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theVelvetFog

The Dangers of "BigLaw or Bust"

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I know a few graduating students who have yet to secure an articling position.  They are all decent students (i.e. B to B+ averages), and have decent ECs.  It seems strange to me that these good students are now graduating without a job when some of their weaker colleagues were successful at securing one. 

 

The one common denominator between these students is that they each entered law school with a "BigLaw or Bust" mentality.  Most of them did Business, Finance or Economics undergraduate degrees.  They tailored their upper year course selections to focus on "corporate" courses (i.e. intellectual property, M&A, corporate tax etc.).  Their ECs were similarly focused on competitions and clubs that signalled a strong interest in corporate law.  For the 1L and 2L summer recruitment periods, they applied exclusively at BigLaw firms in the major legal markets (Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto).  They did the same for the 2L OCI recruitment period.  All of them got interviews (some of them got quite a few), but they failed to secure a job. 

 

As a result, they entered 3L without an articling position, and a resume and transcript tailored to a type of work that is difficult to come by after the 2L OCI period.  It appears to me that the articling positions that become available during 3L are almost exclusively at small- to mid-sized law firms that focus on family law, criminal law, personal injury, civil litigation, wills & estates and some small-business oriented corporate work.  The big corporate firms generally do not recruit outside the official recruiting periods. 

 

These newly-minted and jobless graduates worked hard over the last year to apply to a wide assortment of articling positions that became available.  A couple of them mentioned to me that, in their interviews, they were questioned about their interest in the firm's practice area and asked why they hadn't taken courses or joined ECs focused on that area.  They tried to join a club or two at the last minute to help "signal an interest" in these other practice areas, but it seems this failed to net them a job.  The thing is, they were competing against other students who genuinely DID have an interest in doing family law, criminal law etc., so I am guessing that they had a difficult time distinguishing themselves against these candidates.

 

I was wondering if anyone else has noticed this?  Is this a relatively common reason for why "good" students fail to secure articling jobs, especially in light of the general decline in BigLaw hiring?

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I have noticed this among some upper years. The thing is, many people who enter law school are strivers who aren't actually that talented at anything so biglaw is their shot at prestige and a "good life". So "smaller" law is beneath them. In some ways I sympathize...no matter how much we want to encourage people to work in smaller cities, a lot of people don't want to end up in Small Town, Saskatchewan. Its not for them. Some people genuinely don't have any desire to work in these smaller firms because the dislike the work.

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I know a few graduating students who have yet to secure an articling position.  They are all decent students (i.e. B to B+ averages), and have decent ECs.  It seems strange to me that these good students are now graduating without a job when some of their weaker colleagues were successful at securing one. 

 

The one common denominator between these students is that they each entered law school with a "BigLaw or Bust" mentality.  Most of them did Business, Finance or Economics undergraduate degrees.  They tailored their upper year course selections to focus on "corporate" courses (i.e. intellectual property, M&A, corporate tax etc.).  Their ECs were similarly focused on competitions and clubs that signalled a strong interest in corporate law.  For the 1L and 2L summer recruitment periods, they applied exclusively at BigLaw firms in the major legal markets (Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto).  They did the same for the 2L OCI recruitment period.  All of them got interviews (some of them got quite a few), but they failed to secure a job. 

 

As a result, they entered 3L without an articling position, and a resume and transcript tailored to a type of work that is difficult to come by after the 2L OCI period.  It appears to me that the articling positions that become available during 3L are almost exclusively at small- to mid-sized law firms that focus on family law, criminal law, personal injury, civil litigation, wills & estates and some small-business oriented corporate work.  The big corporate firms generally do not recruit outside the official recruiting periods. 

