Fear and Laughing in Vancouver
“How many hours are you working every day?” This is the question on every summer student’s mind when they encounter articling students. It is certainly what I was wondering, and it is what I asked every articling student at every firm I intended on interviewing with.
But before I go any further, I need to clarify something. This isn’t about not wanting to work hard. I LOVE being busy – the busier, the better actually. I get my best work done when I have that momentum behind me (especially if there is an impending deadline!). I worked fulltime throughout my undergrad while commuting from Chilliwack, British Columbia to UBC. I would get up at 5am, drive to the West Coast Express, catch the train to Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver, then bus to UBC. After my lectures were finished for the day, I would immediately bus back to the train and head home the same way. On the train, I would split my time between studying and getting ready for work, because the second that train arrived at its final destination in Mission, I would race to my evening bar-tending job. It was awesome – I felt alive and productive.
But suddenly, I found myself in the same position as other law students: fearing the billable hour and the (allegedly) insurmountable workload. This fear stems from the hallmarks of law school culture: fear mongering and, ironically, self-aggrandizement. Somehow, working 24/7 under oppressive regimes grants its victims bragging rights. Professors address their classes with voices full of pity and explain that articling will be the worst year of your life. Meanwhile, associates and partners at firm tours share war stories of their articles, like staying overnight in the firm sifting through boxes of document review or writing countless memos never to be read, all worn like a badge of honour. One associate (at a firm that shall remain nameless) told me that I should enjoy exercising now while I still can, because once I start working there will be no time for my health. Unsurprisingly, we students come to understand that treacherous articles are a right of passage.
Am I Expected to Give Up on Happiness?
But is this suffering actually necessary? Is foregoing personal happiness and enduring negative feelings an inescapable part of this career? Do we have to sacrifice our well-being and survive a year of frantic and anxious workaholism as an entrance requirement into law? I am happy to report that the answer is no.
If you are like me, a first or second year student at university, suddenly panicking about your career choice because you have been indoctrinated with “the fear”, there is hope. There is at least one firm out there that is committed to changing the game. Fortunately for me and my predecessors, when MT+Co. set out to change the way people think about the legal industry, that endeavour included changing the way summer students, articling students, and ‘junior’ lawyers are treated.
Is the Work the Same?
The work is still the same – I did a little document review, wrote memos and blogs, and researched a lot. However, I also met clients. I was even introduced as “Erin Reimer, my colleague” rather than “oh, that’s our articling student”. I have my own business cards and my picture is on the website. I worked on a heated arbitration for most of the summer, and at the hearing, I had a seat at the table between the lead lawyer and our client. I hadn’t been at MT+Co. for a month before my opinion was asked on major decisions regarding the future of the firm. In fact, one week after being hired in OCI madness, I was invited to the annual budget review and given full insight into the firm’s finances.
Oh, and there’s the small detail that I WENT TO MEXICO ON A FIRM RETREAT (!!!) three months AFTER my summer articles ended. In Mexico I was able to get to know everyone even more. And I mean everyone – the entire team went to Mexico. Traditionally, annual retreats are partner-only events but MT+Co. invites all staff and lawyers making it a great way to practice what they preach. I had the most amazing summer articling experience and not once did I ever feel like a disposable summer articling student.
Challenging the Legal Status Quo
I’m not saying that it isn’t hard work. There were times where I had a crazy long to-do list, and the expectations are very high. But there are no “make-work” projects. There is no working for works sake. And there certainly isn’t any pressure to look busy all the time. The culture of fear that law school nourishes was replaced by laughter, fun and genuine friendship. Whether I was trying to wrap my mind around a complicated task or having cocktails at Chill Winston after work, my happiness and well-being were always intact. MT+Co. created a Happiness Team for this very reason. We even hired a resident mindfulness coach. Why? Because we live in a society where the pervasiveness of technology facilitates relentless demand, and that can be overwhelming and exhausting. It may seem counterintuitive, but working constantly can actually damage productivity and performance. Being present, calm, and happy is in everyone’s best interest!
Now I know what you’re thinking – summer articling is way different than actual articling. At other firms, summer articling is all about gentle exposure to legal practice and baseball games. The running joke is that firms lure you in with a fun summer and then totally eviscerate your life during your articling year. While this may be true at other firms, it isn’t how we operate. Trust me, I’ve asked Yvan and Tyson! We only hire one student at a time, so while the articling student is away at PLTC, the summering student is at the firm doing all of the same work. So don’t worry, Dan Fogarty, we are going to be just fine.