Facing the Articling Crisis

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.

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* Sukhpreet Sangha is a third year student at Osgoode Hall Law School.

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Comments

  1. Sukhpreet, I think you need to take a deep breath and calm down. If you are falling to pieces after 18 hours, what in heaven’s name will you do if you don’t get hired back after your articles? Law is a tough business, you will encounter rejection, and you have to learn not to take it personally (easier said than done, I know). Good luck, and take things one day at a time.

  2. Aren’t the baby lawyers (L3’s as it were) cute.

    Look here kiddo and take it from a veteran (if I may be so bold) of articling, practice and the grind.

    CALM DOWN! It’s not the end of the world if you don’t make it into law. Read about what law is really like. You’ll get an article sooner or later. Maybe not where you’d like, but whatever. You’ll get your paper. Go west maybe. Always need fresh meat for the grinder out here. There’s more to law than Toronto.

    Also, you’ll soon learn that law, as a business and a means of making a living, kinda sucks. Sure it won’t be obvious at first. Until you learn, if you haven’t already, that professional have a lousy economic model. You only make money when you work. And to top it off, compared to your friends in business (like real businessness not the professional of law) make more than you do and more than you ever can make.

    If you’re not interested in money that much and actually interested in justice, well, there’s plenty of places to article. Hit up small firms. Hit up mid sizes. Get out of Toronto and find out that yes, people actually need lawyers in small towns.

    Sure it won’t be big prestige and big money (or what appears to be big money, because you have no idea what it COSTS YOU yet. But you’ll learn), but you’ll be doing real law and you will actually get your articles done and your life and legal career (so long as it lasts) will go on.

    Here’s a heads up about the practice of law. (http://www.averyindex.com/happy_healthy_ethical.php or http://www.vallexfund.com/download/Being_Happy_Healthy_Ethical_Member.pdf) Read it and learn. I didn’t understand the meaning of this until after practicing law for 4 years. But I recognized it as soon as I read it and started evaluating law as a business and a career far more carefully afterwards.

    So, in short, take a chill pill. You’re okay. You’ll still have a life if you don’t get a big law article. Actually you won’t but anyways… You will go on. You’ll probably even have children and you won’t starve to death. Stay sane.

    Newbies. So much cuddly fun!

  3. And think of it this way kiddo. What about all those people facing real troubles (like divorce or criminal charges etc.) who can’t even afford to hire counsel?

    Compared to your situation (with an article, congratulations!), they’ve got life just a wee bit tougher.

    See what Madame Justice MacLachlin has to say on the matter and has said repeatedly. You have it on easy street (relatively speaking).

    If you need an article for validation of self worth, just wait until a client cuts you the bone with their complaints about your service and your fees. Eh… Save yourself the effort and quit now. It will save you the wasted years of your life and your lack of validation that WILL BE a part of your life as a lawyer.

    And yes, for the record, I am bitter and I am out of practice. I put in my 8 years post call and I’m done.

    Real lawyers (it seems to me) don’t carry on like this. They tough it out in silence, drowning in their drink of choice, endure their mental illnesses and carry on. This isn’t applicable to all lawyers for sure (heck my sister got over her nascent alcoholism and never went back), but part of it applies to most. So many damaged souls in my travels through the firms. But I digress.

  4. Thank you for this very real anecdote Sukhpreet. I felt like I had written this myself. I too sat next to my phone for hours… and unfortunately remain without an offer. I know this does not deem me worthless, but it sure feels shitty. I really think that the Law Society’s in each province and the Canadian Bar Association need to do more in the face of this crisis. More small firms need to see the opportunity that lies within this period of time. There are no doubt, hundreds of highly competent 3L students out there that could add value to this smaller firms- and if compensation is a question then perhaps we need to look into different options, such as shared articles. I am sure that many small firms haven’t a clue that such an option exists. Anyways… for me it’s back to my legal roladex. Like the First Century Roman philosopher Seneca once said, ” Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

  5. Thank you for your candor and frankness in writing this post. It’s always helpful to hear from the other side.

  6. Lisa Di Valentino

    Thank you for sharing your experience Sukhpreet.

