I met a law graduate at a dinner in Vancouver a few weeks back. She told me she felt frustrated and discouraged, and asked if I had any suggestions to improve her odds of finding an articling position.
Her question got me thinking about where law graduates are looking for positions and how many are simply delivering their resumes to larger firms in the Lower Mainland. It struck me that there might be lot of untapped opportunities with sole practitioners that aren’t necessarily in the Lower Mainland.
There are 2,340 sole practitioners in the province and it turns out that 63 students are currently articling with sole practitioners. That’s a pretty sizeable opportunity for students seeking an articling position.
There are a lot of reasons why a sole practitioner might not consider taking on a student. Mostly, though, it comes down to time and money. I can’t speak for everybody, but a lot of sole practitioners probably assume a student would be a drain on the time that they could be billing. And if they pay a student the going rate, outside of Vancouver, of around $30,000 a year, a lot of sole practitioners would think that’s a cost they can’t afford.
But if they did the math, sole practitioners might find that taking on a student isn’t the burden they expect.
Before I took on a student in my Kamloops practice, I crunched the numbers. My expectation was that our student would work eight hours a day. I figured I could convert five hours a day to billed time, or about 1,000 hours for the year (25 hours per week; four weeks per month; 10 months). If the student can bill at $50 or $75 an hour, then I would break even on the year. With a bit of luck, I could even come out ahead.
Yes, the principal has to give up some of his or her own time, but my personal experience tells me it’s worth it. It reminds us that we do actually know some things, and teaching and supervising turns out to be a very fulfilling experience.
The responsibility to open up more sole-practitioner articling possibilities doesn’t rest entirely with the lawyers. Students can be proactive. They could use similar numbers to develop a "business plan" they can present to a sole practitioner who might not be considering taking on a student.
And if students and sole practitioners alike think beyond the nine months of articles, they’ll see another potential opportunity: over 850 of the province’s sole practitioners are 60 or older. That’s a lot of lawyers who might be looking for a succession plan. For students that represents a potential career path to their own practice.
Students represent the future of the legal profession. It’s worth some time and some effort to figure out if you might have room for one in your small practice. It may even turn out to be a great experience for both you and the student.