As lawyers at Heenan Blaikie make plans to pack up and move on, law students currently articling with the firm — and those who accepted offers to article there later this year — are scrambling to find positions with other Canadian law firms.
Heenan Blaikie is reaching out to firms to take on those articling students.
“I called senior partners in the big firms and sent them a list of our students and we wrote to other firms,” says Karen Rogers, a partner at Heenan’s Montreal office who oversees student recruitment. “The legal community is really pulling together and trying to accommodate these people.”
Heenan’s Montreal location currently has five articling students. One has been there for about four months, while the others started about a month ago. An additional 10 to 14 were expected to begin in June.
One has already been placed at Norton Rose Fulbright.
“They’re amazing students,” says Rogers. “Anybody who would have them as an articling student is lucky.”
Rogers says the students at Heenan are relieved knowing the firm is working to help them out — but that wasn’t the initial reaction.
“I think they were worried because . . . you have no precedent; you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she says. “They know that all the big firms are full, so they’re sitting there going, ‘There are no more positions anywhere. What do we do?’”
When the firm confirmed it would be closing its doors, she reached out to the students to let them know Heenan would work to find new placements for them.
“I think they were nervous [and] anxious — as everybody is, I’ll be quite frank with you,” she says. “But they’re relieved now and I think they’re quite happy.”
In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada requires law firms that rescind their articling offers to assist students in finding an adequate alternative. 4Students contacted a number of other law societies to see whether similar rules apply, but responses hadn’t been received by press time.
Law schools are also offering support.
“I think that it is natural for the students to be concerned and I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t be concerned,” says Stacy Keehn, acting assistant dean at the University of Ottawa. “I think that the initial shock and surprise of it did cause a lot of anxiety and I’m hopeful that they’re seeing there is going to be support there for them.”
While Keehn wouldn’t confirm whether any University of Ottawa law students had been affected by Heenan Blaikie’s closing, she did say students who find themselves in this situation might be surprised with the number of helping hands available.
“Here at the University of Ottawa — and I’m sure the same is happening at the other law schools — we are making ourselves available to meet with students and provide them with guidance and support as needed.”
These students will also have an early introduction to how supportive the profession they’re entering really can be, Keehn says.
“In my experience, the legal community itself tends to rally around these students who are impacted,” she says. “The legal community does what it can; the employer actively does what it can.”
This is not the first time Keehn has had to deal with the collapse of a Canadian law firm. When Goodman and Carr LLP closed in 2007, Keehn assisted students who found themselves searching for a new placement.
“My experience at that time was that the legal community really rallied to support those students, as did all the law schools where they had students who were affected,” she says. “I expect that the response will be similar this time.”
One of Heenan’s incoming law students spoke to 4Students, but didn’t want to be identified. The student has had interviews with other firms but hasn’t solidified a new position yet.
“While I was obviously very disappointed to lose my incoming position at Heenan, I am more saddened that I can no longer work alongside some very brilliant partners, associates, and support workers at the firm,” says the student.
The student is remaining positive, but continues to be concerned for fellow students and Heenan staff.
“Through this obviously difficult and hectic time for the administration and partners, I hope the firm can continue to honour its obligation to assist in relocating students and particularly the many support workers who relied on their jobs for a living,” the student says. “Once the dust settles, I think it will be a good time to reflect on whether more needs to be done to strengthen the obligation of law firms to its lower-level employees.”
Affected students who are still concerned about the future of their articling position should take action before allowing panic to get the best of them, says Keehn.
“Obviously in this situation, or any similar situation, being in touch with the employer is important,” she says. “[Then they] should be reaching out to their career offices and taking advantage of the services that they have available to them at their schools. . . . It’s important to get the information, get the details, and then talk to your career services support.”