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Finding an articling position: a quick rant

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Given that it's mental health awareness week, I thought I'd voice out the issues I've been dealing with on this hunt. Being a foreign law grad, and finally being done with my NCA exams, all I can say is that this has been a very taxing period, and perhaps what I'm looking for is some advice to get through these turbulent times. First of all, the lack of career support was something I failed to comprehend before I arrived back in Canada. I understand maybe it's not all that different going to a Canadian law school, but still, there must be some tangible differences. I'm heavily reliant on Indeed at the moment. On top of that, the isolation with which I spent the last year studying for the NCA's was gruelling. I went out for coffees and cold-called lawyers, and they gave me solid application tips and an insight of their journey.

Of course, I couldn't start working until I get my Certificate of Qualification so I'm waiting on that now. But sometimes it felt like a chore hoisting myself to the library to study, with lots of question marks looming over my head: which practice area will I end up? how much will the pay be? will I be liked, and can I cope with my preexisting anxiety?

Those questions still haunt me, but I am making an effort to be easy on myself and figure out what's in my control (refining my cover letters, making sure I'm applying to those firms where I truly want to work at), and disregarding the rest (externals like what my principal's perception of me will be like despite my preparation for an interview / how clueless I'll feel once I have to represent a client in a courtroom). It seems so basic that I shouldn't have to spell it out - and yet, having to deal with your very real emotions clouding your judgment has proven to be a daily hurdle. 

I feel very helpless sometimes, as I want to start earning for my family as well, and I will be writing the Bar exams soon, but the idea of being called and still not having a job sounds like the worse thing in the world, even if I sound like I'm exaggerating. Appreciate your help, and I am very sincere about this post.

 

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Many people can relate to the difficulties of finding an articling position.  I remember how stressful and depressing that time was.  From this vantage point I can say I am grateful to my past self for doing what needed to be done and sticking by certain principles.  Those can vary and it seems like you already have a gist of what they are for you.

As for all the time I allowed myself to worry or stress about the future, that time was wasted.  Do the legwork and hope for the best.  The rest of the time should be spent doing things you enjoy or being with people you like/love.  Assuming you have a sensible goal and are giving a good faith effort, no amount of thinking will get you out of this faster.  Get out of your head.  You are eventually going to find something, somewhere, somehow.  It can be the culmination of years of struggle and grit ... or it could be something that falls into your lap by straight up dumb luck.  It can be what you were looking for or something you cannot even conceive now.  At the end of the day what matters is the work you do and how you spend your time living.  Don't put your life on hold anymore than necessary.

I avoid giving you a lecture, e.g. "well, what did you expect with a foreign degree", "some great Canadian law school graduates can't find articles, you really think you should come first", "you think you're the only one with a hard life, why do you think that entitles you to anything?", "you sound pretty privileged, I'mma flex and smack some perspective in you". 

I assume you already understand that there are various degrees of truth to these and it's important to maintain perspective.  But remembering how fortunate you are is only part of the perspective you need to maintain.  There's also all that other stuff that makes life worth living, specifically for you.  IMO, I don't think people who have it worse than me get anything out of me throwing them a pity party.  Acknowledge their reality, let it inform your perspective, then move forward with that (and many other things) in mind.

Edited by Another Hutz
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4 minutes ago, Another Hutz said:

As for all the time I allowed myself to worry or stress about the future, that time was wasted.  Do the legwork and hope for the best.  The rest of the time should be spent doing things you enjoy or being with people you like/love.  Assuming you have a sensible goal and are giving a good faith effort, no amount of thinking will get you out of this faster.  Get out of your head.  You are eventually going to find something, somewhere, somehow.  It can be the culmination of years of struggle and grit ... or it could be something that falls into your lap by straight up dumb luck.  It can be what you were looking for or something you cannot even conceive now.  At the end of the day what matters is the work you do and how you spend your time living.  Don't put your life on hold anymore than necessary.

