Articles of Frustration: Part Six – This Will End Well


July-September 2014

I cannot deny being disappointed at how things had gone in Edmonton and in Hamilton.  As well, I had not managed to acquire a summer job of any kind.  Looking back, those months of idleness might have been a blessing in disguise.  Not having much in the way of actual responsibilities gave me the freedom to search high and low for articling opportunities.  It also allowed me to thoroughly prepare for the main event of this entire process: the mainstream articling recruitment for Vancouver and Toronto (scheduled for July and August).  Each of these cities had different application deadlines and call-back schedules.  Applications for articling gigs in Vancouver were due (roughly) two weeks before their Toronto counterparts.  Similarly, interview call day happened about two weeks earlier for Vancouver than it did for Toronto.  For the benefit of my non-law friends:  these were for positions that would not be starting until the summer of 2015.  Many people were shocked to learn that I was applying for positions so far in advance.  I tried not to take this as an indictment of my long-term planning skills.

On a more nebulous level, the summer months of leisure were also months of healing for me.  Second year had really been awful.  I left school in April feeling exhausted, hurt and bitter.  There were times during that summer where I envisioned going back to school and keeping totally to myself for the rest of my time there.  As I’ve canvassed earlier in this series, I had a lot going on that led me to feeling this way.  Being back home and with friends who were blissfully ignorant about law school, the job hunting process and the environment generally was very therapeutic.  That summer was filled with barbecues, late night downtown wanderings and a ton of laughter.  I would often go out driving along Lake Ontario with nothing but my thoughts to keep me company.  It felt right, as cliched as that sounds.

In the background of this emotional renaissance, I kept my eye on the deadlines for articling applications.  By the time that applications for Vancouver became due, I had crafted a fairly boilerplate cover letter for most positions.  I made slight changes depending upon the practice area of the firm.  Generally, however, most of my cover letters said the same thing and targeted firms that were practicing some type of insurance law.  A few of my applications went to government institutions (like the DOJ) located in the Vancouver area.  For these, I tended to emphasize my interest and experience in criminal law matters.  I honestly cannot say whether standardized cover letters are a good idea.  Having spent some time on admissions committees at the university level, it does become fairly obvious when a personal statement is copy and pasted.  With that said, I feel as though some amount of standardization is necessary if you are planning to apply en masse (as I was).  Overall, had applied to roughly 25 articling jobs in Vancouver.

As mentioned, the deadline for Toronto applications was about two weeks later (in early July).  Toronto is, quite frankly, massive.  The careers office at UVic sent out a spreadsheet showing the organizations that were hiring and the number easily exceeded 100.  Furthermore, this list did not include every organization in the entire Toronto area that was looking for articling students.  My process, while similar to the one I employed for Vancouver, was a lot more involved and lengthy.  When it was all said and done, I sent out over 55 applications for firms in the Toronto area.  Once again, the bulk of these (perhaps 85%) targeted firms that practised a substantial amount of insurance law.  The rest went to criminal defence firms and government offices.  I continued using a fairly standard cover letter.  In the case of Toronto, using highly standardized materials was more of a necessity.  Creating 55 totally unique cover letters was something that I (rightly or wrongly) thought was beyond my capabilities.

The call-back day for interviews for Vancouver was, again, scheduled to take place on a specific day and hour.  While it was to take place two weeks or so prior to the call day for Toronto interviews, I had still sent out all of my Toronto applications before I was to hear from Vancouver.  Feeling significantly more apathetic than I had during previous call days, I dutifully waited by the telephone on a Friday morning in late June for calls from Vancouver.  I had heard from a few people that Vancouver firms were slightly easier to crack (in terms of marks and the quality of paper applications) than Toronto firms.  Before my west coast friends reach for their pitchforks, experience has proven this to be untrue for me.  Nonetheless, I  wondered then if I should use my performance on Vancouver call day as a barometer for what to expect in Toronto.  Calls were supposed to start flooding in (lol) at 11 AM EST.  Once again, 11 AM came and went.  By 11:30, I defiantly decided to have a shower and not even to CHECK my phone until I was completely towelled off.

Emerging from a mist of steam and self-loathing, I checked my phone and found only a frustrated text message from another law friend who had heard nothing from Vancouver.  This was especially striking, as this friend is substantially smarter, harder-working and better looking than me.  She also had way better marks.  As much as I want to see my friends do well, I took a little solace in knowing that I was not alone in my rejection.  I think that it is a testament to the maturity that goes on during this process that I was not as bothered as I might have been six months previously.  Certainly, I was annoyed and more than a little aggravated, but it honestly bothered me less than I expected.  More than anything, I wondered what this meant for my prospects in Toronto.  I called up my parents (then on a visit to Alberta) and ranted angrily.

