Articles of Frustration: Epilogue – I

this is fine

Desire is a tricky thing.  We can spend years chasing a single goal without knowing exactly what obtaining it will entail.  Detailed preparation never totally equips you for how finally obtaining a long sought after prize will change your life.  I had spent years hunting high and low for employment as an articling student.  Although I had idled away many hours wondering about the individual pros and cons of certain positions, I always seemed to proceed with a mild naivete that whatever position that I did end up securing would be a good, supportive experience.  Of course, I realized that there would be stress. I anticipated feeling helpless and lost at certain times.  Indeed, I even contemplated that I would question my decision to pursue law at certain points throughout the articling term.

None of these musings truly prepared me for what articling was or who I would be dealing with. Enter Bawss, my articling principal.  Bawss was a 50-something year old man who had been in the insurance and personal injury game for over twenty years.  He had worked for a variety of large to mid-sized firms before branching out and starting his own plaintiff personal injury firm.  He employed one other lawyer, two articling students (myself included), an office administrator and two clerks.

To say that the business was run poorly would be an honest to god insult to most poorly-run businesses.  Bawss was out of the office more days per week than he was in.   These absences were not typically attributable to court dates or mediation events.  Instead, we would be told, rather cryptically, that Bawss was “working from home”.   Meanwhile, mediation memos would be sent 12 hours before the mediating was to occur and motion records would be rushed to court mere minutes before the filing deadline.

Dealing with an absentee landlord is tricky enough.  Dealing with an absentee mentor and boss is trickier still.  But, I never knew the true meaning of aggravation until I dealt with a MIA boss who managed, through emotional outbursts and mild mood swings, to be both nowhere when he was needed and everywhere when he wasn’t.  An avowed conservative and Trump supporter, Bawss would alternate between lining us up and screaming that we were “hacks”, “retards”, “children” and “idiots” and guffawing good naturedly when something interesting in the political sphere came to his attention. Bawss loved politics.  He would often interrupt work to lecture us all on the dangers and idiocy of a Trudeau government, on how birth control is solely a woman’s responsibility or on how there was scientific evidence behind the belief that the Chinese were poor drivers.

I could go on and on.  The truth is, you probably would not believe me if I detailed every instance of his objectionable behaviour.  One of the most difficult aspects of a work environment like this was the uncertainty.  If Bawss had been a complete asshole all of the time, it would have made things much easier.  One would at least be able to consistently prepare.  Instead, you never really knew what would cause him to explode or what he would blow off.  One of his most loathsome traits was losing his mind on someone in the office one day and then texting or calling them a day or so later and offering a half-hearted apology.  He would usually blame sleep deprivation or his kids as  the likely culprits of his abusive behaviour.

Instead of going on and on in paragraph form, here is a top ten list of articling’s most memorable moments:

  1. After a particularly rocky start to a mediation where opposing counsel and her client were both women, being sequestered with Bawss and our clients (a married couple) and witnessing Bawss bellowing: “What a couple of BITCHES those two are! You wanna know my theory for why women act like that?  It’s because they’re not getting laid enough.”
  2. Working through lunch and well into the evening to assist a client with an urgent matter and hearing Bawss dismiss my colleagues and I as “idiots” for not having ordered food earlier
  3. At another mediation, hearing Bawss scream at the top of his lungs for me to get back into the meeting as I was hunched over a toilet in a nearby bathroom and coughing up mouthfuls of blood
  4. Being called “Fuckboy” on a regular basis and questioned frequently about my sexual history and amount of partners
  5. Getting paid $6.25/hour while simultaneously hearing incessantly about Bawss’s financial woes (one of these laments came a day after he visited the Toronto Yacht Club)
  6. While off to study for the bar exam, being called at home and shrieked at for having not sent a letter to someone that Bawss had previously told me not to send.  The day after, he texted me a good natured “don’t worry about it, bro” and told me that he was just grumpy from a poor night’s sleep.
  7. Following contentious motion negotiations with opposing counsel, receiving a firm-wide e-mail from Bawss linking to a picture of opposing counsel and stating “Look at this dweeb, here is someone who clearly had no friends in high school.”
  8. A few weeks after starting my term, hearing from my colleagues that Bawss had confided in them that “there was something wrong with me” and that  “I must be sick, or something” after noticing the fact that I walk with a slight limp.
  9. At the wedding of a junior lawyer at our firm, being seated next to Bawss as he loudly lectured the entire table (complete strangers included) of how AIDS was primarily a “gay” disease and that the only reason it ever got research funding was through politicians lying to the public about sufferers contracting it through other means.
  10. Hearing, after I had finished my articling term, that Bawss thought I “wasn’t very good” and “not going to be a great lawyer”.

If this seems incredible to you, I sympathize.  Before I started my articling term, I never thought a person like Bawss actually existed in real life.  To me, someone like him could only inhabit satirical newspaper columns or Saturday Night Live skits.  Every item of the above list is a genuine accounting of the antics that went down.  There are hundreds of other examples.  That job contributed to a worsening of my physical and mental health. My struggles with chronic illness became particularly difficult during those months. Also, I started increasingly thinking of myself as incompetent and unlikely to ever be a success.

I wanted to quit so badly.  There were dozens of times when I thought that the uncertainty and stigma associated with leaving an articling gig early would be well worth ending this torture.  Throughout all of this, I was supported by my exceptionally talented and supportive coworkers.  We drew strength from one another and bonded through the realization that we were in this together.  Frequent after-work drinks were had and we would socialize on weekends and holidays.

Somehow, the months slowly passed and August crept closer.  I passed the bar exam and managed to become a little more efficient and a little less clueless about the files that I was handling.  Also, I learned a lot of interesting things about Bawss and about the world he existed in.  Within a few weeks of commencing articles, I discovered something very significant:  Bawss had worked for McCann (see Parts 17-21 regarding this firm and my candidacy there) for over twelve years before starting his own business.  He never talked about why he left, but the word around the office was that the split was not amicable.  I sent Sheila a brief update e-mail by December about what I was doing and where I was.  I dropped a line about working with her former colleague.  She responded and told me to say hello to Bawss for her before kindly encouraging me to reach out if I ever needed anything.

Unbeknownst to me until much later, Sheila had taken it upon herself to then e-mail Bawss.  She told him to “be nice” to me and that I reminded her of a former mutual acquaintance.  Bawss charged into my shared office shortly thereafter and demanded to know how I knew Sheila and what my connection with McCann was.  I was honest with him.  He nodded and then fixed me with a threatening glare.

“Don’t EVER talk about me to them, do you understand?  They would steal files from me without even thinking twice.”  I nodded lamely and thought about telling him that I really only knew Sheila.  He stormed out before the words left my mouth.  From then on (and whenever Bawss would take me with him to some event), he would frequently introduce me to other defence lawyers rather pompously as someone that he had “stolen” from McCann.  Had this come from anyone else, I might have been vaguely touched.  Instead, I inwardly rolled my eyes, as much at the desperation as at the dishonesty.

Time slowly rolled on and it was not long before the icy cold of fall and winter gave way to an uncharacteristically warm spring.  I had not heard from Sheila or from any of the law firms that I had previously interviewed with for months.  As April turned into May, I considered whether to begin networking in advance of my call to the bar.  I would not be called until later September and it was difficult to know how far in advance to begin the search for an associate gig.   Previously, I had discussed with my colleagues the wisdom of reaching out to Sheila again.  I didn’t want to be a nuisance, but it seemed like she would be the logical starting point.  Despite this, something held me back. Bawss had been particularly ambiguous about the possibility of hireback.  It didn’t really matter, as I knew that I never wanted to be in his employ ever again.

Early in May, I was about to leave the office early to run an errand downtown.  I refreshed my workplace e-mail a final time before signing off.  A new e-mail stood out to me in bolded font.  The subject line read “Re: Articles” and it was from Sheila.  My heart skipped a beat and I quickly looked around to make sure that I was not being watched.

Hi, Stephen:

How are you?  How is articling?  We should catch up and have coffee sometime.  Let me know a day that works.

Take care,

Sheila

Though the e-mail was short, the excitement that I felt was electric.  Like our last meeting, it was also tinged with confusion.  Why would a partner at a well-respected, downtown law firm take it upon herself to reach out to me?  What could this be about?  I’d have counted myself lucky if she had agreed to having coffee at my request, but for her to make the first move?  I didn’t understand and it was the sweetest confusion that I had ever experienced.

I replied briefly to Sheila and talked about being finished the bar exam and how happy I was to be over that hurdle.  As I typed the rest of the message, I tried not to let my eagerness drip with desperation.  I told her that I was free most of next week and that I’d be glad to meet with her at a time and place that was convenient.  My out-of-office errand was time sensitive, so I did not wait around for a further response.  For the rest of the day, my mind raced.  What could this mean?  Was I setting myself up for another disappointment?  Could this just be a friendly meeting and nothing more?

Next week, I again left the office on an “errand”.  As before, it was a struggle to know how to dress for my meeting with Sheila.  Was this an interview?  Was it just a friendly meeting between colleagues?  I laughed at the idea that Sheila and I were anywhere near the same level, but it helped inoculate me from sky-high expectations about this rendezvous.  The commute from North York into the downtown core seemed to take forever.  The weather was bright and pleasant and seemed to tease me with the possibilities that it implied.

We met at the same coffeeshop as last time.  I arrived first, selected a table near the window and ordered a hot chocolate.  Ten minutes later, Sheila strode in.  We shook hands and, after ordering herself a coffee, we both sat.  The meeting lasted about a half hour.   To her immense credit, she stated rather bluntly at the outset that she did not have a job to offer me.  Nonetheless, she asked about articling, about how Bawss was doing and about what type of work we did at his firm.  I answered honestly, but stopped short of venting outright about the type of treatment that I had experienced under him.  Despite everything that had happened, I still thought it poor form to completely denigrate a current employer in front of a potential one.

Luckily, Sheila knew all about Bawss.  She had spent years working with him and, in fact, had enjoyed a friendly relationship for some of those years.  She implied that the end of the friendship had been messy and told me that she would not at all be surprised if Bawss had bad things to say about her.  It was a relief to be speaking with someone who knew all about my “mentor” without me needing to explain.