Thank you for this comment, your words are helping me as well

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I too am really struggling to find articling :( I've started to finally cold email but no luck there. I don't get whether I'm supposed to ask if they're hiring or make myself stand out in a way that compels them to open up an articling position lol. Either way...not really working out 

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Sign up for CBA/local bar association events; cold call any and all firms/lawyers who do work you are interested in and ask them if they'd be willing to connect over a coffee or call; tell anyone and everyone you know that you're looking for an articling job (even though it sucks to do). Simply applying to jobs and asking people if they're hiring isn't good enough. Basically, get your name out there. You've got this!

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OP referenced not knowing what area of practice he/she will end up in. I gather there is unavoidably some uncertainty around what sort of position you'll eventually find. But I hope you're not just applying for anything and everything. I get why that approach can seem attractive. You don't want to miss any possible opportunity, and any job right now seems better than no job. But the truth is, every application is effort you could be spending elsewhere, and it all takes a psychological toll. If you're applying to everything you can find, you are inevitably wasting your effort on a lot of applications where you have virtually no chance at all - and you can identify those easily. Basically, create a category of jobs in which you are actually interested, and where you have real evidence in your studies and other activities that you can point to and say "yeah, I'm interested in this sort of work." Now, the category that contains everything else, and where in any interview you'd be straining to even create a plausible lie about how you're interested in doing X kind of law ... those are applications where you are wasting everyone's time (mainly your own) by even applying at all.

I know this all feels arcane to you. But there's some degree of common sense going on. Almost no legal practice needs or wants an articling student who is nothing more than a warm body willing to do what they are told. This work requires some degree of interest and engagement to be any good at it at all. So concentrate on those applications. Apply properly to a smaller number of jobs that you're genuinely suited for, rather than a large number of jobs where most of those applications are a waste. You'll stand a better chance of finding a job (by virtue of applying properly to the jobs you actually stand a chance at) and you'll spare your psyche as well.

Good luck.

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36 minutes ago, Diplock said:

OP referenced not knowing what area of practice he/she will end up in. I gather there is unavoidably some uncertainty around what sort of position you'll eventually find. But I hope you're not just applying for anything and everything. I get why that approach can seem attractive. You don't want to miss any possible opportunity, and any job right now seems better than no job. But the truth is, every application is effort you could be spending elsewhere, and it all takes a psychological toll. If you're applying to everything you can find, you are inevitably wasting your effort on a lot of applications where you have virtually no chance at all - and you can identify those easily. Basically, create a category of jobs in which you are actually interested, and where you have real evidence in your studies and other activities that you can point to and say "yeah, I'm interested in this sort of work." Now, the category that contains everything else, and where in any interview you'd be straining to even create a plausible lie about how you're interested in doing X kind of law ... those are applications where you are wasting everyone's time (mainly your own) by even applying at all.

I know this all feels arcane to you. But there's some degree of common sense going on. Almost no legal practice needs or wants an articling student who is nothing more than a warm body willing to do what they are told. This work requires some degree of interest and engagement to be any good at it at all. So concentrate on those applications. Apply properly to a smaller number of jobs that you're genuinely suited for, rather than a large number of jobs where most of those applications are a waste. You'll stand a better chance of finding a job (by virtue of applying properly to the jobs you actually stand a chance at) and you'll spare your psyche as well.

Good luck.

even once we narrow it down and we have demonstrated interest in that lawyer's/law firm's practice area, do you recommend us cold email (an email asking if they're hiring, why we're interested etc and an attached resume) or do you think it's better to go with the coffee/informational interview approach?

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1 hour ago, spicyfoodftw said:

Sign up for CBA/local bar association events; cold call any and all firms/lawyers who do work you are interested in and ask them if they'd be willing to connect over a coffee or call; tell anyone and everyone you know that you're looking for an articling job (even though it sucks to do). Simply applying to jobs and asking people if they're hiring isn't good enough. Basically, get your name out there. You've got this!

do you think it's best to say in the phone call/email when asking for a coffee meeting that we're looking for an articling job, or mainly that we want to connect with them?

