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

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.

“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.

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