Let’s start with a basic fact: most second-year students don’t land a summer job through the traditional recruitment process. “I would say 25 percent of our second-year students find a job through the structured recruitment process,” says Jennifer Lau, the director of career services at the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law. “Another 50 percent take the summer off, go travelling, take law-school courses or work in non-law-related jobs. And the final 25 percent of students find summer legal positions in other ways.”
So how, exactly, do students in that last group find work? We know one thing for sure: they probably didn’t land a job by watching job boards. “It’s very common for small law firms, in-house departments and government legal offices to hire students after the structured hiring process,” says Lau. “But these jobs are rarely posted online.”
To recruit summer students, these employers typically invite a select group of students to interview. “They often reach out to students who’ve previously applied to their firm,” says Lau. “It’s also typical for them to contact other lawyers and firms in their network to see if they can suggest any great students.”
To land a job this way, you’ll need to get your name out in the legal world. Surprisingly, one way to do that is to participate in the traditional hiring process. Even if you don’t get a job, you will meet a whack of recruiters and lawyers. You should also network with professors, lawyers and upper-year students.
“The more connections you have, the better,” says Lau. Down the line, they will be your best asset: when they meet lawyers who are looking to hire someone with your skill set and interests, they can pass your name along.
But there is one more strategy that often works: reaching out to firms with a cold application. Start by making a list of every firm that neither participated in the traditional hiring process nor advertised summer opportunities. Then find the lawyer at that firm that likely has the authority to hire students. At a small firm, that would be the most senior lawyer (such as the managing partner); at a mid-sized firm, it’s more likely to be the leader of a practice group. “Then send them an email explaining why you’re interested and what you can bring to the firm,” says Lau. “Attach your resumé and be sure to explain why you think it makes business sense for the employer to meet with you.”
This really works. Just ask Andrea Donaldson. When she was a law student at the University of British Columbia, she had no interest in working at a large corporate firm. But she also knew she wanted a career in litigation. “I just started googling to see what was out there,” she recalls. “I also spoke to other recent graduates to get their recommendations. There were so many firms I wasn’t even remotely aware of.”
This is how she learned of Pacific Medical Law, a medical malpractice firm in Vancouver. Donaldson emailed one of the partners, asking to meet informally to discuss the firm’s work. “Right before the lunch, the partner mentioned it would actually be an interview because they were considering hiring someone,” says Donaldson. “At lunch, we clicked, and then they offered me a position after that.” Fast-forward four years: she is now a second-year associate at the firm. “Things have really worked out since I sent that email.”