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BlueJayGal

Very Low Paid Articling Position

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Hello,

Long story short I was hired in my current articling position in a very casual manner. My current firm has a very supportive environment, it is providing me with lots of good learning opportunities but the salary is very low. My employer did not talk about salary during the hiring process and I saw my salary when I got my first pay cheque. I said during the interview that money was not an issue for me but I did not expect to get paid significantly lower than the minimum wage during articling. I once casually brought up the salary issue but I did not get any positive response. Now the thing that boggles my mind is that the firm is including me in its long term plan and yet paying me so poorly. If the firm sees value in me, should not it be paying me more?  I am not asking for bay street money, but not getting paid even the minimum wage has been a tough deal for me to digest emotionally. Given the tough articling market I know that if I quit this job I might have to wait a year to find an articling position. Right now I have one goal in my life: that is to get called to the bar in 2019. So I am thinking of taking the financial hit for a year, get called to the bar and then negotiate the salary.  However, my fear is that even if they hire me back as an associate my salary would be significantly lower than the market average and God forbid lower than the minimum wage. The positive thing is that I am getting lots of exposure to the practice areas I am interested in long term and learning how to run a small practice. I have four main questions:

How do I network with other lawyers in the city, tell them that I might be looking for an associate position next summer? Should I tell other lawyers the salary issue if they seem trustworthy? I would like to do it discreetly so that I do not get fired from my current position and it does not affect my hire back chance.

If my firm hires me back in a year but still offers me a very low salary will it be wise to reject the offer? How bad is the first year call market? It seems like the firm wants to keep me long term.

As I will most likely get called to the bar next summer, when should I start applying for first year associate jobs?

Lastly, there is a part of me that is very entrepreneurial and my practice areas of interest are also favourable to sole practitioners. How do I prepare myself the best for going solo in a year? 

 

Edited by BlueJayGal

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I sympathize with you, this situation sucks and is becoming increasingly common as we have more graduates from more schools. If I were in your position I would look at the current year as being paid in experience but looking for something else for next year. I mean, you are probably better off than if you had to do the LPP. On the other hand, I wouldn't personally want to stay with a firm that under-paid me during articling just because they could. 

It sounds like you really shot yourself in the foot by being over-eager to find any job and they are taking advantage of you a bit. Why didn't you discuss salary before a firm commitment? But I would want to know a lot more before giving any substantial advice, like what were your credentials like? Were you a top student with good extra-curricular's? What are your finances like? 

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37 minutes ago, Mal said:

I sympathize with you, this situation sucks and is becoming increasingly common as we have more graduates from more schools. If I were in your position I would look at the current year as being paid in experience but looking for something else for next year. I mean, you are probably better off than if you had to do the LPP. On the other hand, I wouldn't personally want to stay with a firm that under-paid me during articling just because they could. 

It sounds like you really shot yourself in the foot by being over-eager to find any job and they are taking advantage of you a bit. Why didn't you discuss salary before a firm commitment? But I would want to know a lot more before giving any substantial advice, like what were your credentials like? Were you a top student with good extra-curricular's? What are your finances like? 

Messaged you.

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It was your fault for not asking how much they will pay you during the interview. Did you ask about LSO fees and health benefits?

You probably got the position because you said " money was not an issue".." There are unpaid articling positions and at least you got something.

 

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Depending on the type of firm it is, they may not be able to pay you more, and since you said money was not an issue, they know that you don't require more money to live on, and so they are giving you experience and doing what they can for you - a small salary and enrolling you on the plan (no small thing.) 

I don't really understand why you would quit. From what you said, you don't need the money and this is an emotional reaction because you think the salary reflects their opinion of you. Forget about how this relates to minimum wage. This is an investment. Articling is part of your education and this is for a year. It does not reflect what your salary is going to be, which is very different from a job that pays minimum wage where some people never get any more than that for their entire lives. 