 

These newly-minted and jobless graduates worked hard over the last year to apply to a wide assortment of articling positions that became available.  A couple of them mentioned to me that, in their interviews, they were questioned about their interest in the firm's practice area and asked why they hadn't taken courses or joined ECs focused on that area.  They tried to join a club or two at the last minute to help "signal an interest" in these other practice areas, but it seems this failed to net them a job.  The thing is, they were competing against other students who genuinely DID have an interest in doing family law, criminal law etc., so I am guessing that they had a difficult time distinguishing themselves against these candidates.

 

I was wondering if anyone else has noticed this?  Is this a relatively common reason for why "good" students fail to secure articling jobs, especially in light of the general decline in BigLaw hiring?

 

As you pointed out, sometimes people don't expand outside a certain market. Other times, while "good" candidates, they do nothing to stand out. Or aren't the greatest at interviewing.

 

Being one of those *ahem* weaker students you allude to, I applied broadly. While looking at Toronto, I opened my scope to the Tri-Cities, Barrie, Hamilton, Ottawa, SW Ontario, St-Catharines, etc. I made sure to tailor every application I sent, etc. My application had to be tight since my grades were not as competitive as other applicants.

 

Re: Corporate/Business law. Many small/mid-size firms still practice business law and even IP. They're not all family/crim :P But, again, you're spot on when you mention the "big law or bust" attitude. It can blind people from other opportunities.

Edited by artsydork
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As you pointed out, sometimes people don't expand outside a certain market.

 

I have noticed this among some upper years. The thing is, many people who enter law school are strivers who aren't actually that talented at anything so biglaw is their shot at prestige and a "good life". So "smaller" law is beneath them. In some ways I sympathize...no matter how much we want to encourage people to work in smaller cities, a lot of people don't want to end up in Small Town, Saskatchewan. Its not for them. Some people genuinely don't have any desire to work in these smaller firms because the dislike the work.

 

This is a really good point, all of these individuals I have spoken to are not interested in working outside of one of the larger cities.  There might be opportunities in smaller municipalities that they are missing out on. 

 

With the general decline in BigLaw hiring (which does not appear to be on the verge of ending anytime in the near future), I think people would be well-served to honestly evaluate their chances of getting a BigLaw position before they go "all in" and tailor their law school experience to those firms exclusively.  It seems that, even with decent grades, many people are left on the outside looking in after the 2L OCI process is over.  If people wait too long to broaden their search (either geographically or by practice area), that can be fatal to them securing an articling position after graduation (if my friends' experience is any indication). 

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Being a better student does not in any way mean you are more likely to or more deserve to get a job.

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Being a better student does not in any way mean you are more likely to or more deserve to get a job.

 

Actually, it does mean you're more likely to get a job. You might not think that they're more deserving, but they're absolutely more likely.

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I think there is some truth to both Crysander's and KOMODO's observations.  Generally, higher grades = higher chance of getting an interview = higher chance of getting a job.  However, what I find interesting is that it seems that even "decent" students can fail to land a job at all if they focus too exclusively on big corporate jobs and then strike out in interviews for those positions. 

 

I suppose this can be a cautionary note to all those people posting "chances" threads for BigLaw employment that focus almost exclusively on their grades.  The reality is that many students looking for that type of work fail to land that type of a position, even with slightly above average grades. 

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Actually, it does mean you're more likely to get a job. You might not think that they're more deserving, but they're absolutely more likely.

 

I'm not talking about extremes.

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I think there is some truth to both Crysander's and KOMODO's observations.  Generally, higher grades = higher chance of getting an interview = higher chance of getting a job.  However, what I find interesting is that it seems that even "decent" students can fail to land a job at all if they focus too exclusively on big corporate jobs and then strike out in interviews for those positions. 

 

I suppose this can be a cautionary note to all those people posting "chances" threads for BigLaw employment that focus almost exclusively on their grades.  The reality is that many students looking for that type of work fail to land that type of a position, even with slightly above average grades. 

