December 2013 – June 2014
After Toronto OCI’s, I returned to Victoria in a fairly sorry state. I finished the semester, wrote exams and headed back home for the holidays. Not that it was much of a consolation, but my failure at securing an OCI gig was echoed by many of my Toronto-based friends. I did not hear about it until much later on, but many of my colleagues (Vancouverites and Torontonians alike) were truly disheartened by their lack of job. You often feel, unfortunately, that you have to put on a brave, unconcerned face to your friends and fellow peers in the wake of failure and bitterness. It never really occurred to us that talking and venting to one another would be likely to help. How sadly ironic.
When I returned to the west coast for the new semester in January, I knew that I needed to make some changes to preserve my sanity and motivation. It would be an oversimplification to say that I was feeling under the weather solely because of job prospects. As canvassed earlier, however, a compounding sense of professional failure is never particularly conducive to mental health. With that in mind, I made the difficult decision to look into counselling and therapy on campus. I eventually made my way into a weekly group therapy session that I faithfully attended every Friday, from January to April. As a rule, I try not to exaggerate or over embellish my account of things that I have experienced. With that said, the weekly group sessions were a godsend. They allowed me to vent, talk about vulnerabilities that I had and provided a safe, anonymous forum in which to air my unhappiness. The group really, truly helped me.
As I came to improve on a personal level, I realized that summer legal employment was not in the cards. I continued to be on the lookout for last minute postings, but no more interviews panned out. As such, I made the decision to begin hunting for articling positions. While I had not yet finished my second year of law school, the postings for articling positions were already rapidly appearing. By March 2014, I had several applications out to jobs all over Canada. My first call was from a firm in Ottawa. As it turns out, they were actually looking/calling for someone named “Stephanie” and had called me by mistake. To this day, I’m not sure what the odds are on calling the number of someone actually named Stephen, who had applied for a job at your organization and actually intending to call someone named Stephanie. I suppose that is just my luck with this entire process.
Other than that, the interview process stayed fairly quiet for the rest of 2nd semester. In retrospect, this was likely a blessing in disguise. Finishing a busy semester and doing so while you are still in the process of rebuilding your self-confidence and sense of happiness seemed enough work. I finished the semester, packed up my belongings and left for home for the summer. I remember leaving that last exam, escaping out of a side door in the law building and not looking back even once. After a school year like this one, I was ready to make myself scarce fairly quickly. Even today, I wonder at that: was it unfair to my friends and the people who enjoyed my company to leave so quickly and with so few goodbyes? Was that my right? Are both questions capable of being answered in the affirmative? It is hard to say. I certainly have no regrets about my decision, but I seemed to discover only after the fact that my colleagues and peers noticed how quickly I left. That will always be a Catch 22 of going to school in a small, tightknit community: try as you might, just about everyone knows your business.
In any event, being home was great. I took what I had learned in my weekly therapy and applied it to my personal and professional life. Beginning at the end of April, I began sending a flurry of articling applications to firms and government offices scattered around Southwestern Ontario. In this area (which included towns like Hamilton, London, St. Catherine’s, Windsor, Cambridge, etc), the articling interview process was standardized and scheduled for a specific week in late May (unlike the main articling process for Toronto, which commenced in July). My total application output was somewhere around 40 for the firms in this region. At around the same time, I also began sending out applications for positions in Alberta. Interestingly, the “standard” articling interview process for major Albertan cities happened very close in time to the Southwestern Ontarian one.
Instead of focussing on the misfortune of my missed OCI chances, I tried taking a hard, critical look at my conduct during those interviews and applications. Were my cover letters too standardized? Did I not come off as memorable enough in the interviews themselves? Could it be that I was missing some critical element to securing law jobs like these? I realized that, while I had likely said many of the stereotypically “right” things in these interviews, I had said little that was not already articulated by all of the other hopefuls. Realization came in the way of a simple maxim: make myself memorable (preferably positively) to the firms and organizations that I was interviewing with. In doing so, I revamped my cover letter, attempted to cater my applications more exactly to the specific organization for which they were intended and considered new ways to present myself in interviews.
By early May, I had a phone call from an insurance defence firm in Hamilton. The firm numbered about ten lawyers and practised in the downtown core of that city. Feeling happy and somehow more measured than I had previously, I took a commuter train into the city on a warm, Tuesday May afternoon. Once at the firm, I met with a young, male associate who spoke to me for over an hour. That had been, to date, the longest any one interviewer had ever spent with me. I felt the same tenseness and rigidity at the beginning of the interview that I had in all of the previous ones. This time, however, I sought to apply my new strategy for interviews. Instead of answering questions lamely as they came, I worked to turn the meeting into a conversation. Before long, my interviewer and I were trading stories about weirdos that we had encountered in law school, shenanigans that had went down at law games and what a great city Hamilton was (it was hard to keep my eyes from rolling at this juncture).
Nevertheless, the interview went very well and the time truly seemed to fly. All interviews are subject, somewhat, to the innate chemistry between the parties. However, I felt that my efforts to change the predictable dynamic of these encounters had paid off. The interviewer mentioned twice that I should attend a wine and cheese reception that the Hamilton Bar Association was throwing for all of the firms and all of the prospective articling students vying for positions. The reception was scheduled for two days from the date of my interview. Shaking my interviewer’s hand, I thanked him for his time and assured him that I would make myself present for the soiree.
Sometime in the two days before the reception, I received an e-mail from the Alberta Justice Department. In it, the Department invited me to an interview that would happen on either the Monday or Tuesday of the next week (depending upon my preference) in Edmonton. I was absolutely surprised and delighted to hear back from this organization. I had not, so far, had any success breaking into either the government or criminal justice bars. An interview with Alberta Justice offered me the chance to break into both. Of course, I would have to pay my own way and accommodations. I quickly accepted the interview offer, however, and selected the slot on Monday to have my interview.