You also can't go seeking another articling position behind your principal's back, because once you accept a position, you are committed and can only get out of it with the permission of your principal and the law society. If before you start, you get another offer based on a job you applied for around the same time that pays better, that's one thing, and we've had that discussion on here before (that your current firm would be jerks to oppose you taking a better paying offer), but to actively go seeking one after accepting and starting  is not a good idea. 

Also, no, you cannot complain to other lawyers about your salary. You didn't state your expectations and said you didn't care about the money so it is not all your firm's fault and you will look bad if you do that.

Don't worry about hireback right now. Worry about learning and doing a good job. You say this is a supportive environment and didn't complain about the work, so do the work. Your salary is never going to be on your resume - your experience is. You are not obligated to accept an offer from this firm if you don't want to. And ask about the money/state your expectations beforehand. I assume this is a small firm so if you are interested in going solo, this firm can probably teach you that. But be aware that some people take a while to make money when they go solo. You may make a lot less than minimum wage at first. So practising living on that may be good for you.

As to networking, you should always network. But at this point, networking is not for the purpose of switching articling jobs. It is for post-articling opportunities. Do not mention your salary. Just get to know people, ask what they do, tell them about yourself, express interest in what they do, ask questions. 

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3 hours ago, Luckycharm said:

It was your fault for not asking how much they will pay you during the interview. Did you ask about LSO fees and health benefits?

You probably got the position because you said " money was not an issue".." There are unpaid articling positions and at least you got something.

 

Nope, I did not ask about LSO fees and health benefits. I am paying for them out of my pocket. I agree it was my fault.

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8 hours ago, BlueJayGal said:

Hello,

Long story short I was hired in my current articling position in a very casual manner. My current firm has a very supportive environment, it is providing me with lots of good learning opportunities but the salary is very low. My employer did not talk about salary during the hiring process and I saw my salary when I got my first pay cheque. I said during the interview that money was not an issue for me but I did not expect to get paid significantly lower than the minimum wage during articling. I once casually brought up the salary issue but I did not get any positive response. Now the thing that boggles my mind is that the firm is including me in its long term plan and yet paying me so poorly. If the firm sees value in me, should not it be paying me more?  I am not asking for bay street money, but not getting paid even the minimum wage has been a tough deal for me to digest emotionally. Given the tough articling market I know that if I quit this job I might have to wait a year to find an articling position. Right now I have one goal in my life: that is to get called to the bar in 2019. So I am thinking of taking the financial hit for a year, get called to the bar and then negotiate the salary.  However, my fear is that even if they hire me back as an associate my salary would be significantly lower than the market average and God forbid lower than the minimum wage. The positive thing is that I am getting lots of exposure to the practice areas I am interested in long term and learning how to run a small practice. I have four main questions:

How do I network with other lawyers in the city, tell them that I might be looking for an associate position next summer? Should I tell other lawyers the salary issue if they seem trustworthy? I would like to do it discreetly so that I do not get fired from my current position and it does not affect my hire back chance.

If my firm hires me back in a year but still offers me a very low salary will it be wise to reject the offer? How bad is the first year call market? It seems like the firm wants to keep me long term.

As I will most likely get called to the bar next summer, when should I start applying for first year associate jobs?

Lastly, there is a part of me that is very entrepreneurial and my practice areas of interest are also favourable to sole practitioners. How do I prepare myself the best for going solo in a year? 

 

It would help if you told us the city you're in and the type of law your firm practices. If you're being paid around $40k for criminal work in Belleville (for example), that might be the going rate and your firm is not taking advantage of you at all.

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How much you make does not reflect your worth as a person and how much some one pays you does not reflect how much they value you as a person. 

Using net worth as a proxy for self worth is a bad idea. 

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8 minutes ago, Coolname said:

How much you make does not reflect your worth as a person and how much some one pays you does not reflect how much they value you as a person. 

Using net worth as a proxy for self worth is a bad idea. 

Disagree. Yes you're a person, but you're also a professional worth something in monetary terms. If my firm paid me well below my worth (which I would quantify as how much money I make the firm versus my take home income), I'd leave - regardless of how much they valued me as a person.

Net worth matters and it should be attached to self worth.

