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2018-04-05

How to find your first job as a lawyer: 5 tips from your peers



This is the time of year when articling students go into panic mode. I understand what it’s like. Very few don’t want to be hired back.

I wasn’t hired back myself. Although I was considered for an associate position by my summering firm, I wasn’t your typical articling student.  I had chosen to clerk for the judges at 361 University instead, and am still proud of that decision.  It was this trajectory that led me to where I am today.

Through networking, I landed my first job as a lawyer at a national law firm, where I stayed until I launched my coaching practice.  Since then, I have helped hundreds of articling students transition to find their first job as a lawyer.

If you’re reading this article, I know things might be a little emotional or uncertain at the moment. At the same time, I wanted to let you know that you can get through it with confidence and class! So…

…I’ve enlisted the help of three clients (pseudonyms used) from last year’s hireback season to share their thoughts and experiences on how they handled their job search.  Here are 5 tips and insights:

1. Check in with your emotions and put things into perspective

The hireback process and ensuing job search can take a toll on a new-call’s well-being. For Kimberly, the hireback decision was stressful because it wasn’t transparent:

“It wasn’t clear how the decisions were being made – people would constantly mention the concept of “business cases” but as an articling student, I had very little knowledge about how such cases were made or what I could do to demonstrate I was a good business case for the firm. This lack of knowledge about what was happening behind closed doors made it difficult to believe that if I did excellent work, that would be enough.”

When Kimberly wasn’t hired back, her confidence levels dropped:  “I still didn’t have a clear idea as to what I could’ve done differently, which definitely affected my self confidence for some time.”

Kimberly’s advice to those waiting for hireback decisions is, “don’t worry.” She recognizes that this is easier said than done, and admits that getting hired back can seem like the most important thing for your career at that stage. But, on reflection, she says that:

“it was a blessing in disguise for me. I ended up finding work that was even better suited for me and that’s something I could not have imagined while preparing for hireback decisions.”

Not getting hired back may hurt for the first little while, but it’s important to dust your shoulders off and move on. If you are having trouble recovering from the hireback decision, consider reaching out to the Member Assistance Program.

For many, the hardest part of a job search is the emotional energy it takes. To manage this, Onyi says it’s helpful to “remind yourself what skills you have and the assets you will bring to a workplace.” She also encourages social interaction with friends from law school and upper year students who have gone through the process. Onyi says, “it’s great to hear you are not alone!”

2. Start your job search early and take a well-timed break if you need one

All three clients had something in common: they started their job search early.

Even though Kimberly regrets not taking a longer break after articles, she believes it was a good time to be looking for work:

“I began looking for work as soon as hireback decisions came out in May. Prior to my call to the bar at the end of June, I wasn’t receiving many responses. However, I began to receive invitations to interviews in early July and had an offer of employment by the end of July.”

Fortunate for Kimberly, many smaller firms were hiring associates around mid-late summer. Johnny experienced the same thing.  He ended up landing an associate position at the end of August, and believes his early start helped to minimize the gap after articling.

Onyi began her job search during articles since she knew that she wasn’t going to be hired back. However, she found the summer months to be more productive since employers were more interested in her once she was called to the bar. She also went on holidays for a week, and had this to say about taking a break: “I don’t think it impacted my job search.”

Taking a break is important for building a reserve of energy, especially when it comes to a job search.  Timing a break, however, can be tricky.  With the right planning though, you can take advantage of the legal profession’s rhythms throughout the year.

I worked with Onyi to develop a strategy whereby she spent most of June and July setting up and conducting informational interviews (prior to when most lawyers take summer holidays), and then took her own vacation at the end of July. The offer that Onyi eventually accepted came to her while she was lying on a beach in the Caribbean!

3. Lifelines for your job search and conducting informational interviews

If your firm provides outplacement coaching, consider yourself lucky and use these services to their fullest! This may be hard to believe, but because I do a lot of hireback outplacement coaching, I know that some new-calls don’t ever or fully engage the coach who was hired to help them.  These services are for your advancement and can help you find perspective.

