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‘Sheer desperation’ prompts law grad’s ad for job

|Written By Breanne Nicholson

A law graduate who finished at the top of her class has found the job market for young lawyers so difficult that she resorted to posting an ad in Ontario Reports seeking employment.

Law firms are looking for more experienced and specialized lawyers, says John Ohnjec of Robert Half Legal.

“I was speaking with some lawyers that I used to work for and they were saying that the market is just terrible right now,” says the graduate, who requested to remain anonymous given her concern that “the reaction to the ad could either be negative or positive.”

“There are more senior associates or even junior partners that are willing to take on roles for more junior, mid-level associates, so it’s making it more difficult for people with no experience or just articling experience to find a job,” she says.

In fact, a new survey suggests she may not be alone. The quest for an entry-level career has become more difficult for law graduates as law firms are seeking employees with more talent and experience, the report notes.

According to the January report by Robert Half Legal, there has been an increase in top law firms seeking employees with five years of experience or more while prospects for entry-level lawyers remain the same.

“What firms are generally asking for right now are individuals that are quite specialized and part of that specialization is having a certain number of years of experience,” says John Ohnjec, division director for Robert Half Legal.

“Firms see these people as very sought after because they can deliver both an experienced type of knowledge in that area plus, perhaps as a bonus, bring in clients or be able to develop more clients.”

Based on a survey of 150 Canadian lawyers, about 31 per cent of participants believed that the greatest number of job opportunities in 2013 will be in the corporate and business sector while 29 per cent suggested there will be future prospects in litigation.

But for junior lawyers, the industry continues to show little improvement with few jobs available.

“We are hoping and I know they are hoping that it will change soon enough,” says Ohnjec, who notes that despite the disappointing market, there has been an improvement in job openings for junior lawyers since 2009 and 2010.

“We’re not quite at the point where there is a lot of hiring for junior associates but equally we’re not at the point where two or three years ago the doors were almost virtually shut.”

In her ad in Ontario Reports, the graduate markets herself as a highly qualified entry-level employee looking for a full-time position. The ad, which asks, “Do you need a junior?” notes the graduate is a qualified second-generation lawyer who has worked in business law. After articling at a major downtown firm, her search for a position has been a difficult one.

According to the student’s mother, finding a job has been difficult for the graduate despite the fact she was in the top three per cent of her graduating class. Although her specialty is corporate law, an area the survey predicted would spur the most opportunities, the graduate has been searching for a full-time position since May 2012.

According to the graduate, it was “sheer desperation” that prompted the advertisement.

“Everyone that I talk to and even the people that respond to the ad that I put out respond by saying, ‘The market is terrible right now. I understand why you did this.’” The job seeker says her friends who have articled at big downtown Toronto law firms are in a similar predicament. “I don’t know of a single person who has found a job yet.”

The idea to place an advertisement initially came from the graduate’s mother who took a similar approach 30 years ago when searching for a legal career. “I was pretty skeptical and that’s also why my name is not on it,” says the graduate.

The phone number on the ad is for the mothers office.

Despite the graduate’s bold advertisement, recruitment officers say they’re skeptical about hiring new employees when they have parents involved in the process.

“I think it goes without saying that these people are adults and they should be doing their own work around finding a job in this stage of their careers,” says Deborah Dalfen, director of legal recruitment and student development at Torys LLP.

But many top firms hire their summer and articling students as permanent staff after finishing their placements, a fact that limits the pool of entry-level positions.

“We typically hire back most of our articling students and that fills all of our needs,” says Dalfen, who suggests Torys has one of the highest hire-back rates for articling students.

“Until people start to depart and we recognize specific needs and specific practice areas do we then pick up lateral hires who have more experience in those areas.”

But for Mya Bulwa, assistant dean for students at Osgoode Hall Law School, one of the best ways students can make themselves marketable for future employers is to “network, network, network.”

“Some students think that networking is cold calling and saying, ‘Do you have any jobs?’ and that’s not what we mean at all,” says Bulwa.

“Networking is building relationships and contacts with people who will be in your corner, who will look out for opportunities for you, and who will talk to their friends and their colleagues and will keep you in mind when they hear of opportunities.”

According to Bulwa, Osgoode encourages students from Day 1 to establish a network of “individuals that they can connect with” and be on their “career team.”

