A personal account of Camille's experience as an articling student in the middle of a pandemic
When I was seven, I decided I was going to be a lawyer. I had no idea what that entailed, but then my potential career list also included executive assistant (I didn’t know I could be the executive), actress and hairdresser. Any job that allowed for an extended shoe collection was ideal. I had it all planned out. By the time my articling start date came around, my closet was equipped with blazers, blouses, dress pants and heels.
Of course, by September 2020 my articling start date had been pushed back by a month and there were no COVID-19 vaccines in sight. I kept my spirits up and hopes high. I knew I would start my articling term working from home, but I was sure I would be wearing my favourite thrifted Oscar de la Renta blazer and hot pink heels into my office by late fall. Alas, COVID-19 continues to rage on, and my heels are still collecting dust.
Those who knew me during the “Before Times,” expressed concern at the sight of me in leggings and a sweater (“soft clothes”) in public. But a pandemic does strange things to a person, and some days I surprise myself wondering how I ever lasted all day in “hard clothes.”
To be sure, my overall articling experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I never felt like an outsider, and my firm offered commendable work-from-home support. I had the privilege of having a private workspace and did not have to juggle other responsibilities, such as childcare or elder care, on top of my workload.
Even so, articling-from-home has felt much like sailing on choppy waters with an inconsistent wind. Always moving forward – sometimes fast, sometimes slow – but never really stable. While I appreciate everyone has a different articling experience, I am certain that getting through it in-office is a world’s away from articling from home. I always imagined that articling (in an office setting) would be like a roller-coaster ride: fast-paced – lots of highs, lots of lows – and the occasional loop, flipping everything on its head for a brief, but also eternal, moment.
Articling remotely has not been a roller-coaster ride. It's been all about soft clothes, messy buns and mid-day workouts, a coffee addiction that is now more serious than I would like to admit, impromptu FaceTimes to check-up on friends, a really high daily step count on my Fitbit, or next to no steps at all, long overdue phone calls with anyone who will listen, and baking, painting, crafting to avoid the screen in my living room after spending the day logged on. There have been many exciting, laugh-out-loud, palpitating moments, but in many ways articling-from-home has been much softer and gentler; and from time to time, a little dreary.
It's been hard to escape that ground-hog-day-everyday feeling. At the beginning of my articling term, when most of my work consisted of legal research, I could go days without interacting with anyone. I am a people-person and the lack of social stimuli was brutal. By November, I started to feel antsy and struggled to concentrate; my mood shifted with the weather. It was grey outside and in. Around the same time, I had a videoconference call with my articling principal to check-in on my progress and experience. After several minutes of patiently listening to me spiral about my mood, Kyle offered to arrange for a day that I could work from the office. In Quebec, we have an expression to describe Kyle’s office solution: “changer le mal de place,” which roughly translates to “shifting the itch or the hurt.” The change of scenery was like hitting the refresh button. I was so excited to work from the office, I pre-planned three outfits.
The most effective cure I have found to the common COVID-19 monotony is wearing a fabulous pair of shoes to the grocery store, a good hair wash or throwing on a matching jogger and sweater outfit. "Shifting the itch” to another workspace also helps, even if it's just moving to your kitchen counter.
Don't get me wrong. I love my 600-square foot condo in downtown Toronto, but space is limited. My home has multiple personalities: it serves as an office, a yoga studio, a gym, a boardroom, a library, a coffee shop, and a court reporter’s office. It has even served as a courtroom!
I will be called to the bar in a month or so only ever having attended virtual court, virtual mediations and virtual examinations for discovery. I have seen the inside of a judge’s immense private library at home, but never set foot inside a courtroom. There have been no after-work drinks, no lunches with friends, and I have never gotten lost in the PATH rushing to a client’s office. I’ve definitively never regretted my choice of shoes on a particularly long day at the office.
On the other hand, I've learned that no feedback is usually good feedback, and that it’s important to have faith that people trust you and aren’t second-guessing your work, and that as an early riser I can get a lot of work done between the hours of 7 am and 12 pm. I also know that e-mail notifications do not simply flow out of my articling student brain when I’m in the middle of an at-home yoga practice, going against everything yoga has taught over the last ten years.
I now hope that many of us will enter the After Times with a very different approach to the practice of law. Like many pandemic articling students, I have never felt the need to stay “at the office” until everyone else leaves, just to “show face." Most days, people don’t even see my face. Despite all the bad, the pandemic has taught me many things. Most important of all, I hope that when we return to “real” office life, we drop the notion that success is measured by the hours we spend at the office or by sacrificing sleep to answer e-mails. Neither is commendable, nor inspiring.
Along with everyone completing their articles in Ontario this year, I will get called to bar administratively. One random day in June, unbeknownst to me, I will receive an e-mail from the Law Society of Ontario to inform me that I am now a lawyer. None of my university degrees have made it out of my closet at my parent’s house but mark my word, I will frame that e-mail!
I have made peace with my articling experience for everything that it was. To this day, I remain hopeful and eager to discover a new life in the law. I already have an upcoming appointment to get fitted for my court robes. The day will come, at long last, when I will set foot inside a courtroom wearing my custom-fit robe and court-appropriate, but most definitely not boring, shoes.