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20 minutes ago, thegoodlaw said:

Disagree. Yes you're a person, but you're also a professional worth something in monetary terms. If my firm paid me well below my worth (which I would quantify as how much money I make the firm versus my take home income), I'd leave - regardless of how much they valued me as a person.

Net worth matters and it should be attached to self worth.

It does matter, but when you have earned/proved that it matters. I don’t know OP’s situation, but some students struggle in law school and firms that decide to give them a chance are taking a bit of a gamble. I assume OP didn’t have other options, and beggars can’t be choosers. 

At this point in my career, if I were to accept employment from someone, I wouldn’t do it for less than a certain amount either. But I feel that I have the professional experience and success and reputation to back that up. I can demonstrate that I would be an asset to a firm that is worth paying for. A marginal student may not be able to do that and their goal should be to have an opportunity to prove that they are an asset, which OP has been given, if they don’t ruin it sulking about the pay.

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OP, I'm not saying you should do anything, I don't know enough about you or your situation, I think @providence and others have more direct and recent experience, don't rely on my (PT solo) views.

But that said, my immediate thought - and it's a common one re employee unhappiness - if you're unhappy about something but never tell your employer, what do you expect? "I once casually brought up the salary issue..." isn't really telling them. Now, some employers people are afraid of being fired if they say anything, but if you even as an articling student fear reprisals from your employer, then you'd presumably want to leave after being called even if paid more because that's not a healthy work environment. Even if not so afraid, you have my sympathy for not wanting to bring up a difficult topic, I'm sure I've left money on the table, and it may even be better not to bring it up as has been noted, but that's your choice.

If - that's if - you were going to bring it up, I think it would best be done after a few months when you've demonstrated you're reliable and do good work (well, as good as an articling student ever is... :rolleyes:) in the context of asking for feedback and whether you have a post-call future with the firm.

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OP,

You've really got two different questions.  Should you do anything now?  And, if not, what should you do if they firm tries to hire you back at a below market salary?  

The first one is a no-brainer.  You want to get called next year, you likely won't get another articling position this year (setting aside professional considerations), the market is otherwise shit (so no guarantee that you'd do better if you could find another articling position), and quitting a job over money after telling the employer that money doesn't really matter isn't going to make you friends in the profession. And, recall, you are an articling student,  this is as much a learning exercise as a job, that you're getting paid at all makes it an improvement over your last three years as a student.  

The second one, well, you might be getting a bit ahead of yourself here, right now there's no guarantee that they're going to be offering you anything, below-market or otherwise.  If you impress them, and if they make you an offer, and if that offer is offside, for sure, nothing wrong with asking for a "market" wage.  But it might be worth while figuring out what "market" is in your community.  Is it a reasonable fixed salary and a bonus?  Is it a base salary plus some percentage of collections? I mean, it's worth recalling, the people you work for they don't get a minimum wage either - they only get paid what they collect AFTER paying for, inter alia, articling students.    I'm sure they do fine, but there are no guarantees in the business of law.  

  

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53 minutes ago, providence said:

It does matter, but when you have earned/proved that it matters. I don’t know OP’s situation, but some students struggle in law school and firms that decide to give them a chance are taking a bit of a gamble. I assume OP didn’t have other options, and beggars can’t be choosers. 

At this point in my career, if I were to accept employment from someone, I wouldn’t do it for less than a certain amount either. But I feel that I have the professional experience and success and reputation to back that up. I can demonstrate that I would be an asset to a firm that is worth paying for. A marginal student may not be able to do that and their goal should be to have an opportunity to prove that they are an asset, which OP has been given, if they don’t ruin it sulking about the pay.

I don't disagree with that. I was simply responding to the statement that net worth and self worth are not connected, or that making that connection is a bad idea.

Even articling students add value to a firm and the pay should at least reflect that value - no matter how small it might be. Experience and opportunity are all well and good, but an articling principal and their firm are not performing charity by hiring a student. There is often an economic rationale behind it (whether it pans out that way is a different story). I feel like some try to explain away an unconscionably low salary by saying that it's the experience that counts or they're taking a risk by hiring.