“I think it’s just a question of being diligent and bringing more of a networking approach to your job search,” says Ari Blicker, director of student and associate programs at Aird & Berlis LLP. Blicker notes he routinely sees young lawyers “applying broadly without really networking, so they often come up empty.”

“The key is to stop applying and start networking,” he adds.

Ohnjec also believes graduates need to be flexible in the current environment by looking at other positions that may be available at firms besides jobs as lawyers.

  • The entry Law Clerk
    It's the same issue for law clerks too. No one wants no experience. Everyone wants 3-5 years. When a entry level position is advertised. Tons of people apply. The Law Clerk job market is rough.
  • For the Profession
    ... The College of Physicians is regulated the profession right. And so is the American Bar Association. Simple supply and demand. Right now supply of lawyers is at an all time high, and demand is ever so low (as referenced in this poor girl's situation).

    LSUC needs to do something. The profession is loosing its economic appeal and nobility.
  • For the Profession
    And they are looking at abolishing articling and are allowing more and more foreign graduates into the bar (students purposely going abroad to obtain their law degrees) while domestic graduates are working their butts of not only to gain entrance, but finding jobs. Both factors make the job market and the profession less viable.

    And the funny thing is that all articles and publications relating to the "changing" legal job market are offering up all the excuses they can find, EXCEPT for the two above, which they fail to mention.

    With an already flaggering job market, why won't any do something about this?
  • LaLa
    I suppose I'm lucky in that I was called to the bar 2 years ago and since then have had 4 job offers. Throughout my time at law school and afterwards, I FORCED myself to put myself out there in terms of networking and building relationships and that's how I got my last offer. None of the job offers I have received post articling have come through job postings. No one in my family is a lawyer.
  • Sharms
    The sooner I realized that the law schools lied to me and everyone else, the better off I was. The answer is one that no student wants to hear. At the beginning you will not be making 6 figures right off the hop. You will have to work for very little, maybe even volunteer. Through that, you make connections, and then eventually a decent income. In other words, it takes time; It's what no one wants to hear. They want to believe the lie that the law schools have fed them that they will be big earners at the get go. Unfortunately, they have racked up so much debt (by giving into the lies of law school) that even starting off small has become an insurmountable task. Welcome to the new world. The truth shall set you free.
  • Newish Lawyer
    "Lie" is perhaps too strong a word. There are indeed some lucky* new Canadian lawyers who make six figures less than a year after being called to the bar, and quite a few more who come close to that. Some of those actually enjoy their work, and others pretend to, while secretly wondering how they got into such a soul-sapping trap.

    *The lie, if there is one, is that such an outcome is likely, or that it's worth the sacrifices and you'll be happy if you do achieve it.
  • OutofTorontoEmployer
    The real issue seems to be a disconnect. First, I tell recent calls to stop looking at want ads. They need to CREATE opportunities for themselves. Cold call, join the local Law Association, talk to other juniors about setting up shop together and find someone willing to mentor. I hear stories of apparently desperate new calls, but when I offer them a position outside the city in which they will be paid a percentage of billings, many balk. They want a guaranteed 6 figure salary. THOSE jobs probably are hard to find, but if you are willing to work hard, learn as you go, take a few risks, and find out about life north of the 401, there are many opportunities for you.
  • 2013Call Looking
    #OutofTorontoEmployer, whereabouts do you practice? I'm currently looking for a junior associate position and willing to move outside of the GTA.

    I think the issue for those lawyers you mentioned relates to the cost of living vs. living on an unknown salary. I am not looking for a 6 figure salary, nor would I necessarily expect that from a small town firm outside of the GTA BUT I would question whether it's possible to pay down student loans and rent costs, etc. when getting a percentage of billings. It depends on the percentage and what type of files I'd be given. If it's a reasonable arrangement, I think many students would certainly consider it, given the current state of the economy for new lawyers. I know I would!
  • 1Generation12Call
    I had to job search after getting called in June 2012. I admit it is a bit daunting considering the market isn't great but what I told myself was that my worst case scenario as a licensed lawyer will always be Self-Employment not Unemployment. Although alot of sole practictioners I talked to told me that really is the BEST case scenario not worst! My friend who couldn't find a job just recently set up her own shop.
  • 2nd Year Student
    Thanks for the comments associate, it's good to hear about smaller opportunities in the city being satisfying for those pursuing them. To clarify most of my comments were focused on rural communities, I am pursuing smaller opportunities within urban centers.