After the subject of Bawss grew stale, I asked about McCann and how work for Sheila was going.  She explained that the firm was always busy and that there was always something new going on.  I recalled that the firm had opened its first satellite office in Waterloo in 2015 and asked about how that transition had gone.  Before she answered, she looked at me a little sharply.  “Is a job in that region something you’d be interested in?”

I was taken aback, though, luckily, not for long enough to become tongue tied.  I replied that a job in that region doing insurance defence would be something that I’d very seriously consider.  As well, I quipped that my current commute through the heart of the city to North York wouldn’t be all that shorter than a commute to Waterloo every morning.  She nodded and continued to sip her coffee.

The last thing we talked about before we split was what my plan for the future was.  In all honesty, I told her that I was most likely not going to seek employment with my current firm following the conclusion of the articling term.  She nodded as I explained and seemed to affix me with an appraising gaze.  I also mentioned that I would be getting called to the bar in September of 2016 and that I hoped there would be prospects for permanent employment during that time of the year.  Before I could go on, Sheila interjected.

“You know, that might work for you… and it might work for us.”

Outwardly, I smiled and thanked her for her support.  Inwardly, I felt another burst of excitement and possibility swell within me.  What was this?  Is this just another fake out? I couldn’t deal.  Minutes later, we were throwing out our garbage and bidding each other farewell.  We promised to keep in touch and Sheile promised that she would keep my name floating around the offices of McCann.  I walked towards the subway and excitedly texted my coworkers and friends.  This felt like something good, for a change.

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Articles of Frustration: Part 22 – You’ll Know It When It Happens

lucy-surprised

Late September 2015

Job rejection had rarely come in the form of a personal phone call.  Still, it was through this medium that I learned of the end of my candidacy with the insurer.   Being aimless and without many responsibilities, it had become my practice to retire late at night and awake even later in the afternoon.  On one such afternoon in September, I awoke to the voicemail notification blinking on my cell phone.  Yawning unconcernedly, I fumbled with my phone’s lock screen and wondered which one of the many bill collectors was after me this time.

Instead, the tinny voice of the insurer’s HR representative was bidding me good morning and asking me to call her back.  The topic of discussion was to be the position that I had recently interviewed for.  I leaped out of bed and traversed the half dozen stairs to the kitchen in a single bound.  My mother, pouring coffee, turned around.

“What’s up?” she asked, clearly sensing my excitement.

“Remember that insurer I interviewed with a couple weeks ago?  They just called me back to discuss the position!”  I grinned widely.  “That’s gotta be good news, right?”

My mother’s masterfully honed poker face remained impassive.  “See what happens. Give them a call and try not to get your hopes up too much.”

My happiness balloon felt as thought it had developed a puncture.  “What are you talking about?” I asked, with more than a hint of annoyance in my voice.  “If it was a rejection, they’d just have left me a message or sent me an e-mail.  This has to be good news!”

Mom didn’t back down.  “Not necessarily.  Anyway, I hope you’re right.  Go call them and we’ll talk after.”

I stared at her.  “You don’t know nothin’…bout anythin’.”  She grinned and returned to the newspaper

It sucks when your parents disagree with your sage predictions.  It’s even worse when they turn out to be right.  The phone call was mercifully short, at least.  The HR representative gave me the whole spiel about being an “impressive” candidate with “superb” credentials. She also told me that, despite these accolades, they would be pursuing other hopefuls. But, lest you think that this entry is more doom and gloom, consider that the news was not all bad.  I was informed that the insurer would be keeping my information in their file and would give me a call if anything else came along that fit my capabilities (nb: nothing ever did).

In the grand scheme of things, this rejection hurt a middling amount.  It was a job that I HAD wanted and that seemed quite up my alley.  The leading-on factor was not too powerful, although being called just to be told that I was SOL threw me for a loop.  The most difficult part (like many other times) was going downstairs and letting my mother know that: a) I had lost out and (much more importantly) b) she had been right regarding my premature jubilation.  With that said, she certainly did not (and hasn’t ever) been happy to see me fail.  Her and my dad even took me to a gourmet Italian restaurant for lunch later that day as consolation.  The unlimited caesar salad and garlic homeloaf  at East Side Mario’s did little to alleviate the bitterness that came with this most recent failure, however.

October 1, 2016

The next week or so was more of the same.  A lot of nothing mixed with a tiny bit of job hunting and application drafting.  More recently, I had been searching on the LSUC portal specifically for job postings.  This was often a lesson in futility.  Many of the advertisements made it clear that the positions available were unpaid.  Others offered paltry “honorariums” or subsidies for transit/gas expenses.  As I have often said, beggars most certainly should not operate with the entitlement of choosers.  Even still, I stayed away from the completely unpaid positions.  In the meantime, I sent applications to every available position that promised something as compensation and that had some connection to my background.

One afternoon, my phone rang.  The soft, polite voice on the other end informed me that it was a lawyer with a firm in North York that I had recently applied to.  She invited me to come for an interview at 2 PM the next day (October 1st).  This firm was a small, two-lawyer plaintiff personal injury firm.  I recalled that their advertisement mentioned payment being “nominal”.  Regardless, I was happy to get call-backs at all, and so I happily agreed to the meeting.

The next day, after being bid good luck by my parents, I set off for North York.  This is an area to the northeast of the downtown core that is about 45 km from my home.  I realized quickly that this would not be an ideal commute.  I also realized just as quickly that, were I an attractive candidate with opportunities on the horizon, the overlong commute might be a relevant factor.  Pushing pessimism away, I turned up the car stereo and enjoyed the cloudless, crisp weather and positive road conditions.

A half hour and several wrong turns later, I pulled into the parking lot of the firm’s office building.  Even with my poor navigational performance, I had twenty minutes to spare.  Not wanting to risk a sweat stain forming in the hot interior of my car, I wandered out and sat down at a bench in front of the building.  The structure itself was about nine or ten stories, with dull aquamarine panels and grey stone.  The surrounding area played host to several large highways and various urban sprawl.  I reasoned, hopefully, that there would be plenty of places to go for lunch in this area if I was successful in obtaining a position.

With five minutes to go until 2 PM, I rose, smoothed out the pant legs of my suit and ventured inside the building.  The firm was located on the sixth floor.  I found my way down the corridor to the correct unit and pushed open the door.  The firm’s office had a front waiting room, but no receptionist or greeter.  Luckily, a passing-by employee noticed me.  I provided my name and stated my business.  The employee, who introduced herself as the firm’s office manager, asked me to take a seat and wait for a few minutes.  I remember checking my phone and noting that I was right on time.

I waited a few minutes.  Then, a few more minutes.  I checked the magazine rack that lay adjacent to my seat for entertaining distractions.  The National Geographics contained within were several years old.  I decided to stick with browsing my phone.  2:15.  From the general office area came a variety of voices.  Some loud, some quiet, some belonging to what sounded like males and some from females.  Most were in English, but I noted the presence of a conversation whose participants were speaking a language that I was unfamiliar with.  2:30.

By 2:40, I was beginning to wonder if I was in a real life version of The Sixth Sense where I had, in fact, died weeks ago without realizing it.  The beautiful part of having no job, obligations or prospects is that you really can afford to wait around endlessly without running the risk of infringing on other commitments.  As I reflected on this rather sad state of affairs, I heard a booming voice from down the hall shout:

“LISTEN, YOU TELL HIM THAT IF HE WANTS TO PISS AWAY HIS ENTIRE CASE OVER A FUCKING PARKING TICKET, THAT’S HIS BUSINESS.  EITHER WAY, I’M GETTING PAID!”

This outburst at least broke the monotony.  Inwardly, I hoped that the source of the voice would not be a co-worker that I would be spending much time with.  Seconds later, I heard my name being called.  This time, the voice was the same as the one I had spoken on the phone with previously.  It belonged to a young lawyer by the name of Samantha.  She was the firm’s junior associate and who I would be meeting with first.  We walked a short distance and entered her office.  I took a seat across from her, blew a strand of hair from my eyes and put on my best, “professional” face.

She gazed at my application and then hit me with a bombshell.  “So, I guess you must have really hated tax, huh?”  I must admit, I was taken off-guard.  Tax law is a memory that I had worked hard to suppress and had, by far, been my lowest mark.  No one had ever asked me about it.  I took a breath and decided to go for a jokey response.  Complaining about the early-morning session in which that class had been offered, I opined that I was not much of a morning person.  Samantha didn’t laugh or smile, but she did seem to be paying close attention.

“Yeah.  The truth is, I enrolled in tax law and then almost immediately dropped it.  It seems like I made the right decision.”  I made sure to quickly agree with her while simultaneously wondering if my jokey response had come off as something that a lazy asshole might offer as an explanation.  Samantha pressed on, asking me about my experience, what I was interested in and some questions about how I liked law school.  The conversation was easy enough and certainly improved after the tax law ambush.  Even still, I didn’t feel as though I had wowed her much.

After about twenty minutes, the conversation reached a lull.

Samantha folded up my application.  “Well, it was very nice meeting you.  Paul wants to talk to you, as well.  He’s the firm’s principal and has final say.  I think that he’s in the middle of drafting something, but should be with you shortly.  Would you mind waiting out in the front room?”

I certainly had no problem with doing so, but the feeling of being kicked out of Samantha’s office to wait even longer had a certain kind of bleak comedy to it.  Shaking her hand, I thanked her for taking the time to speak with me before heading back to the waiting room.  It was about 3:10 PM by the time that I had finished meeting with Samantha.  I figured that I would only be waiting a few minutes, especially after the long wait that I had initially.  Foolishness.

It was after 4 PM when I heard the booming, loud voice again.

“NOW, LET ME SEE STEVE!”

I awkwardly rose, unsure if I needed to be invited before strolling down to meet its source.  Instead, Paul came to me.  He pumped my hand and apologized for the wait.  He led me further down the hall to where his office was.  Shutting the door behind him, he took a seat behind his desk and leafed quickly through my application.  We must have sat in total silence for over a minute and a half before he looked up at me.

“So, what do you think is going to happen in the election?”

Realizing that safety was key, I elected (ha, what a fucking clever wordsmith I am) to respond safely.

“Well, I think it’s gonna be a minority government, whatever side ends up winning.”

