Earning a summer student job or articling placement at a law firm is competitive in Toronto and the surrounding areas. It’s not uncommon for firms to receive hundreds of applicants for relatively few positions. Given the competition for jobs, some students may be satisfied simply being able to work in a law firm during their first or second summer in law school, while others may be determined to be hired by specific firms or in specific areas of practice.
Whatever your goals, there is no magic formula for guaranteed success. In any industry, and particularly in law, there will be qualified and talented students who do not obtain a summer job in their chosen field purely due to market forces out of their control.
We’ve described a few tips and strategies to keep in mind when pursuing a summer job at a law firm.
1) Create a Competitive LinkedIn Profile
It should be common sense that employers can and do check social media when screening applicants. It’s not unusual for an employer to Google an applicant’s name as part of that process.
If an internet search of an applicant’s name returns nothing, it can create the impression that the student has little or no meaningful professional achievements and community involvement. Resumes are designed to embellish such involvement, but a local news article or publicly displayed membership in a community organization can go a long way.
Regardless of your presence on the internet, applicants should have a comprehensive LinkedIn profile with a professional looking photo. This communicates to employers that the applicant takes his or her career and personal brand seriously.
2) Read and Follow the Job Posting’s Instructions
If a job posting indicates that only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted, don’t call or email that employer asking whether you will be given an interview. This includes indirect requests of the same nature that seek to know when interviews will begin. If a job posting requires a cover letter, resume and transcripts, you can be sure your application won’t even be read if any of these components are missing. Law firms know that transcripts aren’t always available for first-year law students. In those cases, use an undergraduate transcript and explain when you expect to receive your first official law school transcripts. Such an explanation will show you are paying attention to the job posting’s instructions. Students who cannot take instructions when applying for a job probably won’t be able to do so on the job either.
3) Be Genuine
Given the competitiveness for summer law student jobs, it may be tempting to create a cookie cutter application and send off the same document to 100 law firms. The problem with that approach is that most students are doing the exact same thing.
Understand that there are advantages and disadvantages to every size of law firm, and every area of practice. Students in small and medium firms benefit from the experience of carrying their own files from start to finish, meeting directly with clients, and having meaningful direct attention with the firm’s partners.
If you are applying to a small or medium sized law firm, explain your interest in working in a small firm environment, and why that particular firm interests you. Your reason doesn’t need to be profound. If you are applying for a position in your hometown, just say that.
The challenge for law firms is to determine which applicants actually mean what they say in their applications, and screen out the ones that don’t.
4) Be Smart About Social Media
Sharing, tweeting, commenting or posting anything on social media that could be interpreted as sexist, racist, homophobic or otherwise offensive is guaranteed to be discovered and guaranteed to shuffle your resume to the bottom of the pile, if not discarded completely.
5) Be Creative
There are countless ways to be creative with your application.
Humour can be risky, but is sometimes well received. Try it if you are feeling bold.
If you like to write in your spare time, then self-publish a novel. It doesn’t even need to be a particularly good novel. Skip a few nights out and write that book. You'll save money that would have been spent at the bar, and you'll have something to show for your effort after about a month. You’d be surprised how impressive “published author” looks on a resume, or how many interviews you’ll get if you send a free copy of your book to an employer.
Don’t be afraid to visit a law firm in person too. All lawyers were students at some point, and they will have an appreciation for the courage and determination required to show up somewhere in person. This approach is usually more effective in smaller firms where a more personable atmosphere is common.
You can also try to find out if one of the partners is involved in a community event or charity. Attending those events can give you a chance to socialize with employers outside of their office environment.
Finally, and likely the most important piece of advice in this article, acknowledge that you have the rest of your career to practice law, and to spend time in Court or at the office. Consider taking a summer off to do something outside of law, and hopefully something that excites you more than your career. Lawyers already deal with the stress of their clients’ matters as it is, there is absolutely no reason to begin your career with self-inflicted fears and worries.
In the end, you’ll find yourself exactly where you were meant to be.