    My frustration mostly stems from a number of individuals pointing towards rural areas as lands of opportunity, while failing to consider their shortcomings and the changes they are undergoing, as a result of the shift to urban living.
  • 2d year associate
    Fair point; in part I suppose I was knocking down a straw man. Again, I too would not be heading to a small centre if I could avoid it. (I think my wife would be seriously displeased.) I guess my comments were also directed at the main article. People do need to think more broadly than the big national firms. Unfortunately that's all they cram down your throat in law school.

    The system needs to do a better job of inspiring and preparing people to work independently. I'm in a mid-size boutique right now, and I'll confess that if I had to or wanted to strike out on my own I'd be scared and not know how to get started. Nevertheless, our society needs more small/indepedent practitioners, and I think it could be fun and rewarding.
  • 2nd Year Student
    I am a student who did not secure a summer position and is now looking at smaller firms and opportunities. I can honestly say at this point, that I would rather not enter the practice of law at all, if my only alternative was to go to a rural town. I welcome comments of rural practitioners to correct any assumptions I have, but the life of a rural lawyer seems remarkably dull.

    The work is primarily wills, estates and residential real estate. Although reality may differ, from a law students position these look like "fill in the blank" law. How am I supposed to grow my skills as a lawyer if the larger, more complex files get siphoned off to the cities?

    Further to this, from where I sit it seems Canada's rural communities are dying both literally and figuratively. They are steadily losing population, and the population they do have is aging. It's a tough to convince a young student to head out to an older, less vibrant community. I welcome comments to the contrary.
  • 2d year associate
    Part 2:

    I have another friend who has found great rewards (both emotional and tangible) in a family law boutique he joined. Granted, his background is social work, so perhaps he thrives on that kind of service, but my point is that you’re missing the big picture if your sights are set too firmly on big law.

    And don’t kid yourself about the large complex files at a big commercial law firm teaching you much about the law. In fact, when you used the expression “fill in the blank law”, what came to my mind was securities work in a big firm (think due diligence, search reports, proof-reading prospectuses wherein nothing changed but the numbers and the names, etc.). (To my mind, the best intersection of corporate law with its complex deals and “pure” legal analysis, is probably tax law. But that’s a different discussion.)
  • 2d year associate
    2nd Year Student: To be clear, my two friends who have hung out their respective shingles right after articles are in Calgary and Toronto, each a city of more than one million inhabitants. I share your lack of love for life in the sticks, but non-big-law jobs can be found or made in the cities too, probably more easily than in the smaller centres.

    In the case of one of my two friends, he’s taking pretty much anything that walks in the door, from criminal charges to commercial work to (uncontested) family matters and, yes, real estate conveyancing. So, for the moment at least, it’s anything but mundane for him. Rather, I suspect it’s downright terrifying, being as green as he is.

    My other friend is specializing in criminal defence in Toronto and appears to be finding herself in court most days. She may not be grappling with deep, academic legal questions too often, but it sounds anything but boring.
  • Yukon Lawyer
    Old Lawyer and Rick are spot on. Too many youngsters have dreams of Bay Street or other equivalents, in particular when they are towards the top of the class. Go search for opportunities elsewhere, such as smaller cities, towns. I live in town of 25,000 people and the opportunities are amazing. Some of the 3-5 lawyer firms get to do high level corporate/commercial work. The same goes for litigators. Here a 2nd year call may end up in running a Supreme Court trial all by himself/herself. Swim or sink. That is what counts.
  • Rick
    The solution is the following: This candidate will have to go work at a small firm practising family law, residential real estate, wills and estates and move her way up the legal corporate ladder. This is exactly what I did for my first three years. After searching for three years, while working, I finally found someone willing to take me in as a corporate lawyer. I have been practising corporate law now for twelve years. To this day, I can say that those first three years taught me many key skills including how to manage high stress situations, advocacy (as a result of being in court three times per week), ethics and a sincere appreciation and respect for all lawyers who practice family law.

