Articles of Frustration: Part 16 – The End is Only the Beginning


July 2015

The search for an articling position eventually led to me repeating a lot of my previous steps.  You know how, in horror movies, the protagonist will often end up in some kind of labyrinth and eventually find that they are going in circles?  They are usually not aware that they have retraced their steps until it is too late and a murderer looms behind them.  In my case, I was wholly cognizant of the path that would lead me in a circle and I still elected to walk it.  The murderer in my analogy is perpetual employment and/or the prospect of living with my parents by the age of 45.

It’s always challenging to write these in a way that maintains truthfulness and still appears fresh and interesting.  With that said, it makes me gag a little to point out, yet again, that I had just about lost hope of securing an articling position for 2015-2016 by July of 2015.  Most of my Toronto-based colleagues were weeks away from beginning their placements and I still had nothing even a little promising on the horizon.  The Careers Office at the University of Victoria, meanwhile, was sending more and more literature on 2016-2017 positions and what the relevant deadlines were.  Looking back, I don’t think there was one, single moment that I decided to apply for 2016-2017 positions.  Rather, it was the culmination of a slow, depressing chain of events that led me to this most undesirable of necessities.

What was I going to do differently?  What could I do differently?  It seemed as though a lot of my misses in the year previous had been close ones.  In considering what my strategy would be this time around, I more or less decided to take a more focused approach.  I would not rely as heavily on sheer volume of applications.  The truth of the matter is that I’m not entirely sure whether this was the product of pragmatic thinking or just sheer exhaustion at the thought of another fifty applications.  I also considered whether it was worthwhile to apply in Vancouver, at all (see Parts 7 and 8 of these diatribes for more detail).  Flirting with jobs on either side of the country over the same interview week proved nearly disastrous in the past.  That same loser mentality remained, however:  apply to as many jobs as humanly possible – this will maximize your chances and you are not an attrative enough a candidate to do otherwise.

As much as I would like to say that my plan of attack was dramatically different this time, I followed a lot of the same patterns.  I DID apply in both Vancouver and Toronto, but I did so with fewer applications that were nonetheless drafted with greater care and individuality.  The cover letter + resume combos of July 2014 were a testament to bland filler material.  It was my background in insurance that had landed me those interviews , not the wishy washy garbage that permeated the substance of my applications.  This time, I spent considerably more time and effort on tailoring each cover letter.  They were all still template-based, but I made a point to individualize each of them with a couple of lines that applied exclusively to the firm or organization that I was applying to.

Accordingly, the destinations for all of these applications were also more targeted.  I avoided applying to firms that had only tenuous connections to the areas of law that I was interested in.  Whether I should apply to firms that had interviewed (but not hired) me last year was an open question for a few weeks.  I ultimately decided to re-apply, since I figured that this would stand me out in some way from many of the other applicants.  A former associate at a large, national firm had advised me that his hiring committee looked positively on applicants who were re-applying after having been interviewed in the past.  It is obviously difficult to say what the truth is, but I did not end up having any success with hearing from firms in the 2016-2017 recruit that had interviewed me in the year prior.

Other than the above, the application process was mostly the same as it had always been for me.  I spent the deadline day in bed, undressed, with my laptop propped up on my chest as I submitted application after bloody application.  5 PM finally arrived, but I furiously sent out applications for another fifteen minutes, anyway.   I reached the end of my list, heaved a sigh and shut my eyes.  After a moment of pessimistic self-reflection,  I shut down my laptop.  Relaxation arrived in the form of a hot shower.  Whilst lathering and conditioning,   I wondered idly whether I would make a good bathroom attendant at a classy hotel.  The day ended with dinner alongside my family, lakeside.  If memory serves, I had bacon and eggs for dinner.  This was oddly fitting, since I had spent most of the day in pyjamas.

The next few weeks were typical.  My days consisted mostly of refreshing my inbox’s webpage and lazily searching for any 2015-2016 gigs that I may have overlooked.  I also started doing online surveys and consumer opinion questionnaires on my preferred beer and cigarette brands for $0.25 USD, apiece.  It was the closest thing to a real job that I had in nearly two years.

In contrast to the year before, I did not receive any advance communications from firms that planned to call me.  As expected, I received some PFO e-mails (“PFO” is an acronym that we candidates use as a codeword for communications that signify rejection and that stands for “please fuck off”).    More concerning, however, were the reports I kept hearing of people who HAD heard from firms in advance of call day. These reports were courtesy of the excellent gossip-mongers and Type A personalities that frequent  I must hand it to them – at least they had the cojones to actually post anything.  A guy like me only has the strength necessary to check for updates and weep bitterly.

