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Getting a ‘leg up’ with summer employment

|Written By Anastasiya Jogal
Getting a ‘leg up’ with summer employment
Aboriginal student Monika Wilson says her summer experience helped her plan what courses she really needed to take.

While school has just begun, it’s time to plan for the year ahead including a summer position for next year. Sometimes, you need a little help getting that coveted job.

Monika Wilson, a 2L student at the University of British Columbia’s Allard Law School, is certainly thanking her lucky stars for having spent her first summer working in Imperial Oil’s law department.

“I was so shocked when I got the job offer and I took it,” says Wilson.

While getting the job on her own merit, Wilson did have a little help from the Law Society of Alberta’s Aboriginal Law Student Summer Employment program. The program has been running since 2006 and 30 aboriginal students have been placed to date.

“It’s an opportunity for first- and second-year law students who are of aboriginal — First Nation, Inuit, Métis — descent to secure employment in legal workplaces,” says Jocelyn Frazer, practice adviser and equity ombudsperson at the Law Society of Alberta.

First-year aboriginal law students from across Canada can apply and the LSA facilitates the process. The job opportunities are especially beneficial, because they may often lead to future articles while addressing equity issues at the same time.

“Our experience has been really positive,” says Leanne Cherry, national director of talent resources at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP. The firm has been participating in the program since its inception.

“It highlights the diverse candidate for us so that those people come to our attention — to the forefront — in terms of paying maybe a little more attention to their application as we try to consider out diverse applicants.”

The firm continues to participate in the program because the experience has been very positive, she says.

“[The purpose is] to provide insight, to provide information on both sides of the equation, to provide insights into aboriginal culture and issues for members of the legal profession as well as to create opportunities for students,” says Frazer.

Wilson, originally from Fort McKay First Nation, a small Alberta reserve just north of Fort McMurray, grew up in a community of about 600 people. She did her undergrad with a double major in anthropology and indigenous studies and is now attending law school at UBC with a specialization in aboriginal law. She plans to work in First Nations economic development and with aboriginal businesses upon graduation.

“I don’t really come from a family of lawyers, there is none, and I am the first one to go to law school from my community,” she says.

When Wilson applied, she didn’t think she stood a chance of actually getting the job.

“They have no obligation to interview you or hire you, so I was very excited when I did get hired.”

And finding a job after first year is typically quite difficult, she notes. Wilson was game to just practise creating a resume and cover letter, but she ended up getting two interviews. She was subsequently hired on at Imperial Oil in Calgary.

“It was very challenging, but I learned a lot. I was doing everything, in every area of law except maybe criminal and family,” she says. “I would draft agreements, do lots of legal research for the lawyers.”

The experience really helped her get a grasp on the intricacies of the profession.

“Coming back to school, I am much more confident, I have a better grasp on the work and it kind of clicked over the summer about how to do legal research and writing and how to approach legal work,” she says.

She even got to travel with members of Imperial Oil’s legal department.

“I was really happy socio-economic and governmental affairs reached out to me . . .  they work with aboriginal communities in Alberta and they kind of took me under their wing and they were fantastic,” she says. “I got to go to some meetings with them and really learn how Imperial engages with aboriginal communities, which is very relevant.”

She even got to visit a company’s plant site next to her community.

Following her summer stint, Wilson didn’t miss a beat, and is already applying to her next summer job through the aboriginal law student program to commence after 2L.

She hopes to work in Vancouver or Calgary and is really grateful to get a “leg up” in the process because her second summer job is likely where she will article, she explains. The main benefit Wilson received from her first job in law was to help her fill in the blanks in her education plan.

“I am going to come out of UBC with an aboriginal law specialization [and], over the summer, I realized that I didn’t have a business background, and I was like ‘wow, commercial law is so interesting and it’s really fun to do,’ so I am taking some business classes this year as a result of my experience this summer.”