The rest of the weekend passed fairly uneventfully.  On Monday afternoon, I was carrying on my lazy, summer existence when my cell phone rang.  Taking a look at the number, I was surprised to see a Vancouver area code.  I answered and discovered that it was ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) calling about an articling position that I had applied to with them.  The man on the other end of the line was pleasant and jocular.  He admitted that they were not able to call on Friday due to some renovations going on in the office.  Taken more than slightly aback, I blanked when the gentleman asked me when I would like to come in for an interview.  I selected a Monday, at 9 AM in the morning.  This, incidentally, was the very first time slot for interviews with ICBC.  Promising to e-mail me a confirmation, the man bid me goodbye and hung up.  I was pleased, but mostly just surprised.  I had never heard of an organization participating in the formal recruit and NOT calling on the prescribed day.  I smiled to myself and looked forward to the trip to Vancouver.

Before going any further in this account, I must confess that I have neglected to mention something.  While it is true that the timeline and schedule for application deadlines and call backs for interviews happened at different times for Vancouver and Toronto, I have so far not mentioned exactly when the proscribed interview weeks for these two cities would occur.  I guess it is disingenuous to call them interview weeks, since they were both scheduled to happen on the exact same week.

That’s right – the very same week.  And, no, not at different times during that week.  First interviews were scheduled to happen on Monday and Tuesday for both cities.  Contingent second interviews and offer call day for both would occur on the Wednesday of that week.  I knew of this all along and I decided to apply to both cities, just the same.  The thought process that I had maintained throughout this entire process continued to prevail: I did not feel confident about my chances at securing many interviews and I wanted to increase my odds as much as possible.  I figured that it was more desirable to have too many interviews and have to cancel one or two than to have not applied widely enough and find myself with none.  I had thought, at least as of Friday, that this would not be problematic following the lack of calls from Vancouver.  Instead, I was again facing that familiar dilemma – put all of my eggs in one basket, or attempt to balance a ton of them precariously?  Perhaps this would all be for naught – I might not get any calls from Toronto firms.  At any rate, I had selected my interview time in Vancouver strategically – even if I made the insane choice to interview in both Vancouver and Toronto in the same week (surely impossible), I at least had a fighting chance to make it back to Toronto in time for interviews on Tuesday.

Before long, Toronto call day was upon me.  I awoke for 8 AM, pad and paper in hand and expectations prudently lowered.  8 AM arrived.  At 8:01, the phone rang.  Following that call, it rang again.  And again.  And again.  I finished with four calls from downtown Toronto firms (all practicing insurance defence in some major capacity).  “Elated” is not a strong enough word to describe the feeling I had at FINALLY making substantial process on Call Day.  Before patting myself on the back TOO hard, I had to evaluate that impossible problem that I had never dared to believe was possible.  I had too many interviews in too many places in too short a time span.  Should I cancel the interview in Vancouver?  Could I afford to do that?  Could I afford not to?

In scheduling my Toronto interviews, I had already made sure they would all take place on Tuesday (the second day of interviews).  It did not seem likely that I could simply call back and reschedule all of them for Monday if I did decide to cancel in Vancouver.  In effect, I had already invested in my Vancouver interview by scheduling all of my Toronto interviews later than an interested candidate ought to have.  Taking a deep breath, I elected to keep my appointment in Vancouver for the morning of Monday, August 11th at 9 AM.

As if this was not rushed enough, all of the firms who had invited me to interviews in Toronto had also invited me to cocktail parties.  For two of these firms, the cocktail party would not be happening until the Tuesday evening (which would not represent a problem).  For the other two, the parties were scheduled on the night of August 11th.  They also required an RSVP – it was not an option to simply not attend and hope that you would not be noticed (this was unlikely, in any event).  I had a very difficult decision to make.  One of the firms’ parties was scheduled to happen from 5-7 PM on the evening of the 11th.  Even with the benefit of supersonic flight, I could not hope to make it back to Toronto in time for that.  The second took place from 6-9 PM.  Did I dare RSVP to that one?  Was it even possible?

The plan was this:  my interview with ICBC in Vancouver was at 9 AM PST.  The latest I could make an appearance and not look like a jackass to the firm in Toronto was 8:30ish PM EST.  There is a three hour time difference between Vancouver in Toronto.  I found a flight departing Vancouver for Toronto at 11:15 AM on the morning of the 11th (i.e. following my ICBC interview).  In other words, I would need to catch a flight scheduled to leave Vancouver at 11:15 AM following the conclusion of an interview at 10 AM in downtown Vancouver.  The flight was scheduled to touch down in Toronto at 6:37 EST in Toronto.  I would grab a cab, head directly downtown and hopefully be at the firm by no later than 7:45 EST.   Everyone I spoke to told me it could not be done.  Everyone I spoke to told me to decline the invitation to the cocktail party and just make a great impression on the day of my Toronto interviews (August 12th).  Everyone told me that this plan was doomed to failure.

I did not listen.  I booked the flight departing Vancouver at 11:15 AM and I sent an enthusiastic e-mail to the hiring coordinator for the Toronto firm who was holding the August 11th cocktail party to confirm my attendance.  I had committed to interviewing in Toronto and Vancouver over the same 48 hour period that would consist of (at minimum) five interviews and three cocktail parties.  None of this is exaggerated in any way.  Looking back, I knew that I was playing this very close to the chest.  I just could not wrap my head around actually turning down any interview, after having worked so hard to procure them in the first place.

On August 10th, 2014, at about noon, I boarded a plane bound for Vancouver.



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