I don't think it is fair to single out 'big corporate' when discussing these issues. Many students will 'strike out' in a variety of fields for a variety of reasons. There are very few guarantees in any field of law. Obviously those that are the 'complete package' (grades,personality, interview skills etc.) will have the best chance regardless of which direction they go, but as we all know, a chance is not a guarantee.

 

Long story short, people shouldn't expect that any part of their application/their credentials will guarantee them a job.  

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Also TBF to many people, spending 3 yrs in lolschool and going into thousands in debt forces you to try and get the highest paid gigs and BIGLAW is obviously the credit response there. A few people genuinely find their passion in one area of law and even if doesn't pay the highest, its the best option for them. Others get stuck in a place where they have spent so much time on biglaw because it is the only thing that made sense when looking at the money and time invested and the opportunity cost and suddenly they get to 3L and can't find anything. Others have already put in way more effort into getting the smaller jobs. 

 

This will be me in a year. LOL what a flame. 

 

Also everyone should read that Hegdis thread. 180

Edited by DSman
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I don't think it is fair to single out 'big corporate' when discussing these issues. Many students will 'strike out' in a variety of fields for a variety of reasons. There are very few guarantees in any field of law. Obviously those that are the 'complete package' (grades,personality, interview skills etc.) will have the best chance regardless of which direction they go, but as we all know, a chance is not a guarantee.

 

Long story short, people shouldn't expect that any part of their application/their credentials will guarantee them a job.  

 

I disagree.  From what I can see from the people I have spoken to, there is a correlation between people who fail to obtain a "big corporate" job after working exclusively towards that goal and failing to obtain an articling position at all.

 

I think the distinction to be made is that there are "lower options" for people who are interested in crim/family/estates/civil litigation etc. while there isn't an "acceptable" lower alternative for a lot of people who are dead set on BigLaw (in their perspective, at least).  Those positions are the most competitive to get, and many people strike out every year.  Also, big corporate jobs are different from other areas in that, if you fail to get a BigLaw job through the 2L OCI process, you have almost zero chance of ever getting one of those articling positions ever (for example, I have never heard of a big law firm hiring a 3L who struck out at OCIs the year before).  Most, if not all, BigLaw firms recruit exclusively during the 2L process - this is not true of other practice areas at small- to mid-sized firms. 

 

As an example of the opposite, I have a couple friends who had terrible grades (C-range averages) in law school who are now criminal attorneys.  They didn't necessarily get their #1 choice for a firm, but they did secure articles somewhere in 3L, and are now doing quite well in practice. 

 

My friends' fatal error was in failing to diversify their studies, networking, ECs etc. beyond big corporate jobs until it was too late.  I think a lot of people would benefit from not making the same mistake.

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With very few quibbles, I basically agree with the OPs assessment of the situation wholesale.

 

Outside of the most competitive positions (I'll avoid saying "the best" and just call them the most competitive) employers start to focus more and more on soft factors and "fit" rather than grades. So students who aim for and miss the market that relies on grades may be very surprised to find they are not very strong applicants even for the less competitive positions, because those positions still have plenty of applicants and they depend on different factors. You know for my articling gig, I wasn't even asked for a transcript? True fact. That's how little they cared about my grades.

 

Anyway, definitively something to consider. All that said, however, you still shouldn't try to manufacture some evidence of non-existent interests only to hedge. If you really don't give a damn about wills and estates, don't take them, and don't apply for a job in this area. You'll dead end pretty fast if you try.

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I know exactly who OP is describing because that was essentially me in law school. I took all those 'business' courses in the hopes of scoring that coveted biglaw job. When I was shut out at OCIs, I continued to take those courses in the hopes that my career could still be steered in that direction. (However for me, I actually was interested in those practice areas, and not because of some crushing debtload, but I digress.) I quickly realized that if you're unsuccessful at OCIs, you're pretty much SOL for corporate jobs, and what's left are regional jobs or jobs in crim/wills/family/civ lit. which I had absolutely no interest in. I was also  very aware of the 'need' for lawyers in small towns, yet I couldn't bring myself to apply there because my whole life was based in the city, and I figured, at some point you have to be willing to accept the consequences of not having a job if you're unwilling to compromise on certain things. I did interview for wills/estates/small business/civ lit. firms but in the end my articling position was corporate, though not in big law. Many students with my profile clamoured for that job. Now in my career I work with 'biglaw' lawyers, but I fully recognize that had it not been for this articling gig, I would probably be working in crim/wills/family or maybe doing something else entirely. 

