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An unpredictable articling year

Even so, some traditions must endure.

Working late with coffee

I completed my articles at Bennett Jones in Calgary during the pandemic, starting in September 2020 and ending in June 2021. The only term which comes close to describing this period of my life is "unpredictable."

Like most articling students, the demands of the job are such that I could not make plans outside of work with any degree of certainty. Outside the walls of the firm, however, everyone I knew was facing a similarly unpredictable year, only one they had not applied for. The merry-go-round of pandemic-related restrictions, lock-downs, quarantines and closures left everyone in a constant state of uncertainty and flux. I struggle to differentiate between the unpredictable year I planned for and that which was served up by the pandemic.  A case in point is my harrowing tale of making the firm's 2020 Articling Student Holiday Video, an annual event, taking place in a pandemic.

The legal profession has a tradition of asking articling students to entertain their colleagues at the annual holiday party. Apparently, in the olden days, articling students would prepare and perform live skits. I am told that thankfully, in the early 2000s the format had shifted to video and are a success if they're clever and funny. Articling students' existence at the margins of a law firm is part of what makes these videos funny, pointed, and revealing, at their best.

These dynamics appeared for us to be heightened as it felt like a lot was riding on the video, and perhaps it was. In the fall of 2020, several lawyers tried to lessen our isolation by taking us out from time to time, but this abruptly ended with the lockdown of late 2020. In fact, the final day of filming for the video took place on what would end up being our last day in the office of 2020 and for several months into 2021. We felt that this video was our best chance to transmit our character and collective sense of humour –our personhood – to our colleagues. As an articling student, it can be difficult to know what you are being judged for, and it is easy to elide the personal with the professional when your experience is strictly virtual.

I am told that students in non-pandemic years, collectively, record a few hundred hours to the video, between script-writing, casting, rehearsing, videography, and editing. At my firm, most groups begin their articles in June and work on the video throughout the summer and fall. Due to our delayed start date and restrictions on gatherings,  our student group incorrectly assumed that we were off the hook and the video would not be going ahead. This was not the case.

In October it was decided there would be a virtual holiday celebration which would debut the firm's 2020 Articling Students Holiday Video. Making the video was great fun, but it wasn’t free of logistical challenges. We crammed months of planning into six short weeks, while also attending to our "real" work.

We found humour behind these pandemic-related challenges by recreating scenes of children crashing virtual meetings, poking fun at the office soda-water shortage, covering pandemic fashion trends and even sending an intrepid reporter to explore the deserted halls of the abandoned Bankers Hall.   The video reads as an honest portrait of the time. It was broadcast at the firm's virtual holiday party and all reports suggest it was a success.  As there was no live audience, we were spared any awkward silence when a joke did not land and we laughed at ourselves with every zinger lobbed.

While seemingly gratuitous at the time, it was a privilege to carry on this time-honoured tradition. While the pandemic made the planning and execution of the video unpredictable, it was one small thing that the pandemic did not take from us. I could not recount how many late nights or weekends I lost during my article year, but I can tell you the name of every individual who went above and beyond to make the video happen and I cherish the memories made.