One morning, a few weeks into my summer job at a full-service Bay Street firm, the student co-ordinator scheduled a meeting for me and my fellow students to see how we felt things were going.
“Does anyone have anything they want to talk about?” the co-ordinator asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I hate it here, I don’t know why I ever came here, and can I please just leave now?”
The co-ordinator looked at me, smiled, transformed into their true demon form, and let me know that I was now there for all eternity and advised me that it would be better for me to accept that.
Here’s what really happened: I didn’t say anything. I sat there quietly as the little pebble of doubt in my stomach grew three sizes every time the co-ordinator spoke, all the while remaining the friendly human being they’d always been.
“I hope you guys have at least had some free time on the weekend so far.” Now that little pebble is a stone.
“I hope you’re getting at least a couple hours of sleep a night.” Now it’s a rock.
“I hope you’re starting to network with people at the firm and that you’ve connected with your mentor.” Now it’s in my throat and I sort of can’t really breathe.
“Let’s talk about articling. We’re starting to prepare offers and, of course, we’re hoping you’ll all join us for articling, but if you want to talk to me about that, please let me know as soon as possible.” Now it’s exploded into a thousand little shards and it’s in my eyes and it’s in my ears and I can’t really focus and—oh, okay—the meeting’s over, thank you.
Not long after that meeting, I found myself out on the street delivering a document, fighting to hold back tears because I knew that, if I let them come, it was going to be hard to dam that river. Later that night, I went through the firms taking part in the articling recruit and made a list of the ones I would apply to. I emailed the CDO to ask about the politics of turning down your firm’s articling offer. They replied that it was a tricky subject and it would be easier if I gave them a call or came in to talk. I never responded.
The very thought of articling somewhere else lifted the pressure. I settled in. And then something happened: I lost my nerve. I knew I didn’t want to work at the firm long term, but it was fine for now. I knew that “Big Law” was not for me, but the people at the firm were nice. I knew that I wasn’t really happy there, but I thought about the possibility of going through the articling recruit and leaving empty-handed after having a guaranteed articling position in my hands. Telling myself I was being pragmatic, I convinced myself that I should stay. I thought about it every single day until the application deadline passed and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. I was more scared of leaving than I was of staying.
I’m going to article there. It’s happening. But let’s jump back in time. Because I knew before I ever started that I wasn’t going to be happy there. I knew when I said the words “I accept” on call day that I wasn’t going to be happy there. I knew because they had been the first firm to call and I told them I had to think about it, and then I spent an hour waiting, hoping to get a call from a smaller firm that I had in-firmed with. I only accepted my offer when I got an email from the small firm telling me the bad news. I knew because the only thing I had ever said when people asked me what kind of law I wanted to practice was “not corporate law.” That’s still true—it’s just that I’m going to be articling at a corporate law firm.
So what happened? To put it one way, I have no idea. My rationalization to myself was that I was just going to try it to see what it was like, but I didn’t anticipate just how trapped I would feel once I got there. I didn’t realize that deciding to apply to article somewhere else would feel like such an unbearable, terrifying risk. Guys, I think I messed up.
Let’s take a second to acknowledge a few things before I get to my point. I am grateful that I got a job at all. I am grateful that I know where I’m articling. I really liked the students I worked with, the people at the firm were all good to me, and I actually liked much of the work I did. This isn’t a piece for bashing corporate law.
Okay, here’s my point: if you are a 2L currently going through the recruit and you haven’t done it already, take a second to think about whether whatever job you’re trying to get is actually a job that you want.
Imagine the second after you accept their offer. You hang up the phone. How do you feel? Does your stomach drop? Do you imagine calling back and saying that you’ve changed your mind?
Fear permeates the recruit. Fear that you won’t get a job. Fear that you’ll go into the winter searching desperately and fear that it will be spring and you’ll still be jobless. Fear that this will mean you are not going to be successful.
I felt that fear, too, so I applied for the jobs I’d always said I didn’t want. I accepted the job, regardless of my reservations. I accepted the articling position. Was it the right decision for me? Not really. Was it what I wanted? Not really. Would it have been better if I had done something different? I don’t know. Now that I’ve taken this path, now that I’m doing what I’m doing, will I try to do something different? I think so. Will it work out? I don’t know. I hope so.
So ask yourself what you fear most: not getting a job at the recruit or actually getting one.
Better yet, stop thinking about your fear for a second. What if you had an offer from every single firm, agency, office, organization, or clinic in Toronto? Or all of Ontario? Or all of Canada? What if you had no fear, because the choice was yours?
What would you do?
Editor’s note: The usual practice at Ultra Vires is to not publish anonymous articles. In our view, however, this recounting of personal experience is both valuable to our readers and something that we could not otherwise obtain from a named student.