The Barristers and Solicitors' Oath

On Becoming a Lawyer

It has been a while since my last update – and for good reason! The last year has been quite busy, and has gotten in the way of my already-irregular blogging habits.

Most of the last year has involved work, which is to be expected. If you’re reading these words, you likely already know that I graduated from law school last year, and thereafter began a year-long process called “articling” (or, because this is a custom with British origins and must therefore be referred to with several slightly-different terms, “articles”). It’s basically a one-year apprenticeship at a law firm, interspersed with coursework and the Bar exams. I took the exams right away, so they’re now a distant and mildly unpleasant memory.

Bar exam aftermath
Taken moments after the last Bar exam. This table haunts my dreams.

I have spent the bulk of the last year working for an intellectual property law firm, Oyen Wiggs Green & Mutala LLP. This blog isn’t really about work, so I won’t say much about the firm other than I quite like the people I work with and they seem to like me, so I was keen to stay on.

From the student’s perspective, articling does not have much to recommend it. The hours tend to be long, the wages are a fraction of a lawyer’s, and there is no job security. This latter part is probably the worst; articling students usually go most of the year without knowing whether they’ll be hunting for work by the end of it, and it makes the first ten or so months feel like an extended job interview (which, frankly, it is). No matter how pleasant the workplace, that can wear on a person. I would remind myself that I do good work (for a new practitioner, at any rate) and that the firm seems to like me, but I am a pessimist at heart, so these reminders were not very effective remedies.

As it happens, with two months left on the clock, the firm offered me a position as an Associate (to be commenced after my articles are complete, naturally). After some back-and-forth about the terms of employment, I accepted. To be honest, I was quite happy with the terms as originally presented; I just felt that conducting some sort of negotiation is something that a proper lawyer ought to do.

Dictaphone in the boardroom
For the same reason, I prefer to do my dictation in a boardroom. It just feels more lawyerly when mahogany is involved.

When I signed the offer of employment, I gained a new understanding of the phrase “like a weight lifted from my shoulders.” There was an actual, physical tension right in the shoulders that loosened, feeling very much like removing an actual weight.

The last two months of articles passed pleasantly. I helped plan a wedding shower for a friend at work (her articles overlapped with mine, and for a time she had the poor fortune to share an office with me), Amelia and I took up running with some of her friends from grad school, we saw a surprising number of plays, and we just generally started going out into this city that we’ve been working in and started living in it a little bit too.

My articles ended uneventfully, and I became a lawyer at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon. My principal (Todd, a partner at the firm who was charged with overseeing my articles) and I met with the lawyers in one of the firm’s boardrooms. Todd read out the Barristers and Solicitors’ Oath, I swore to it, and everyone clinked champagne glasses (the firm very kindly got non-alcoholic champagne for me). It took less than a minute, though many of the lawyers stuck around to chat, congratulate me, and share their stories.

I liked it. By way of comparison, I’ve been through a fair number of graduation ceremonies, and they give me a sense of something ending and a sense of hope for the next as-yet-unknown-and-uncertain beginning. By the time I got my J.D., I’d grown tired of waiting for that beginning. This was different. This said “You’re here – now let’s get to work.” I have been waiting for that for a long time.

Todd and me toasting (yes, it is "and me", not "and I". Don't get me started)
Todd is renowned for his (strictly-enforced) casual dress code.

In the days following, people have asked me if I feel different now that I’m a proper lawyer. I don’t. I felt different two months ago, when the uncertainty of articling melted away. Now I’m just doing the same work that I was doing during my articles, just better (I hope) and at a much higher pay grade. There are some differences, of course – I’ll be taking on new responsibilities at work, training for the patent agent exams, and building my own practice within the firm. That doesn’t feel transformative, but it doesn’t need to. I don’t want to be transformed – I just want to get to work.

 

Note


The ceremony at work was a private one. I’ll be attending a public ceremony as well, where a judge will administer the oath to me and number of other new lawyers. The ceremony doesn’t actually make me a lawyer (that’s already happened), but it does serve as public recognition of my induction into lawyerhood. The ceremony will be in the Great Hall in the courthouse on 800 Smithe St in Vancouver on Friday, 13 September 2013 at 1:30pm. You’re welcome to attend, if you’re so inclined.