One of the biggest hurdles to becoming a lawyer in Canada is finding an articling position. You’ve written the LSAT, gotten into law school, passed all your exams (sometimes including the Bar exam), and suddenly, finding a 10-month placement can put a wrench in your future. Two years ago, I was in your position… lacking an articling position. I had just finished my last exams (patents and insurance – the former being the most demanding and rewarding exam of my law school career) and moved back to Toronto from Ottawa, and I was still without an articling position. In this post, I will be sharing an unfiltered version of my articling search, as well as some tips on finding an articling position.
Please note that the contents of this post are not to be taken as professional or legal advice, but based on my own personal experiences.
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My articling search
I had interviewed in the summer during the typical articling recruit. In Toronto, you apply to articling jobs at most larger and mid-size firms through a portal in June/July and get call backs to schedule interviews over a three-day period. This time is very stressful, as you can wait a while to hear back and then in one “call day” you receive interview offers.
The three days of interviewing are filled with interviews (sometimes in 15 minute segments, with 15 prospective articling students at their offices at a time), events, dinners, breakfasts and (hopefully) second interviews. Preparing for this stage is a whole other blog post in itself…
I went through this summer articling recruit and had many interviews, a dinner, an event and second interviews… On call day (the Friday of the same week), I received a call… telling me I was second runner-up and to hang tight in case their first pick didn’t accept. At nearly 4:30 pm (half an hour from the deadline), I got another call telling me I had made it close but no cigar, as the other student accepted. It was soul-crushing, and let’s just say I drowned my sorrows in a Bellini that night.
After that process, job postings cooled, and I went travelling to London before law school started. Around October, job postings started popping up more and I started to apply to positions that were aligned with my interests and career aspirations. Throughout law school, I had many interviews in Toronto and Ottawa, including second and third interviews at firms, only to be declined or even ghosted a couple times!
My main tip based on my personal experience is to never give up. Keep applying everywhere and as often as you can. Keep networking, keep pushing, and sometimes, things just work out. I had finally gotten a response from a firm I interviewed with a few times, and was crushed, only to get a call to schedule an interview the very next day. I remember walking back from Parliament Hill Yoga and being elated by the news!
That phone call turned out to be the firm that hired me as an articling student, and looking back, it was the best possible situation. Maybe it’s luck or fate (I hate believing in those mushy words), but I moved back from Ottawa on Saturday, interviewed on Monday and got an articling job on Tuesday. I think the reason it worked out, was that I was finally ready and more at ease being in my own City. I had been through dozens of interviews, so I had the experience, and things just clicked with the right firm. I had a positive mindset, as I was so excited to be back in Toronto, finally living with my boyfriend, and that confidence helped me.
This is why I tell people to keep trying and applying to various places, as you never know when the timing will work out! The articling search is tedious and draining, as you have so much competition, but things will work out. I promise you. You’ve worked hard and come this far, and no matter what path you take to become licensed, you will get there. Now, on to some tips on finding an articling position…
Tips on Finding an Articling Position after the summer recruit
Work on your application materials
I think this tip goes without saying… but prior to the summer recruit, I spent a whole month (yes!) perfecting my CV. I broke it down into its parts and worked hard to put together a document that highlighted my varied experience in media, journalism and law. I rewrote sections many times, incorporating standard tips such as using verbs to start each bullet point and avoiding long bullet points. Concise, clear and crisp.
I also used an online CV formatting program, Visual CV to format my resume. I love using this software (I even used it to apply for associate jobs and for my personal letterhead), because it formats everything for you. In first year, I was told that spacing, font size consistency and margins all needed to be perfect as attention to details matter, and this platform does it for you. Plus, it came in handy to have access to my application materials on the cloud, I even applied for jobs while travelling in Europe!
I went through a long editing process on my own, and came out with a product that received positive comments from many prospective employers. While I have training in editing and copywriting, I highly encourage you to seek out a professional writer or editor as well as someone in the legal industry to review your resume. I enlisted the help of career counsellors at my law school and working lawyers to review my materials.
Make a set of cover letters
If you’re still looking for an articling position, you might be in a position where you’re applying to many areas of law. To streamline this process, I suggest making 3-5 cover letters that cover categories. Litigation, commercial law, real estate, family, etc., and covering a wide variety of firm sizes and workplaces. This tip can also be applied if you’re applying during the summer process. Like your resume, take the time to really strip things down and evaluate each sentence, and the document as a whole. This is your chance to sell unique features about you, including past experiences and challenges you’ve overcome in life or in your career. Another tip: leave them wanting more. I think of a cover letter as a prologue to a book, setting the stage and making them want to pick up the phone and call you for an interview. If you have friends in Media or Public Relations, ask them if your cover letter sells you.