    Make the sacrifices now and success will find you later. Stop whining. Carpe Diem.
  • 2d year associate
    Based on the price of legal services compared with the average person's ability to pay, it can be argued that we are still graduating *too few* lawyers, not too many. We have an access to justice problem that the market can solve by lawyers who can't find big firm jobs doing as "1Generation2012Cal" and "Old Lawyer" suggest above: Start a practice and serve the public. I know at least a couple of people from my year of call (2012) in both Alberta and Ontario who have done just that.
  • 1Generation2012Cal
    This new call, sounds like one of the typical entitled law students that were all too common in law school. She sounds lspoiled, whiny, entitled and has the wrong attitude. Yes, the market is really terrible for new calls right now. Especially those who want a position in corporate. I am sort of perplexed at why she would admit to the law times that she doesn't think the ad would work. Even if she believe it won't, after her helicopter mom spent money on the O.R. doesn't it make sense to put your best foot forward and say some b.s. like "I put up the ad because I have tried absolutely everything to find a job to no avail. I'm doing this because I am willing to do anything to find a position". I don't feel sorry for this new call at all, she has the advantage that her mother is a lawyer. If I was unemployed and had that advantage I'd set up as a sole practitioner and put up an ad somewhere soliciting for clients. No one wants to hire a whiner, even on that is top 3% of the class.
  • Old Lawyer
    Recent graduates should also look outside major metropolitan areas. Lawyers in smaller centres often have difficulty finding juniors.

    The reality is that ever since law schools increased the number of students graduating, there have been a glut of young lawyers.

    In the old days, entrepreneurial young lawyers would open up their own practice in criminal, family, estates and civil litigation. In my view, law schools should be teaching the basic skills required for a young lawyer to hang up their own shingle and practice law on their own or with a group. While this may not be the preferred choice of this young lawyer, it provided for a decent practice and there continues to be a need in these areas.
  • Cam B
    "...for Mya Bulwa, assistant dean for students at Osgoode Hall Law School, one of the best ways students can make themselves marketable for future employers is to “network, network, network.”

    Good advice. Much more easily achieved if your parent(s) is already in the profession. And while recruiters likely don't want to interview the parent, let's face it - for a lot of grads, parental knowledge & their network is the most likely source for honing in on job prostpects. What other sources are there?

    Maybe universities and law schools should be doing more to ensure their graduates actually can get jobs, including offering non-lawyer options for using the pricey law degree.
  • 2d year associate
    I agree with the sentiment that it's easier to network if your parents are already in the profession. That sad reality will always be true. But it can't be an excuse not to try. I heartily endorse the advice to "network, network, network", but in meaningful one-on-one ways, not so much in the perfunctory ways people do it at "networking events".

    Neither of my parents has a university degree, let alone is a member of the profession. I've ended up in a very good place through a combination of good fortune and working very hard to impress the people around me (professors, lawyers, etc.) and then leveraging that capital to meet other connected people.

    Our firm doesn't actively recruit. Everybody we get is through networking, mostly referals of good people from other lawyers, judges, clients, etc.
  • Simone
    I graduated from the U of S in 2001. Only about half my class found articling positions that year. I have been working as a paralegal in Alberta since 2003. (I worked as an editor for an online education provider from 2001 to 2003.)
  • Same Crowded Boat...
    "... graduates need to be flexible in the current environment by looking at other positions that may be available at firms besides jobs as lawyers."

    Not quite. Tried that. If you comb through the non-lawyer positions at most firms, you won't see anything for new calls or grads. Staff positions as clerks, IP/litigation/whatever assistant, specialist or technical support are jobs that require specific administrative/technical schooling you never learned in law school or articling.

    Unless you have a legal admin diploma and leave your law degree off your resume, you aren't likely to get a call back. Its competitive in those fields too. Firms won't hire someone who is working below their 'station' and will move on as soon as a better opportunity comes up. Ironically, it was an RH recruiter who told me that.

    Having a law degree is a great thing, but its a specific skill set that narrows your options in the real world. That's the risk we took.
  • Finally
    I couldn't agree with you more. When I was desperately looking for articling positions, friends and family kept on forwarding job openings for legal assistants, clerks, etc and did not understand that those roles require their own qualifications.

    I'm still in the boat where I'm hoping the risk I took will pay off...
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