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AN OPEN LETTER TO ARTICLING STUDENTS ABOUT LIFE AFTER HIREBACKS
Dear Articling Students,
You just spent ten months working away at your law firm only to get the news that you aren’t being hired back. The thing you most feared has just happened, and it doesn’t feel fair. Now you’re in the awkward position of having to continue working for the people who just rejected you for another few weeks. At least you (hopefully) don’t have to physically go into the office and face these people, right? Thanks, COVID-19.
There’s no sugarcoating it: this whole thing sucks. I know, because I’ve been there. I articled in Toronto at a national law firm and was not hired back. It was awful. It was a huge blow to my ego, which I didn’t want to admit at the time. But I got through it, and you will too. In the years since, I’ve had a short, sweet, and successful career in law, eventually leaving it on my own terms, and I made good money (which I know is taboo to mention but let’s be serious, the money was the real reason I went to law school in the first place). If you want that, you can still have it. But first, let me help you get through the next few months.
As I was going through my own hireback hell, I received a lot of advice. Not just useless platitudes, but practical, useful, concrete steps to take. It was brilliant advice that I actually followed with great success. I have since shared this same advice with many students who went through the same thing I did. They’ve asked that I share this advice more widely for the benefit of articling students everywhere. So here it is. I split this into two parts. Part 1 is a “pep talk” designed to give you some perspective, and part 2 is a list of things you should do in the next few weeks while you’re still employed.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
PART 1: THE PEP TALK
- Your firm’s decision to not hire you back was a business decision. It was not personal. The sooner you understand and accept this, the easier your life will be. There are so many factors that play into hireback decisions that the result is often a crap shoot. Excellent candidates aren’t hired back while lazy idiots with bad judgement are. Try not to take it personally. It’s likely that the decision had very little to do with you. It was probably more about the current economic climate (insert pandemic), group composition (too many juniors in the group already; not enough work to go around), too many students interested in the same practice area as you, available hours, projections for next year, etc.
- You are smart and capable. You will find a job. You already survived the LSAT, law school, the bar exams, and landed an articling position. You can get through this too. Don’t start underestimating yourself now.
- You just spent the last ten months getting some of the best legal training in the country. You can use that as a launching pad to a successful career. The knowledge and experience you’ve gained is yours to keep forever.
- The relationships you’ve built are also yours. They’re yours to either nurture, neglect, or outright destroy. You can act like a petulant, entitled child who wasn’t given what was owed to them, or you can be better. Mature. Grateful for the experience. Open to new opportunities. Appreciative for the time, help, and guidance offered by others. If you don’t feel mature and grateful, then fake it for now. Act the way you want to feel. You’ll get there eventually.
- This is not the end of the world. Firms will hire again. Your law degree was not a waste. You will find a job. The economy operates in cycles, swinging back and forth on a pendulum from expansion to contraction. Like waves, the economy goes up and down. We’re in a down right now. It will go back up again. It sucks, and it’s unlucky, but it’s nothing you could have predicted or influenced, so you just need to be patient.
PART 2: HOW TO SPEND YOUR LAST FEW WEEKS AT THE FIRM
- Use this time to collect reference letters. You don’t want to be chasing lawyers for reference letters over the summer. Do it now while you still have easy access to them. Without a doubt, you’ve built strong relationships with a few lawyers during your articles. Ask them for reference letters. They will likely be very open to helping you land on your feet. Make the ask (nicely), and if they say yes (which they will), suggest a timeline (a few days before your last day of work, perhaps?). Don’t be surprised or offended if they ask you to prepare the draft for them. This isn’t unusual. I wrote a separate blog post about how to draft your own reference letters, complete with real sample letters. Check it out here: Life After Hirebacks Part 2: Writing Your Own Reference Letters.
- If the firm offers any type of training, either for resume-building, job hunting after hireback, etc., take advantage of it. Attend those sessions. Yes, you may want to roll your eyes at the whole thing and crawl under a rock, but put your pride aside and take advantage of that help. If nothing else, the person who teaches the session is well connected within the legal community and can be a good contact for future opportunities.