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45 minutes ago, Diplock said:

OP referenced not knowing what area of practice he/she will end up in. I gather there is unavoidably some uncertainty around what sort of position you'll eventually find. But I hope you're not just applying for anything and everything. I get why that approach can seem attractive. You don't want to miss any possible opportunity, and any job right now seems better than no job. But the truth is, every application is effort you could be spending elsewhere, and it all takes a psychological toll. If you're applying to everything you can find, you are inevitably wasting your effort on a lot of applications where you have virtually no chance at all - and you can identify those easily. Basically, create a category of jobs in which you are actually interested, and where you have real evidence in your studies and other activities that you can point to and say "yeah, I'm interested in this sort of work." Now, the category that contains everything else, and where in any interview you'd be straining to even create a plausible lie about how you're interested in doing X kind of law ... those are applications where you are wasting everyone's time (mainly your own) by even applying at all.

I know this all feels arcane to you. But there's some degree of common sense going on. Almost no legal practice needs or wants an articling student who is nothing more than a warm body willing to do what they are told. This work requires some degree of interest and engagement to be any good at it at all. So concentrate on those applications. Apply properly to a smaller number of jobs that you're genuinely suited for, rather than a large number of jobs where most of those applications are a waste. You'll stand a better chance of finding a job (by virtue of applying properly to the jobs you actually stand a chance at) and you'll spare your psyche as well.

Good luck.

Thank you for your response - I should have been more specific in that I enjoy the transactional, solicitor side of things, so I'm very much for employment law, corporate, commercial real estate, or immigration. I've completely ruled out criminal and civil litigation, only because I don't think my personality is equipped for the skills needed in those. As such, I am applying to the areas aforementioned and will concentrate my efforts in that direction going forward!

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3 hours ago, Another Hutz said:

Many people can relate to the difficulties of finding an articling position.  I remember how stressful and depressing that time was.  From this vantage point I can say I am grateful to my past self for doing what needed to be done and sticking by certain principles.  Those can vary and it seems like you already have a gist of what they are for you.

As for all the time I allowed myself to worry or stress about the future, that time was wasted.  Do the legwork and hope for the best.  The rest of the time should be spent doing things you enjoy or being with people you like/love.  Assuming you have a sensible goal and are giving a good faith effort, no amount of thinking will get you out of this faster.  Get out of your head.  You are eventually going to find something, somewhere, somehow.  It can be the culmination of years of struggle and grit ... or it could be something that falls into your lap by straight up dumb luck.  It can be what you were looking for or something you cannot even conceive now.  At the end of the day what matters is the work you do and how you spend your time living.  Don't put your life on hold anymore than necessary.

I avoid giving you a lecture, e.g. "well, what did you expect with a foreign degree", "some great Canadian law school graduates can't find articles, you really think you should come first", "you think you're the only one with a hard life, why do you think that entitles you to anything?", "you sound pretty privileged, I'mma flex and smack some perspective in you". 

I assume you already understand that there are various degrees of truth to these and it's important to maintain perspective.  But remembering how fortunate you are is only part of the perspective you need to maintain.  There's also all that other stuff that makes life worth living, specifically for you.  IMO, I don't think people who have it worse than me get anything out of me throwing them a pity party.  Acknowledge their reality, let it inform your perspective, then move forward with that (and many other things) in mind.

Great dose of reality that I needed - thank you!

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3 hours ago, spicyfoodftw said:

Sign up for CBA/local bar association events; cold call any and all firms/lawyers who do work you are interested in and ask them if they'd be willing to connect over a coffee or call; tell anyone and everyone you know that you're looking for an articling job (even though it sucks to do). Simply applying to jobs and asking people if they're hiring isn't good enough. Basically, get your name out there. You've got this!

