It can be hard for anyone to land that summer job or articling position. But law students of racialized backgrounds face an additional hurdle: despite making up nearly 20 percent of the country’s population, they’re entering a market in which only seven percent of partners are racialized (at least, that’s the case in the GTA).
I moved to Canada from Korea when I was 11, so I’m used to seeing few faces that resemble my own — particularly in law school and among law firms I was hoping to work at. I don’t believe the onus is on racialized students to change who they are to “fit” into a profession that’s almost entirely white. But it’s useful, as an outsider, to have a few strategies up your sleeve. Here’s what worked for me during the big-firm recruitment process:
Get involved with law-student organizations who share your background
Growing up, I didn’t know any lawyers. Nobody in my family had gone to law school. So, when I got to school, I sought out groups like the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers and the Korean Canadian Lawyers Association. (Today, I serve on the executive board of the KCLA.) I found mentors, networking events and social opportunities. And I met people who look like me and understood my experiences.
Be proactive, too. If you meet lawyers or students from firms or organizations you’d like to work at, send a polite email afterwards and ask to grab a coffee. Before you go, prepare a list of questions. Ask them about their career paths, OCI experience or if they know any other lawyers in the field they could introduce you to. You can make a lasting relationship with future colleagues and mentors who will provide valuable guidance.
Your difference is your strength — let the interviewer know that
Do not shrink because you feel different. Be proud of that difference, and tell your story. You may have had to combat certain stereotypes or, if you’re an immigrant, learn English as a second language. These experiences make you a stronger candidate. Think of your identity as a Venn diagram. In that sliver where the two circles overlap is something new to your potential employer: you.
Find some common ground
On the surface, it may feel like you have nothing in common with your interviewer. But there’s always a way to connect. All you need to do is stay curious. If your interviewer asks about your volunteer experience and mentions that she did something similar, ask about her experience. If you attended the same university, find out if your favourite hangout spots are the same. Once it feels more like a conversation, the focus of the interview will shift from your differences to your similarities.
Fight stereotypes with practice
I’ve had students from Asian backgrounds ask me how to avoid coming off as the “quiet Asian” stereotype in interviews. It should be obvious that not all Asians are shy or quiet, but, if you’re nervous, here’s what I suggest: before your interviews, write down key points about your experiences and success stories on paper, and tell those stories to different people a couple of times. Your school’s career office might offer mock interviews — take advantage of them. Repeated practice will make you more confident.
All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and don’t necessarily represent those of Goodmans LLP or the Korean Canadian Lawyers Association.