Kimberly was one of the lucky ones, and found that “having someone to whom I could ask all my questions really helped – especially since I was applying for my first-ever associate position and I had no idea what to expect for interviews…”

Kimberly also found it helpful to educate herself by meeting with junior associates to ask them about the hiring process for new-calls. This is also known as informational interviewing (or coffee dating). For 8 Do’s and Don’ts of Coffee Dates, check out this article.

Informational interviews were key for Onyi and Johnny. This was actually the most important part of Onyi’s job search because “…the position I got was not posted and it only came to my attention because I emailed someone and proposed a coffee date.”  Onyi definitely benefited from the hidden job market techniques I shared with her and encourages others to not be afraid: “in almost all circumstances people are kind and willing to chat.”

While Johnny didn’t land his first-year associate position through informational interviews, he says that,

“they provide a great opportunity to practice your interview skills and to hear valuable insights about a particular field of practice or lawyering in general, which you can talk about at interviews to impress your interviewers.”

All three job seekers were able to see beyond their immediate job search and appreciate the long-term benefits of strengthening and building their networks. In fact, Onyi says that she has “since seen the people I reached out in professional settings so the networking I did that didn’t result in a job still gave me connections that will be helpful in the future.”

4. Don’t always follow the crowd

Johnny found it helpful to broaden his job search beyond Toronto.  He says, “most of my friends were keen on finding a position within the Greater Toronto Area.” Being open to relocating to other parts of Ontario meant that he could hold out for the right position.  Johnny found his dream job 100 kms outside of Toronto:  “As I have found, there are many growing cities and towns outside the GTA, where reputed regional firms are looking for new lawyers.”

Onyi did something unconventional: she turned down two job offers!  These were hard decisions for her, but ultimately the right ones. She says,  “weeks later I landed my dream job where I have more opportunity than the first two places could have afforded me.”

Trusting your gut during a job search is just as important as understanding what you’re looking for, and what you won’t settle for.   Check out this article I wrote about waiting for an ideal job offer.

5. Develop a focus

As a career coach, the key was that Kimberly, Johnny and Onyi each had a focus for their job search.

Onyi really embraced this concept, saying “think very hard about exactly what [area] you want because it will be hard to move from the wrong position.” Onyi’s focus was family law.  She attended some inexpensive CPDs to stay on top of the area post-articles.  She also made a list of job search goals each day, and took a break once she was done.

Johnny knew that he wanted to become an estates practitioner shortly after starting his articles.  He and I, therefore, focused on developing a brand in that area (such as enrolling in a certification program and joining a professional society).

This made a difference for him in his job search because “I was able to demonstrate my genuine interest in the field and stand out from the other candidates.” Indeed, the job ad that Johnny responded to asked for an experienced lawyer, but because he had taken the initiative to get involved in the profession early on, the firm found him to be a better match.

Lawyer Coach Paulette is the founder of www.hireback.ca, an online coaching program on How to Find Your First Job as a Lawyer! 

She is grateful to her clients for making this article possible, and to Justice Archibald who helped her land her first job as a lawyer!

This article originally appeared on AWAL.


By Paulette Pommells
Tags: hireback, law student, lawyer, first law job

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I would like share my deep thanks for Paulette and her amazing work that she has done with me in the last few months.  My firm hired her to assist with improving client retention rates and understanding possible causes and come up with solutions.  Paulette was insightful, thought outside the box and provided a holistic approach to the obstacles at hand.  Her ideas were not cookie-cutter but rather a blend of her own knowledge, experience as a lawyer herself and refreshing imagination.  The results that occurred after completing the journey with Paulette were off the charts.  I still use the methodology that I incorporated with Paulette and it is helpful in so many ways. I strongly endorse Paulette to anyone looking to reassess their law practice and find ways to overcome obstacles and deepen their understanding of how their practice can be improved. Paulette, you exceeded all expectations and I wish you strength and success to be able to help more lawyers and professionals as you helped me. end-quote

- DF



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