Review with your mentors
At this stage, you likely have mentors or references that will be vouching for you to get an articling job. If you are like me and can’t seem to snag the job, I highly recommend following up with these contacts and talking about your interview experiences and other avenues to explore.
It also helps to find a career counsellor that you vibe with. In law school, I kept visiting one counsellor whom I got along well with, and she coached me through the early stages of my materials (embarrassing), to figuring out an interview strategy and handling tough questions. She was honest, empathetic and helpful. If you have a career centre at your law school, definitely set up meetings with people and find a good fit. Even beyond the articling search process, I had followed up on the associate job search and found her recommendations helpful.
Broaden your expectations
If you’re nearing summer and still haven’t found an articling job, it’s definitely time to broaden your expectations in your legal career. While I would have loved to find a job in house at a beauty brand doing privacy law a couple years ago, it’s kind of a unicorn. Some are lucky, yes, but at the end of the day, you need to get licensed. Speak with your mentors to get feedback on areas of law that would benefit your skillset and give good training. In my case, insurance defense was an excellent experience as I got to be on my feet a lot, draft pleadings and interact with clients. I knew I always wanted to do something in the litigation side (or at least, test it out), so I broadened my horizons and applied widely. While I’m not saying to do tax law if you have ambitions to do criminal defense work, definitely keep your options open. Even the interview experiences at various firms will help equip you! And besides… larger firms do rotations anyways.
Study for the bar exam – but maybe only one
If you still haven’t found an articling job during late spring or June, definitely focus on writing the bar exam. Still apply to jobs, but focus on getting past this stage as well. A good compromise is to write only one test at a time, and defer either Solicitor or Barrister to November, so you can have more time to apply and network. Trust me, reading 1200 pages versus 2500+ in the span of 1.5 months is less daunting. But again, prepping for the bar exams is another post for another time.
Don’t write off the LPP
I get it, there’s a stigma with the Law Practice Program. It’s new. Law doesn’t like new. But this program allows you to get licensed and become a lawyer, without having to waste another year (imagine) to reapply for the next cycle. I know a classmate who took the LPP and she now owns her own firm in London!
Another point about the LPP is that it’s flexible. You can be enrolled in it, and then switch into regular articling if you find something. Even I was technically enrolled (do NOT miss that cut off date), until I found my job in early May.
The dreaded cold-call
I know two friends who got their jobs by cold-calling firms in their respective smaller communities. They had connections to the area and could sell the firms on that. If you’re willing to be flexible (and perhaps a bit bold), definitely try cold-calling established firms in smaller legal markets. The key here is to have a strong pitch for yourself, and hopefully there’s a fit.
While you can attend cocktail events and law-school sponsored tours, my advice is to network outside of this scene and be more creative, as you’ll have less competition and you can connect with lawyers at a more genuine level. Some good places to network include:
- Attending a CPD in an area of law you’re interested in (keep note you can also add this training on your resume/cover letter or bring it up in interviews)
- Attending events with local lawyer networks (WLAO and TLA are a good place to start)
- Joining Law Job Exchange Network on Facebook
- Posting in Facebook group boards and introducing yourself, even Bunz Employment Zone is a good resource in Toronto
- Social media – get into Law Twitter, or find lawyers you admire on Instagram, and (tactfully) slide into their DMs (perhaps a topic for another post)
- Publishing your writing as it gets your name out there
Re-evaluate your value proposition
Take time to reflect on your career, legal studies and what you offer as a candidate. Perfect your elevator pitch and think about what you bring to the table as an articling student, as well as the experience you want out of it. A firm that is willing to take on articling students wants to invest in you, either as a future associate or training a new lawyer. Think about the day-to-day tasks you want, as well as the training you hope to receive. Showcasing this perspective will also play well in an interview and show that you are serious about the position.
And remember… things will work out. At times it might not seem like they will, and it’s okay to feel this worry, but with time, it will come and you will reach your end goal of getting licensed.
Suit, bag and shoes are c/o Le Chateau.
P.S. here’s another post if you’re looking for advice on what to wear to an articling interview.