by Sukhpreet Sangha*
The “articling crisis” has a face. It is mine and it might be yours and it is certainly many others’. It belongs to me less than to others, but for approximately eighteen hours my face, and my selfhood, had this crisis written all over it.
As those fortunate enough to be absented from the articling mêlée might not be aware, August 13th-15th marked the main, Law Society of Upper Canada-governed, Toronto articling recruitment process. Those in downtown Toronto might have noticed an odd confluence of anxiety-ridden baby lawyers running around looking out of place in both their suits and their surroundings. What it meant for those of us interviewing was a potentially harrowing flurry of interviews in two days, with possible second interviews on Wednesday, followed by sitting beside the phone promptly at 5:00pm, hoping that some—any—employer would call with an offer.
Some (p)lucky students received those calls. Some others—like me—sat and wished, wondered, waited, and worried, eventually giving up hope that they would be asked to this particular prom. For me, that relinquishment took place between about 5:30 and 6:00pm, with my tears flowing in inverse proportion. It was interrupted at 6:00pm by a phone call. From the NDP. If I thought political telemarketers were bothersome before, they reached new heights when they called me both that night and the next morning, both times exciting me with their vague 416 phone number and disappointing me with “Hi, this is the provincial New Democrats calling…” I should also note that I don’t generally receive very many phone calls (in what might be read as a symptom of either the modern age or my misanthropy), which made any call during this period unexpected, exciting, and ultimately painful.
At 6:00pm I resolved to pull myself and my belongings together to catch the next Greyhound home, repeating a simple mantra of “Stop crying. Stop crying.” A profound sense of shame was emerging, at both my lack of job prospects and my emotional reaction to it. I then received two phone calls from employers. Notifying me that they had now hired their articling students. And asking me if I had received any offers. Salt in the wound is evidently an unfamiliar concept to lawyers.
I boarded the Greyhound and was lucky enough to get my own two seats, from where I began fielding texts from concerned friends. These messages served to flood the emotional dam I had temporarily erected, turning me into that girl crying out the window on the bus—a scene decidedly much less attractive in reality than on the silver screen. I still cannot recall the last time I had cried in public, before then.
My well-meaning friends kept telling me the same few things: “I’m sorry,” “You should’ve gotten something,” “I’m sure you’ll get something later,” and “Don’t worry: you’ll get something even better.” But what I needed to hear was something I was only told by one friend; the one who had been through all of this rejection herself one year ago. She knew that I needed to be told that I was a worthy candidate, a smart person, and that this was not about me personally; this is a tough market and there are many factors that go into hiring; my lack of offers did not mean that I am a worthless person. I am still valuable and valued, and I should take time to feel the hurt, but then move on and resume applying.
Those validations of my selfhood were what I most needed then. Running around to those interviews, trying to present my best self both personally and intellectually, and being roundly rejected, made me feel positively worthless. The people who attend law school are—problematically—still usually the relatively privileged few who have rarely faced rejection, which means it may hit us unusually hard when we do. The LSUC’s 2011 statistic of a 12% non-placement rate for articling, which has been steadily increasing over the years, means that more and more of us will face this rejection. The fact that law schools continue to operate more like businesses aiming for a profit than responsible educational institutions also sets their students up for this unfortunate fate.
I must admit, however, that I am one of the lucky few who did receive an offer call, the next morning. Eighteen hours after I had given up hope, told many people that I did not have an articling job, and arrived at work puffy-eyed and embarrassed, I accepted an offer at one of my top choices. Luckily for me, someone else had rejected it, giving me this belated gift. Perhaps if I had just had more patience I wouldn’t have even gone through any of that public embarrassment or emotional rigmarole.
The “articling crisis” is not just about numbers and jobs; it is also about the hearts and minds of those of us going through it. People with much potential that might be squandered if they cannot proceed into their chosen careers, and who might have much power to help others in the future, if they only they can reach and fulfill it.
* Sukhpreet Sangha is a third year student at Osgoode Hall Law School.