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No summer job? Try some public interest work

|Written By Matt Powell

On-campus interviews are long over. Summer positions have been filled. The end of the year inches closer and closer, but you still don’t have a job this summer — in the legal realm at least.

While restrictions often regulate how first- and second-year law students spend their summers at firms across provincial jurisdictions, there are still jobs available. You just have to dig a little deeper.

If anything, there are a number of great opportunities for first and second years to travel, spending their summer in Canada’s rural towns doing public law and social justice work.

“We’re really encouraging students to network on their own, especially first and second years where articling positions are harder to come by,” says Mya Bulwa, director of career services at Osgoode Hall Law School. “There are a number of really good opportunities for students to explore on their own, to search a little more. Those jobs usually appear outside of the major cities.”

Bulwa is steadfast in making sure students know there are not many positions with larger firms available around this time of the year. But, because the markets are bouncing back, there is an increased opportunity for freshman students to get minimally paid summer positions as research assistants or summer interns.

Osgoode also offers a number of funding opportunities for students to travel and work in public law and social justice roles, usually in rural parts of the country.

“I just saw a posting for a summer law clerk position in Nunavut,” she says. “Those are the kinds of positions that can be found if students dig a little deeper beyond the job posting web sites. We also offer funding for those kinds of positions because they are not always paid.”

She says Osgoode has developed programs that will pay for students to travel to places like Nunavut. The school will usually pay for their trip and the costs of living for the summer.

But, if Nunavut isn’t an attractive enough alternative, there are always internal university positions as research assistants for professors.

At this point in the year, Bulwa says, the bulk of the jobs currently available will revolve around working for a university or from networking on your own.

Jennifer Poon, associate director of career services at the University of British Columbia’s law school, says for the most part, bigger firms are finished hiring for the summer. It is also usually unlikely for a first-year student to find a job with a larger firm.

“We really encourage our students to get involved by volunteering over the summer,” she says. “The formal hiring processes are complete now so it really is up to the students to go out and find employment.”

She says there are significant opportunities to work with universities in research positions, and that working with the schools is a great opportunity to get experience.

Like Bulwa, Poon points to public service as a great opportunity for students to learn the ropes outside of the school environment. She says UBC is involved with the Canadian Bar Association’s REAL program, where students are awarded grants to travel to rural communities to perform public legal work.

“It’s still relatively new, but it is a really great program,” she says. “The only challenge is finding students interested because there are a lot of students who are not so keen on spending their summer in a rural community.”

Public law presents a great opportunity for younger students to develop professional skills, although they may not always be paid for it. However, public law can provide students with invaluable experience that can develop more personalized careers.

Monique St. Germain, director of professional development and alumni relations at the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall law school, agrees that public service work is a great opportunity for students to gain professional experience and avoid being shell-shocked by office culture when they start articling.

“Getting experience in an office environment can be hugely important for law students,” she says. “Even if their summer position may not be completely law-related, office jobs can be hugely helpful.”

She says volunteering can always be incredibly helpful, especially because finding paid positions at this time of year can be a challenge. Working as a legal assistant or doing paralegal work can be a great alternative as well.

Relating to specific industries, St. Germain says working with real estate lawyers can be incredibly useful because of the opportunity to work in an office environment and learn the variety of roles that exist within a practice, and that law students are good candidates because they have superior attention to detail abilities.

“Real estate work can be very paper-intensive, so working for real estate lawyers can be a really good chance for young lawyers to learn a lot about the law and the culture of the profession,” she says.

St. Germain believes working with government agencies is another area that can be beneficial for students who may still be without jobs this late in the year. She says most schools and provincial governments make arrangements to provide students with positions at government agencies.

Canadian law schools, for the most part, have done a good job at outlining career resources made available to law students. Usually these resources outline resumé and cover letter advice, and articling requirements for the later years of law study.

But it comes down to how students make use of them — and using them should make your life a little easier.

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