law firms articling students

As the number of Canadian law grads keeps climbing, we asked what it takes for articling students to make the grade

Some people might think that just graduating from law school means you’re free to become a lawyer, but it’s not that simple. After earning their degree, grads must find an articling job—essentially an apprenticeship where they work under another lawyer. Prospective lawyers need to article for nine months.

Once a law school graduate has finished their articling placement and met some other requirements, they’re finally eligible to be called to the BC Bar.

Articling gives grads a taste of what it’s like to practise law before diving into the profession, but law firms can only take on so many students each year. Total annual enrolment in 20 Canadian law schools climbed by 8 percent from 2014 to 2019. That rise outweighs the provincial government’s 1.8-percent forecasted average employment growth rate for lawyers from 2019 through 2024.

With the supply of law students increasing steadily, who’s getting the high-end articling jobs?

For some insight, BCBusiness looked at articling students listed on the websites of five B.C. law firms that are among the province’s 10 biggest. Those five firms took in a total of 48 students over the past year, with each one accepting roughly 10.

Although our sample only represents the private side of the legal profession, it’s a useful indicator for any grad or prospective law student hoping to enter the local industry.

Most of those 48 students—58.3 percent—are female. Of the 46 whose alma mater is given, here are the top five schools they attended for their law degree:

41.3% – UBC
15.2% – Thompson Rivers University
10.9% – UVic
8.7% – Queen’s University
4.3% – University of Calgary

Those who earned a graduate degree before attending law school didn’t appear to have much of a recruiting advantage. Just 17.4 percent of articling students at the five firms have a master’s degree, and none obtained a PhD prior to their law studies.

In an effort to gain a competitive edge, some law students enrol in a dual-degree program that combines law with another graduate degree like an MBA or a master of arts. UBC and UVic are the only B.C. schools that offer such programs. Among the articling students we considered, just one grad went that route—earning a JD/MBA at UBC.

For grads who want to article, timing is another question. If our sample group is any indication, it’s best to get going right after law school. For the 46 articling students in our sample whose graduation years were listed, here’s the breakdown:

35 graduated in 2021
9 graduated in  2020
1 graduated in 2019
1 graduated in 2012

If you’re planning to article at major corporate law firm, there doesn’t seem to be much room for a gap year.