Have you met your career services officer yet?

Have you met your career services officer yet?
Writer Ted Flett and UNB law CSO Clea Ward last October. Photo: Joy Cummings/UNB
As classes resume in a matter of days, landing a legal job — whether summer, articling, or even part-time during the school year — is as top of mind for many students as reconnecting with classmates and finding a cheap textbook. And on-campus interviews, a key stage of selection in the large law firm recruitment process, loom on the horizon for many law students.

Most Canadian law schools offer top-drawer career planning support in the form of a career services officer. Given the profound sense of loss many University of New Brunswick law students feel over the recent resignation of Clea Ward, UNB law’s director of external affairs and career development, it’s obvious our CSO was highly regarded. Ward recently joined McInnes Cooper to manage the firm’s paralegals region-wide. Lucky for them.

“I think the most significant change I brought to UNB was the one-on-one support I provided students as they navigated the various recruitment markets and made decisions about their careers,” Ward told me. “It is so important for students to have someone they can approach to discuss their aspirations, concerns, and career-related questions, and I hope our students felt supported by me in my time in the position.”

I have come to appreciate that at a small law school like UNB, every team member has to give 100 per cent — if not more. A one-woman band as the sole staff member in career services, Ward was a team player who performed well above expectations and was respected by faculty, staff, and, most especially, students. She was the first to fill the role at UNB and organized the first OCIs at the university as well as a full suite of career services workshops and seminars.

And Ward excelled without the benefit of an example to draw from when she was a student at UNB.

“I did not have a CSO when I was in law school,” she says. “As students, we helped each other with our document and interview preparation and shared information about different markets. I definitely would have benefitted from advice and guidance from a career services professional. While I was able to secure an articling position without too much difficulty, I was not sure I considered all or any of the right factors in making my decision. Having someone to provide information and support would have been very helpful.”

Ward says her same commitment to students is common among her CSO peers across the country.

“Canadian CSOs are extremely collaborative and helpful,” she says. “I could always rely on my counterparts from other schools to answer any questions about their markets just as they could rely on me to provide information about the Atlantic region.”

I, for one, am guilty of making use of the full suite of career services programs. From attending seminars on resumé writing to participating in mock interview workshops, I got my full tuition’s worth in advance of the Toronto law firm recruitment cycle last fall.

Governed by the Law Society of Upper Canada, the process involves written application submissions, OCIs, and in-firm interviews, dinners, and receptions. Additional unofficial requirements include attending firm open houses and outreach to lawyers. The carrot was mighty: a summer job and consideration for a coveted articling position at a prestigious Bay Street law firm.

Many other jurisdictions follow similarly sophisticated hiring processes. Thousands of students vie for a finite number of jobs and the competition is fierce. Few can afford a thoughtless stumble. Fortunately, I was successful and credit Ward’s guidance.

A job search strategy that includes, at the very least, a consultation with your CSO can pay dividends. I sponged all sorts of sage advice while preparing through the CSO seminars:
•    Be yourself but a polished version of yourself.
•    Treat the OCI like a conversation with your grandfather: friendly but respectful.
•    Position non-legal work experience as transferable to success at the firm.

Applying these and other pieces of advice took practice and consultation with someone in the know, such as a CSO. Probably the most valuable piece I took away from my preparation for recruitment was acceptance of my age and confidence that, as a mature student, I was not at a disadvantage against my younger, keener classmates.

Given the complexity and sophistication of large-firm recruitment initiatives, recruiters also nudge students toward their respective CSO.

“The careers office people at the law schools are a great resource,” says Neil Guthrie, director of professional development (Ontario) at Bennett Jones SLP.

Guthrie has seen plenty of students over years of recruitment and is in frequent touch with law school CSOs. “They really know the process and they’ve helped hundreds of students navigate their way through it.”

However, Guthrie cautions students from relying too heavily on a CSO.

“[T]hat shouldn’t be a substitute for your own homework about a firm or practice group or lawyer or a marketplace, which is less familiar to your careers office,” he warns. “Everybody tends to look the same when you do an Internet search, but it will pay off if you can customize your application and really show the firm why you should be there.”

And while many of us are spellbound by the prestige of the large firm, there are just as many strategies and techniques to landing a job elsewhere in the practice of law in which CSOs can also assist.

So, as you commence or return to law school, knock on your CSO’s door in the first of what might be several visits on your road to a job.

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