I can't find a job. What now?
August 28, 2007 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Semi-recent law grad having an unusually hard time finding a job, possibly due to circumstances described within. I'm running out of ideas (and money), so I turn to you, AskMe.

I graduated in 2006 from a very highly regarded law school in Ontario and have yet to secure an articling position. (For those unfamiliar with the Ontario bar admission process, candidates are required to complete "articles," basically a ten-month internship with a lawyer or law firm that has been approved by the Law Society.) It is now almost September 2007, recruitment is starting for articles commencing in 2008, and I'm beginning to worry that I'm going to start being rejected solely because I haven't found anything by now.

Background: I am American. I completed my first year of law school in the States, and transferred to the school in Ontario once my now-husband (a Canadian) and I decided to get married and live in Canada. Due to study permit restrictions I was not allowed to work off-campus (or volunteer in any capacity that would have given me job skills) in the years I was at school. Therefore there is a gap on my résumé in my second year summer where most students have law firm jobs. (I did get married that summer and spent a lot of time planning the wedding.) This works against me in two ways: first, obviously, because gaps on résumés are bad; but also because many students find articling positions though their second year summer jobs and I did not have this opportunity.

Additionally, my grades are not what they could be. My first year marks were high, but early in my second year I was struck with what I can only describe as a severe bout of depression (bordering on "total breakdown"). It was a struggle to get out of bed in the morning - literally - and some days I didn't succeed even at that. It took me about a year and a half to recover to the point where I was functioning somewhat normally. Despite this I managed to eke out a B to B minus GPA - not great, I would guess I'm somewhere around the 60th percentile among my class - but looking back on what I was going through at the time I'm surprised I didn't flunk out.

Following graduation was a period where I was completely unable to work in Canada while waiting for my permanent resident application to be processed. During that time I volunteered at the local women's shelter and got a work-from-home typing job (based in the States). I received my unrestricted work permit in June.

Why would anyone hire me? Fortunately, my résumé is not completely devoid of experience. I spent my first year summer at the U.S. Attorney's office in my district, and once in Canada I milked the "on-campus" exception as best I could: I volunteered as a caseworker at the on-campus legal clinic, I was on the law journal and I worked as a research assistant to the law librarian. Additionally, in the few opportunities I've had to demonstrate my actual lawyer skills, I've excelled. I write well, I work efficiently, I interact well with clients. And, if I may be immodest, my experience has been that I do so better than a lot of my peers. When I can actually get an interview, I interview well (the last job I interviewed for the lawyer called me personally to tell me how hard it was to make the decision to hire someone else). I have sincere, glowing recommendations from the people I've worked for, all of whom are shocked that I haven't found a job yet, and all of whom have commented that I greatly surpassed their expectations of me.

So, to sum up, my experience does not match my potential, and there are reasons for this, but they're not exactly reasons that can be explained in a cover letter (or, in the case of the depression, brought up, ever). And now I'm starting to panic, because I'm working two part-time jobs for which I'm grossly overqualified to pay back my sizable student loan debt, my in-laws are starting to get on my husband's case about my lack of gainful employment (I suspect their approval of me was conditional upon my making their son rich, but that's a whole other story) and I don't want to be stuck like this forever.

I do have one other option: back in June I interviewed for an articling job with a sole practitioner who subsequently pulled the job posting after meeting with his accountant and deciding hiring a student wasn't feasible after all. After doing some thinking, I asked the lawyer if after a few weeks I hadn't found a salaried position, he would consider hiring me for a stipend. He would get an assistant he needed at a price he could afford, and I would get my articles done. He said he would be open to it, and we left it at that. I made the offer because I got along well with the lawyer and because I knew my job prospects were bleak, but I have some misgivings because he emphasised that he wanted someone to bring in cases to the firm (I have zero legal connections, and I'm not sure what that requirement portends for job security) and working for a stipend would stretch me financially. It was a last resort that I didn't think I'd need, and I'm not even sure if the offer still exists at this point.

So I guess my questions are, do I cut my losses and call this lawyer? Do I keep doing what I'm doing, applying for every job that comes up in hopes that someone will take a chance on me? Should I bother applying for 2008 positions? Should I start looking for another career?

I think I just need some objective opinions to help me make sense of this mess. I'm asking anonymously so the depression thing can't be linked back to me, but I will check the thread and follow up if necessary. Throwaway email at ask-mefi-anon@hotmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have been throught the licensing process with the LSUC. Rest assured, I have heard this story from more than one person.

You don't mention exactly where you are living, but I encourage you to expand your job hunt beyond Toronto if that is where you are located. I had several friends with marks similar to yours who ended up receiving articling positions quite late on in the process outside of Toronto. It may not be ideal (and a shitty commute), but it is only a 10 month commitment.

You don't mention the kind of law you would like to practice, but there are hundreds of small firms/sole practioners in the GTA that an expose you to a pretty broad variety of areas. I would strongly recommend cracking open the yellow pages and just begin firing resumes off.