Almost before I had finished my sentence, Paul had launched into an in-depth, impassioned lecture about the state of politics of Canada.  No facet of our apparently awful political system was off-limits or inappropriate.  I got an earful about Kathleen Wynne, about Trudeau, about Harper, about the utility of teaching sex-ed to high schoolers and even about Paul’s own, short-term brush with local politics.  I nodded and smiled until it felt like I had severed a vertebrae.  I quickly got the impression that Paul was not a man who liked to be interrupted, so I let him go.  It was about 4:40 PM by the time he took a breath and glanced back down at my application.

We chatted for about two minutes about my relevant experience and past jobs.  Paul explained that his firm was a start-up that he alone had funded.  He had been at it for about four years and was still in the red, financially speaking (I marvelled at how any of this was even remotely my business).  As it turns out, this economic discussion was the preamble to the explanation regarding why he could not afford to pay much.  I assured him that this was not a problem and that I understood his position.

He asked whether I was into sports.  I said that I wasn’t, but that I still somehow managed to be a decent human being in the absence of athletic pursuits.  He guffawed good-naturedly and rose from his desk.  I rose as well and we shook hands.  Leading me to the door, he mentioned that he would be in touch and that it was nice to meet me.  I thanked him for his time and was in the elevator seconds later.

My drive-home was the typical rush hour hell.  This was a blessing in disguise, however, as it afforded me a lot of time to think about the interview.  The entire experience was fairly unique and more than a bit amusing.  I had no idea whether I had done well.  If I am to be totally honest, it was not a position that I had a large amount invested in emotionally.  Still, I knew that securing SOME kind of articling gig was the key.  Whether it was a position that I was passionate about had long since ceased being a relevant consideration.

I was about fifteen minutes away from home when my phone rang.  Being a careful, law-abiding driver, I picked up my phone and looked at the screen.  I recognized the phone number of the firm as being the one I had just left.  A small jolt of excitement went through me.  Had I managed to lock down a second interview?  I decided to double-down on my careful driving and answer the call.

It was Samantha.  She greeted me and asked if it was a bad time to call.

“No, not at all,” I said, as cars whizzed by me in several different lanes.

“Okay, good.  Well, are you able to start tomorrow?”

The rest of the universe seemed to go silent.  All I heard was my own heartbeat.

“Excuse me?”

Samantha chuckled.  “Yeah, I know.  It’s a bit short notice, but we were wondering if you’d like to start tomorrow.”  I wasn’t sure if this was real life, but I knew that driving off the road and killing myself might end up being real.

“Uh, listen, can I call you back?  I’m just in the car and almost home.”  Samantha assured me this was fine and I hung up.

The rest of the drive seemed to pass at light speed.  I careened into the driveway and ran inside my house.  Neither of my parents were home.  This was momentarily infuriating, until I realized that this was a decision best made alone.  I paced like a manic around my living room for about five minutes before I picked up my phone and hit Redial.

Samantha picked up.

“Hey, Samantha.  It’s Steve.  What time tomorrow?”

 

 

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Articles of Frustration: Part 21 -Excuse Me?

8liw1a7bzfll

I think that this has, to date, been the longest period between entries.  Depending upon your bias, you may be feeling either thankful or entitled to an apology.  How should I know?  I’m not a mindreader.  Suffice it to say that a lot happened between this series’ last entry and its current one.  I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to tell you all about it.  I hope that I do.

September 11, 2015

I huffed and puffed as Simcoe Street slowly edged closer.  Being mid-September, the slightest hint of fall crispness had begun to permeate the otherwise balmy days.  My pace was attempting to balance punctuality with my fear of sweating through my clothes.  I was wearing a charcoal blazer, faded jeans and a buttoned up, checkered shirt.  If one had to encapsulate my look for that day, it would probably be something like “disheveled pseudo-professional”, or “tacky millennial chique”.  It was a little difficult to know exactly how to dress for something like this.  It wasn’t an interview.  It wasn’t a social call.  If anything, it was an articling recruitment post-mortem: I was finally going to hear from a professional, in detail, about how exactly I managed to screw up yet another job prospect.

These thoughts and other cynicisms raced through my head.  Stopping at a light, I took a deep breath and forced some inwardly-focused positivity.  Today was my meeting with Sheila.  She was back from vacation and I had taken her up on her offer to meet.  An earlier, more prideful version of myself would have brushed this invitation aside.  Nowadays, I did not have the luxury of pride or hubris.  Besides, I reasoned, she seemed to want to help me.  As bitter as the charity of others can taste, it sometimes becomes necessary to latch desperately onto any of its incarnations.  Even if a job at McCann was no more likely than the prospect of this blog becoming successful was, I needed to marshal all of the help that I could find.  I grinned ruefully to myself.  If nothing else, maybe Sheila could give me some pointers on how best to avoid fucking up another interview that I had managed to scrounge.

_________________________________________________________________

The weeks between the unsuccessful conclusion of the second Toronto articling recruit and my September 11th meeting had not been completely uneventful.  I can honestly tell you that the period of self-pitying paralysis did not last very long.  This has been alluded to before, but the job hunting process really does tend to toughen one’s sensitivities.  Losing out on the McCann job was especially difficult to swallow, but it was not as if total failure in this respect was anything new to me.  Previous, failed attempts at securing legal employment had not done in my resolve.   The latest edition of this brand of failure did not seem to have such power, either.  Instead, I continued looking high and low for any still-vacant articling positions.

I trolled Google, monster.com, Workopolis, the OBA database, the LSUC database and many other online resources in search of employment.  It did not matter anymore whether the positions were for the 2015-2016 period.  I would take anything that was paid and accredited.  By this time, I had gradually come to the peace with the idea that I would not be getting called to the bar in 2016.  It was not an easy prospect to embrace, but denying the reality of the situation has never tended to make the circumstances any more pleasant.  One day, however, a gem appeared in the form of an intriguing job posting.  The advertisement stated that a large, Canadian insurer was looking for an articling student for the 2015-2016 term in Toronto.  I think that my application was edited and submitted about twenty minutes later.

Besides the discovery of this tantalizing possibility, I had made the decision to commence the formal licensing process in Ontario.  Unlike in BC and a few other provinces, enrolling in the Lawyer Licensing Process (the Law Society of Upper Canada’s name for the procedure to accredit new lawyers) does not require one to have an articling position lined up.  While you obviously need to complete articling as part of the licensing process itself, you can get started on the other requirements (document submission, the bar exam and so forth) without having secured articles.  While perhaps a seemingly trivial point to some of you, making this decision was a pretty big step for me.  It had the effect of narrowing the scope of my job search to Ontario only.  There is something to be said for keeping your options open and applying broadly.  There is also something equally to be said for focusing on and concentrating one’s efforts when circumstances warrant it.  For better or for worse, I made the decision to select a singular path with a singular, jurisdictional destination.

In the midst of filling out the LSUC’s tedious forms and a few days after submitting my application for the in-house position, I got a call back from the insurer.  It’s not really a revelation to admit that I was excited.  Even then and even after all of that failure, I still felt a jolt of excitement and anticipation with each call-back.  In retrospect, I feel pretty fortunate that I retained this sense of fresh-faced excitement with each development.  I think that it fueled me and helped to keep the depressing, jobless sense of ennui at bay.  In any event, the phone call was made by a member of the in-house department’s HR contingent.  After a brief screening interview, the representative invited me to an in-person meeting that would occur the following week.  At the absolute minimum, it was comforting to know that I was not yet so irredeemable a candidate to be filtered out by a screening interview.  The in-person evaluation would be with the HR person and the head of the in-house department’s lawyers.  The venue would be the offices of the insurer’s legal department in the Yonge and Sheppard area of north Toronto.

Time, as it often does, seemed to crawl at a snail’s pace between the receipt of my invitation to interview in person and the interview itself.  I whiled away the time by trying to contain my excitement and by learning what I could about the company.  Jokingly, I asked my Mom and Dad if they had any advice.  More remarks were made about my limp-wristed handshakes and too-long hair.  I thanked them for their thoughts, regardless.

The morning of the interview came with a copious amount of humidity and threateningly dark clouds.  It was difficult not to take this as an omen.  My suit was pressed, the driving directions printed and my canned interview responses memorized.  Traffic was typically heavy for rush hour, but I made good time.  The only difficulty came in the form of locating free parking.  I have been informed since then that looking for free parking in a cosmopolitan area is entitled, silly and should be discontinued.  So, I found a side-street and parked in the apparently public lot of a seniors’ home.  Don’t worry, it was (nearly) empty.

That familiar, pre-interview stomach fluttering was in full-tilt as I waited in the reception area for my potential employers.  After a few moments, I was ushered to a small board room and introduced to a middle-aged woman (the HR representative that I had been in contact with) and an older man (the head lawyer for the in-house department).  We shared some initial pleasantries and small talk.  It soon became apparent, however, that the interview structure was largely scripted.  Both of my conversation partners had printed forms that they seemed to be reading off of and recording answers within.  This was not altogether surprising, as it has been my experience that most large corporations and government institutions tend to interview with a formalized, mechanical focus.  A lot of the items probed behavioural attributes and consisted of “Can you tell us about a time when you had to…” type questions.   The only question that seemed to throw me for a loop (and which was most certainly not scripted) was from the head lawyer.  Glancing at my transcript, he asked me why I thought it was that Legal Ethics and Professionalism was my highest mark in law school.

Chuckling in what I hope was a good-natured fashion, I told him that it must have just been because I possessed a keener sense of morality than most people.  He and his partner laughed, but not for very long or in a very genuine way.  Gauging that reaction for what it was, I expanded on my joke and talked a little about how interesting I found the class and how the professor’s eccentricity had kept me hooked (this was completely true).  They nodded to themselves and marked something down on their questionnaires.  Before long, they were asking me if I had any questions for them.  My queries were mainstream and safe.  I asked them about what a typical day would look like for an articling student at the office, what I could expect regarding hireback and some other, fairly boring stuff.  Promising that they would be in touch with me within three weeks, the duo shook my hand and thanked me for coming.

