Working after one year of law school

Sandra gives advice to a first year law student seeking a summer job
Sandra gives advice to a first year law student seeking a summer job

photo by photologue_npSandra, I just completed my first year in law school and have not been able to find a summer job. In my class, pretty much only the people with engineering degrees are working in law firms. Why do law firms discriminate against first-year law students and how are we supposed to get experience if no one will hire us?
– Noah Job

Noah, I’m afraid that your job search challenges are part of a larger trend and quite common among people your age in the current job market. There is, however, good news. Though it might not feel like it, the fact that you are in your first year of law school actually gives you an edge. You are right; law firms typically don’t hire first years. Even in the olden days, when I went to law school, only the IP firms tended to hire first year law students. But then again, the wheel had not yet been invented.

It’s not that firms discriminate against first year students. It’s simply a matter of tradition and capacity. Recruitment has to be cut off somewhere. The larger firms recruit from the ranks of summer students who have completed two years of law school. A great many firms hire articling students from which they select their future associates. These days, firms just don’t have the bandwidth to justify hiring more students and many are scaling back on their articling programs. When I summered, we were a group of 32 with a guarantee of being hired for articling and an associate position after graduation. Summer recruitment programs on this scale are now virtually unheard of, even south of the border.

My advice is to cast your net wide in your summer job search. Law firms are not hiring. Fine. Ask yourself: who else is hiring and how can I leverage my first year law experience and previous work experience in another industry or area?  What do I want from my summer job: money, a nice line on my resume, or both? If you are hell-bent on that legal experience, consider volunteering at a community legal clinic or offering your services free of charge to a small firm or single practitioner. Be honest with yourself and ask the brave question: at this point, what am I willing to do?

Now, about that edge. It comes with a catch. Being in your first year of law school gives you an edge in almost any space other than law. What I’m saying, merely by way of example, is that you will look impressive if you are applying for a job at Starbucks or as a receptionist at an insurance agency. Speaking of agencies, sign up with several recruitment agencies. They love law students.

Noah, career experience is not linear. There are a myriad types of previous job experiences that you can leverage in your law career, from the persistence and resourcefulness you learned as a tree planter to dealing with a high pressure restaurant environment as a line order cook. So far, you have considered what jobs are available for first year law students in a discreet industry that does not hire first year law students. You need to ask a different question that will open up your prospects. What does the market need that a first year law student can do and would enjoy?

Sandra Rosier is a former Supreme Court of Canada clerk who has worked at large firms in Toronto and Boston. Having come to her senses, Sandra currently works as a tax advisor at a Toronto-based organization. Have a question for Sandra? Email us.

Photo by photologue_np (Flickr)