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Why I quit my big firm articling job

|Written By Stephanie Laskoski
Why I quit my big firm articling job

Recently I made an enormous decision: I quit an excellent articling job at a big firm in Edmonton. Leaving the position was very difficult, but the stress and pressure I was feeling after only three weeks of work was so great I was not eating or sleeping.

I stumbled to work at 7 in the morning and walked into my house at nearly 7 in the evening each night. When I arrived home, my ability to even concentrate on my family was so compromised that trying to recollect that time now is practically impossible.

The process of applying for an articling job in Alberta occurs one year in advance of graduating from law school. The hiring procedure, which is mandated by the Law Society of Alberta, dictates application deadlines, and as a result, interviews all happen at the same time.

Some students, the lucky ones, find that particular week to be immensely challenging as they bop from one firm interview to another, often accompanied by a firm dinner, followed by another firm interview.

Once the week is complete, everyone must wait until the following Tuesday morning at 8 a.m., when firms are allowed to call those they wish to hire. I received one of those Tuesday morning phone calls. I was stunned and elated — I had an articling job. It was almost like receiving a unicorn as a gift.

It is no secret that for law students, the articling position has become legendary in its stature. Before any of us even have our timetables memorized, we are pressured to begin thinking about finding the perfect articling job.

As the first few weeks of law school unfold, young men and women are faced with determining their entire futures. With many provinces experiencing shortages of jobs, students begin their legal education with the fear there will be no position awaiting them once the degree is completed. This can lead to impulsive decisions rooted in fear: how on earth can we really know what we might want to do mere days into a law degree?

When I applied for and ultimately accepted my position, I did worry the type of law practised at the firm was wrong for me. However, it was reiterated over and over again that the area of law was irrelevant; what mattered was the exposure to as many areas as possible. In other words, view articling as a fourth year of school.

I adopted that perspective, even though there was still something nagging at me to reconsider. Two weeks before I was to begin, I considered postponing articling for a year. I felt rushed and pressured, with no room to breathe between completing my last semester and beginning my legal career.

In the end, I decided to carry on, worried that I would look foolish otherwise. My school peers who weren’t articling were either clerking or going on to pursue an LLM. Neither option was a fit for me, simply because my grades were not good enough, and it was necessary to start making some money.

After nearly a month of working, I quit. Of course I was nervous and terrified to do so. Of course I was worried about my professional reputation. Fortunately, I worked at a firm filled with remarkable people who understood my predicament.

I am an older student, have teenaged children, am married, and was already finding the time commitment unmanageable. I did not leave articling because big firms are horrible, or the expectations were too much. Practice is incredibly demanding, and remains so for years. It takes a sincere commitment.

I left articling because I have decided I do not want to practise law. It turns out that this is an actual option, rarely discussed in our three years of legal education.

Naturally, I have received much criticism for my decision. People have written to scold me for pursuing a job I didn’t want or need, then having the nerve to accept it and then abandon it. Others have accused me of failing to research articling jobs sufficiently; I should have known what I was getting in to, and picked a different path. More have indicated a smaller firm would have been the better choice, but that I can’t expect firms, big or small, to tailor their practice to my lifestyle. Some even mentioned taking such a job was not in the best interest of my family, and I ought to have known as much.

I can handle the critiques, and offer some points in return.

First, I don’t expect law firms to tailor their practice to my lifestyle. I do think it is hard to achieve the coveted work-life balance working at big firms. Some people do succeed at doing this. Where the system fails is at the law school level, where big firms are highlighted as the best choice overall. Schools have yet to develop an emphasis on non-practice options, something that would certainly have helped me.

Second, of course I inquired about the job requirements before I applied. I made huge efforts to meet with students working at the firm to hear about their experiences. One of my discoveries was that salaries and hours are never explicitly discussed, and even though we know the pay is minimal and the hours are long, this remains an abstract notion until put into actual practice.

Third, my decision to apply for, and accept, a position at a big firm was in my best interest. It was also in my best interest to leave the position when I discovered the fit was wrong. A law degree holds tremendous value, whether a student practises or not. I recognize and fear many students won’t actually have the luxury of exploring their deepest needs and desires because school debt is such a huge motivator, and I think this is why it is possible to end up in a job that is wrong for them.

So now what? Paving my own path is a difficult and courageous task, but experiencing misery in the wrong job is more difficult. I plan to take the advice of many good friends: to go towards what I love, to what makes me feel good, and to what energizes me. It takes some serious pluck to think for myself in an industry that values few options, but I’m up for it. Here’s to that.