Thank you for your response, noted!

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2 hours ago, Lawyertobe123 said:

even once we narrow it down and we have demonstrated interest in that lawyer's/law firm's practice area, do you recommend us cold email (an email asking if they're hiring, why we're interested etc and an attached resume) or do you think it's better to go with the coffee/informational interview approach?

I don't even know what the "coffee/informal" thing is supposed to be. If someone is genuinely a friend of your mother's or something, and they are willing to have coffee with you, obviously have coffee with them. If you're talking about just trying to contact lawyers you don't know and ask if they'll spend an hour explaining what they do to a random student for no particular reason, even though the only point in that encounter is for you to eventually hit them up for a job that may or may not even exist ... yeah, just send a cold email. As an example, I'm not hiring right now. No approach is going to make me hire you for a job that doesn't exist. But if you approach me professionally and appropriately, I'll at least be inclined to help you within the limited range of things I could do. If you approach me like you want to waste an hour of my time just 'cause, I'll wonder seriously about your judgment. My time is valuable. And if I choose to waste it playing video games or on LS.ca that's my choice. But treating me like I've got nothing better to do than have coffee with random students is just weird.

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13 hours ago, Lawyertobe123 said:

do you think it's best to say in the phone call/email when asking for a coffee meeting that we're looking for an articling job, or mainly that we want to connect with them?

No, don't lead with the fact that you're looking for a job. Ask to connect because you're genuinely interested in learning about their practice/a specific area of law/a specific firm. To further Diplock's point above, you should not be wasting the lawyer's time. My experience has generally been that people are happy to connect as long as you're coming across as genuinely interested rather than simply trolling for a job. 

 

Edited by spicyfoodftw

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Whereabouts (roughly) are you located?  I'm in the Toronto area and I often see NCA networking events being advertised online.  The group around here appears to be robustly run and quite active.  I do not have much advice about the interpersonal issues that you are facing (though I certainly remember feeling similarly when I was looking for an articling gig), but I'd check out networks for people in my situation.

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On 10/11/2019 at 12:16 AM, Diplock said:

I don't even know what the "coffee/informal" thing is supposed to be. If someone is genuinely a friend of your mother's or something, and they are willing to have coffee with you, obviously have coffee with them. If you're talking about just trying to contact lawyers you don't know and ask if they'll spend an hour explaining what they do to a random student for no particular reason, even though the only point in that encounter is for you to eventually hit them up for a job that may or may not even exist ... yeah, just send a cold email. As an example, I'm not hiring right now. No approach is going to make me hire you for a job that doesn't exist. But if you approach me professionally and appropriately, I'll at least be inclined to help you within the limited range of things I could do. If you approach me like you want to waste an hour of my time just 'cause, I'll wonder seriously about your judgment. My time is valuable. And if I choose to waste it playing video games or on LS.ca that's my choice. But treating me like I've got nothing better to do than have coffee with random students is just weird.

I wanted to reach out to you for a follow-up question, if that's alright. From all the things I preemptively find myself worrying about that could go wrong the day I find an articling position, which in itself is a nuisance, the biggest one that sticks out to me (and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way) is the overwhelming feeling of the imposter syndrome. I simply don't feel cut for being a junior lawyer, because despite being a good student and having performed well in non-legal jobs, I just haven't been able to envision myself as someone so knowledgeable in providing legal counsel, that I'm very scared of the day my opinion will impact someone's life in such a drastic way.

The fear has no logical basis. I am aware. But what can you advise me with this complex I've developed purely out of some distant fear? Maybe I just need to go and meditate more.

