At this time of year, it’s a question on the minds of most first-year law students as summer job postings start to appear.
It’s a tough decision. On the one hand, getting some legal or non-legal work experience can add to your resumé, and on the other hand, it might be your last chance to take advantage of four months off.
Beverly Ma, a 1L law student at the University of British Columbia, says she’s thinking ahead to next year’s on-campus interviews.
“[Y]ou’re going to be meeting a lot of firms and going to a lot of networking events, and I’m just thinking that if you’re travelling, you get a lot of exciting experiences that you can talk about with recruiters [and] interviewers,” she says.
Gail Wong, director of student programs at McCarthy Tétrault LLP, says it’s a good idea for students to keep second-year summer recruitment in mind when deciding what to do in their first summer after law school.
“Given that the majority of firms on Bay Street now recruit students at the beginning of their second year for the second-year summer student program, the first summer is an opportunity to experience perhaps things that a student has not gained experience in previously,” she says.
Since it’s becoming increasingly competitive, Wong says most students applying to the firm in second year have had some kind of work or volunteer experience in their first summer.
But she stresses it doesn’t have to be in the legal field.
“The first-year summer is a great opportunity to learn additional skills, to learn about a different industry [or] gain work experience in a different environment — it doesn’t necessarily need to be legal,” she says.
In fact, most students don’t obtain legal work experience in their first summer, she adds.
However, Kristian Arciaga, a first-year law student at the University of Ottawa, says there’s a lot of pressure to get a legal job in their first summer.
“I’m comfortable with my past work experience, but at the same time there’s a lot of pressure on all of us to try and find that job because we always hear talk about the articling crisis and what distinguishes one candidate from another, not to mention we’re all on a curve in law school. So I think everyone is searching for that extra advantage,” he says.
Arciaga is hoping to combine travel and work by doing a legal internship overseas this summer. Through Ottawa’s student-proposed internship program, he might even be able to get credit for it.
Natalie Zinman, director of student programs at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, says, “The job does not have to have a legal focus for it to be meaningful. Any experience that a student has, they will be asked about, whether it’s a job or whether it’s a travel experience.
“I think that the student needs to be able to articulate the benefits of that experience and how that experience is going to be applicable to the work that they hope to do when they come into the firm.”
Ma says she’s considering getting a summer job to gain some practical legal experience and narrow down her interests for next year.
“It’s important to think ahead and think about your interests,” she says. “If you already know that you want to practise in a certain area of law then maybe it might be a good idea to try to get some practical work experience in that field this summer, just so you know that that is what you want to [do] before you dedicate your second-year summer job search to that specific field.”
Anna Maria DeCia-Gualtieri, director of career services at the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, tells students whatever they choose to do should be about “personal and professional growth, whether it be returning to their job prior to entering law school, securing a new job, volunteering in their community, or travel.
“The first year of law school should be used to transition into, for some, a ‘new world’ so to speak,” she says. “[S]tudents should begin networking, establishing relationships, and exploring the numerous career opportunities that are available to them as students and future lawyers.”
While travelling can still be worthwhile, both Wong and Zinman say if students’ resumés lack work or volunteer experience or extracurricular activities at their law school, they might want to consider getting a job in their first summer.
“We’re looking for very specific competencies when we are interviewing students and associates,” says Wong. “So the travel experience in our mind is interesting, but the part that is relevant is whether or not as part of that experience —particularly if they’ve worked overseas — there are examples that they can share with us that highlight some of the skills they’ve developed.”
Ma says she was advised by an upper-year law student to take advantage of the time off to travel.
“I’ve been told you have the rest of your life to be a lawyer and it’s a great time to be able to do some travelling because when in your career will you have four months off to just go wherever you want to?
“If you already have a lot of work experience and you have the money, then I think travelling would be a great idea,” she says.