Even if you think that law is not a career for you long-term, it would be a tremendous shame for you have to put 3 years in at school and then not be called to the bar because you didn't finish the 10 month articling commitment. Once you are called, you will always have that under your belt.

As I said, I've had friends in similar spots to you and I'm happy to speak more about this, and have dropped you a note through your throwaway hotmail.
posted by modernnomad at 10:45 AM on August 28, 2007

how well did you like working for the law librarian? how confident are you in your research skills?

if you answered "a lot!," and "very!" (respectively), then why not consider jumping ship, getting a library degree, and finding a job as a law librarian? (i know for a fact that the canadian law librarians are among the coolest . . .)

benefits? there's a lot of jobs for qualified, dual-degreed (j.d. & m.l.s or equiv.) librarians. you'll have a good chance at landing a job at an academic law library with both degrees, and you'll have a good shot at a private firm job where you won't be burdened by the employment history you detail here. also, after law school, well, library school is just fun! and easy!!

burdens? it'll take at least one year to get your library degree. while you should be able to get loans and other assistance to cover the costs of your library degree, the opportunity cost of a year NOT practicing law can be significant.

like you, i went to a highly regarded law school where i did not so well. like you, i had valid personal reasons for skipping out of the traditional summer associateship between second and third years. and like you, i worried a lot about how to explain gaps.

and then i realized that i didn't even want to practice anyways. my skills were research and writing (not analysis), and i found that i'd be much happier as a law librarian than i was as a lawyer. and you know what? i was right! (you, also, may already be a winner.)
posted by deejay jaydee at 10:52 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a hard time finding a job after graduation from law school. I had average grades from a good regional law school, and it didn't help that I failed the bar the first time I took it. It was almost a year after graduating that I got my first job. I began working as a temp at a big law firm in my area (I live in the Midwest US) and had that job for over two years before I got a real job. Do you have temp jobs available in Ontario? I started out doing doc review but because of my good work, I began doing other things, like writing pleadings and doing legal research. I worked with a few Partners and Senior Associates at this law firm, and they saw that I knew what I was doing and that they could trust me with most anything that needed to be done. It was through one of these Partners that I found my current job, as an attorney at a decent-sized company. This position was not advertised. My current boss asked other attorneys that she knows (including that Partner) for references. He referred me and I got the job. Thus, it took me 3 years out of law school to find a "real" job.

So what did I learn from this? If you can work at a job that isn't the best but where you get experience (perhaps the job for the sole practitioner), you will learn skills that may help you get another job. Also, because of my contact with the Partner, I was able to get another, better job. His contacts helped me.

I was on the verge of leaving law and changing my career path when my current job opened up, so I definitely know how you feel! It can be so depressing when you feel like you have so much potential but no one wants you. Just stay positive and don't give up. Good luck!
posted by emilyv at 2:38 PM on August 28, 2007

I have no experience or direct knowledge, but something you wrote in your description leads me to believe your best lead would be the lawyer who called you to tell you how hard it was to hire the other person. I would call him and ask for any leads, suggestions on how to find leads and/or tips on the interview process.

Also, I would consider calling US firms that have offices in Toronto. i am sure there are Buffalo firms and Niagra falls firms that might have a need for a US citizen living in Canada with a law degree from Ontario.

Lastly, you do not say what your husband does for a living, but maybe one of his co-workers or clients or contacts has some leads.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 5:37 PM on August 28, 2007

How committed are you to working as an actual lawyer, in a private law firm? Have you considered working for a government department (assuming visa/residency issues aren't a barrier)?

The simple possession of a degree shows research and writing skills sufficient to do any admin/clerical job, or if you don't want to commit to one while you look for an articles position, it'll get you into temping.

In Australia, and I expect Canada as well, a law degree is highly regarded for public service positions, and would quickly get you from the entry-level onto the management track assuming you showed reasonable competence. Also law graduates are especially desired in sections dealing with policy drafting, and prosecutions, if the department administers an act that has a prosecution component (and a lot do).

Same goes for companies large enough to have a bureaucracy. In-house legal departments employ a lot of law graduates who never step inside a court.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:01 PM on August 28, 2007

I graduated in the middle of my class from McGill law, and didn't find work in the year after graduating. I didn't do summer position in my second or third year (did the four year programme there). I moved out here to B.C. to look for work. I graduated in June '96 and didn't find articles until November '97. I signed on for the equivalent of a stipend with a sole practitioner (a barrister, importantly for me, since that's always what I wanted to do).

Before finding that position, I called practically every criminal lawyer and firm in the lower mainland (city of and suburbs around Vancouver). I had a few interviews, but at that time - there weren't a lot of positions to go around. It was frustrating, and it was demoralizing, but then again, it only takes one person/firm to say "Yes".

Summary - keep trying, expand your search, and network - how do you do that? Join a CBA subsection in the area(s) of law you are interested in. Go to the subsection meetings - meet and greet. Ask around if they know if anyone needs an articled student, or if they do. In addition to getting to know the lawyers practicing in that area, you'll also be keeping abreast of developments in that legal field.

My email is in my profile if you have any questions.
posted by birdsquared at 6:53 PM on August 28, 2007

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