Looking back, I did not have particularly strong feelings one way or the other about my performance.  Unlike with the private firms, however, my dismay at not making an especially memorable impression was not as pronounced.  As mentioned, it is harder to establish lasting chemistry (and indeed, perhaps not as important to do so) when the employer is a large, imperious corporation that employs behavioural-based interviewing techniques.  Still, I certainly hoped that I had done well.  It was the insurer’s practice to ask for references and I had made sure beforehand that these were current and willing to speak positively.

_________________________________________________________________

My walk to the downtown coffeeshop where I had agreed to meet Sheila was mentally punctuated with a review of all of the above.  The insurer interview had happened about a week prior and I was still awaiting an answer.  I knew better than to start writing petulant e-mails inquiring about the status of my application.  There is a fine line between appearing industriously eager and coming off as obnoxiously insistent.  If in doubt about where the line is, do nothing.  In my case, I figured that asking Sheila what she thought about my course of inaction might be helpful.  To be honest, though, I really had no idea what to expect from this meeting, either.

I arrived a few minutes before our meeting time.  Sipping a hot chocolate, I checked my hair and did a last minute inventory of my suit jacket’s condition.  Sheila arrived a few minutes later.  We shook hands and sat at a window table that faced the street.  Awkwardly, I sipped my hot chocolate while Sheila sat beverage-less.  I asked her about her vacation and about how the rest of her summer had been.  She was as pleasant and friendly as I remembered her being during the articling interviews.

It was not long before the conversation moved on to brass taxes.  She asked me, rather seriously, how I was doing and if I was feeling all right.  Shrugging slightly, I relayed quite honestly that, while it sucked, I was rather used to failing.  After all, Sheila knew all along that my candidacy with McCann was part of my second foray into the articling process.  She nodded in an understanding fashion and said that it seemed as though potential articling students were hurting everywhere.  Giving me a slightly quizzical look, she asked me if I would consider the LPP as an alternate route to licensing.  Unsure of whether this might just be another test (of what, I cannot imagine), I told her that I thought that this plan was fraught with risks and that it was not palatable to me.  She nodded and told me that her thoughts on the system were similar.

The conversation moved from the state of the articling system to what my plans were.  I told Sheila that I would keep on plugging.  Also, I mentioned that I was awaiting to hear back from the insurer’s office.  Being in the insurance defence business herself, Sheila asked about the office and about who I had spoken to there.  Interestingly, she was acquainted with the head lawyer who had interviewed me and had, in fact, worked with him on a few files in the past.   As quickly as I realized that an opportunity had presented itself, Sheila was offering to send the head guy a reference e-mail on my behalf attesting to my abilities and speaking in favour of my application.  Again, I was taken aback by this person’s willingness to help me.  It was not a feeling of suspicion as much as it was a sense of wonder about why she was so eager to assist me.  She may have liked meeting and speaking with me very much, but she still had no way of knowing what kind of work I would be turning in.  Nor did she have any real idea of what kind of employee I would be.

Still, philosophical ponderings were not enough to have me start looking a gift horse in the mouth.  I gratefully accepted her offer and tried to emphasize how much I still appreciated any and all assistance.  She smiled kindly and assured me it was her pleasure.  Then, she frowned slightly and said something that completely threw me.

“You know, I’m in a bit of a bind when it comes to you.  As much as I like you and want you to find a job and get articling done, I’m not crazy about helping you get on with some other firm.  I don’t like the idea of losing you to someone else.”

I tried not to stare for too long in confusion.  It’s difficult to remember exactly what I said in response, but I think that I chuckled and said that I understood where she was coming from, or something.  The truth is that, back then, I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about.  In all honesty, I was very flattered and more than a little annoyed.  If she spoke as a representative of McCann and was unhappy with the idea of me getting on at somewhere that WASN’T McCann, why on God’s green earth wasn’t I hired by McCann?  Maddening though this line of inquiry was, I tried not to let it derail the rest of our pleasant meeting.  We shook hands and I thanked her profusely for taking the time to meet with me.  I also promised to pass along some contact information for people at the insurer’s office so that she could send along a reference e-mail.

I had a headache by the time that I got home, but it certainly hadn’t led me to any answers.

 

 

 

 

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Articles of Frustration: Part 20 – A Helping Hand

helping-hand

August 12, 2015

It must have been close to 8 PM when I finally arrived home.  The journey back had been a meandering mix of public transit and trance-like pacing.  Before I left the mall, I had made a quick, perfunctory call home to let my parents know what had happened.  That brief call chewed up the last of my cell phone’s battery life, so I had nothing but my own thoughts to occupy me during the commute.  But, really, what was there to think about?

I had failed.  Again.  The stars had, for once, aligned perfectly and afforded me with a truly golden opportunity.  Instead of finally enjoying the fruits of another grueling application process, I was once again immobilized by anger and self-loathing.  These few hours were some of the toughest. Getting shut out of the Toronto articling recruit for the first time in 2014 had certainly stung.  But, at the very least, I was able to cling to the excuse of still being some kind of rookie.  Though I eventually realized that such a rationalization was cheap and fake, it was still a lifeline to keep the emptiness at bay.  This time?  There was no excuse.  This was all me.

It didn’t matter to me that I was only one spot away.  As far as I was concerned, I might as well have never been offered an interview.  Throughout this series, I have emphasized the difficult “all or nothing” game that we, as applicants, play.   All that mattered was whether you got a job.  There was no middle ground, no continuum.  You won or you lost.  Up until this point, and for over two years, I had done nothing at all but lose.  Every first interview, every cocktail party, every intimate dinner had led to failure.  Was it the system’s fault?  Were the law schools to blame?  Could every, single potential employer that I had encountered thus far be comprised of near-sighted dunces?  No.  The fault lay with me.

It might come as a surprise to you that, by the time I did arrive home, I was not in the best frame of mind.  Kicking off my shoes, I went straight to my room and shut the door.  Both of my parents were home but, mercifully, were nowhere near the front door.  After making sure the door was shut tight and the lights were off, I collapsed onto my bed.  About the only thing I recall having the energy or drive to do was to plug my phone in.  Exhaustion had set in, but I was not sleepy.  I felt spent and listless.  Sleep eluded me, but I had long ago appreciated the incalculable worth of a nap-like sensation to the hearts and minds of the weary.  By 10:30 PM, I felt that I could finally face the world.  Plus, I was bored.

I grabbed my phone and slowly trudged upstairs.  My mom was watching a sitcom.  Plopping down next to her, we sat in silence for ten minutes or more.  One of the many wonderful qualities of my progenitors is their intimate knowledge of my psyche.  My mom, especially, knew that she didn’t need to say anything at all.  Sure enough, I broke our silence with some pithy comment about how my trend of success with job prospects was at least reliably stable.  Conversation came easily enough after that and, with it, some of the frustration and pain found its way out, too.  It’s so often the case that, when an outlet is desperately needed, our first instinct is to bottle up and avoid admitting pain.    It’s beyond the ambit of this entry to explain that impulse.  Suffice it to say that it’s a idiosyncracy that I struggled (and struggle) with.

It did not take very long before I began to feel better.  Like any failure of significant personal importance, this might take some time to bounce back from.  Ruefully, I mused that this was certainly not even near the first time that I have had to get up and dust myself off.  As the credits rolled on an episode of Seinfeld, I absent-mindedly checked my phone for…well, are we ever really looking for something specific?  I just checked it.  In all honesty, I was avoiding the unpleasant task of refreshing my university e-mail homepage for as long as possible.  I knew that there was a good chance that I would have to read at least one “thanks, but no thanks” cookiecutter rejection e-mail from the firms that I had most recently struck out with.  The prospect of doing so threatened to cause an acute relapse of my recently-subdued blues.

Facebook wasn’t becoming any more interesting after twenty or so minutes of refreshing the front page, so I decided to bite the bullet.  As I predicted, there was an e-mail by Articling Committee Chief Mike (from McCann) offering his commiserations and congratulations to all of us who had made the dinner but had not been hired.  Considering that many firms send nothing in the way of closing communications following a rejection, I had to respect the gesture on some level.  There was a similar message from a hiring representative at Sterling Cooper.  It is interesting to note that all of the firms I interviewed with during the 2015 recruit sent closing or rejection e-mails.  This stands in stark contrast to the firms that I encountered in the 2014 recruit – none of them sent rejection or thank-you e-mails of any kind.

Interestingly, there was also an e-mail from Sheila at McCann.  I could tell quickly that it was sent to me personally and not to the entire articling cohort.  It read something like this:

_________________________________________________________________

Hi Stephen,

I just returned to the office and see you were next in line when all of our
positions were filled. I can say I am truly disappointed. It was such a pleasure
to meet you. Please stay in touch and if by any chance you haven’t found something
please let me know I and I will do what I can to assist you.

Sheila

_________________________________________________________________

Despite everything that had happened, I must admit that I was a little taken aback as I read the words.  In a world full of cold, impersonal business decisions and being treated like persona non grata upon not receiving a call-back, this seemed a nice, personal touch.  Furthermore, this e-mail was sent after 11 PM.  This partner at a prestigious, well-regarded firm had taken time out of her precious leisure hours (when she absolutely did not have to) in order to message some rejected nobody and offer guidance.

Earlier on in this process, I remember telling friends and colleagues how sickening I thought it would be to reach out to a firm that had rejected you, hat in hand, for their help or guidance on what you could do differently in the future.  To a degree, I still find the concept rather abhorrent.  With that said, my situation at this juncture had deteriorated to full-blown desperation.  Plus, I just had some kind of hunch that Sheila’s perspective might be a little different.

Realizing that I had nothing else better to do, I drafted a quick reply e-mail:

_________________________________________________________________

Hello, Sheila:

Thank you so much for following up and for the kind words. It was a
pleasure to have met you and the other members of the firm during this
process. I, too, am disappointed that an articling position did not pan
out. I also very much appreciate the offer of help and if you happen to
hear of anything in Toronto (that hasn’t yet been hired) or be able to put
my name forward for something you hear about, I would very much appreciate
it.

Thanks again,

Stephen

_________________________________________________________________

Idly, I wondered if Sheila might get back to me by the next day.  It seemed silly to expect a busy professional like her to prioritize my troubles.  Still, it was surprising to get an e-mail like that from Sheila, at all.