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1 minute ago, silvercat said:

I wanted to reach out to you for a follow-up question, if that's alright. From all the things I preemptively find myself worrying about that could go wrong the day I find an articling position, which in itself is a nuisance, the biggest one that sticks out to me (and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way) is the overwhelming feeling of the imposter syndrome. I simply don't feel cut for being a junior lawyer, because despite being a good student and having performed well in non-legal jobs, I just haven't been able to envision myself as someone so knowledgeable in providing legal counsel, that I'm very scared of the day my opinion will impact someone's life in such a drastic way.

The fear has no logical basis. I am aware. But what can you advise me with this complex I've developed purely out of some distant fear? Maybe I just need to go and meditate more.

I actually do have advice on this one. It may or may not help, but it's helped me a lot over the years. And it's one rule, but it's a good rule.

When you are approaching some task, it's natural to think in terms of how it could or should be done well. In legal practice, you naturally envision some experienced lawyer advising a client in an area of law where they've done the same thing hundreds of times already. And sometimes it does work that way. Clients pay a lot of money for that kind of experience and to receive that certainty. In terms of my own practice, there is one narrow area of law in which I am an acknowledged expert. It feels good when I get to do that specific thing. But all the rest of the time, there's no getting around the fact that there are lawyers who've been doing this longer than I have, and some of them are unmistakably better than I am. It's just that simple. I'm not Brian Greenspan and probably I never will be.

Here's the thing, though. You won't be getting the clients or the files that would otherwise be served by the best of the best. You'll be getting clients who are paying for work done by a lawyer that is assigning tasks to an articling student - and eventually a recent call associate - and that are presumably within your skill level. This file and this client wouldn't be served by the best of the best, if it weren't you doing the job. They'd be served by any other normal lawyer assigning tasks to juniors, etc.

So the bottom line is this. In order to do the job properly, and to an acceptable standard, you don't need to compare yourself to the best. Maybe you'll get there one day. Most won't. But the truth is, there are a lot of fucking idiots working in front-line legal work. Probably more in criminal defence than other areas, but I'm sure there are some everywhere. In order to feel like you're doing the job well enough, you only have to be better than the next fucking idiot who'd be doing it if you weren't.

It works for all sorts of situations where you don't feel like you belong. Just say "if I wasn't doing this job, who'd be doing it instead?" Because trust me, it isn't Brian Greenspan.

Hope that helps.

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5 minutes ago, Diplock said:

I actually do have advice on this one. It may or may not help, but it's helped me a lot over the years. And it's one rule, but it's a good rule.

When you are approaching some task, it's natural to think in terms of how it could or should be done well. In legal practice, you naturally envision some experienced lawyer advising a client in an area of law where they've done the same thing hundreds of times already. And sometimes it does work that way. Clients pay a lot of money for that kind of experience and to receive that certainty. In terms of my own practice, there is one narrow area of law in which I am an acknowledged expert. It feels good when I get to do that specific thing. But all the rest of the time, there's no getting around the fact that there are lawyers who've been doing this longer than I have, and some of them are unmistakably better than I am. It's just that simple. I'm not Brian Greenspan and probably I never will be.

Here's the thing, though. You won't be getting the clients or the files that would otherwise be served by the best of the best. You'll be getting clients who are paying for work done by a lawyer that is assigning tasks to an articling student - and eventually a recent call associate - and that are presumably within your skill level. This file and this client wouldn't be served by the best of the best, if it weren't you doing the job. They'd be served by any other normal lawyer assigning tasks to juniors, etc.

So the bottom line is this. In order to do the job properly, and to an acceptable standard, you don't need to compare yourself to the best. Maybe you'll get there one day. Most won't. But the truth is, there are a lot of fucking idiots working in front-line legal work. Probably more in criminal defence than other areas, but I'm sure there are some everywhere. In order to feel like you're doing the job well enough, you only have to be better than the next fucking idiot who'd be doing it if you weren't.

It works for all sorts of situations where you don't feel like you belong. Just say "if I wasn't doing this job, who'd be doing it instead?" Because trust me, it isn't Brian Greenspan.

Hope that helps.

Terrific perspective. Thank you x2.

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