Articling Application Prep: Defining Your Legal Interests
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Yesterday I started a week-long series designed to prepare you for articling applications with some preparatory homework: evaluating yourself and building your narrative accordingly. We took a look at why writing your applications with a cohesive and personal narrative in mind is important and I outlined key steps you should start thinking through well before the July application deadlines.
Today, I'll address step one: defining your legal interests. As I said in yesterday's post, defining your narrative starts with you, and defining your legal interests as part of that narrative is no different. So, sit down and ask yourself, what area(s) of the law are you most interested in and what interests you about it/them?
A little bit of practicality here can go a long way. Aligning your interests with developments in the legal market and your prospective clients' markets is a really good way to nail down your focus. I highly recommend downloading a news feed program (e.g. Feedly or Flipboard) to help you get orientated in the world outside school. Envisioning your legal interests in practice and understanding developments and challenges will help you sound knowledgable and add depth to your applications.
Once you've identified your legal interest, take some time to fitness it. If your initial answer was really niche then try to expand it and connect it to broader practice areas (e.g. tech law to corporate law and M&A). Conversely, if your initial answer was very broad, narrow it down to something more specific (corporate law to M&A).
Having both a broad and narrow definition of your legal interests adds variety to your application capability. You'll be able to align your applications to both big multi-practice firms and smaller, more focused boutique firms.
Generally speaking, large to mid-sized firms will structure their articling programs with seat rotations, meaning you will spend your articling term in a variety of practice areas. For this reason, you want to ensure you communicate your personal legal interests but also express enthusiasm for the other practice areas you will get to explore; if you can, demonstrate how your specific interests intersect with the other practice seats. Articling seat-rotations are designed to expand your horizons and introduce you to new practice areas -- you should go in with an open mind and ensure your application expresses this.
In a small boutique firm, you may not have a seat rotation so it's better to focus these applications on your specific interests as they align with the firm's practice areas.
In short, how broadly or narrowly you define your legal interests will depend on the types of firms you want to apply for. And it's honestly okay to not know at this point, but going through the exercises above will help. Additionally, I learned significantly more about my interests and what I was looking for in a firm as I applied to and interacted with them (something we'll get into a bit more in the last instalment of this series).
Lastly, don't forget about the "why". Do take some time to consider why you are interested in your selected practice area. What about it excites you? Are there recent challenges or developments that have peaked your interests? Do you have a personal connection to this area of law? Again, developing this personal element of your legal interests adds depth and individuality and memorability to your applications. Its an elegant way to show your human side—something I think students sometimes lose while trying to be the "perfect" candidate—and invite recruiters to connect with you.