My mom headed to bed just after midnight.  I followed suit a few minutes later.  Just before laying my phone aside for the night, I decided to refresh my e-mail, one last time.  Incredibly, a new message stood bolded atop the column of older messages.  It was another reply from Sheila:

________________________________________________________________

Stephen,

I am being absolutely sincere when I say you were my favorite candidate this year.
I am sure you are very disheartened right now but rest assured that it will work out
and that I will do everything I can to help you. As you know I am off on vacation
for the next two weeks.    Let’s plan to talk or meet for coffee when I get back. I am sure you are in no mood for jokes- but you can tell your parents it wasn’t your handshake, it is just a very bad market and a crazy system with a lot of flaws.

-Sheila

_________________________________________________________________

As poorly as August 12, 2015 ultimately turned out for me, I cannot deny that a feeling of warmth and appreciation spread through me as I read those words.  Not to drive home an earlier point ad infinitum, but consider the disparity in positions, here.  I was a failed applicant with nothing of really substantive value to offer to this high-ranking professional.  She had already gone above and beyond her duty by offering me advice and guidance during the interview process itself.  Now, with the hiring process long finished, she was making an effort to console and inspire me.  What’s more, she was pledging further help in a short-term timeframe.

There is no point in paraphrasing any more of this e-mail chain.  I replied to Sheila with my thanks and deep sense of appreciation for any help that she might be able to provide.  I went to bed that night with a deep sense of disappointment at everything that had happened, yes.  But, there was also a newfound sense of hope and possibility.  Despite failing once again at securing a job, I felt that I still may have gained something exceptionally valuable: an experienced ally and mentor.

It also struck me that I had forgotten, somewhere along the way, that this profession was made up of people.  You tend to think of these firms as imperious monoliths and of the lawyers within them as merely constituent parts.  But, the lawyers (and, indeed, even the prominent ones) are just people;  people with hopes, fears, disappointments and plans, decency and selfishness.  It had somehow escaped me that a lawyer from a firm that had ultimately turned me down might still be interested in my success and in my future.  This may sound a little more naive and idealistic than my previous entries, but it was quite a conceptual turning point for me.

Perhaps this process was more than just win or lose, after all.

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Articles of Frustration: Part 19 – Closure

decision

Note:  This post is the continuation and conclusion of a three-part miniseries.  In order to properly appreciate the context of today’s post, I would recommend reading Parts 17 and 18.  I love how pretentious that sounds.  It still astounds me that people actually read this stuff.

_________________________________________________________________

August 12, 2015

Sitting down to write about this particular day is interesting.  There is a maelstrom of different emotions that play out when I look back, over thirteen months ago, to August 12th.  A lot of you who read these entries are in contact with me on social media and are, therefore, aware that I was called to the bar, last week.  Believe me when I tell you that there were extended periods of time where it felt like such a milestone was unreachable.  It is best to save this for another entry, but I am very uncomfortable coming off as any type of “victim” of this process.  There were certainly times when luck and circumstance worked against me, but just as many (if not, more) occasions where I was the author of my own failures.  It is my sincere hope that the tones of these posts come off as candid and not bitter.

I’ve taken pains to highlight the position that I was in during August 2015.  I won’t go into as much detail here, but suffice it to say that this was my second attempt at a successful call day for the formalized Toronto articling recruit.  I had failed to secure articles in this process for the 2015-2016 year.  In addition, I had failed to secure a position in the intervening year outside of the formal Toronto process.  So, here I was, hat in hand, hoping beyond hope that I had finally made a good enough impression in the preceding two days to warrant an offer.  The line between success and failure would be determined on the basis of whether my phone rang at 5 PM.

I did not hold out much hope for an offer by Sterling Cooper.  Interviewing with them had been a case study on thoroughly average mediocrity (on my part).  There was no way I could realistically look back on my interaction with that firm’s representatives and come to the conclusion that I had made a lasting impression.  Instead of agonizing about that apparently lost opportunity (as I was wont to do earlier in this process), I focused on McCann.  Not only had the cocktail party and interview with them gone exceptionally well, but I had been selected for invitation to an exclusive dinner with the firm (along with a select subset of other applicants).  As well, it seemed that I had glowing recommendations and the support of at least two partners (Gary and Sheila – they had interviewed me during the afternoon of August 11).  Still, there weren’t and aren’t any guarantees.  Nine other candidates had been invited to dinner and McCann would be hiring three of us.

Once more, the weather seemed to toy with me.  It was a beautiful, sunny August day.  As fate would have it, my mother was hosting a patio lunch in our backyard for her colleagues in advance of her retirement.  I kept my mind off of the countdown by helping arrange patio chairs and making lemonade.  As each member of her department arrived, my mother enthusiastically introduced me.  Frequently, the subject of my status as a law hopeful came up and I received many pats on the back and commendations.  I smiled thankfully throughout, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was little more than an amateurish pretender.  If nothing else, at least the lunch seemed to go well.  I assisted with cleanup, anxiously alternating between checking the wall-mounted clock and my cell phone for the time.

By 2 PM, it had become obvious that I could not stay in the house any longer.  Though I had not by any means started the day off in a tranquil state of mind, my nerves were now getting the best of me.  This was an especially unusual restlessness for me – I loved hanging out around my house.  If I am to be truthful, I could not bear the prospect of yet another rejection occurring in the presence of people I loved and respected.  My parents have never come even remotely close to giving me the impression that they were ashamed of me, but I still could not face it.  They looked at me quizzically as I gathered some money and my phone charger.

“I have to go,” I mumbled, pulling my shoes on.

“Go?” my mother asked.    “Where?  Why?”

“I just…I can’t hang around the house for this.  I need to be somewhere else for this news.” My other shoe was on and my hand was on the doorknob.  They didn’t stop me or try to dissuade me or even downplay my anxiety.  They both just nodded.

“Have money?” my dad called from the kitchen.  I nodded, thanked him for asking and shouted something about seeing them later.   Available automobiles were a commodity in my household during that summer, and so I opted to take the bus.  The walk to the nearest major intersection seemed to take miliseconds.  I tried to think about literally anything but 5 PM.  The more I fought the visualization of disappointment, the stronger the urge to check my e-mail over the phone became.  This, in turn, led me to freak out about chewing through my cell phone battery without a chance to charge it by the later afternoon.

Boarding the first bus that happened by, I subsequently decided to await my fate at Square One mall.  For those of you outside the GTA, Square One is a large shopping centre situated in the “downtown core” of Mississauga (we don’t actually have a downtown core to speak of in Mississauga).  I cannot tell you exactly why I decided on such a location.  Somehow, I dreaded the prospect of awaiting such a phone call in total silence or seclusion.  The silence that would accompany bad news seemed even more deafening and oppressive in an already-tranquil environment, I felt.  There was something appealing about disappearing in plain sight among hundreds of shoppers that did not know me or the source of my anxiety.

The bus ride to the mall took about twenty five minutes.  Midway to our destination and at about 2:45 PM, I received an e-mail from Mike (the chair of the articling committee) at McCann.  My heart pounded, even as I realized that this was likely a group e-mail and that the firm couldn’t have communicated any kind of hiring decision in advance of 5 PM.   The note was indeed sent to all of the candidates who had attended dinner last night and went something like this:

Candidates,

Thanks for attending our dinner last night.  I trust you all had
opportunity to converse with McCann members thereat.

Due to the nature of the offer/acceptance process slated to commence at 5:00 pm
today, August 12, 2015, we hereby advise that until you hear from us one way or the
other you should consider that we have not yet filled our complement of student
hires.

I am off for a quick lunch now but should you have any questions before that
time, please feel free to contact me at XXX-XXX-XXXX

Good luck!

Regards,

Mike

Looking back, I must have read and re-read this very basic e-mail at least a dozen times in the ten minutes or so between when I received it and when my bus arrived at Square One.  Why?  Who knows.  My best guess is that I was attempting to discern (or, indeed, read into) hidden meaning in the message that might have impact upon my chances.  I walked, almost in a trance, through the crowded bus terminal and into the mall.  After far too long a time, I concluded that the message was just as it appeared and that I ought to relax and conserve my phone battery.  Square One has a bunch of shops and food, so I ambled about for a while.  It quickly became apparent that I was just play-acting at nonchalance.  My mind was stuck irrevocably on what would transpire in less than two hours time.

Eventually, I found a vacant bench across from the Disney Store and planted myself there.  It was 3:45 PM.  You know that sensation where time seems to pass at ten times its usual speed?  Well, it should come as no surprise that this anomaly of general relativity seemed to be happening directly in the space occupied by my bench and I.  It as if I had just slipped my phone into my pocket at 3:50 for a moment or two, only to reach back in, activate the screen to realize that it was 4:30.  Mere seconds passed and it was 4:45.  I double, triple and quadruple-checked that my phone’s ringer was turned on, that I had proper cell reception and that I was still breathing.

4:50.  Deep breaths.  You will get through this.  You’re great.  Any employer would be lucky to have you.

4:53.  Shallow breathing, fidgeting.  They aren’t going to call.  Why should this employer be any different than the preceding dozen?  Sign up for the LPP before it’s too late.  Go into the priesthood.  Try teacher’s college.

4:56.  Run your hands through your hair and massage your forehead over and over.  This isn’t real.  This is just a really trippy dream.  In a few seconds, you will wake up and it will be 2011 and you will be sitting down to write the first of many law school applications.  You still have LSAT studying to get done before the day’s end.

4:59:30.  Silence.

5:00.  I shut my eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath.  The ambient, white noise of the mall and its patrons seemed to blend into a unified, dulled-out din.  Nothing happened.  Anxiety bubbled up inside me and threatened to overflow.

Then, my phone buzzed.  It buzzed and the ringtone began to sound.  There was a fraction of a microsecond where I was sure that this was still a dream.  I opened my eyes and chanced a look at the screen of my phone.  It read “Incoming call” and displayed the telephone number of McCann that I had long ago memorized.

Somehow, I managed to get to my feet without running into someone or falling on my face.  I strode away from the bench as I felt an electrifying jolt activate every fibre of my body.  It was happening.  This was it.  I had pictured this moment for years.  My hands fumbled slightly as I slid the touch-screen button to accept the call.

“Hello?”

