Spring — the season where many third-year law students scramble to find an articling position before the semester expires. As usual, there is an abundance of students still looking for positions. A quick glance at online forums or a chat with students from various schools will confirm this.
While many larger firms hire in the summer before articling begins, a lot of smaller firms and sole practitioners wait until the spring or even later to hire. A reason for this is that smaller firms may not have a sense of their need for an articling student a year in advance. For those still looking for articling positions, consider seeking out small firms. While the compensation may not be Bay Street level, many firms offer reasonable compensation and it’s a truly valuable experience if you make the most of it.
The common small firm pitch is the ability to offer hands-on experience by throwing students into the thick of things right away. Frankly, this pitch may be exaggerated in comparison to the experience other types of firms offer. What is invaluable about the small firm articling experience is being exposed immediately to the business of law. This includes learning practice management software, understanding cash flow and overhead and managing staffing issues. At a small firm, there is no room to shield an articling student from the daily grind of running a business. For a student, this is an opportunity to get involved with business-related issues.
It’s not where you article, it’s what you do with your articling experience
Whether you article at a big or small firm, you only get what you put into it. When I articled, I certainly had a fear that I might not be getting the same level of experience as my big-firm peers. That motivated me to push extra hard to maximize every experience and opportunity that I was afforded. Whether it was learning to bind documents, researching a matter or understanding how a trust account worked, I tried to make the most of it. It also motivated me to get involved in the profession and in the community to surround myself with people that challenged me to be better.
Why a small firm hires an articling student
The thing to remember about many small firms is that they hire because they need the help, not necessarily because mentoring students is a priority. This need may be due to upcoming trials, the departure of staff or an expanding practice. Small firms will not have the resources to tolerate a student that does not pull their weight.
A small-firm employer may not necessarily prioritize your need for hand holding, courtroom experience or a rotation into different areas of law. As much as they are there to help you grow into a lawyer, you are there to help them with files. While having the long-term career-building goals in mind is important, part of the small-firm application process will be articulating what value you can deliver to a small firm. You might as well learn how to communicate this now, as marketing your value will be a career-long endeavour. For most students, this will be, at a minimum, the ability to research and write, as well as the willingness to do grunt work.
There is work out there
While small firms may not actively seek help, there are many that would gladly take the assistance of an eager, enthusiastic and competent articling student. If you do not have an articling position in the spring of third year, do not despair. There is time and there is work available.