half the battle is alerting those around you to the fact that you’re searching for a position, whether as student, associate or employee. Often when employers search to fill positions, they work their private networks prior to posting a position for general applicants.
This is probably even more true with smaller firms and sole practitioners. If your network happens to overlap with an employer’s network, the likelihood of a “match” increases exponentially. If you work hard to earn the trust of those you come across in your academic and professional life, you will increase your supportive network. This will make your articling search infinitely easier.
by Neil Kennedy, Advocacy Club Member
[Note: since posting this, in 2017 Neil has left the preactice of law to join the Canadian Forces, infantry. We wish him well and thank him for his service to our country.]
Establishing yourself in the practice of law is a long, hard slog. First comes the question of where you will work the summer after first year, then second year, then articling. The anxiety builds. Throw in that dreadful Bar exam. Finally, the question becomes where will you land that lawyer job that you have been working towards for at least half a decade?
Everyone who has been through the slog knows how hard it is. If you are currently facing one of those hurdles, I have one word for you, PERSEVERE! Your opportunity will come knocking. Put yourself out there. Keep your head up. Endure the slog.
On a more personal note, I worked hard, even struggled at times, to find law positions through these hurdles; first year summer, second year summer, articling - I still refuse to reflect on the Bar exams. I remember the anxiety all too well. Once I was comfortably employed in each of these stages, I was happy. I found myself learning a ton, and felt successful. But the in-betweens were a different story! Attaining law positions through the slog felt daunting. I kept a sense of humour. Throughout I shared the difficulties with friends going through the same hurdles. I worked hard and persevered. I passed out resumes, cold-called lawyers, and checked in with mentors.
When it came time to find employment for that lawyer job, the last hurdle - the one I’d been working towards for the better part of a decade - an opportunity presented itself. It didn’t appear overnight. I had spent months revising cover letters in coffee shops, and attending CCLA and OBA functions. I had changed my concept of a dream job, and my focus areas in law, more times than I care to admit. When the opportunity presented itself, I was ready for it. I was in the right headspace and I had come around to the idea of working for myself.
One thing led to another, like a chain reaction, but my stars aligned and I am happily practicing family law. I got lucky. One thing was obvious to me. Contrary to the saying, timing was not everything. Without the hard work, the opportunity would have dissipated. With hard work – luck should be no problem.
by Ceilh Henderson, Advocacy Club Member
Ceilidh’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org. She practices Family law and Child Protection law, in partnership with Altynay Teshebaeva.
Had you asked me in law school if I would ever litigate (let alone start my own firm) I would have answered with a definitive “never”. It was not until halfway through my first year as a lawyer that I realized I could open my own practice one day. I made the jump in my second year.
Choose your partner(s) carefully.
The most important lesson I learned was to pick your partners wisely. They should have:
These shared views are essential for a successful partnership. Without them, you will be in a constant battle to enjoy your work environment.
My own first attempt at a partnership failed. My second is in Year Two and going strong. This is largely because it was built on an existing working relationship I had with a fellow lawyer and friend. We created Court Coach LLP. We provide full litigation services for family and child protection cases. We also offer unbundled legal coaching and drafting packages for self-represented litigants in need of direction.
While both of us litigate regularly, we prefer the coaching and ADR side of our practice. Our formula for success is to provide a unique set of services while doing the work we prefer to do. However, we did not achieve this success without help.
The second important lesson I learned is the importance of a mentor, or partner, or colleague in the field. Someone to bounce ideas off of, ask questions of, and seek help from when life’s emergencies interrupt your practice. My partner and I have both had wonderful mentors who shared their knowledge and experience, and also continue to send us client referrals. As a member of the Legal Aid family panel, a year of mentorship is a requirement.
When I could not readily find the answer to a question I had, it was helpful to be able to contact an experienced lawyer for their opinion. I also participated in the Advocacy Club. The guidance with respect to questioning and witness preparation was very beneficial. It provided me with skills I still use. Attending family law Bar and CAS defense Bar meetings allowed me to meet other lawyers and build a strong network of colleagues. Many have contributed to my personal growth as a lawyer, and our growth as a firm.
Yes, we can.
Yes, we can!
The anxiety and initial fears when hanging out your shingle wane rather quickly. With an organized practice and the support of others in your field, you can create the firm that allows you to work the cases you want, and run a business on your own terms.
by Meagan LePage, Advocacy Club Member
Meagan’s email: email@example.com
Welcome to the Advocacy Club's guest blog. Here you will find mentoring tips and techniques from some of John Hollander's students and associates.