“Steve?  How are you?  This is Mike, calling from McCann.  How are you doing?”

I willed my tongue, lips and teeth to form actual words.  “I-I’m doing well, Mike.  How about you?  Busy day, I’d imagine.”

“You’re telling me!” Mike quipped.  I waited for him to continue.

He paused as well before going on.  “Well, Steve, we have a bit of a unique situation at hand, here.”  My endorphin rush suddenly looked over its collective shoulder.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes,” Mike continued, “and I wanted to talk to you about it.  As you know, we are hiring three people.  As it stands, we have just made our three offers.  One of the candidates has accepted our offer and the other two have asked for some time to consider.”

I felt as though I was in total free-fall.  I managed a dejected sounding “Oh”, or something similar.

“However,” Mike continued, “you are number four.  You are the next in line.  Should either of these applicants end up turning us down, you will be offered a position.”

So much for free-falling.  Instead, the anxiety came crashing back in a kind of awful wave.  Mike started talking again.

“So, I just wanted to canvass whether or not you are interested in remaining on our list or whether you have accepted at some other firm.”

In any other situation, there would be a certain amount of humour and irony that I would have experienced at being treated like I had received multiple offers.  Today, though, all I felt was a desperate impulse for self-preservation.

“Uh, no, no.  I am still very interested in the position and with working at McCann.  Please keep me on your list.  Could I, I mean, would you be able to tell me how long it might take for you guys to find out about these outstanding offers?”  There was a part of me that marvelled at asking so forward a question, but the presently desperate aspect of my psyche couldn’t care less.

Mike did not sound overly miffed.  “Well, unfortunately, we are governed by the rules of the Law Society regarding recruitment.  The rules say that applicants have until noon tomorrow to respond to offers.  I sure hope we hear before that and you will know as soon as we do.”

Hanging my head, I thanked Mike profusely for getting in contact with me and reiterated my interest in the position and the firm.  To his credit, he was honest, forthright and very understanding.  He invited me to give him a call back whenever I wanted to inquire about the status of the offers.  I ended the call and looked back toward my still-vacant bench.  No.  There was no way I could sit still.

The next thirty minutes were a frenetic mix of pacing the mall, checking my phone, clenching my fists and repeating steps one through three.  Square One is large, with long corridors and wide concourses.  I must have circled its perimeter in excess of a dozen times in the subsequent half hour.   In a rare moment of initiative (or desperation), I decided to call Mike myself and see what my status was.   At the very least, I thought, this spark of initiative that might make someone, somewhere at McCann view my potential candidacy with more favour.

Mike seemed to be expecting my call.  He told me, with admirable patience and understanding, that nothing had changed.  McCann would probably be calling each of the two holdouts in the next hour or so to see if they had made a decision.  Once that call had been made, Mike promised me that he would be in touch.  I thanked him yet again for his time and effort.  The adrenaline spike that comes with such huge up’s and down’s was wearing off.  I felt worn and exhausted.  I sank down into a nearby chair (Square One has lots of leather ones, thank God) and sighed.

Ten more minutes of thinly veiled agitation passed before my phone rang.  It was Mike again.

“Well, Steve, I promised that I would let you know whenever I had an update.”  Though not as powerful as before, a strong surge of mingled dread and anticipation flooded through me as I waited for him to continue.

“Another candidate has accepted our offer.  We still have one that we haven’t heard from, yet.  I just wanted to reiterate that you are the next on our list and that we will be in touch as soon as possible.”  Although I knew the news was far from good, defence mechanisms leapt to my aid.  I felt that the ordeal that I had gone through in the preceding hour had divinely entitled me to the third offer being rejected by the holdout and being presented to me.  It didn’t even matter that I didn’t (and don’t) believe in God/karma/fate.  I really believed that, for a moment.

I struggled to pay close attention to Mike’s closing words.  He told me that he would be leaving for the night in the next fifteen or so minutes.  Mike assured me that I could still call McCann’s office for updates and that Sheila would be staying late to field questions and provide information.  If anything, the prospect of more waiting was what I dreaded the most.  I was sick of waiting.  Waiting was exhausting and sickening.  I mused, in a moment of abject nihilism, that just getting an answer, any answer, would be some measure of mercy.

Ask and ye shall receive, it is said.  I ended up getting the relief that I craved in less than five minutes after Mike’s second call.  I recognized his voice, by now.

“Steve.  Turns out that we got an update just before I left for the night.  Our last offer has been accepted.”

His words seemed to pile onto me and weigh a hundred thousand pounds each.  I murmured something about that being too bad and how much I appreciated his assistance, almost by rote.

“If it’s any consolation, you really were the very next on our list.  I’m sure you’ll land something.  Best of luck.”

 

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Articles of Frustration: Part 18 – It Comes Together

breakthru

August 11, 2015

It was much brighter than yesterday.  The sunlight from outside the window appeared as thin beams that managed to penetrate the closed slats of my blinds.  Blearily, I checked the time.  Only 10 AM.  I laid my head back down on the pillow and shut my eyes.  What would the day bring?  As soon as this question entered my skull, I pushed it away.  The task that lay ahead of me should not be examined in terms of fate or destiny.  The day itself was not capable of bringing me anything, one way or another.  That was up to me.

The rest of the morning was a blur of showering, shaving, ironing and dressing.  It seemed almost second nature to be parking my car in the GO Train lot and boarding the express bound for Toronto.  While it was tempting to use my phone to furiously browse McCann’s website for the thirty-seventh time during my commute, I contented myself with staring out the windows.  While I had previously shot down the idea of fate playing any kind of role in my job search, I could not deny the favourable omen that the weather seemed to imply.  It was a cloudless, beautiful day.

The journey from the train station to McCann was a little farther than the one to Sterling Cooper had been.  Still, the prospect of a lovely summer’s day walk appealed to both my nerves and my sense of aesthetics.  I strolled leisurely up Bay Street, making a left at Queen and then hanging another right to go northbound on University Avenue.  The building that housed McCann was about 25 stories high, dark brown and had formerly been a headquarters of Zurich Insurance.  It was conveniently located directly across the street from one of Toronto’s largest courthouses.  How fortuitous, I thought, with a slight smile to myself.  Even now, my imagination was running away with the prospect of working and going to court on a daily basis.  Just the notion of DOING law as a job and finally stopping this nigh-unending cycle of application/interview/rejection seemed an incalculable treasure.  I realized, just then, how long it was beginning to feel since I had embarked on this insane quest for employment.  At that moment, I really did wonder if the search would go on forever.

These thoughts awash in my psyche, I arrived at the building and headed for the elevators.  Zooming up to a floor in the mid-teens, I exited and found the reception area.  For what seemed like the trillionth time, I flashed a smile to the receptionist and stated my business.  She advised me to take a seat and that my interviewers would be with me shortly.  Sitting across and to my right were a couple of fellow candidates.  Indeed, I recognized them from the night before.  We exchanged nervous, polite smiles before the male half of the pair engaged me in some light conversation about the day’s news.  We chatted for a few moments before Sheila stuck her head through the door separating the reception area from the inner offices and called my name.  After shaking her hand, Sheila led me to her office.  There I found Gary, already seated behind Sheila’s desk.  We exchanged similar pleasantries before the pair asked me to tell them a little bit about myself.

To this day, I don’t know what made the next forty-five minutes go as smoothly as it did.  It might well have been that meeting and spending time with the two during the night previous had helped break the ice.  It might have been that we just had great chemistry.  Whatever the reason, I just clicked with these two people.  After going over the basics of my résumé and experience, we got talking about our interests.  We chatted about books.  I mentioned that I had recently read The Shining, by Stephen King and Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius.  It just so happened that Gary’s daughter was in grad school for ancient philosophy, so that sparked a bit of a conversation about Stoicism.  Lucky break, but I was willing to capitalize on anything.  The conversation drifted over to film.  Sheila and I talked about our mutual enjoyment of Interstellar, even getting into a lighthearted debate about the quality of its third act.  Occasionally, I’d break out some crappy one-liner and they’d laugh.  Their laughs were reassuring, but not in volume or exuberance.  Instead, they were reassuring in their authenticity.  The pair seemed to really enjoy chatting with me and I with them.

Inevitably, the question of my status as a repeat articling applicant was brought up.  I had anticipated this and had several self-serving lies at the ready for why I had applied for Toronto firms in both the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 cycles.  By this point, however, I was feeling very comfortable and at ease with these two people.  Whether rightly or wrongly, I decided to be honest and contrite.  I told them of my previous failed attempts at securing employment in Toronto and of some of the mistakes that I had made.    Again, I detected nothing but interest and even a healthy dose of understanding as I told them a little bit about my employment tribulations.  Sheila and Gary mentioned that they were beginning to see an increasing number of second-time applicants and that the market was likely at fault.  While this may or may not have been true, it was certainly nice to hear when you were one of these desperately nervous, second-time applicants.  Ending with some humour, I quipped that my mother’s theory on my previous failures was simple:   my limp-wristed handshakes were to blame.

It seemed like only minutes had gone by when Sheila checked her watch.  She mentioned (seemingly as much as Gary as to me) that they had other candidates to get to.  They asked if I had any final questions.  I decided to recycle the one that I had used the day before at Sterling Cooper: “Do you get in touch with applicants on your short list at all before the formal call day?  Or, more specifically, do you host certain candidates for lunch or dinner?” My only moment of unease during the entire interview followed after asking this question.  Sheila looked awkwardly at Gary and they both sort of answered in an ambiguous fashion.  In essence, their reply was: “sometimes”.  I knew better than to push the issue.

I rose and clasped both their hands, assuring them that it would be my privilege to work alongside them and the other lawyers at McCann.  Sheila walked me out to the elevators.  Before I got on, she handed me her business card and we shook hands again.  She grinned at me.  “Well, make sure you tell your Mom that, this time, your handshake was just great.” I smiled back and got into the elevator.  Moments later, I was squinting in the mid-afternoon sun as I walked south on University.  The typical cogs were turning at full-tilt in my post-interview brain.  This time, however, they were unanimous in their assessment.  It had been an excellent interview and there was a substantial chance that I had made a lasting, favourable impression.  I decided to take advantage of the positive momentum and send my thank-you e-mails immediately.  I was even close to the Sheraton with the free lobby computers.

