Articling student Sarah McGrath-White is quite busy these days. She recently started her criminal and family law rotation at Nova Scotia Legal Aid; prior to that she was working on civil litigation files at Crowe Dillon Robinson in Halifax; and in the summer she was helping immigrants at the Halifax Refugee Clinic.
McGrath-White is one of a handful of students in Nova Scotia taking the alternative route of shared articles.
“I really feel like I own my articling experience,” says McGrath-White. “I didn’t have to do specific rotations like you have to do in larger firms. I was able to pick what I wanted.”
Shared articles provide a unique articling experience with various challenges and opportunities. Here is a quick run down on what to expect.
Creating your own articling rotations
Shared articles are a good alternative for students who are unable to get traditional articles. They also provide more options. It’s up to students to find their own placements, which gives them the freedom to approach smaller firms and non-profit organizations for short-term placements.
McGrath-White worked with her principal Danny Graham to put together a plan that included four different placements.
“I was unable to find a traditional placement but I knew I wanted to stay in Halifax,” she says. “Danny and I came up with the idea together. His support made a huge difference in [getting] others to take on an articling student.”
Shared articles expose students to different work environments and areas of law not traditionally included in articles. For three months, McGrath-White worked at the Halifax Refugee Clinic in partnership with Lee Cohen Immigration Law. She wanted exposure to immigration hearings. During that placement, she appeared before the Immigration and Refugee Board.
“Because three months is short, everyone I worked with really emphasized that I get exposure to certain things I am interested in,” says McGrath-White.
“When I was at Crowe Dillon Robinson, I told them I really wanted to go to Small Claims Court and I was able to take a file from beginning to end.”
Flexibility and networking
Students in shared articles have a greater opportunity to network because multiple work environments expose them to different lawyers.
“You have a lot of flexibility in what you want to do,” says McGrath-White. “Because I’ve worked in different places, I have so many contacts in different areas of the law to get advice.”
Finding multiple placements
While multiple placements are a great opportunity, it takes more time to put articling plans together.
“Networking is key in looking for articles,” says Jennifer Lau, associate director of career services at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law. “Start with one firm and build from there. You should be actively looking five to 10 hours a week.”
Students need to find a principal to supervise their articles for the year and employers. McGrath-White recommends starting early and finding a principal who can help with the process.
“If you really want to work somewhere and they don’t normally take articling students, keep asking,” she says. “Sometimes the first answer is no but the more you ask and explain, the more they realize how great it is to have a student around.”
Students will also have to work with their provincial law society to ensure the placements meet the bar admission requirements.
Limited time on files
With traditional articles, students get to work on long-term files with the same firm. Shared articles require students to learn about the firm’s culture and environment quickly in order to get substantive work on files.
“Three months is not a very long time,” says McGrath-White. “Once you get into a good routine, your time is finished and you have to move on. Often the work from previous secondments will follow you so I sometimes find myself working for two people.”
The biggest downside to shared articles is the lost option to be hired back. Some firms hire articling clerks on a short-term basis because they can’t afford to take on clerks full time or hire new associates.