- Attend panel discussions (virtually, of course) or talks about “life after hirebacks” or other similar topics. I attended one hosted by The Advocates’ Society and it made me feel so much better. Everyone in the room either was, or had been, in my shoes, including the panelists who had each gone on to have successful careers. They spoke candidly about their experience, and it made me feel less alone. It gave me a little glimmer of hope when I was feeling sorry for myself. I was able to befriend one of the panelists by emailing him after the talk. He ended up being a great contact during my job hunt.
- Collect your contacts. Make sure you have contact information for the people you’ve developed relationships with. Give those people your personal contact details (cell phone number, personal email), and add them to LinkedIn. You want to be able to easily reach out to these people once you leave the firm. This includes your fellow articling students, both the ones who were hired back and the ones who weren’t. You will be linked to the people in your articling cohort forever, whether you like it or not. Your careers will progress in parallel and you’ll eventually find yourselves referring clients to one another and recommending each other for jobs down the road. Maintain good relationships with these people, even though it might feel difficult right now.
- Continue to do good work. It can be tempting to slack off in the last few weeks, especially when the firm didn’t hire you back. Resist this urge. Do what you committed to do. Finish what you can, and prepare detailed transfer memos for those files that need to be transferred (consulting with the assigning lawyer first, of course). Not only is this the right thing to do, but it could benefit you. Stay in the good books of the lawyers with whom you work so that their lasting impression of you will be an amazing one, and they’ll be incentivised to recommend you to their contacts for job opportunities. The legal community is smaller than you think and people talk. You only have one reputation. Protect it.
- Figure out what you want to do next and tell people. In the (paraphrased) words of Jerry Maguire, HELP THEM HELP YOU! I wanted to be a commercial real estate lawyer and I wanted to do sophisticated commercial real estate transactions. I wasn’t interested in residential deals. I wasn’t looking for more manageable hours. I was young, hungry, and wanted to learn. I also wanted to work with good people – that was a non-negotiable. I wasn’t interested in working with assholes. My articling experience was very positive because I worked with great lawyers. This is where my firm contacts came in handy. They knew the industry and they knew me. They could suggest places I would enjoy working and places I should avoid. Once I was able to articulate exactly what I wanted, they were able to give me specific guidance, like: “The Real Estate group at X firm is hiring like crazy, but the partners there are notoriously horrible to work with. Their associates are always quitting.” or “There’s a small boutique firm north of the city doing really great commercial real estate work. They don’t have a website and fly under the radar, but the lawyers have an excellent reputation in the industry and some great clients who are doing interesting deals.” This intel wasn’t something I would’ve had access to without my firm contacts, and they wouldn’t have known to share that information with me without knowing what kind of job I was looking for.
- Don’t forget about the firm’s student coordinator. They all have different titles, but you know who I’m talking about. The person who trained you, managed you, helped you get settled, and scolded your whole articling group when an email to the student group went unanswered – that person is also a great resource! They have connections in all the firms (and in the HR departments no less!) – they will know who’s hiring and who isn’t. Reach out to them, have a chat, tell them what you’re thinking of doing next, and seek their guidance. This is their area of expertise and they’ll want to help you.
- Yes, this whole thing is awkward for you, but remember that it’s also awkward for your colleagues (partners, associates, and staff). They don’t know what to say, so make it easy for them. Be nice. They might say the wrong thing, but if you know it’s coming from a good place, do your very best to be gracious. And be especially kind to your articling buddies. It’s not their fault you didn’t get hired back, even though you may be tempted to blame them, or at least feel some pretty intense resentment. Don’t begrudge them their happiness at being hired back. Be happy for them the way you would have wanted them to be happy for you if your roles were reversed.
I hope this was helpful. If you have questions or suggestions for topics you want me to write about, let me know in the comments below, or, since I know lawyers are weirdos who prefer to ask their questions anonymously, you can email me directly – firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll try to post regularly for the next few weeks with more helpful tips but make no promises. Subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss anything! And if you think that this might be helpful to someone else, please share it with them.
Until next time, stay safe and healthy.
All the best,