The days passed and my list of potential call-backs grew thinner and thinner.  Allow me to illustrate the source of my unease with an example.  Also, let’s introduce a new acronym into our lexicon: ITC.  ITC stands for “Intention to call” and simply refers to a firm that calls or e-mails you in advance of Call Day to let you know that they WILL be calling you on that day.  Silly?  Yes.  Redundant?  You betcha, but consider the following:   let’s say that you and your friend both apply to a biggish-sized firm in Toronto that sends out  ITC’s .  While you are both excellent candidates, imagine that your chum receives an ITC about a week beforehand from the firm.  Also imagine (hard as it might be to do so) that you hear nothing from said firm.  The generally agreed-upon wisdom is that, if a firm sends ITC, anyone who does not receive them in advance of Call Day will not be asked to attend an interview.

It is an oddly Toront0-centric practice and one that I had experienced both in the articling recruit in the preceding year and during the OCI process.  It seemed like every day brought news of two or three firms (that I had applied to) that had sent out ITC’s.  Concepts of the 24-hour night/day cycle evaporated for me.  Instead, the days cycled as follows:

  1.  Initial anxiety at learning that a firm that I applied to had sent ITC’s.  This was the nicest part of the cycle, as it lasted only 5-10 minutes, or however long it took me to read and have the information sink into my brain

2.    Temporary hopefulness coupled with resentful compulsions to refresh my e-mail                   inbox at least a dozen times per hour to find my own ITC’s.  This was the lengthiest               part of the cycle and lasted anywhere from 12-24 hours.

3.     Impotent anger and depression mingled with a mundane sense of acceptance  at the               realization that once I would not be getting an ITC, or, therefore, an interview.                         The duration of this part was usually in excess of 36 hours.

One of the few comforts was that, to my knowledge, Vancouver did not participate in sending out these in-advance notifications.  Thus, I could look forward to (golly, what a laugh) a total crapshoot on the day of Vancouver’s call day.  It allowed me to imagine, however hilariously, that I could be looking at a ton of Vancouver interview offers.  Imagining something and seriously considering it are, thankfully, quite distinct.  Regardless, Vancouver’s Call Day marched forward and, at last, arrived a couple of weeks before Toronto’s (just as it did during the 2015-2016 cycle).

I will save you unneeded verbosity and tension.  Not a single call arrived from Vancouver.  The bright side was that this was only one call less than I had received from Vancouver last year.  Overall, this was a modest 100% decrease.  In seriousness, the silence from the west coast firms neither surprised nor particularly dismayed me.  I had somehow come to realize slowly that Ontario would be where I ended up for articling.   In fact, I think that I had slowly begun tailoring my applications as such.  There was a certain amount of cart-before-horse thinking in such a trend, but more on that later.  With the spectre of having to interview again in both Toronto and Vancouver dispelled, I could focus my nervous energy on waiting for Toronto’s firms to get in touch.

The morning of Toronto’s call day was grey and overcast.  I awoke at the appropriate time, slumped in an armchair and ensured that my cell phone had bars.  My outlook was no sunnier than the weather, but I honestly felt so fed up with everything that my normal anxiety gave way to a kind of irritated apathy.  The firms wouldn’t call me?  Fine, fuck them.  I’ll find some other way.  I’ll just keep going.  I don’t need them.    Bold words, but just words.  They repeated themselves in a nigh endless loop, morphing into the beginnings of a mantra.  My parents spoke in hushed tones over coffee in the kitchen as the clock struck 8 AM.

At 8:05, my cell phone rang.  The number had a Toronto area code.  My heart leapt and my shaking hands fumbled with the phone as I picked up.  It should come as a surprise to none of you that it was an insurance defence firm that rang me.  The lady on the other end sounded pleasant and enthusiastic.  I quickly scribbled down the date and time of the interview (and even the name of the firm) before thanking her for her time and hanging up.  My parents cheered from the other room, God bless them.  The firm name was obviously familiar to me, but I did not recall much about them.  They were not a repeat from last year.  For someone who had heard exactly nothing before Call Day this time around, having even one interview lined up felt nice.

Out of habit more than anything else, I sat by my phone some more.  I did not expect to receive any more calls and each passing minute seemed to confirm that theory.  Last year, all four calls had happened in under fifteen minutes.  My reflections were interrupted by my phone’s ringtone.  It was 8:30 AM.  I wondered, for a split second, whether the last firm had called me back to inform me that a mistake had been made and that my attendance was not necessary.  Answering hurriedly, I listened intently as the male caller informed me of his name, the firm he was with and its intention to extend me an interview.  Besides the timing of the call, its source also confused me.  This firm had sent out ITC’s weeks ago, I had heard.  Was I the sloppy seconds?  Were they settling on me because more attractive candidates dropped out?  Questions fought questions inside my skull as my hands shakily scribbled down instructions.

I thanked my potential new employer and assured him of my excitement concerning the opportunity before ending the call.  A loud cacophony of excited hooting and hollering came from the kitchen as I hung up .  I smiled.



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