When I was a law student, I was constantly bombarded by fear-mongering stories about articling. “Articling will be the hardest ten months of your life!” “Don’t expect to have a social life.” “So and so at X firm said they worked 70 hours a week… have fun!” I was terrified to start articling.
"When everyone warns you to prepare for the worst, that’s exactly what you do."
But I’m happy to tell future articling students that three months into the term, my fears have not materialized. Work-life balance does not have to be a dream when articling at McCague Borlack. Here has been my experience so far...
Expectation 1: You must meet and surpass insane billable targets.
Reality: Yes, I work hard, but the work does not consume my life.
Articling is hard work, there is no doubt about it. We are fresh out of law school and think we know things when in reality, law school prepares you very little for real-life practice. As Ashley, our Student Director put it during orientation week, “this isn’t summer camp.” There will be evenings and weekends where we all have to put in extra hours to meet an urgent deadline or get caught up after a busy week. But we are not expected to slave away at all hours of the day to excel. The billable target for articling students is reasonable and conducive to learning a ton without feeling the need to burn ourselves out to keep up. In addition, we are encouraged to take our allotted vacation days and to prioritize our well-being.
Expectation 2: You will compete with the other students to get hired back.
Reality: Nobody is competing – all the articling students can succeed, and not at the expense of anyone else.
Many firms hire more students than they plan to retain as associates, which can result in fierce competition between the students to secure an associate position. MB’s approach is conducive to a collaborative and collegial environment – they only hire as many students as they would be willing to hire back as associates. The firm believes in investing in the students for the long haul. This means that every student can shine and excel, and not at the expense of anyone else. It’s a great feeling to be part of an articling team that is supportive of one another. We applaud each others’ successes and we have each others' backs.
Expectation 3: Articling will feel overwhelming and isolating.
Reality: Although everyone has moments of feeling overwhelmed, there are endless sources of support.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times in any job. What sets my articling experience at MB apart is the level of support I have received thus far. There are so many people who I can turn to when I feel confused or overwhelmed. This includes the other students, our Student Director, my articling principal, or one of the many lawyers who have encouraged us to reach out whenever and wherever we need it. Even while working remotely, I am never more than a phone call away from someone willing to help. Everyone at the firm wants the students to succeed.
Expectation 4: Articling work will only be menial tasks and research.
Reality: Articling work is diverse, meaningful, and interesting.
Within a month of starting, I had taken the lead on a small claims file, drafted an initial opinion, attended a mediation and an examination for discovery, had communications with a client, and more. At three months into the term, that list has grown much longer. All the work we do as students at MB is substantial and meaningful. We are given a lot of responsibility which allows us to gain a vast amount of knowledge within a short time frame. I can’t believe how far I’ve come in only three months, and I can’t wait to see where I’ll be by June!
Starting articling is a daunting prospect, especially with all the fear-mongering law students are subject to. But with the right firm backing you, articling can be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience. It certainly has been for me!