Stand-Out & Fit-In: Navigating the Paradoxes of Legal Recruitment
Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Though we are many, many weeks (and probably a few exams) away from thinking about NCA registration, articling applications, and everything else you'll need to do after your final exams, I thought I'd give you some preparatory homework: evaluating yourself and building your narrative accordingly.
Over the next week, I'll be writing mini-posts detailing key steps you should work through over the months before graduation to help you develop a solid narrative that you can deploy on your articling applications in July. But first, lets learn why a cohesive narrative is important in the first place...
The seemingly oxymoronic thing about legal recruitment is that you must simultaneously stand-out and fit-in. Naturally, every firm has an idea of what a "law/articling student" looks like, which generally includes generic qualities like: going to a recognized law school, doing reasonably well, volunteering, etc. Once those expectations are met, what makes your application stand-out from the other 1000+ students applying for that coveted articling position is how you demonstrate that your extracurriculars, work experience, and legal interests align with the firm-specific values and practice areas.
In short, your application should communicate that you are dynamic, driven, and interesting individual with a keen interest in the firm's practice area who will fit perfectly into the firm culture and work well with its people.
For internationally trained law students, achieving this paradoxical nirvana can be a bit tricky. Sure, your international degree makes you stand-out but for conservative and highly competitive firms it's also a potential barrier to you fitting-in. Your choice to pursue an international degree puts you outside the "traditional" legal qualification route in Canada which you are now trying to break into mid-stream. You seem risky compared to home-grown talent from tried-and-tested Canadian law schools. So how do you fix this?
If I had a definitive answer to this question I'd be shouting it from the rooftops. I really would, because I think that students with international legal perspectives are beneficial to the Canadian market's development and progression -- especially in inherently global practice areas like corporate and technology law.
But don't lose hope; find ways to be better! Despite the challenges, there are definitely things you can do to better align your applications with firm expectations and make yourself comparable to your Canadian counter-parts. Your first step should be developing a cohesive narrative that is both marketable and genuine -- something you can really "sell" (much as I hate that term) on an application and in an interview.
Building your narrative starts with you. Many law students (past versions of myself included) write their applications a bit backwards. They start by researching firms, figuring out what makes them tick, and then writing cover letters and resumes to fit their requirements. While firm researching and application alignment is an important step, it shouldn't be your first step. Trying to shoe-horn yourself into a firm's sweet spot has real potential to make you sound disingenuous or unfocused and, if you are successful, create an unhappy union between a candidate and firm that really don't match.
A much better approach is to figure yourself out first and then find firms that match your interests and values. Ask yourself what you look for in a firm including: the firm's practice focus, seat rotation model, firm size, support/mentorship opportunities, and continued education/development offerings. Remember, this if the first step in your career and landing an articling job at a firm where you fit and excel can lead to re-hiring opportunities after your articling terms is over.
Balance is key. You can use your firm research to inform some of your desires, of course. Just make sure you aren't losing yourself in the process.
There are some key steps you should work through over the months before graduation to help you develop a solid narrative that you can deploy come articling application time in July. I'll be writing a detailed post on each of the points below this week, but to wet your appetite...
1) Define your legal interests: Ask yourself, what area(s) of the law are you most interested in and what interests you about it/them? <Follow this link to read now>
2) Evaluate yourself as a candidate: Do your resume and supporting application materials demonstrate your legal interests? If there are gaps between your legal interests and experience, how do you fill them in a short space of time? <Follow this link to read now>
3) Gain commercial awareness: How comfortable are you talking about your legal interests in an interview and how do you get up to speed fast? <Follow this link to read now>
4) Effective and focused firm research: How to align your narrative without losing your individuality (hint: don't wait till last minute to research firms!). <Follow this link to read now>
No matter what stage of law school you are in, you can use the steps above to either develop your narrative from scratch or finesse it into a marketable articling application.
Hope to see you back here this week!