When I finished law school, I, like many of my classmates, had already secured an articling job. I didn’t get an OCI but I found my job during the second large wave of hiring in the summer before third year. The process was by no means easy but it was very structured. My law school gave us links to firms who had postings for articling jobs and I applied to the ones that interested me. At the end of the process, I was very fortunate to get an offer from my first choice firm – a commercial litigation boutique in downtown Toronto.
My articling year went quite smoothly. I worked hard but the hours were never crazy. I got along very well with the other articling student, all the lawyers at the firm seemed to like me and I got positive feedback on the work that I did. When May rolled around, I was feeling quite confident about getting hired back. My firm had a good history of hiring back students and no one had told me that it wasn’t going to happen.
When I eventually realised in early June that I had not secured a permanent position, I was devastated. The firm gave me a summer contract and told me they would make a final decision in September. While this was better than nothing, it still felt like a rejection. If I’m being honest, it felt like I had been dumped. When I wasn’t bawling my eyes out, I was panicking because I had no idea what to do next. No one had prepared me for how to get a job after articling. My law school was silent on the issue and while many of the partners at my firm offered to help me, I wasn’t even sure what sort help I would need if it didn’t involve getting me a job somewhere.
The first thing I thought to do was to talk to other firms to see if there were jobs available. I looked in the ORs but there weren’t many postings, especially for new calls. I then turned my focus to commercial litigation boutiques who hadn’t hired articling students. I started with associates I had met during my articles. When I didn’t know anyone at a firm I wanted to reach out to (which was most of them), I tried to find juniors I had a connection with. I would look at their firm profiles to see what law school they went to or what their interests were outside of law.
Then I would cold e-mail them. The e-mail was a 2-3 liner introducing myself and telling them that I was a new call. I told them I had an interest in their practice and asked if they would be open to having coffee with me to discuss it further. At no point did I ever say that I was looking for a job. Even though it was fairly obvious from the e-mail that I was on the hunt for an associate position, I still wanted to speak to people even if no position was currently available.
My first coffee meeting was exactly the scenario I described above. I reached out to a junior at a commercial litigation boutique who had gone to the same law school as I had. We had both worked at the same legal aid clinic (in different years) so I knew we had some common ground there. He was upfront that his firm was not hiring but was happy to speak to me anyways if I was still interested in hearing about his practice. I quickly responded that I still wanted to chat and I’m so happy I did. Not only did his firm hire me for a document review contract position 5 weeks later, but he also became a good friend.
This contract was not the end of my journey. After 10 weeks, the contract ended and I was back to looking for a job. I wasn’t back to square 1 though. I had now gained the confidence to approach people and successfully give them my elevator pitch. I met with about 70 lawyers in 4 months. At every meeting, after asking them about their firm and their practice, I asked if they had any tips for me going forward and if they knew of any firms I could reach out to. Some people were very generous with their personal network and told me to reach out to other firms using their name. Others told me about new firms I hadn’t even heard of. Throughout this process I vastly expanded my network in the legal community.
In addition to networking through coffee meetings, I also joined several organizations to make myself more marketable and to meet people more organically. I started going to events through various organizations like Young Women in Law, The Advocates’ Society and the Ontario Bar Association. The events were a great way to meet lawyers who could help me in my job search as well as other juniors who were in similar situations. After attending several Young Women in Law events, I was asked to submit an application to the board. I eventually joined the board as the Director of Events which has not only been so rewarding but has also greatly assisted in progressing my career.
I also started volunteering at Pro Bono Ontario. It was a way that I was able to stay involved in litigation when I wasn’t working. Now, even though I have been gainfully and happily employed for over 4 years, I continue to volunteer there several times a year because I find the experience to be so rewarding and enjoyable.
After several months of unemployment, I eventually found my current job through the assistance of one of the partners at my articling firm. He introduced me to the person who would go on to be my boss and mentor. After he made the initial introduction, 6 weeks later I started as in-house counsel at a large Canadian Insurance Company. The role I ultimately took was by no means the role I thought I wanted at the beginning of my job search. However, after 4 years of being there I can honestly say that not only do I love my role but that it is also a far better fit for me (both personally and professionally) than my articling firm was for a variety of reasons.
Now that I’m working, I have continued to use the lessons I learned from those very painful months of unemployment. I continue to keep up with my networking – not because I’m looking for a job but because I love connecting with other people in the legal industry and have made many great friends and professional contacts in the process. I have continued to volunteer for both Pro Bono Ontario and Young Women in Law, both organizations that have taught me many invaluable skills and are a great source of joy. I have also continued to use my network to help me progress my career.
Not being hired back forced me to really think about what type of law I wanted to practice and what sort of career I wanted to have. You can certainly do all of the things that I did if you have been hired back. But if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine that I would have had the motivation to take all those steps and put in all that time at the infancy of my career had I not had to. At the time, not getting hired back seemed like the end of the world (or at least my professional one). Now, I realise that it was an incredible opportunity that opened so many doors and led me down a path that is far better for me.
Author: Sarah Naiman
Sarah Naiman obtained her JD from the University of Windsor in 2013 and completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 2014. Sarah is currently in-house counsel with Intact Insurance and prior to that, worked at a commercial litigation boutique. While attending law school in Windsor, Sarah volunteered at the Community Legal Aid of Windsor where she represented individuals who could not afford to pay for legal services. Sarah currently volunteers with Law Help Ontario PBO and is the Director of Events at YWL.