Back in law school, most students seemed to share a similar career plan: 1) complete a summer placement at a law firm, 2) article at that law firm, and 3) get hired as an associate at that law firm. Given this focus on employment with firms, it could be understandably frustrating for students to fail to find summer employment at a law firm, and to have their plan derailed at step 1).
I personally never summered at a law firm. Instead, I spent my pre-law summer cycling across the country, the next summer working at a mid-sized bank, and my final summer working for the federal government.
Through this experience, I learned that summer employment at a law firm is far from a necessary prerequisite for steps 2) and 3). In fact, finding summer employment outside of a law firm can eventually lead to an articling and/or associate position with the firm of your choice.
“Points of Entry” into Law Firms
There are firms that hire articling students exclusively from their pool of summer students. Many law firms, however, have an open recruitment for both summer students and articling students. Some firms only hire articling students. At Harrison Pensa, the process varies from year to year.
All this is to say that the summer student recruit is by no means the only “point of entry” into most law firms. Law students should therefore not discount the value of quality summer experience outside the law firm environment.
The Benefits of Alternative Summer Experience
Law firms, like most employers, look for a wide range of skills in their articling or associate candidates. Many of these are obvious, like writing, attention to detail, and time management.
An alternative summer position, however, can provide additional skills which allow a candidate to stand out from a crowd. Such skills could include project management, marketing, team building, or customer service.
In many cases, an alternative summer position can also give a student unique insight into an industry valued by the firm. In my own experience, I worked for a federal regulator that interacted frequently with various law firms and their clients. I came to learn that this “inside perspective” was a desirable quality in an articling candidate.
Where to find Alternative Summer Employment
- Government – Municipal, provincial, and federal governments hire summer students. Do not limit your search to the traditional “law student” positions with the Ministry of the Attorney General or the Department of Justice. There are many other ministries and departments that offer jobs related to law, but which do not specifically target law students.
- Note: The Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) is the main source for jobs with Canada’s federal government. Be aware that they rarely post actual positions, but instead draw from a pool of submitted resumes.
- Private Sector – Relevant private sector employers could include banks, insurers, utilities, and other large companies. Often, these companies offer a unique opportunity to work with in-house counsel, or to work in roles closely related to your undergraduate background.
- Note: Many of these relevant positions will not appear on law school career databases, or even general job search sites. I suggest going directly to the website of every big company you know, and check for relevant summer jobs.
- Self-Directed Activities – One of the most highly valued traits in the law firm will be independence and self-direction. If for some reason you are unable, or decide against, traditional employment, be sure to nonetheless do something. This could range from a charitable endeavor, to starting your own small business. My cycling adventure, for example, seemed to elicit more interest from potential employers than either of my summer jobs.
None of this post is meant to discount the law firm summer experience. Summering at a law firm, especially at a full-service firm like Harrison Pensa, provides an array of skills and experiences, and would undoubtedly prepare you for both articling and your career as a lawyer.
Instead, this post is to say that law students should not, as many do, treat a failure to find a summer position at a law firm as the end of their legal career.
Instead, law students should be aware of the summer opportunities that exist outside of law firms, and recognize that the skills and experiences gained in such positions are often highly valued by law firms during articling or even associate recruitment.
Best of luck!