Fishing for Articles? Cast a Wide Net...

When I spoke with JD he was looking for an articling position; he had been looking for seven months. He had returned home after graduating from law school overseas, had become qualified to practice in B.C., had built up a resume full of amazing experiences, and was currently spending his time working in a non-law related job, volunteering, and doing everything in his power to get articles. I knew that getting articles could be pretty tough, but seven months is a long time to be looking for a job, especially after years of university specifically geared towards working in the legal profession. I also knew that this type of experience is more common than it should be, and I was curious about his process.

So I asked him what he’d tried.

And the answer was… everything.

Really, I mean everything.

JD talked to the career advisory board at his law school. He personalized all cover letters. He got reference letters and transcripts and made neatly packaged applications. He reached out to any contacts he thought might be able to put in a good word. He endured the stress of applying to the big firms downtown, diligently following the rules of the application game. And when the one interview he got from that whole process didn’t pan out, he cast a wider net.

JD was not picky; in fact he wasn’t selective at all. He branched out in geography to the greater Vancouver area: New Westminster, Burnaby, and even as far as Pit Meadows. He applied to large firms, mid size firms, small firms, and sole practitioners. He applied to corporate firms and litigations firms. He applied to family law firms and criminal law firms. He applied to general practice firms. He even applied to tax law firms despite not having had a chance to take a course in tax law. He talked to everyone. He applied to all firms that were recommended. He googled and spent hours scanning firm websites. He applied to all that were hiring. He applied to all that had contact information on their website regardless of whether they were hiring. He followed up unanswered applications with emails and calls. He started cold calling. He even put out an ad in the classified section.

For the first four months JD made finding articles his full time job. And even now, hundreds of hours later, after JD’s financial situation has forced him to get a non-law related job, he still spends two days worth of free time per week devoted to the search.

And what did hundreds of hours and 100 + applications get him? About 5 interviews, a bunch of “no responses”, and a whole lot of the word “sorry”. Sorry, we don’t hire students. Sorry, we just hired a student. Sorry, not right now, try back in a few months.

Was JD frustrated? Of course. He wants to be a lawyer. He’s spent years gaining education and experiences to prepare him to become a lawyer. And now he’s spent seven months trying to overcome the last hurdle only to be turned away with a “sorry”.

“The worst thing,” JD said, “is having a law degree, and not being able to find a job… Knowing what I am capable of, if someone would just give me a shot to prove it.”

What inspired me the most was that JD was still in good spirits. He had talked with people who had told him they’d looked for over a year before finding articles, but he hadn’t lost hope. He was able to stand back from the day to day frustrations and see a number of ways in which the whole experience may actually be a long term net positive… He was meeting a lot of people in the legal community. It was forcing him to expand his perspective. He was getting exposed to different sizes of firms and areas of practice that he might not otherwise have considered. It was allowing him time to help others through meaningful volunteer work, which he would not likely have had time for during articles or as a young lawyer.  He was learning how to read the signs and becoming a master interviewer…

But ultimately, JD wasn’t getting to do the thing that he’s known he’s wanted to do since high school.  Become a lawyer and practice law.

So what was JD going to try next? Fine tune his application process? Hone his interview skills? Apply some of the well-meaning (and sometimes contradictory) advice about what he should say or do differently? Probably yes to all of the above.

And the answer is really, that he is going to continue to do everything.

He’s going to continue to cast a really wide net…and then cast it again…and then cast it again.