Ultra Vires


In Response to “Stuck Inside Toronto with the Bay Street Blues Again”

Jennifer Power (3L)*

In the wake of its publication, I’ve watched as a few of my peers continued to share this article† on Facebook with captions ranging from “heartbreaking” to “” to “sad reality.” I wondered if those who posted were reading much more into the seemingly one-dimensional article that I had read. How did they parse through the whining to find something relatable and worthy of reposting?

My first thought was that this article reeked of privilege; only those who have satisfied the first four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs could possibly find themselves in the position to be asking, “What do I want? Where do I really want to work?” I thought of the many Canadians who struggle to make ends meet, who choose jobs simply based on what will pay the bills, and how far removed they are from notions of being happy, engaged, and meaningfully employed.

This article was a reminder of how privileged most Canadian law students truly are. I wondered why and how they could feel so entitled to one hundred percent job satisfaction right out of the gate.

After some careful consideration, I realized that there is a lot more reading-between-the-lines that can be done if you can get past the bellyaching. It is undeniable that law students are making career decisions based on fear instead of desire. I am still not convinced that this is such a horrible thing (fear can be a strong motivator) or something that is unique to law students. I do believe, however, that deconstructing where that internalized fear comes from is a much more worthwhile pursuit and could help to channel our efforts in a constructive direction.

There are eighteen schools with common-law programs in Canada, and 163 students are admitted to each, on average, every year. This means that 2,934 new law grads are produced annually, all of whom need to secure articles if they wish to practice law.

Law school tuition is at an all-time high and students are graduating with considerable amounts of debt (yes, you can be privileged and still carry debt). If a student does not secure articles with a firm that is willing to cover Bar fees, these tack on an additional cost to that debt.

Our market is becoming increasingly oversaturated and law schools are not paying attention or adjusting accordingly. How is it ethical of law schools to continue to increase their admissions numbers? How is it ethical to charge so much for the LPP program?

The Bay Street allure is not exclusive to Ontario law schools. Here at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, I’ve heard multiple references to Bay Street as if it’s Everest. We are told that only big firms hire or attend OCIs, that you must identify other opportunities for yourself if you want to be hired outside of the process, and, further, that you will make comparatively less money by pursuing these other opportunities.

Is anyone considering why mid-sized and small firms feel excluded from the OCI process and campus activities? On the other hand, this problem goes far beyond provincial law society recruitment regulations. Perhaps a look into how small businesses and not-for-profits are regulated in Canada could provide insight into why they cannot seem to afford to take on students or adequately compensate those they do.

Being offered employment at any large full-service firm in Canada seems to represent success and the validation of your worth as a burgeoning lawyer, while everywhere else sounds inferior. Nobody likes to feel inferior.

There are some factors fuelling fear that may be completely out of our control. For instance, law students may face cultural pressures where firm name, practice area, and the associated status dictate how well your family thinks you’re doing and how much pride they feel. There are two ways that this seems to happen: (1) students grow up in a rich family and landing at a prestigious firm is an expectation; or (2) students grow up in an immigrant family and if they don’t “succeed” they have insulted the “sacrifice” that their family has made.  How do we nurture a strong sense of self and individual confidence in decision-making in law school?

The answer isn’t to remit the problem back to second-year law students and have them confront it simply by resolving to be fearless and apply more broadly. If we believe that fear is causing us to work for employers that we don’t want to work for, then let’s spend our energy getting to the root of that fear and attempting to dismantle it.

* Jennifer Power is a third-year student at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University. She reached out to us with this response after discussing one of our articles with some of her Dalhousie colleagues.

† “Stuck Inside Toronto with the Bay Street Blues Again” appeared in the Opinions section of the October 2017 issue of this paper.

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