While I really should be studying for the bar exam right now, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to share a great article appearing in the current issue of Canadian Lawyer 4Students Magazine.
The article, entitled “So You Wanna Be a Criminal Lawyer, Eh?” is about the challenges facing current law students who plan to practice in criminal law. There is a particular focus on the lack of articling opportunities in the field, and the ever-decreasing emphasis on criminal law education at law schools. I can tell you first hand that these issues are very real and very troubling.
The author quotes my former Career Services Director, Robyn Martilla, on the difficulties in finding employment opportunities in criminal law:
It is also possible students are not so much turned off the practice area’s dark side, but instead diverted from it by large firms’ powerful recruitment strategies. Robyn Martilla, director of Western Faculty of Law’s career and professional development office, says it’s difficult for students to find information on criminal law articling positions. “The schools tend to get a lot of information from private firms, like the large Bay Street group,” says Martilla. “So that information is easily available to students. But it’s much more difficult to find information about positions in either family or criminal law.”
There is a choice quotation from Montreal criminal lawyer Isabel Schurman on what we stand to lose as our criminal defence bar shrinks and ages:
She suggests this much-maligned area of practice has been given a bad rap over the years, and more students should open their eyes to a career in criminal defence. “It’s a shame that the field is so misunderstood,” says Schurman. “I think it’s a shame that people never realize the important role that defence counsel play until they, or someone in their family, needs representation, and then realize that it’s not simply this television or movie image of defence counsel. We are in fact the watchdogs for the fairness in our system of criminal justice, and without a strong defence bar, the whole system suffers, and so does the citizen’s right to be left alone by the state.”
The article concludes with some practical tips on breaking into the field, many of which I can endorse from personal experience. If you’re considering criminal law, I recommend checking the article out here.
The criminal lawyers I know tell me that although the challenges are many, they are more than offset by the rewards of practicing in this exciting field. This was summarized in one of my favorite admonitions from a criminal defence lawyer: “trust me, you don’t want to practice criminal law. That being said, I absolutely love my job, and can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”
It’s a law student’s dream – or maybe a nightmare. Law firm recruiters scouring social media networks to find an appropriate candidate for their firm.
The current recruitment process does little to reveal the personality, collegiality, drive and habits of applicants. It does nothing to demonstrate their business connections, an important quality for “finders,” or political involvement, for firms that engage in lobbying and government relations.
The majority of law students do spend hours on social media platforms, usually behind walled gardens that they think are impermeable, so why wouldn’t law firms go where they are? We’ve already seen Edward Prutschi discuss how his firm used Twitter during articling recruitment, which helped them find Joel Welch.
Earlier today Michael Fitzgibbons of Borden, Ladner, Gervais LLP in Toronto pointed to this Globe article, showing an increasing trend by employers to use social media for recruitment. But is this just commentary about management-side employment practices, or could law firms be using it too? What about BLG, the largest law firm in Canada? (Hi Halla!)
But the telling sign is a tweet from last Friday by the firm,
It appears as if Bay St. firms are not only using Twitter for recruiting, but they’re using shortened urls and hash tags properly too! Kudos.
For our part, law students are trying to meet the law firms half way.
Enter the brainchild of Steven Pulver – a 1L at UWO – the first-ever Chief Technology Officer for our Student Legal Society. Pulver is working on ObiterTweet, an upcoming platform to help law students and law firms interact.
Or as he says,
Twitter, Meet Law School.
Law firms, meet Twitter at Law School too. Send him an email if you’re interested in participating.
In January 2008, the Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) Licensing and Accreditation Task Force issued a Consultation Report in which it predicted that for the licensing period 2009-10, there would be a gap of 400 candidates who would be unable to secure articling positions in Ontario. This prediction assumed the economy remained strong.
Fast-forward to August 2009. The economy is showing some limited signs of recovery but remains mired in recession. The formalized articling recruitment period regulated by LSUC for all intensive purposes has finished. The Ontario criminal defence bar is in the midst of a legal aid boycott with its membership suffering. And there are even more candidates looking for articles because of increased enrollment at international law schools and the legacy of the double cohort.
Although still early in the process, the increase number of students looking for articles in combination with fewer articling positions available due to the poor economy means that if you are still looking for articles, you may be in trouble.
Take comfort in the fact that the summer of 2010 when most articles begin is a year away. The economy may improve and many smaller firms hire on a needs basis. In fact, it is not uncommon for a firm to immediately hire an articling student when a big case comes along. But what happens next year when the heat of summer is bearing down and you have not secure articles?
Have you ever consider articling for free? Simply convince a member of LSUC to become your articling principal. The lawyer needs to be in good standing with the law society and has practice law for at least three out of the past five years and who is not currently the subject of a professional complaint.
After seven years of attending university, do you really need a paycheque? Think of it this way – you do not have to pay tuition – only living costs, dress clothing, loan payments, and a car. From your principal perspective, he or she is giving their valuable time to mentor you in the ways of the legal profession and the quid pro quo is for you to work for them without financial compensation. It is only for ten months after all and the banks will surely extend you more credit.
Undoubtedly some people will criticise the option of articling for free as the 21st century professional world equivalent of slavery. That such a barrier to licensing as the lack of paid articling positions only props up an existing oligarchy of privilege dominant in the legal profession. But these criticisms would likely only be voiced by those not desperately seeking their articles.
To be fair, LSUC has recognized the issue and has taken some action such as the creation of an articling registry, the streamlining the filing process, and the hiring of additional staff. However, it needs to do more. The registry is underused by employers and there are no alternatives to the articling requirement such as additional course work.
A failure by LSUC to adequately address the needs of the hundreds of law students who will be unable to secure their articles this coming year will certainly be noted by the Ontario Fairness Commissioner acting under her authority found in the Fair Access to the Regulated Professions Act.