Remember, back in public school when you came back from holidays everyone always got to tell the whole class about what they did last summer. Well here at Canadian Lawyer 4Students, we’d like to carry on that tradition, just for the bigger kids. So last fall, we launched our first ever “Tell us what you did last summer” survey.
With the offering of a groovy scooter as a prize for one lucky respondent (who happens to be Burcin Ergun from the University of Victoria), we received 79 valid responses from Canadian law students. While there was a fairly good cross-section of law schools represented, it seems that students at the University of Alberta were the most keen to participate, with 30 of the 79 surveys coming from there. The editors were somewhat surprised, considering Ontario has a preponderance of law schools and law firms. Next year we’re pushing for more participation from Ontario, as well as from both coasts! But keeping in mind the strong Alberta showing, we shall share some of the results of the summer survey — both highly informative and whimsical, yet all very useful for helping with decisions for those embarking on their quest for summer law jobs. The largest portion of respondents, 45 per cent, summered between their second and third years of law school.
Many of the large national and regional firms were represented in the survey, including Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, Bennett Jones LLP, Goodmans LLP, and Alberta-based Macleod Dixon LLP, Field Law, Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP, and Parlee McLaws LLP. Respondents represented a wide variety of employers, including a law firm in Washington, D.C., another in Beijing, China, as well as a number of smaller local and regional firms, legal aid clinics, non-profits, governments, courts, and law schools. In some cases, students found it hard to get summer jobs but persevered because they were really keen. “It’s very difficult to find summer work in small cities unless you have some kind of connection,” wrote one Queen’s law student. “However, pavement pounding did work for me — there is work out there if you try hard enough!”
The types of law covered by the students was also quite wide: everything from environmental to family, criminal, labour and employment, securities, corporate-commercial, insurance, personal injury, intellectual property, energy/oil and gas, small claims, and legislative drafting and reform. The wide range of areas and firms covered by the survey respondents shows there are a lot of options for law students looking to get some pre-practice experience under their belts. As one student noted: “It was a great experience! I recommend working at a firm for any law student to get a feel for what being a lawyer is all about before we graduate and get propelled into the legal community.” In their comments, a number of respondents noted that they chose to work as legal assistants, rather than as summer law placements, in order to get their feet wet inside a firm.
Almost half the respondents reported that the work they did was really interesting, with another 35 per cent saying they “can’t wait to practise law.” It would seem the experience was positive for almost all the students who had summer positions. Just under 60 per cent of them said their jobs consisted mostly of doing research, and at some of the smaller firms, students reported being able to carry at least some of their own files. This is all good news, considering they had the option of telling us their jobs consisted “mostly of getting coffee.”
On top of that, the students generally felt they were treated well by other lawyers in the firms: more than 60 per cent felt mentored and 24 per cent felt they were treated as equals. Only about 11 respondents considered themselves treated like they were either children or slaves. “I had a great experience because of the awesome people with whom I worked. It’s a very collegial firm and they do everything possible to make sure the students feel welcome and at ease,” commented one student who summered in Vancouver. Pay, too, was acceptable for the most part. Only two people felt they received a “princely sum” for their summer work, and about 28 per cent said they were paid peanuts. Most fell into the categories of “a generous amount” and “enough to cover tuition,” which is sufficient for most students.
From our survey sample, more than 60 per cent reported they worked in firms with one to three summer students, with 13 respondents, or 18.3 per cent, indicating there were more than 15 summer students at their firm. The remainder worked in shops with between four and 15 students. And in terms of hire-backs for articling, 31 per cent said they had been hired back, 42 per cent said they were not, with the remaining 27 per cent not knowing either way. While many of the bigger firms hire back most of their summer students for articling, the survey numbers do demonstrate that nothing is cast in stone for the majority of students.
Now on to the important things. Much like a fine restaurant, there’s no reason not to judge a law firm on its in-house catering and, of course, the state of its commodes. Four law firms were named by our respondents as having washrooms at the Ritz-Carlton level: Gardiner Roberts LLP in Toronto; Macleod Dixon in Calgary; Brownlee LLP in Calgary; and the Calgary office of Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. We’ll surely be on the hunt for photos of these princely privies.
It seems there are benefits to Big Law: food. Twenty-one of our respondents said the in-house catering at their firms was top-notch and worthy of the “gourmet” standing: Borden Ladner Gervais; MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP; Oslers; Duncan & Craig LLP in Edmonton; Goodmans; Fraser Milner; Burnet Duckworth; Brownlee LLP; and Macleod Dixon got shout-outs from summer students for their tasty vittles. Sadly, 42 per cent of respondents didn’t even get cookies as they slaved away through the hot months of summer. Food was listed as a favourite perk by a number of respondents, citing: free lunches with the partners each week, cookies on every employee’s birthday, “lots of free food,” Friday afternoon drinks, Friday lunches around town, drinks/lunches/dinners with the firms, free fresh-baked muffins every morning . . . .
Other notable perks for students: being included in all firm events/retreats, Stampede functions on the firm (you have to go to Calgary for this one, folks!), concerts, own office, respect and kindness, golf tournaments, generous partners and associates, car service, health and dental benefits, and, quite a few times, flexible work hours. These are some of the small perks that can make your summer experience a whole lot better.
So hopefully, students can benefit from some of these results and arm themselves better when asking questions about and deciding upon summer law firm experiences in the future.