Students and law firms work to meet the challenge
There have been conflicting reports on the state of articling in the past few years. Anyone who knows a student seeking articles will hear of the difficulty in finding them. We spoke with a number of students about their experience.
“The stress was worse than the process,” says a UBC student who has secured his articles. “Getting articles is your immediate goal. If you don’t get them, what have you been going to law school for?” Bad news about articles hits students from all corners... they hear about a shrinking number of positions, firms not hiring students back, and students considering articling for free just to obtain their articles. [Editor’s note: Although allowed, the Law Society does not encourage this practice.]
The pressure on students to find articles isn’t helped by the feeling that their law career hinges on finding a position. At least in Alberta and Ontario, students can take the bar admission course before securing articles. “If it were possible to take PLTC before having entered into articles, I sometimes think that might make one more marketable,” says one student, who completed his law degree in May and has since sought articles in Vancouver.
Another area of concern to students is the recent change to the Law Society's articling requirements which now necessitate students acquiring experience in three areas of law. The worry is that boutique firms with a limited focus may not be able to meet those qualifications. Leslie Small, Manager of Credentials and Licensing, at the Law Society says that just hasn’t happened. Not one firm applying to have an articling student has failed to meet the three areas of law criteria.
The articling hiring practices at law firms may be a contributor to articling stress. Some large firms are developing their summer programs and hiring from their summer student pools; in effect, using summer terms as probation periods, says a student coordinator at a large Vancouver firm. “We can use those months as a long interview period to really assess a person.” Students who have missed out on summer positions at large firms may find themselves shut out of articling positions at those firms.
Both UVic and UBC say that approximately 90 per cent of students searching for articling positions have been placed, down only five per cent from previous years.
Students who seek articles only at large law firms likely exclude themselves from an emerging market. “The smaller and mid-size firm market is opening up,” says Jennifer Moroskat, UVic Career Development Officer.
Smaller firms do not tend to get involved in the formal recruitment cycle, and instead tend to hire students in the spring semester as their needs become more apparent. One Kelowna firm says business in their town is booming; most firms have an articling student, and they are searching Canada-wide for top law students with a connection to their area. The number of applications to that firm has remained steady.
In the articling market, smaller and mid-sized firms are stepping up to provide this essential training, but it is students who must actively door-knock and network directly with firms. Sarah Klinger, the CBABC’s Young Lawyers Representative, says students shouldn’t be afraid to take the initiative and contact firms. One student who recently found articles networked extensively throughout his second year. “By the time articling week arrived, I was ready to meet with firms and knew what the process would be.” This student sent in his application, had an interview, and attended a wine and cheese function where he “cornered” the hiring committee’s chair. As a result, he obtained the desired articling position on the first day of articling week.
Lawyers, for their part, have a responsibility as well. “The articling process is how the younger generation learns to practise law,” says Sarah Klinger. “When we get to the point where we can act as principal (after seven years of practising), we have a duty to provide that opportunity to an articled student.” The average practising lawyer in B.C. is about 46 or 47 years old. The time is right to guide new lawyers and share knowledge, professionalism, collegiality and war stories.
If you are interested in providing an articling position, please contact Jennifer Moroskat, UVic Law Career Development Officer (250-472-4719) or Judy Pozsgay & Nadia Myerthall, UBC Law Co-Directors of Career Services (604-822-0846).
This article was published in the October 2004 issue of BarTalk. © 2004 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.