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Navigating the Path Forward: A Survival Guide for Articling Students Not Hired Back

By Lameck Kefela

As summer approaches, a pivotal moment arrives in the legal calendar: hire-back season. Articling students across Canada learn whether they will join their firms as full-fledged associates. Unfortunately, many will face the heart-wrenching news that their time at their articling firm has ended, leaving them to seek their next opportunity elsewhere.

This blog is here to help. First, I will share my own experience, followed by practical advice to guide you through this challenging time.

You Will Land Somewhere

Not long ago, I was in your shoes. Just last year, I walked into my articling principal’s office and was told that there was no need for a junior associate in the group I aspired to join. Despite having anticipated this outcome, hearing it was still a blow. I thanked my principal, returned to my cubicle, and shared the news with my articling class. It felt like the end of the world, but I soon realized it was merely the beginning of my career journey.

Friends and colleagues may offer comfort with phrases like “You will land somewhere” or “Give it time, you’ll be fine.” While well-intentioned, these comments often overlook two crucial points: (i) the initial emotional and financial impact of being unemployed, and (ii) the variable timeline for finding a new position. Some may secure jobs quickly, while others may take longer. This isn’t to add to your distress but to prepare you for the road ahead. It will require effort, but you will find the right opportunity.

Looking back at last year, I remember how my colleagues and I, who were not rehired, were panicking and trying to make sense of what had happened. Now, it’s amusing to see where we all ended up. Some of my friends got the positions they had been aiming for since OCIs, others went in-house, some joined firms they had never even heard of and are really enjoying the experience, and a few even started their own practices. I had joined legal tech startup before ultimately switching gears and going into recruiting. The point is, you will find your place; it’s just a matter of time. Stay patient and positive, and the right opportunity will come your way.

Take Time to Reflect and Regroup

First, take a moment to acknowledge your feelings and regroup. It’s natural to feel disappointed, but don’t let this define your self-worth. Reflect on your experiences during articling to identify what you enjoyed and what you didn’t. This insight can help you steer your career in a direction that aligns with your interests and strengths.

Seek Constructive Feedback

Understanding why you weren’t hired back can provide valuable insights for your next steps. Request feedback from your principal or supervisors to learn about your strengths and areas for improvement. This can guide your professional development and improve your chances in future applications.

Update Your Professional Materials and be Active on LinkedIn

Revise your resume to highlight your most relevant experiences and skills. Craft a versatile cover letter template that can be tailored for different positions.

Ensure your LinkedIn profile and other professional social media accounts are up-to-date and reflect your current career aspirations.

LinkedIn is your best friend in this process; share your thoughts on legal developments in the area of law you are interested in practicing, share your experience as an articling student, and repost any articles you may have written on behalf of your firm. People often do not post on LinkedIn besides announcing a new position. Increasing your activity on LinkedIn will naturally increase your visibility.

Networking, Networking and….You Guessed it, More Networking

Networking is crucial in securing a position as a new associate. It’s important to set a daily goal for the number of people you will contact and stick to it. The more people you reach out to, the higher your chances of securing coffee chats and eventually landing a position. Start by contacting the firms you are interested in working for and reach out to the people working there. Lawyers are generally kind and willing to help new associates enter the job market.

In addition to reaching out to people at the firms you’re interested in, also make sure to contact your contacts from law school, past workplaces, and professional associations. Attend legal industry events, seminars, and informal gatherings as well. Building and maintaining relationships can open doors to new opportunities.

After meeting new contacts, make sure to follow up promptly. Send a brief email referencing your conversation and expressing your interest in staying connected. Regular communication can reinforce these connections and keep you on their radar for potential job openings.

Explore Diverse Opportunities

It’s important to explore diverse opportunities by considering broadening your job search geographically or exploring different areas of law. Sometimes, the perfect opportunity might be in a different city or practice area. Being flexible can enhance your chances of finding a fulfilling position.

Consider Alternative Paths

While searching for a permanent position, consider temporary or contract work to gain experience and maintain financial stability. Document review, legal research, and other short-term roles can keep you engaged in the legal field.

Final Thoughts

Facing the challenge of not being hired back after articling can be tough, but it’s an opportunity to redefine your career path. By seeking feedback, securing strong references, actively networking, and staying persistent, you can turn this setback into a stepping stone toward a successful legal career. Remember, your journey in law is just beginning. With the right approach, you will find a position that suits you best.

Finding a first-year associate position is challenging, but don’t be too hard on yourself. This period is an opportunity for growth and reflection. Stay active in the legal community, update your professional materials, and leverage your network. Most importantly, stay positive and persistent. Your career is just beginning, and with determination and effort, you will find the right opportunity.


Lameck Kefela is a Recruitment Consultant with Smith Legal Search in Toronto.

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