How to avoid getting an articling job

Some bad habits never seem to go out of date. Here is a reprint of an article we wrote years ago about the silliest and simplest mistakes that applicants for articling positions make, over and over.  Amazingly, the same mistakes are still being made:

For decades, there has been much concern about those students who fail to find articles, so that they can learn some practical skills before being unleashed on the unsuspecting public. The fundamental problem, from my point of view, is that law schools pump out far more law graduates than the profession needs or can absorb. But universities make a lot of money from their law schools, so this problem is getting worse, not better.

The Law Society has pleaded with firms to take on more articling students. Many firms won’t (including our own), finding that articling students take up too much time, energy, money and space for what they can contribute to the work of the firm. It’s often worth it, if the firm is planning to take students back, i.e. to add new lawyers, but many firms do not plan to add new lawyers every year. Some lawyers, exhausted by the coming and going of students, have turned to paralegals for the work that articled students used to do. Other tasks, such as looking up cases, can now be done on line. The Law Society has now chosen to resolve the problem by allowing students to enter the practice of law without having articled at all. Let the client beware….

So would be articling students do face a real mismatch: too much supply, not enough demand. In this tough environment, it is even more important to avoid unnecessary weaknesses in the job search. Based upon my experience,  a surprising number of law students have not learned the basic skills for obtaining any type of professional job, paid or unpaid. Last time I did try to hire an articled student, I was so astonished that I summarized the common errors in what I hope will be useful tips for future applicants. Each is drawn from an amazing number of actual applications.

TEN EASY RULES FOR AVOIDING ARTICLING:

  1. Make mistakes in the name of the person or firm you are applying to. This will demonstrate your attention to detail and your respect for accuracy, which are so important for a lawyer. Better still, make two different mistakes in different places.
  2. Don’t proofread your letter or resume. Typos, spelling mistakes and improper punctuation demonstrate your importance and your respect for the person reading the letter. After all, who has time for such petty stuff?
  3. Send a generic cover letter that has nothing to do with the firm you are writing to. Tell a specialist firm how much you look forward to general practice; tell a sole practitioner that you want to rotate between departments. This will showcase your research skills.
  4. Get your application in late. Only wimps worry about artificial deadlines. The recruiter may not look at resumes on deadline day anyway.
  5. Make sure your attachments are incomplete. Enclose your transcript with a note from the Dean that it must be read with another document. Don’t enclose the other document. This is a test; if the recruiter really wants you, she’ll ask you for the missing document.
  6. Pay no attention to how your letter and resume look to a reader. Fold them so they won’t lie flat in the recruiter’s file. Make sure the pages are loose so that they scatter when the envelope is opened. Leave blotches and whiteout. Never waste money having them properly typed & printed on good paper. Show the unimportance of presentation skills in a competitive profession marketed by the hour.
  7. Be mysterious; don’t tip your hand. Assure the reader that you have a good explanation for that poor mark in Evidence, and promise to let him in on the secret during the interview. Surely recruiters will be happy to gamble their free time on the chance that your explanation is a good one.
  8. Don’t enclose reference letters. Make the recruiter spend the time and effort to phone your references if in doubt whether to interview you. Better still, state “references available on request”. Don’t let a potentially interested recruiter check up on you without your knowledge.
  9. Don’t do anything to get ready for your chosen field. Avoid volunteer work. Wait for someone to pay you to learn about it.
  10. Remember, the world owes you an articling job of your choice, with all the perks. After all, you worked pretty hard in law school. So what if you don’t have top marks? You need an articling job, therefore recruiters have a moral obligation to hire you. Don’t let them forget it!

Dianne Saxe

PS, yes, this is meant to be a satire…. And no, sorry, we’re not looking for an articling student. Thanks anyway.