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1 minute ago, thegoodlaw said:

I don't disagree with that. I was simply responding to the statement that net worth and self worth are not connected, or that making that connection is a bad idea.

Even articling students add value to a firm and the pay should at least reflect that value - no matter how small it might be. Experience and opportunity are all well and good, but an articling principal and their firm are not performing charity by hiring a student. There is often an economic rationale behind it (whether it pans out that way is a different story). I feel like some try to explain away an unconscionably low salary by saying that it's the experience that counts or they're taking a risk by hiring.

Why?  Price and value are two different things.  The water that comes out of my tap is priced at pennies a glass, but I literally couldn't live without it.   Price is simply a function of supply and demand.  

Also, in reality in many instances lawyers really are performing charity - call it what you want - when they take on articling students.  They do it not because there's any particular economic benefit to them of hiring an articling student, but because they feel they have a duty to the profession to train the next generation of lawyers.  Maybe they might be able to recover the cost of their student and make a few bucks off them (harder than you think, even at big, firms many large clients refuse to pay for student time), maybe they won't, but that isn't why they hire articling students.  From that perspective, think of how they see this discussions: "You want me to train you AND you want me to pay you more for the privilege?".    

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15 minutes ago, thegoodlaw said:

I don't disagree with that. I was simply responding to the statement that net worth and self worth are not connected, or that making that connection is a bad idea.

Even articling students add value to a firm and the pay should at least reflect that value - no matter how small it might be. Experience and opportunity are all well and good, but an articling principal and their firm are not performing charity by hiring a student. There is often an economic rationale behind it (whether it pans out that way is a different story). I feel like some try to explain away an unconscionably low salary by saying that it's the experience that counts or they're taking a risk by hiring.

Actually, sometimes it is charity. I took a student out of sense of duty and charity. And paid for the privilege. Also, for a small criminal firm, most students don’t make us much money. For example, setting dates frees up our time, but legal aid doesn’t pay us for set dates, so doing that is important but makes us $0. We don’t usually get paid for trial prep or research except on a major case or a cash file, but it has to be done on every file. Articling students do not add value unless they either hustle and bring clients in, or can be trusted to do sentencings and short trials while we are doing other billable work at the same time. 

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4 hours ago, thegoodlaw said:

Disagree. Yes you're a person, but you're also a professional worth something in monetary terms. If my firm paid me well below my worth (which I would quantify as how much money I make the firm versus my take home income), I'd leave - regardless of how much they valued me as a person.

Net worth matters and it should be attached to self worth.

Kylie Jenner is worth 900 million and is on track to be the youngest billionaire ever. Do you believe she is intrinsically worth any more as a person as a result? 

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5 hours ago, thegoodlaw said:

Disagree. Yes you're a person, but you're also a professional worth something in monetary terms. If my firm paid me well below my worth (which I would quantify as how much money I make the firm versus my take home income), I'd leave - regardless of how much they valued me as a person.

Net worth matters and it should be attached to self worth.

You also don't even seem to be disagreeing with me, just stating a different proposition. Obviously as a professional you are worth something in monetary terms (represented by salary and net worth). 

What I was saying is that what you are worth in monetary terms is not tied to your intrinsic self worth. 

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And here is where valuable assessment of professional "self-worth" should take place: How much value do you bring to your company, more or less than the wage you're paid?  Is your emotional reaction to the wage because you feel under-valued compared to a Tim Horton's employee, or is it because you feel the firm is actively taking advantage of you in regards to the revenue you are generating or tasks you are performing?

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You screwed up. You said money wasn't important in the interview, and now you don't have any.

Can't imagine someone accepting an offer without the salary information. 

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12 minutes ago, TrqTTs said:

And here is where valuable assessment of professional "self-worth" should take place: How much value do you bring to your company, more or less than the wage you're paid?  Is your emotional reaction to the wage because you feel under-valued compared to a Tim Horton's employee, or is it because you feel the firm is actively taking advantage of you in regards to the revenue you are generating or tasks you are performing?

Bingo. 

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