    For those of you telling her to calm down, please remember that the whole point of this blog post is to describe the articling recruitment process from the point of view of the student. Yes, as time goes by we change in the way we handle rejection, but these are students still in their 20s for the most part, having to endure the high pressure and somewhat demeaning cattle call that is the OCI process. As Sukhpreet points out, the students are presenting themselves at their very best, and being shot down. It doesn’t help to devalue their legitimate feelings as overreactions.

  7. m. diane kindree

    Professor Adam Dodek has called for “bold solutions” in his article posted Oct. 25, 2011 entitled, “Articling and Access to Justice: An Ontario Legal Corp–Why not?

    Why not implement this as a pilot project?

    I hope members of The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Articling Task Force read this posting and will move beyond their deeply embedded “urge to be cautious in approaching any departure from the status quo”.

    Time is running out if the real intention, of the legal profession, is to solve the articling crisis. I have nagging doubts if there is enough inertia, within the profession, to put a plan into action now.

    Sukpreet, you can be an instrument of change and reform even though you have received your “belated gift”. Don’t forget some of your fellow classmates are still struggling.

  8. Your reaction to this situation was more than a tad melodramatic, and it was inappropriate to place it in the context of the articling crisis, since the latter is an issue that pertains strictly to students who haven’t secured articles several months after graduating. You (almost) failed to get a job out of the Toronto summer interview process — a situation which law students have dealt with for generations, regardless of the state of the market. It’s not a dilemma that ought to inspire much sympathy, especially seeing as many of your classmates would have been denied interviews altogether. In short, suck it up next time; life gets a lot harder.

    Putting that aside, I both appreciate and agree with your central message that the articling crisis takes a human toll that shouldn’t be ignored. I’m a 2012 graduate who’s yet to secure a position, and I know first-hand that it cuts a little deeper with each passing month, as there are very real feelings of displacement and confusion about the future that one has to deal with in this position. Heck, the only reason I even stumbled upon this posting was because I typed “articling crisis” into Google, as I’m prone to do every now and then, in the idle hope of finding something new which might help to shed light on the reality that I and many others are currently facing. As usual, there’s nothing, and we’re all left to just keep plugging away and wondering about our next steps.

  9. When will enough inertia build up to pass the tipping point?

    Change is a complex process that can’t take place unless enough inertia exists. From the graduate students perspective, time and consistency is driving home the reality that they “are left to just keep plugging away and wondering about our next steps”. Even with a positive attitude, preparation and some luck, the job opportunities simply may not exist. What demonstrable solutions has the profession proposed and implemented to help the students find articling positions?

    Ultimately, I am still left wondering what type of positive energy is needed to be injected into the system for change to occur?

  10. |Ultimately, I am still left wondering what type of positive energy |is needed to be injected into the system for change to occur?

    I don’t know about positive energy, but decreasing law school enrollment given the very tight labour market would be a start.

  11. Agreed.
    If the business case for hiring articling students can no longer be justified by many law firms, in these difficult economic times, then law school enrollments should be adjusted accordingly. Furthermore, accurate stats should be available, from the firms hiring, the universities graduating and the Canadian Bar Association monitoring, for the students to review before entering law school.

    One area where positive energy could be infused, by Law Societies across Canada, is in revoking the licences of lawyers who are repeat offenders. The time and money needless being spend on numerous discipline hearings could be used to fund articling students. I would like to see the voting members of the profession demand their Law Societies up their game (“3 strikes and you are out”)and put the money where it will do some good….developing programs which recognize and reward firms for hiring articling students while protecting the public interest.

    http://www.vancouversun.com/opinion/Baines+Lawyer+suspended+three+months+despite+lengthy+disciplinary+record/6741781/story.html