6 things to remember if you didn’t get a big-firm summer job

By: December 23, 2016

Relax, it’s not the end

Students stressed

Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series on how to land a second-year summer job outside the OCI process.

Every year, thousands of law students participate in the fall recruitment process. And they all aspire to the same thing: to summer on Bay Street. But the truth is, only a small percentage of them actually do. “There just aren’t as many jobs as there are great candidates,” says Kim Bonnar, manager of experiential education and career development at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Since 2008, PrecedentJD’s Summer Job Watch has been tracking Bay Street’s summer job numbers, and this year’s results aren’t pretty: the number of student positions has dropped to the lowest in 10 years. Given the highly competitive nature of fall recruitment, students should really have a Plan B. Here are six things to remember if you didn’t land that big-firm job:

1. Keep an open mind

“Many students have a set idea of working as a summer student at a law firm,” says Bonnar. “And they spend a lot of time formulating answers to why that’s what they want.” Bonnar encourages students to think more broadly about their summer plans and identify other areas of law they’re interested in. “The truth is,” she says, “there are many different things students can do over their 2L summer that will help them build the sorts of skills needed to be successful in the articling recruit, and later on in their legal career.”

2. Focus on developing skills

If you didn’t land a summer job, take that time to acquire some core legal skills, if you don’t already have them. “Reflect on your resumé and recognize where your skills or experiences are lacking,” says Bonnar. In law, research and writing skills are essential. “So it might be better to focus your job search on positions that help you cultivate those kinds of abilities, and not as much on the type of work or area of law.” If you’re able to demonstrate that you acquired these skills in a professional context, you’ll be a more competitive candidate in articling interviews.

3. Get creative about where you look

To expand the number of opportunities available to you, Bonnar advises students to look beyond online job postings. “Think about your past experiences before law school,” says Bonnar, “and approach those organizations you have a connection with to see if they need help in their legal department.”

4. Be proactive

Rather than continuing with a passive job search, Robyn Marttila encourages students to really get out there. “Do some networking, access the hidden job market and target employers that do the type of work you want to do,” says the director of career and professional development office at Western Law. Informational interviews or coffee “chats” are a good way to learn about an employer, expand your network and inform your career plans. “Just don’t go in asking for a job,” adds Marttila. If you’ve zeroed in on a specific geography or practice area, Marttila recommends doing more than just applying to postings online. “You might have to take the bull by the horns and target other offices that do the type of work you are interested in, but may not traditionally hire students.”

5. Focus on articling recruitment

“Some students might also wish to concentrate on the articling recruit,” points out Marttila, “which is pretty robust.” There are many smaller firms and government departments in Toronto that hire articling students. So, if working in Toronto is your priority, then you might consider other options for your 2L summer to gain some experience and build some transferable skills. Martilla suggests working as a research assistant, working at a community clinic, or doing an in international internship to make you more marketable to articling employers.

6. Take a step back

“Do some self-assessment and try to keep things in perspective,” says Marttila. A 2L summer position is not critical, and most students go on to land articling positions. “Students may have to reframe and refocus their long-term career plan, but there are still many great opportunities out there. You just need to be proactive and have an open mind.”

Read other stories in our three-part series:

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