I was one of the lucky ones. When it came time for me to article, in 2001, I landed at a big Bay Street firm. Having only worked in the non-profit world, I was in awe of the resources the firm had to invest in my training. I had a formal mentor, who took me out for fancy lunches and helped me navigate the corporate culture. I attended seminars on corporate law, as well as lunch-and-learns on legal ethics. The firm even arranged a slate of elite social events: a curling lesson at Toronto’s exclusive Boulevard Club, a boat cruise and a helicopter ride. No big deal.
Though these bells and whistles were pretty incredible, I observed law at its highest level on my secondment. For two months during my articles, I worked at Greenspan, Henein and White (now called Greenspan Partners), which, at the time, was the top criminal-law firm in the country. Eddie Greenspan, who passed away in 2014, was a legal titan, and I am forever grateful that I had the opportunity to work with him. Sure, I had to do some typical articling-student work: summarizing transcripts, reviewing documents, attending set-date court. But I also got to tag along to trials and, perhaps best of all, sit in Eddie’s office while he worked. I could hang out as he practised speeches, prepared for court, chatted with friends and met with clients. He never shooed me away. It was mentorship at its very best.
I ultimately chose not to practise law, but I can’t complain about articling. I had the finest opportunity available.
My experience, however, is unusual. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of great articling principals out there at firms of all sizes. But there are also a lot of terrible ones. For this issue’s cover story, journalist Simon Lewsen spoke to lawyers who had articling experiences that were truly awful. His story includes jaw-dropping accounts of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment. The fact that this sort of exploitation continues to go on is unacceptable. In his story, Lewsen calls for drastic changes to the entire lawyer-licensing system. The profession ought to listen.
In hindsight, I got to live out the articling dream. I wish everyone could have an experience as good as mine. But the sad reality is that, for too many students, articling is a total nightmare.
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