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Going the extra mile

There are some cons but mostly pros to extracurricular involvement
|Written By Sasha Toten
Going the extra mile
Some University of Ottawa students contribute to the Ottawa Law Review as part of their extracurricular involvement.

Law students are notorious for being stereotyped as library hermits. If you delve deeper, however, you will find a group of passionate people who do get involved, both at school and in their communities. Whether its recreational floor hockey, the local food bank, student governance, or a combination of other activities, there is often a lot more to law students than meets the eye.

Why get involved? There are numerous reasons, and the pros far outweigh the cons.

Extracurricular activities are much more than a space-filler on a resumé. It takes more, however, than being a member of a club for the involvement to be meaningful.

“Recruiters are looking for well-rounded students that have demonstrated that they have teamwork and work well with colleagues,” said Stacy Keehn, manager of career and professional development at the University of Ottawa. Taking a leadership role where you are responsible for organizing speakers for events can demonstrate qualities employers are looking for.

Extracurricular activities can also help build skills employers want. Mikaila Greene, a second-year common law student at the University of Ottawa, can attest to how her involvement at school helped her land her dream summer position. Greene says she has learned time-management skills and been exposed to many experiences that have developed her skill set.

In addition to demonstrating practical legal experience, “working at the [community legal] clinic shows that I am able to deal with a diverse clientele. Unlike many other jobs, students are involved throughout the entire process from intake to closing letter with each client at the clinic,” says Greene. “Being a teaching assistant for torts has taught me advocacy skills,” and as a steering committee member for the Law Union of Ontario's U of O chapter, Greene has developed leadership skills through organizing events.

There are many ways that these skills can tie into interviews. Andrew Christie, a third-year common law student at the University of Ottawa and senior editor for the Ottawa Law Review, says, “While interviewing, attention to detail was raised, and work in the Law Review spoke to the idea of writing succinctly.”

These experiences can also bridge gaps. “All interviewers had a lot of questions about involvement and they would often ask whether I had met people they knew that were involved in the same organizations, and conversations would go from there,” says Christie.

“Involvement shows your ability to multi-task,” says José Rodrigues, a third-year U of O common law student and editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Law Review. “It also increases your network and exposes you to a lot of people who you otherwise would not meet.”

Getting involved can also be a testament to your commitment to your community.

“Firms give back to the community in many ways, including pro bono work,” says U of O student services counsellor Joanne Silkauskas. “If a student is already doing this, then they are already building a reputation for giving back to the community themselves,” which will only benefit the firm’s reputation.

Sometimes, participation can even get you out of a moment of silence. “Having extracurriculars to discuss is also good for breaking awkwardness,” says Rodrigues, “because I always have a story to tell, and the interviewer usually has something to relate to.”

There is no question extracurricular activities can cause stress, less sleep, and force students to prioritize.

“It has been stressful, but the people I have met through my extracurriculars have also been the ones to provide me with the support I need,” says Greene. “I have learned the value of flexibility in my day-to-day life, to be malleable, and to prioritize. I think that the benefits far outweigh any detriment, particularly as it has expanded my network beyond students and professors.”

Extracurricular involvement can also give back more than the time and effort it takes. “When you invest a lot of time into something, there is an element of pride in what you do and it can be very rewarding,” says Rodrigues.

Christie also emphasizes the added benefits to involvement while at school. “I think I enjoyed second year more [than first year] because of my involvement, especially since I was involved in things that I believed in,” says Christie, who was co-president of Canadian Lawyers Abroad; international law section editor of Inter Pares, the common law student newspaper; a law review editor; and student ambassador for the Ontario Bar Association during his second year.

“As we go into practice, the competing demands on our time will not go away. By learning how to do this now, we are preparing how to manage our time in the future while having a couple things on the go,” he says.

Being consistent with involvement can show commitment, but it is important to show a range of interests as well.

“The only negative I can see is if you only have a very narrow focus,” says Silkauskas. “This can run the risk of you not looking well-rounded and can sometimes cause you to be pigeonholed into one area of law,” which can limit your job search.

“It is also important to not spread yourself too thin,” she says, “and instead have one or two things that you are really involved in so that you can speak to that organization in depth.”

While there may be some negatives, there is clearly a lot to gain from extracurricular involvement while in law school.

“As law students, there is a huge pressure on academics, but we need to broaden our experience and immerse ourselves into opportunities,” says Greene. “I am in love with the firm that I will be working with this summer, and there is no way that I would have gotten there without my extracurriculars.”

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