Still, every passing minute of silence weighed on me.  Call Day was tomorrow and, as much as I liked Gary and Sheila, I felt as though McCann would certainly be sending dinner invitations or some kind of pre-Call communication to its favoured applicants.  The walk to the Sheraton took no longer than ten minutes.  I had to wait for a computer to become free.  Once it had, I quickly signed onto my UVic e-mail account and plugged my cell-phone into a nearby outlet.  After being in these kinds of competitions for so long, all of the housework portions seemed nearly second nature.  I was about to click “Compose” on the homepage of my e-mail when something caught my eye.  It was the bolded text of a new e-mail.  The subject line read “Dinner invitation” and the sender was someone from McCann.

My heart rate quickened and I quickly gathered that it was Sheila who had sent it:

“Hi Stephen,

This may be sooner than you were expecting to hear from us!  We were wondering if you would care to join us tonight for dinner at 5:30 PM.  Give me a call back to discuss at your earliest convenience.

Thanks,

Sheila”

It’d be absurdly funny if I were to tell you that I delayed calling back for a few hours.  The truth is that I had my cell phone in my hand mere milliseconds after my brain had finished processing the last word of Sheila’s e-mail.  I called her number and Sheila picked up after a couple of rings.  Try as I did to play it cool, excitement seeped into my voice.  Sheila told me that the dinner would be held at Frank, which was the restaurant attached to the Art Gallery of Ontario.  She also mentioned, somewhat apologetically, that she wished she could have told me about it at the interview.  She went on to explain that she had to confer with her colleagues and the articling committee before any formal invitations were sent.  I laughed inwardly at the absurdity of a partner at a prominent law firm apologizing to me over anything relating to hiring.  Still, I assured Lisa that it was no problem and that I looked forward to seeing her and the others at 5:30 PM.

After making the requisite, excited call home to advise my family of my progress, I went to lunch with a friend who resided in the area.  In retrospect, it may not have been wise to stuff my face with Pho just a couple of hours before an important dinner, but I was too giddy to care.  My friend graciously listened to my excited yammerings about the dinner and how much I liked the firm and what my chances of getting hired were likely to be.  I wolfed down my lunch and went for a final walk with my pal towards the Art Gallery.  We split up about a block away from the restaurant.  Hugging me, she wished me the very best of luck and asked me to let her know how it went.  Good friends really are a priceless commodity.

I straightened my tie, took a quick look at my reflection in the gallery’s windows, inhaled deeply and entered the restaurant a few minutes after 5:30.  I was one of the earlier people to arrive.  Only a couple other applicants preceded my arrival.  We chatted amiably, still uncomfortably aware that we were in direct competition.  The restaurant had set up a smaller, standing-room “cocktail area” just adjacent from where we would be sitting down for dinner.  It became quickly apparent that tonight’s festivities would open with another version of yesterday night’s larger cocktail party.  I milled about the room, taking care to talk to everybody (especially members of the firm).  It was a relief to see Gary and Sheila arrive.  Understandably, I gravitated towards them.  Interestingly, they sort of blew me off.  At first, I was perplexed, but Sheila soon came to my rescue.  Leaning in, she said: “You already have mine and Gary’s vote, but you need to focus on all of the other members of the firm who you haven’t gotten to know as well.”  I nodded my thanks to her and moved on to another partner.

The formal dinner commenced at just after 7 PM.  I was seated between two partners (one of whom was Mike, the articling committee chair) and across from three applicants.  Seated to my left and at one of the heads of the table was McCann.  He was an amiable, older gentleman who had tons of funny practice stories.  The menu was prix fixé and had a number of options.  Ultimately, I selected a tuna salad, steak dinner and chocolate mousse as my courses (I only mention this because the thought of such delicious food makes my mouth water – please don’t take my food selections as any sort of guide to articling success).  Looking around the table, I counted roughly ten applicants and eight members of the firm.  McCann would be hiring three people.  While math was never my strong suit (and after several furious minutes of doing advanced equations in my head), I deducted that I had a 30% chance of success if I did absolutely nothing at all.  As always, I didn’t care for these odds.  So, I worked as hard as I could to make myself memorable and likable during the next three hours.

It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure.  You must contribute enough to conversations with near strangers so as not to be a doormat, but not so much that you get a reputation as overbearing.  The applicant seated directly opposite of me seemed to be a born schmoozer.  He easily breezed in and out of conversations with the firm members and pretended to listen whenever another applicant (like me) had something to say.  Upon careful scrutiny, one would realize that he wasn’t actually speaking substantively to anyone who wasn’t already a member of the firm.  It seemed as though this guy would be my main competition, or, at least, the one guy seated close enough for me to be compared against.  On a fortuitous note, I observed that he wasn’t all that funny.  I decided to use that to my advantage, punctuating his longish stories of surfing in Australia or working on a farm with caustic one-liners.  Mind you, these one-liners were not at his expense.  Even if I was enough of a prick to do that, it comes off as transparently mean-spirited.  Instead, I tried to let his stories have punchlines and for these punchlines to be mine.

Looking back, I’m a little disgusted at how much I had come to view this evening through the lens of shrewd, strategic planning.  I don’t feel as though I did anything immoral or underhanded.  In fact, the schmoozer and I spoke a little when the dinner had broken up and he seemed like a perfectly nice guy.  The fact is, however, that we had to do what we could to come off well.  More than that, we had to do what was necessary to appear better than seven other people.  Though the evening was tiring, I was happy with my performance.  I had struck up a rapport with both Mike and the partner seated next to me (both of whom I had only met briefly the night before).  In fact, the partner seated adjacent to me took it upon himself to introduce me to an associate seated further down the table and strike up a conversation between us.

After dessert and coffee had been served and consumed, Mike stood up and politely asked for our attention.  He told us that the restaurant would be closing shortly and how nice it had been to meet us all.  Mike also stated that the firm would be meeting during the earlier part of the next day to discuss prospects and would be in touch with us in accordance with the Law Society of Upper Canada’s policies on recruitment.  With that, people slowly got to their feet and began the process of clasping several dozen hands.  While I made sure to say my good night’s and thank you’s to everyone, I made a special effort to thank Gary and Sheila for their help and guidance.  Gary pulled me aside.

“Listen, Steve.  You’re a great candidate and I’m telling you now that you absolutely have my vote.  But, did you make sure to talk to the other lawyers tonight and let them get to know you?”

“Yeah…I-I really think I did.”

“Then, I think that’s all they needed.  The rest is out of your hands, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about.”  He smiled reassuringly at me and patted my shoulder.

Though it was after 10 PM, the city was still alive with the energy that only summer generates.  Anxious though I was for my second Toronto Call Day, I felt a hope coursing through me that had been conspicuously absent the year before.  It felt as though, at last, I had found a firm that I jived with and who I had connected to.  Despite having just met them, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of warmth and gratitude towards Sheila and Gary.  Here were two people who, not only took the time to meet me on three different occasions during the last two days, but who had also given me advice and guidance on how to succeed at this process.  The last two years had made me cynical and suspicious about being led on in an employment sense, but I was thankful that I still had the capacity to feel valued.

Yet again, I called home during my walk to the train station.  My mom answered.  I filled her in on all that had happened since my update in the afternoon.  She listened intently and told me that it all sounded really good.

“Yeah, honestly, this year was way different.  The scheduling was obviously a lot easier, but something just felt…right.  It was easy to talk to them, you know?  I tried really hard to connect with the people there.”

“Did it work?”

I stopped for a second and looked up at a clear sky packed with stars.

“I think it might have.”

 

 

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Articles of Frustration: Part 17 – The Swing Of It

swingofit

Or perhaps it’s really not as deep
As I’ve been led to think
Am I trying much too hard?
Of course! I’ve been too close to see
The answer’s right in front of me
Right in front of me

It’s simple really, very clear
Like music drifting in the air
Invisible, but everywhere
just because I cannot see it
Doesn’t mean I can’t believe it

One, free autographed picture of me to the first person who correctly places the source of the above quote.  No googling, now.  There must be some honour among thieves.  Of course, you will either have to pick up the picture or pay for shipping and handling.  I am running a business, not a charity.

In any event, these words occurred to me many times during the hunt for articles.  They tended to resound more strongly towards the tail end of my journey, which we are now approaching.  Was a constant string of failure responsible for distorting my view of what success required?  Could it be that I was treating this entire process with too much formulaic procedure and not enough gut intuition?  Given that this was my SECOND go-around with the formal recruiting process in Toronto, I was willing to entertain just about any notion that I hadn’t previously  considered.  I couldn’t afford not to land something.

The law job market was such that, for people on their second trip aboard this insane merry-go-round, treatment by potential employers was understanding and sympathetic.  Many people that I interviewed alongside for the 2016-2017 cycle were repeat candidates. Employers seemed to understand that desperate times called for desperate measures and they were, for the time being, willing to keep an open-mind towards candidates in this situation.  A third-time applicant was a different story.  At that point, there was a nigh-incontrovertible perception that there was something off about you as an employee.  There was a certain whiff of it, even now.  After all, I did not manage to secure interviews at any organization in Toronto where I had been interviewed the year previous.

I had met up with friends downtown on the Friday prior to 2016-2017 articling interviews.  We went for dinner and then to a friend’s condo for drinks.    All of them were fellow UVic Law alumni who were about to begin articling.  It was no secret that I had not yet secured a position, and my friends would never have held it against me.  I had not, however, told them that I had applied for the 2016-2017 cycle or that I had interviews scheduled for the next week.  It was, admittedly,  difficult to even want to hang out with them in the first place.  Although the summer had been good and I had been feeling quite upbeat, the stress of still looking for a position and of not knowing whether one would ever materialize still got to me.  Try as I might to push these thoughts of inferiority aside, they still drifted to the surface.  Again, please understand that this was not at all the fault of my friends.  They chattered excitedly about the start of their articles and about the future and they absolutely deserved to.  It was just a little hard to hear.  I left early, that night.