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@goldencuffs - If I recall correctly, there was an extended period during which you complained bitterly and incessantly about how you were deceived and screwed by the legal establishment. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it seems to me that since that time you have (a) actually found your way into the career you wanted, and (b) come around to the view that a significant amount of the difficulty you encountered was due to your own unwillingness to compromise on the kind of legal career you would have. Have you reframed your ideas much since that time? Because truly, I can get behind the idea that we shouldn't produce too many more lawyers than there are jobs. But I can't agree it should always be easy, or that every law graduate is entitled to their dream career.

 

Don't want to muddy up an otherwise very important discussion. But the OP is making some important points about how law students sabotage themselves. It isn't the whole story, not by a longshot, but I'm unavoidably reminded of how many times I've read tirades on this site from otherwise bright students who seem to think they are owed not only an education but also a career. And again, not only a career, but exactly the career they always dreamed of. And who the hell believes that's true?

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Being a better student does not in any way mean you are more likely to or more deserve to get a job.

 

 

Actually, it does mean you're more likely to get a job. You might not think that they're more deserving, but they're absolutely more likely.

 

 

I'm not talking about extremes.

Its not extremes... The top 30% of the class is more likely to land a job than the bottom 30% of the class. I would hardly say those are the "extremes". But again, deserving a job is a different story. But stating that being a better student does not give you a better chance at landing a job "in any way" is ridiculous. 

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Good thread.

 

Never a good idea to limit your opportunities. But on the other hand, I can completely understand not wanting to work in "Small Town Saskatchewan” or Nunavut or something. I’d never consider it either unless I was desperate. Maybe mid-size cities offer a good middle ground? 

 
For me personally, I’ve always thought of medium size cities as more desirable places to work than Toronto/Vancouver/Calgary anyways. Hours and workload are more manageable, you’ll still get interesting work and the discrepancy in pay balances out with the much lower COL - especially as you get more senior or eventually attain partnership. 
 
A lot of students are also so focused on the big national firms that they overlook some nice opportunities at mid-size or small boutique firms in the bigger centres. A significant handful of my classmates landed nice gigs at mid-size and boutique firms in Toronto just by expanding their hunt outside of the huge national firms. 

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Also, big corporate jobs are different from other areas in that, if you fail to get a BigLaw job through the 2L OCI process, you have almost zero chance of ever getting one of those articling positions ever (for example, I have never heard of a big law firm hiring a 3L who struck out at OCIs the year before).  Most, if not all, BigLaw firms recruit exclusively during the 2L process - this is not true of other practice areas at small- to mid-sized firms. 

 

Just thought I would quickly chime in. I personally know 2 people who struck out in the 2L OCI process 1 year ago (2012), but have secured BigLaw articling positions in some of the major cities mentioned. So it does happen and not all hope should be lost for those individuals who don't land a BigLaw job through OCI's. Nevertheless, it is certainly the hard/long way of doing it and in all likelihood will become even more rare in the future.

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Just thought I would quickly chime in. I personally know 2 people who struck out in the 2L OCI process 1 year ago (2012), but have secured BigLaw articling positions in some of the major cities mentioned. So it does happen and not all hope should be lost for those individuals who don't land a BigLaw job through OCI's. Nevertheless, it is certainly the hard/long way of doing it and in all likelihood will become even more rare in the future.

You can add me to that list as well. Also note that Osler, Blakes and BLG all hired in the articling recruit last year.

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