Most articling students won’t find out if they’ve been hired back as associates until after Canadian Lawyer 4Students goes to press, but there has been anxiety in the ranks for months already. And it’s not just articling students, but all law students who are looking for jobs and articling positions with law firms in the near future.
The economy is in a nosedive and it really is doom and gloom in the legal markets of the United States and England, but law firms in Canada continue to say they are holding steady. In research for our various magazines, law firms over the last few months have stated that they are not letting lawyers go as a result of the economy. But as the recession seems to deepen week by week, such assertions may change.
It is widely held that it costs $100,000 to let an associate go, so it’s worth it for a law firm to hold on to young lawyers over rough times rather than have to go through the hiring process again in six or eight months once the economy and business (hopefully) picks up. But while that may be a glimmer of hope for associates, as our cover story “Anxiety alley” notes, it may not be good news for articling students. Being hired back is not guaranteed. Every year firms of all shapes and sizes have to decide how many students will be asked to return as associates. Will economic factors mean that some desirable candidates be passed over for offers of employment? Firms are weighing out those decisions in the next weeks and right now nobody knows. Most importantly, at this point, while you may not have a job, you do have the qualifications to be called to the bar and that actually opens up a world of possibilities.
One option that could be attractive to some entrepreneurial souls is to strike out on your own. In some cases, the recession may be the perfect time to set up shop. There are, of course, many pitfalls and difficulties such as accessing credit, but opportunities also abound. It is likely a move only for the bold but there are supports from law societies and, as many solos have told me, from others in the profession. You can check out a recent Canadian Lawyer Associates essay from Toronto lawyer Jason E. Bogle (at www.canadianlawyermag.com/Alone-in-a-crowd.html) about his experiences setting up his own shop.
It’s those who haven’t articled yet that are probably chewing their nails. Particularly at small and mid-size firms, the drop in business and number of clients seeking legal services could mean there will be fewer opportunities for students seeking articles. That’s the worst category to be in — a law student looking for articles but unable to find them. Law societies and law schools may be able to help but it’s often ingenuity and networking that may be the best options for helping yourself. If you really want to practise, you’ll find a way. The economy won’t be bad forever and the practice of law and the need for lawyers will remain.