This time last year, I was getting ready to graduate from law school. I had started my final year at Dalhousie Law without an articling position lined up. In fact, I was actually in Los Angeles for an exchange semester at Southwestern Law School. Conventional wisdom told me that if I was looking for a position in Canada, maybe moving to sunny California for five months wasn’t the way to get one.
My law school career didn’t exactly follow conventional wisdom. After all, if conventional wisdom had its way, I wouldn’t have been preparing for a move to Toronto this time last year so I could begin my articling position in the city.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the world is realizing that conventional wisdom, or the way things have always been done, isn’t working. In these past few months we’ve been turning to creativity – using the tools we already had in a new way. For a profession that has so often resisted change, this is a big deal.
Like many of my classmates, I went into law school under the impression that the OCI (On-Campus Interview) was the way to get a job. And why wouldn’t I? Schools put a – perhaps outsized – emphasis on OCIs. The path from law student to summer student to student-at-law seems pretty cut-and-dry.
Unfortunately, it’s a path that leaves little room for nuance. And when I was dealing with unforeseen health issues in my first year that affected my final grades, the path quickly narrowed.
In second year, I realized I would have to make my own path. I’d have to rely on creativity. When I learned that my school had an exchange program with Southwestern, I decided to take advantage of it and study entertainment law in the world’s entertainment capital. While I grew my practical skills that summer at a non-profit, I also researched small to mid-size firms in Toronto. I had an end-of-summer trip to the city planned – why not extend it by a few days and pitch myself to a few firms?
I made up a cold email and sent it to my list of firms – as a journalism graduate, I learned that a cold email can be your best first step. Sometimes I received a “no.” Sometimes I got no response at all. But a handful said “yes.” Days after my trip to Toronto, I was off to LA to start the semester; I kept in touch. The tools for communication were already there – time zones and borders don’t matter as much when you have internet.
By this time last year, my creativity had paid off. That April, I was offered a job at a small commercial law firm in Toronto. Thanks to one of my meetings that previous summer, I was set to be the firm’s first articling student. I had successfully bucked conventional wisdom.
As my articling term comes to a close and the world learns to adapt to a new normal, I think about how creativity can keep working for me in this unprecedented time. While times have rapidly changed from one year to the next, I’ll keep channeling that spirit as I look to my next move.
Author: Emma Chapple
Emma Chapple is a J.D. graduate of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. She is scheduled to be called to the Ontario Bar in May 2020. Emma articled at a small commercial law firm in Toronto, where she worked in litigation, contract drafting and business advisory.