Tuesday Tips: How to Become More Involved in the Legal Community as a Law Student/ Recent Graduate

One of the things I think law students (and even recent graduates) undervalue is the support and importance community when entering the legal industry. Sure, you might have connections from law school- but those are passive connections, most likely. They're not people you've put the time into developing a relationship with, or really gone out on a limb to interview or make connections with.

Honestly, if you don't get an OCI ('On Campus Interview), or have a relatively straightforward path to practice, you need to rely on who you know and who can vouch for you. Even if you already have articles or secondary positions secured, it always is in your best interest to build your network. The phrase 'By the time you need a contact, it's too late to make a contact" springs to mind.

So today, for Tuesday Tips, I felt it was important to inform both current students, recent graduates, and just general law professionals some personal tips that have worked for me over the years:

  • Get involved in any internship or volunteer opportunities outside of the school. Keep in mind its best to consider which internship or volunteer opportunities you should volunteer for based on energy levels or what brings you energy. Besides experimenting with an area of law you might have interest in, really focus on long term volunteer opportunities or internships in an area of law you definitely have interest in. These opportunities will give you both "real world" experience, as well as connections with people already working in the industry.

  • Consider if you are have certain triggers or sensitivities: It might not be best to volunteer at a pro-bono clinic for at-risk youth, for example, if you might find that triggering or upsetting. It does not mean you can't help or volunteer in another way if you are interested in Human Rights Law or Mental Health Law. Find a way to work towards your legal interests, while still considering your own mental health in the process.

  • Talk to either professors/ course coordinators in subjects you are interested in about opportunities locally in your legal area; Most often professors will have their finger on the pulse of the legal community, and are able to help you out. Also, one aspect that may be to your benefit is taking a course with a practical component- so a legal app development course with a local tech industry giant, a course involving practice experience with Aboriginal/Indigenous communities, you name it. Many law schools also provide the flexibility that if you find a particular internship experience and can coordinate it with a course coordinator, you're able to have that credit count towards course credits.

If you have your heart set on a particular legal experience, don't count that opportunity out because you're worried about spreading yourself too thinly. That ability to count it towards credit (which usually involves a sort of journaling/paper supporting your on-the-job learning) is a great way to make sure you have an assignment you can work on in your own time, and not an additional course you don't have to attend lectures for (besides probably periodic check-ins monthly or biweekly by the law department).

  • Talk to your career advisors/ drop by the career office. Most opportunities can be posted exclusively to alumni in the area and off the record. Don't dismiss checking your career board periodically to see what opportunities are available to you.

  • Take part in organizations, even if it's (technically) outside your area of interest: Lawyers are exposed to every area of law in practice- even if they don't technically practice that area themselves. To maintain connections and keep your network broad (and to have people to shoot questions off of when you inevitably don't know what you're talking about), is key. For example, I naturally lean towards being a solicitor, but I also have joined The Advocates' Society, as I know it helps to develop my skills in oral arguments, they have great networking events, and I was honestly just invited by someone who talked to me as a mentor. Paying credit to that connection, and building those skills have been invaluable to me, and could be invaluable to you too.

For law graduates/ individuals newly moved to a certain area, I'd recommend the following:

  • If you already are employed, look to your future employer/ current employer for what pro bono activities they may support or charities they may be involved in. Consider involving yourself in that area as well. Many firms have specific organisations or pro bono activities they involve themselves in. For example, a firm might dedicate part of their monthly hours to working at a pro bono service for people with property law disputes. Or they might be at that centre doing pro bono work for at-risk youth. See what area they are interested in supporting, and see if it correlates with your own interests.

  • If you are looking for work, signing up for a Bar Association is extremely helpful. The national-level bar association in Canada is the CBA, or Canadian Bar Association. They have several divergent areas of law you can sign up for updates for, and provide Zoom meetings and contacts where you can expand your areas of interest and network in by attending and reaching out to contact individuals in those areas.

  • Support organisations for diversity candidates/ intersectional candidates. Many lawyers and recent graduates I know are part of the South Asian Bar Association, Out Proud, etc. If you feel socially isolated from the traditionalist 'norm' of tight collars and 'old white guy law,' as a friend of mine put it, its really important to have someone to bounce things off of and sympathise with your struggle. True representation is not just having a seat at the table, but feeling like you're being heard as well.

  • What I call the 'new cold call,' post pandemic: the connected e-mail. This is both for law students and law graduates. Most likely, individuals will be happy to talk to you if you have a connection or they know who you are. This will lead to an informational interview. This is mostly used to educate yourself about an area of the industry you're interested in. It is NOT to ask for a job; that may come organically later, but you don't want the person you just met to feel like you're just using them for something- build the trust, and the opportunities will come later.

  • Keep track of your best and most solid contacts that may lead to employment for you. This way, you won't be losing names, left, right, and centre. This can either be done through a spreadsheet (although I'm not particularly that rigid), LinkedIn (add legitimate contacts- not just individuals who you might not actually meet in the future), and in a good-ol' planner or notebook. After a time, there will be connections you have and know that you won't need to keep written down/remember, because they will be providing those contacts for you, and you'll be talking to them every couple of days.

That's it for this week's Tuesdays Tips! Drop me a line if there's any other subjects you'd like me to cover in the future, and have a great week!


Lauren S