Shortly after, on Thursday, I suited up once more and took an evening train into the heart of Hamilton. The reception was being held at a Victorian Era social club on one of Hamilton’s main streets. Not knowing at all what to expect, I climbed a set of stairs into a handsome, old-fashioned looking building. Once inside, I found myself in a multi-room complex that was packed to burst with associates, partners, current articling students, and articling hopefuls. Feeling my heart sink, I took a name tag, filled it out and navigated my way through the crowd towards a bare piece of wall. I glumly helped myself to a small hors d’oeuvre and began wondering how long I had before I needed to start looking for asses to kiss.
No sooner had the thought occurred to me than a younger woman walked straight towards me from the crowd and introduced herself. Gazing at her own name tag, I was elated to discover that she was a lawyer at the firm I had interviewed with, two days prior. At the time, I thought that this was merely great luck. It had NEVER occurred to me that this associate had been on the lookout for me. Making small talk for a moment, I eventually admitted, “You know, this is a lucky coincidence. I actually interviewed with your firm a couple days ago.” Looking at me with a slight hint of confusion, the associate reply, “Oh, of course. I know that.” That is when it dawned on me: she had been looking around for me, ostensibly per someone’s instructions. I do not emphasize this point to be self-congratulatory: I emphasize it to highlight my total disbelief at seeing a firm express such interest in me (particularly AFTER an interview).
Within five minutes, another associate from the firm joined us and introduced herself to me. My wildest hopes for the evening had already been surpassed. I had expected that I might, hopefully, run into the associate who had interviewed me and be introduced to a few other members of the firm. Instead, two associates had taken it upon themselves to look through a crowded party for me. Shortly after, they led me to the part of the gathering where other members of the firm were congregating. Once there, they introduced me to the managing partner/articling committee. We shook hands and the partner mentioned that he had been very interested in my application and had been the one to make the decision to book me in for an interview. The partner also led me around to meet other members of the firm who were present.
Since this was the only interview in Hamilton that I had landed, I was again self-conscious about the many other applicants who drifted between different firms and who had a variety of prospects. In actuality, my single interview proved advantageous: I was able to stick with one group of people the entire night. I made sure to speak to everyone, be as personable and funny as I think they could stomach and ensure that I hung around for most of the night. In turn, the firm (I think) got the sense that I was particularly interested in them and their people. Whatever the exact quantum of feelings, things were going well.
The night wore on and the party began to thin. While it is important not to leave prematurely, it is equally prudent to know when you are lingering too long. Just as I was about to start canvassing my exit strategy, the managing partner approached. Leaning in slightly, he mentioned that the party was dying down, but that the firm was headed out for dinner and drinks. He then suggested that I join them, to which I enthusiastically agreed. The partner also asked along another articling hopeful. Together, the ten or so of us exited the party and walked down the street to a pub that the firm frequented. Once we had a table prepared for us, the awkward stage of deciding where to sit began. Just as I was about to tentatively rest my ass somewhere, the partner loudly declared that I would sit beside him. We ordered food, drinks and I listened to the staff talk about difficult judges, annoying counsel and funny in-jokes. Admittedly, I listened a little more than I spoke, but I struck up several great conversations with the people seated near me.
By about 10:30 PM, the bill had been paid (by the managing partner) and we were getting ready to leave. The female associate seated to my right (and to whom I had been speaking quite a bit with throughout the evening) asked me where I had parked. I told her that I had actually taken the train in and that is how I would be leaving. She gaped at me and told me that I shouldn’t be taking the train at this hour. I had mentioned to her previously that I was from Mississauga. Being that she was from Toronto (for which Mississauga is a middle point between Hamilton and Toronto), she insisted on giving me a ride home. I really could not believe my luck. I had heard of certain, lucky applicants being taken out for dinner, but I had never heard of a member of the firm insisting on driving a potential applicant home. Ensuring over and over that it was not an inconvenience to her, I ultimately acquiesced to her offer.
Our group left the bar and proceeded to split up for the night. Before splitting up from the managing partner, he took me slightly aside and said how nice it was to meet me. I reciprocated and mentioned again how interested I was in the firm. The partner mentioned that they would not have taken me out to dinner if they were not interested and asked me to call him on his personal cell number the very next day. Clasping my hand, he bid me goodnight and reminded me again to call him before we split up. I followed my chauffeur/potential employer to her parked car.
On the car ride to Mississauga, the female associate and I shared law school experiences, some of our favourite classes and what we were interested in for extracurriculars. I did my best to ask her questions about her practice and the firm. She answered all of my questions in a forthright, polite manner. Before long, we had reached my house. I thanked her emphatically and told her, earnestly, that I hoped to hear from the firm soon. That night was Thursday and offer call day for Hamilton was four days later on Monday. Stepping into my house , I smiled in relief and felt that my new outlook might just have made the difference.
As instructed, I called the partner on Friday. We spoke for about 20 minutes and I did my best to ask questions that were intelligent and that demonstrated a genuine interest in the firm and their practice. I felt that I made a good impression and that the partner was just as interested as he had been the night before. He invited me to call him at the same, personal number at any point over the weekend. I elected, perhaps unwisely, to leave him alone and not bother him over the weekend.
My only difficulty, really, was yet another scheduling conflict. I would hear back (or not) from the Hamilton firm on the same morning that I was scheduled to be in Edmonton to do my Albera Justice interview. What if I had spent over $1000 to go to Edmonton for this interview only to find out two hours beforehand that I was being made an offer in Hamilton? I realized that I could not possibly take the chance and cancel the interview, so I elected to follow through with my plans to visit Edmonton and wow the bureaucrats of Alberta. I was Edmonton bound.