Forging Your Own Path: Alternative routes to big law

  • June 06, 2021
  • Rachel Fielding and Alexander Evangelista

It is that time of year again, when Big Law firms can breathe after wrapping up another summer student recruit, and those students who were successful during the recruit can celebrate and start thinking about their "3LOL" year.

However, while there is a lot for those students to be excited for, there are many other students who were not offered a summer position during the recruit and are left asking a very important question: "What now?"

Ask any student director at a Big Law firm and they will tell you that some of the most heartbreaking moments in the recruitment process are the inevitable emails and phone calls from unsuccessful students asking where they "went wrong." The tragic part is that often there was nothing "wrong." These students are the same before and after the recruit regardless of the outcome: smart, talented and successful, with a promising career ahead of them.

While law schools do a great job of preparing students for the recruitment process, there is often less emphasis on what to do after the process for students who are still looking for a position. Many students are left with the feeling that just because they did not get a summer student or articling position at a Big Law firm, that particular "door" is closed to them forever.

As two associates at a Big Law firm, who did not get hired here during their summer or articling recruits and took a "non-conventional route" to get to where we are today, we can safely say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Neither of us had any connection to Fogler, Rubinoff LLP prior to being hired. After not obtaining a summer position at a Big Law firm, both of us went on to summer and article at fairly small boutique firms. Both of us embraced that opportunity to obtain hands-on experience, enough so that when we did apply to our firm down the road, our resumes stood out. There was no magic to it. We worked hard, taking what we could from our experiences, so that when the time came and we had an interview, we could have worthwhile work to talk about. 

In fact, we are not the only ones who came to practice at our firm through a non-linear trajectory. Here are some stories from our colleagues who also carved their own paths:

My first "legal" job was as a summer student at a boutique firm in northern Ontario where I practiced wills and estates law. Although I was grateful for the opportunity, I learned that area of practice was not for me and started looking for new opportunities in corporate law. I was fortunate to then complete my articles at a private equity firm. Traditional advice would have told me that I needed to article at a Big Law firm or my goal of becoming a corporate lawyer would be a done deal (no pun intended). However, during my articles, I gained insights into what's important for business professionals and what it feels like for a "client" to engage with external counsel. I also met an amazing mentor, who pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone. He encouraged me to take the Canadian Securities Course while articling, which piqued my interest in securities law, and ultimately to apply for a role as a Securities Associate at Foglers. Through my experience, I've learned that, regardless of the path you take, staying true to who you are and recognizing your values, strengths and weaknesses will lead to success. Surround yourself with people who inspire, motivate and push you to be your best, whether it be mentors, colleagues, friends or family. This will lead you to success and satisfaction in your role as a future lawyer, whatever that might look like. Jennifer A. Humphrey, Securities Associate, 2018 Call

I was dead set on landing a summer position through OCIs. When my phone didn't ring at 5pm on offer day, I was devastated. I let that define me for my entire 2L year. Nine months later, I dove into the articling recruit, which allowed me to home in on firms that appealed to my interest in litigation. I landed an articling position with a boutique firm, which provided with a fantastic articling experience. Unfortunately, I was on the hunt for an associate position not far into the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, I was hired into Foglers' litigation department. I was led to this opportunity entirely through my network: recruiters and lawyers that I had kept in touch with over the course of my job searches, who then connected me with new connections. My advice to disappointed 2L students who hope to end up at a Big Law firm is to stay in touch with as many people as you can and leverage those relationships. You are more likely to land a position through a connection than through a formal job posting. Not only will strong networking potentially land you your dream job, but you will benefit professionally from having made those connections. Lawyers and colleagues are usually happy to pass your name along or chat. Don't be afraid to ask. Adam Varro, Litigation Associate, 2020 Call

My best advice is to stay the course, even if things don't work out at first. Following the linear path and landing a student position through a recruit is great, but there are lots of other opportunities for young lawyers. Your work experience, the people you meet and the reputation you build for yourself will be increasingly more important once you're outside of law school. Not everyone's path is linear and no two journeys are the same.Sasha Kraus, Wills and Estates Associate, 2014 Call

While each of these associates had a slightly different story, they shared one commonality: they did not give up in the face of disappointment. If working at a Big Law firm is your dream, then there is no reason why you cannot continue to work towards it.

So Where Do You Go From Here?

The answer is simple, you keep pressing on. While your summer or articling position might not be what you had envisioned, knowledge and experience are never wasted. Use this time to:

  • Develop your legal skills and work on your experience;
  • Reach out and build relationships with lawyers and mentors; and
  • Keep working hard and working on yourself.

Eventually, you will find a great position where you can excel at and be happy. We hope that this article shows that you are not alone; there are many associates who are building rewarding careers in Big Law firms who came from other paths outside of the formal recruits.

So, if you were not successful during this summer recruitment process, take a breath. As you can clearly see, there is life, and success, after this if you just keep moving forward.

About the authors

Rachel Fielding and Alexander Evangelista are both litigation associates at Fogler, Rubinoff LLP.