_________________________________________________________________

August 10, 2015

This was a Monday.  The weather started off pleasant, bright and hot.  As the day progressed, clouds rolled in and fat raindrops began to sprinkle the street by dusk.  At this point, it is perhaps useful to invent (or in my case, rip off) the names of the firms where I would be interviewed.  Let’s use Sterling Cooper and McCann as our monikers.  Both firms were in insurance defence and both are considered boutique or verging on mid-sized (25-30 lawyers, though I recall Stirling Cooper having more).  Stirling Cooper was where I had an interviewed schedule for noon on August 10th.  McCann would be interviewing me at 2 PM on August 11th, but had a cocktail party scheduled for 7-10 PM on the evening of the 10th.

Some research had revealed that, in fact, Stirling Cooper did both personal injury and insurance defence.  This is relatively uncommon among Toronto firms practicing in these areas.  Nevertheless, I reasoned that a position with an organization practicing on both sides would offer unique insight into the insurance business, itself.  As well, Stirling Cooper was located directly on Bay Street.  This SHOULD mean nothing, but I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t get just a little bit of a charge out of the idea that I may be working on Bay Street.  For those of you unaware of the ridiculously stereotypical beliefs that prevail among naive law students, Bay Street is often seen as the apex of legal success.  All of the “best” and “brightest” firms are located on Bay Street and, concordantly, these firms only take the best candidates.  If you are reading these words and rolling your eyes, I’m pretty sure that you and I would get along great.  Still, though, I felt a certain sense of excitement.  Previous applications to Bay Street firms from yours truly had all been unanswered.

Once more, I boarded the GO Train bound for Union Station in my good suit and newly purchased shoes.  During the ride into the city, I did my best to relax but mostly ruminated on whether or not I should walk to the building or take a cab.  The firm was located very far south on Bay Street (and, therefore, quite close to Union Station), but I was concerned with the humidity and the resultant possibility of sweat stains.  I was wearing a white shirt, after all.  The clouds had begun occluding some of the sunlight as my train reached its destination, so I opted to walk at a leisurely pace to Stirling Cooper.  Far from being an imposing skyscraper, the building that was home to the firm was small and thin.  It seemed as though the larger architectural behemoths had grown up and around it.

The elevator ride up seemed to take mere seconds.  I patted my hair into a slightly more acceptable style before stepping out into the reception area of the firm.  Feigning a relaxed, confident smile, I introduced myself to the receptionist and took a seat on a leather couch.  Across from me, a younger man with an air of nervousness sat with legs crossed.  We chatted blandly for a moment or two before two of his potential employers whisked him away for an interview.  I sat for a few more minutes and pondered my possibilities.

In some ways, it sucked that I had only two interviews.  This was 50% fewer than I had in Toronto in 2014.  My mantra had always been that more interviews equal more opportunities and more opportunities equal a greater chance of success.  That may be true, strictly speaking.  But, there is really something to be said for having interviews scheduled in a way that is as relaxed and stress-free as possible.  A year ago, I had been running around like a mad man and catching cross-country flights at the last minute.  I had tried to do everything at once.  I had failed.  Now, I didn’t have that problem.  I could afford to devote a much greater amount of time and effort to the interviews that I did have.  Still, I wondered how much this would pay off (if at all) during the next few days.

These musings were interrupted by a male’s voice calling my name.  Taking a deep breath, I rose, turned and extended my hand to the first of four people that I would be meeting with.  We spoke for close to an hour.  The interview was split into two halves, with a pair of associates interviewing me at any given time.  The first pair included a man and a woman.  The second pair were both women.  The course of our discussions was fairly standard.  They asked me to go over my resume, I answered.  They wanted to know why I was interested in Stirling Cooper, I gave a reply.  Interestingly, they also asked what I would do with myself for the year between when I was being interviewed and when I would (hopefully) be starting as an articling student.  I had not been asked this before, obviously, but I didn’t feel too thrown by it.  Truth be told, I had wondered the same ever since I had chosen to go through with applying for the 2016-2017 positions.  My answer included a mix of studying, writing and passing the bar exam while also looking for short term, contract work in the insurance field (perhaps in an adjusting role).  The interviewers were fairly poker-faced, so I cannot say with certainty whether such an answer pleased them.

Soon enough, the well of questions on the employer side of the table dried up.  They asked me whether I had anything that I wanted to know about them or the firm.  My questions tried to strike a balance between safe and unique.  I recall asking them to go through what a “typical” day for an articling student at Stirling Cooper might entail (obviously a safe question, but not very unique).  My second or third question pertained to whether the firm was in the habit of contacting people that they were interested in prior to Call Day (a fairly unique question, but not nearly as safe).  I received a decidedly ambivalent answer to my second query.  Sometimes, they would take people out to lunch, but it really depended and they did not have a firm procedure in place for this kind of thing.  Swallowing the bitter taste of finding out essentially nothing, I assured my interviewers that these were all the questions that I had.  We shook hands, I mentioned that it would be a delight to article with Stirling Cooper and that I hoped to hear from them soon.

The elevator ride back down to ground level seemed to take a lot longer than its ascending counterpart.  As always, I scrutinized the preceding hour, bit by bit.  It had certainly not been a bad interview, or even below average.  But, I could not get over the fact that it had not been particularly memorable.  I hadn’t really clicked with anyone and, besides one or two laughs, I doubt whether I had made an indelible impression on anyone.  Normally, this would not be instant justification to begin pulling one’s hair out, but I felt that success, at this point, depended absolutely on being as memorable as humanly possible.  Unlike last year, I did not have the luxury of many other firms or interviews to leap around to.

Several hours remained until my cocktail party with McCann.  Luckily, one of my friends from the Friday hangout was still in town and looking to kill some time.  We met on the basement level of the Sheraton hotel and camped out in a booth at Druxy’s.  A trick of the trade that I had learned early on was to send thank-you e-mails to your interviewers as quickly as possible following an interview.  It just so happened that the Sheraton had lobby computers with internet access that were free to the public.  I shot off a few of these monuments to ass-kissery before heading downstairs to meet my friend.  He was taken aback by my suited-up appearance and I quickly explained that I had an interview earlier that day.  I didn’t go into too many details and he was a good enough guy not to pry.

We chatted about life at UVic and where various classmates had ended up.  He talked a little about his articling job and the people there.  For some reason, the articling talk did not bother me nearly as much.  I listened with interest as he talked about some of the files that he was working on and where he hoped to be in a few years.  Just being with a friend for a few hours and chilling out before a hoitey-toitey event like a cocktail party is something I came to be enormously grateful for.

Bidding goodbye to my friend by 6:30, I popped my umbrella open and walked over to the McCann event.  It was being held in a meeting room at the University Club.  I had never been to the University Club before, but had heard enough about it to realize that it was a slightly old-fashioned social club that was not at all cheap to join.  My dread increased with each footstep.  Here it came, the single most distasteful aspect of the entire articling recruit: the cocktail party.  It was and is nothing more than an additional interview clothed in the phonyness of a relaxed, social event.  It was yet another chance to come off as charming, funny and intelligent as possible..or, just moreso than the 40 other syncophants who would be eyeing you the entire evening.

Though the bitterness that I had about these events had not receded in years, I murmured a silent oath to myself: I didn’t care how horrible or vapid the evening would be.  I would be staying until all of the hosting lawyers left.  This was not the time to be awarding myself the self-righteous luxury of leaving early just because I found the entire production ridiculous.  This was do or die.  At the same time, I made myself a second oath: I would NOT drift around on my own for any extended period of time.  Unlike in 2014, a self-evident truth revealed itself to me – the whole point of these fucking events was to MEET people and get your name out there.  It does not matter how uncomfortable you may feel with doing it, you MUST speak to everyone and get to know everyone.  That is the only way forward.

With these affirmations tucked comfortably into my superego, I strode confidently into the meeting room and froze.  I was, quite honestly, the first non-firm member there.  The gathered lawyers concluded their conversations and awkwardly moved toward me.  I recognized one lady immediately as one of the people who would be interviewing me the next day.  We’ll call her Sheila.  Cursing under my breath at how terrible this was all starting, I moved towards Sheila and shook her hand.  We introduced ourselves and she mentioned that she looked forward to seeing me the next day.  Horribly awkward small talk followed before she gave me the brush off and suggested that I talk to some of the others.  It felt like hours had passed, but probably just a minute or so had elapsed.  I was STILL the only applicant there.

But, incredibly, the night only got easier.  The room quickly filled with fellow hopefuls.  The toughest part really was the beginning.  After awkwardly sidling up to an ongoing conversation the first couple of times, the next fifteen are a relative breeze.  I met everyone, including McCann himself.   I also met Gary, who would be interviewing me alongside Sheila on Tuesday.   I shook more hands than I could count and I actually interjected in conversations, instead of just meekly watching them.  If I had to describe it using an analogy, I would compare it to having your Mom or Dad finally let go of you when you’re learning to ride a bike.  The lead up feels awful, but, eventually, you’re just doing it without noticing.  By two hours in, I realized that I had met and had substantive conversations with over 80% of the lawyers gathered.  Incredibly, I had also managed to reach some common ground or relating point with just about all of them.  They had all laughed at one point or another in response to some crack that I made.

The previous philosophizing that I had done about spending more time on fewer interviews also rang true.  The meeting room had emptied out considerably by the final hour and the lawyers noticed.  Feeling motivated by this, I grabbed another drink (Coca Cola, of course) and joined a nearby group conversation.  Being a student from the University of Victoria was, again, quite a boon.  The firm generally did not receive applications from the west coast and it seemed liked its employees wanted to know about life in BC and whether I enjoyed it.  At the very least, it was an incredibly useful ice-breaker.

9:55 PM came and Mike, a partner and the firm’s articling commitee chair, was milling around and apologetically informing the remaining applicants that we had to leave so that the University Club could close.  I pumped Mike’s hand, Sheila’s hand and just about everyone else’s hand that I could find.  Finally, after many a “Thank you” and several a “I look forward to our meeting tomorrow”, I left.  The rain had let up and the humidity had lessened considerably.  I strolled south on University Avenue towards the train station and wondered why it had taken me so long to get the hang of cocktail parties.  More pertinently, I wondered if I had a real fighting chance.  Not to drown you with comparisons to my experiences in 2014, but I genuinely felt like I had connected with the people at McCann moreso than with anyone at any other firm previously.  In some ways, I never thought that would be possible for someone like me.

 

 

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