Stephanie Laskoski is an unconventional wife, over-committed mother, political maniac, former modern dancer, wanna-be-writer, law graduate, and simply unpredictable. You can find her at www.stephanielaskoski.com.
  • Miss

    Alex Mc
    I am sorry but I think you are entirely in the wrong business, if you can't handle the "stress" of being wined and dined by the cities finest firms, then you should have pulled out of the race then, and not taken a worthy candidates place. This may sound harsh, but I an a foreign lawyer, NCA accredited, I am so dedicated to my profession that I have moved countries, retrained, gained accreditation while working full time (now that's stressful, not going to an interview and dinner) and worked as an Assistant up to a Paralegal for the last 7.5, while no one will give me articles, as usually the positions go to the summer students, somehing that I cannot be. Any left over positions go to a select, very fortunate few. I already know the pressures of working in a law firm. I have routinely worked 12hrs a day as an assistant and a paralegal, I have transferred a senior partners practice to a new firm (again, you want to know what stress is), yet I am constantly over looked. Ridiculous.
  • Other options

    Law Librarian
    It became clear to me in my second year of law school that I didn't want to practice law (although I did finish my degree). I interviewed for one articling position before deciding not to put myself through that circus. The career counsellor at my school lent me some books on alternative legal careers, and I ended up applying to a few librarianship graduate programs. I am now a law librarian in a large firm, and I love my job. It is a much better fit for me. I get to make use of my legal education, but with regular 9-5 hours and less pressure. Being a lawyer isn't the only possible outcome for a law degree - it's too bad the other options aren't really discussed in school.
  • Small Practice Law Students' Association

    uOttawa SPLSA
    Law students often get caught up in the biglaw-or-bust mentality, and the career services offices at the schools do very little to help with that fact. There are plenty of other options that offer interesting and exciting work. In fact, most of us will end up somewhere other than biglaw. This profession doesn't have to be all about the numbers, all about the hours and all about burning ourselves out. Hard work and dedication are important in any area of practice, but doing what we're passionate about doesn't have to kill us. Now if we could just get the law schools to pass that memo on to students. Thanks for sharing your story.
  • What value?

    Jack Rosenberg
    "A law degree holds tremendous value, whether a student practises or not."

    What value? I keep hearing this, but no one says what that value is. Anyone care to comment on this? What is the point of having a JD if one doesn't go on to practice law? I am having a hell of a time finding an articling position and frankly am not 1000% sure this is even what I want to do with my life. But short of dropping out and working at McDonald's the rest of my life or returning to school for another 3-4 years of no income to try my hand at something else I'm not seeing a whole pile of other options here. I don't want to do the LPP. It seems like a dead end. Who the hell would ever want to hire someone out of that program? Law is competitive enough already without the stigma of being an articling reject. I just don't know what to do anymore. I'm in my third year and am praying that something comes up, but I'm starting to get extremely discouraged.
  • Lawyer & Trademark Agent

    Michele Ballagh
    It is disappointing to learn that the law schools are still letting the big firms run the show in their career centres. The big law firms can be a very insular world with their own CPD programming and social networks. My best advice to law students and young lawyers (especially in big firms) is to join and get involved with their local law association or the CBA so that they can meet a whole variety of lawyers practicing in a variety of practice areas and in firms of all sizes. It provides access to a perspective and a support network that your own firm cannot provide.
  • Broader options

    Rob Currie
    Ms. Ballagh, please do not believe -- on the basis of one article by one graduate from one law school -- that "law schools are still letting the big firms run the show in their career centres." A small amount of research and a few conversations would paint a very different picture. No one would deny that big firm recruiting is significant everywhere, but there's a lot more going on than that. That said, your advice is excellent and all young lawyers should hear it.
  • Response to "Why I Quit My Big Firm Articling Job.

    Victoria Lehman
    The "all or nothing" idea here (big firm or leave law) left me concerned, especially the anxiety expressed, for which there should be supportive counseling.
    It is unfortunate that Stephanie appears to believes that she is better out of law completely, than to look at options within the profession. Alarming, even!There are many firms outside major centers(some within commuting distance) looking to hire new lawyers. I truly hope that Law Schools are not still encouraging students to view the "perfect" articling job as only with large law firms. Serving the Community while making a decent living should be that to which we aspire, no matter what area of law we toil in, or size of firm.
    But if Law is not a proper fit for our life's work, then the earlier we move on to something more satisfying and productive to ourselves and Society, the better. I wish Stephanie all the best, as she works toward that ultimate quest.
  • Law Options

    Jody Lee
    There are options when articling and becoming a lawyer, sometimes though you have to work around the expectations of others ... in the law field and elsewhere.

    My husband, when graduating from law school purposefully took a year off and became Mr. Mom for a year. We figured it was his one and only opportunity (we got a lot of questions "You mean he is not looking for an articling position this year?" "He is not looking for another job?" were the most common). We decided we wanted to live in a small town and therefore for the next year he sought out, interviewed for and took an articling position in a small town. We now have a sole proprietor practice in a small town in Alberta where I work with him as one of his secretaries and office manager. He has the time commitments of being a sole practitioner as well as practicing mostly in real estate (no summers off) but we set our hours.... and definitely not 7 to 7 and I believer a good work-life balance.

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