In my third year of law school, I was unemployed. To undergraduate students (and my mom) the idea of having a job before you graduate is bizarre and a little “over-achieving.”
But by law school standards, I was late. Some of my colleagues were hired for jobs as early as 1L summer and most others by the end of second year. The rest of us avoided the topic of jobs like people avoid talking about religion or politics. So in my third year, I put all my efforts into securing an articling position before I graduated from law school. I had a daunting task ahead of me because I was attending law school out West and hoping to return to Toronto. Here is how I did it.
Widen your search
I shifted my focus from the big firms to the rest of the legal opportunities out there that I had ignored in the rat race of trying to be hired on Bay Street. I contacted every kind of employer, from a small firm to a business corporation. Every company has a legal department and some of those legal departments hire articling students, such as TD Bank, Eli Lilly, Loblaws Inc. (just to name a few I applied to). I used Google to find contact information. I also made an Excel spreadsheet to organize my information and keep notes.
I did not get discouraged by any negative responses.
Use multiple resources
I used various web sites and in the search tool typed random combinations to see if any articling positions were posted. Here are some examples of web sites and organizations to check out:
h. (there are a bunch of articling jobs for 2014-15 up there now)
i. Ontario Bar Association legal career centre
I visited my career co-ordinator almost every other week. My commitment to see her and my progress update proved I was serious. She helped me get in touch with a career co-ordinator at an Ontario law school who gave me access to its career web site for three months. This is something I have heard most career offices can arrange. Suddenly I felt empowered with this excellent resource and more confident that I would eventually find a job.
Don’t work for free
I refused to work for free. Some lawyers I cold-called asked me if I would, and I said no. I have seen students who have done this, but I knew it would affect my personality more than my debt. I would become negative, depressed, and socially isolated because I would not have the money to spend and resentful towards the profession I entered after seven (or more) years of school.
If you must volunteer because you need to be called to the bar at a certain time, do it at a legal clinic. I say this from experience — a government organization will be a gentle environment to work in for no money. You will likely be done work at 5 p.m., the clients are not paying you so there are no “billable hours” to meet, and the work environment is overall relaxed.
For students who attend law schools in Toronto, finding an articling position is less challenging than for out-of-province students like me. We literally have to hunt down jobs because our law schools do not have an updated list of Toronto employers looking to hire.
Regardless of which law school you graduate from, if you find yourself unemployed by the end of third year, relax. Keep a deadline for applying to articling positions. Then start applying to articling jobs AND other jobs. It’s probably a smarter move than to work for free. Work at a bank or a non-profit, or anywhere you can develop transferable skills. You could also volunteer at legal clinics once a week if you want to stay connected to the field.
I got an offer for an articling position last April, just weeks before my third-year final exams. It was relieving and scary because it was the end of one chapter and beginning of another. I made it back to Toronto and I will be called to the Ontario bar in June, but after May I may not be employed again. But it’s OK. Having done it once makes it bearable the second time around.
Leena Khawaja is an articling student at Legal Aid Ontario in Toronto. She graduated from the University of Saskatchewan College of Law in 2012. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.