Career Advice

Getting your First Job After Law School

By Adegoke Arowosebe
Photo Credit: Flickr/thetaxhaven

 “How do I get a law job after graduation?” asked Darlene Weatherford, a prospective law school enrollee during a post-secondary educational fair organized in the UK, in the summer of 2016.

Like Weatherford, this is the one million dollar question on the lips of every law student in Canada. And this question about how to get a law job in Canada reverberates incrementally as these students journey through law school.

Unlike in the US, there is no central employment statistics for Canadian law graduates. However, there are telltale signs that the prospect for legal jobs for new graduates in Canada is not promising. According to a report by Law Times, some law graduates are, out of frustration, resorting to unpaid articling positions, because all their efforts at securing a paid position have failed. Visible minorities, compared with their white colleagues, have a longer odd of securing law positions of any ilk. In a 2016 report by the Law Society of Upper Canada, racialized licensees face significant entry and advancement barriers in the legal profession in Ontario. Since Ontario represents the bastion for the legal profession in Canada, the situation in other parts of Canada can hardly be different.

Frankly put, the situation is pathetic for new entrants into the noble profession. And it becomes worrisome when you think of the debt obligations that many law students will have to confront after graduation. This is the reason they are curious, right from their first day of law school, about what the employment prospect of their chosen profession will be after graduation. The situation was well described in one ATL e-book thus: "While fewer people are going to law school, those that do are hyper-focused on employment outcomes."

Thus, the scrambling for summer law student jobs starts in the winter term of the first year of law school. By the fall term of the third year, any student that hasn’t secured an articling or a clerkship position has had the chances of joining a prestigious law firm or a corporate law department after graduation significantly reduced. This is the pressure that law students encounter in today’s competitive legal jobs market.

Let’s face the truth: it isn’t an easy task keeping an eye on the job market while trying to surmount the rigors of the academic work in law school. If a student fails to appropriately balance the two tasks, one of them is bound to suffer. Yet, both are important. Though having a sterling academic record is more important. The sure-fire way to pull through both is for law students to thoroughly understand the various career opportunities in the legal profession, potential employers and the strategy to employ in their job hunts.

Law school graduates have a number of career options. The major and most commonly pursued route is to article and become licensed to practice law in Canada. Indeed this is the primary essence of enrolling in law school; so it is the natural path 99% of law school graduates take. And even for those who don’t wish to practice law in the long run, it is usually better to be called to the Bar first before considering other career options.

Typically, lawyers who want to practice law can work as associates in law firms or as in-house counsel in companies, non-profit organizations, crown corporations or government departments. To be successful in your job search, it is equally advisable to draw up a list of organizations you like to work with and start applying for summer law student positions in these organizations from your first year. For more on choosing the company to work for, read: 20 Best Companies to Work for in 2017 and Possible Law Jobs Hubs. Don’t wait till your second year. You should also start building network with the lawyers and human resource personnel in these organizations right off the bat. Quite often, most law students end up articling in the law firms or law departments they “summered”. Please take your search for summer law positions serious!

Another common option is to pursue a career in international law. There is an impressive array of international law job opportunities in the international arena with international governmental organizations, law firms, think thanks, and consulting firms. For more on international law opportunities, read the 7 Strategies Canadian Lawyers Should Use When Looking for International Law Jobs.    


But again, lawyers who are academically inclined can continue the law school journey up to graduate levels (LL.M and Ph.D. in Law). Thus, if you know you have a passion for teaching and advanced legal research, the academia might be the right place for you. If you fall within these categories of people, the right thing to do is to start discussing your plan with your law professors so they may guide you in the area of law to consider for your advanced legal studies. Also, talk to your professors about the possibility of publishing articles jointly with them in reputable journals while you are still in the JD program. Publication in peer-reviewed journals is a critical requirement for admission and scholarships for law graduate programs.

Many lawyers and law graduates also move on to pursue non-traditional law careers such as contract management, compliance, or law enforcement. Others take a totally different route from law, yet excel. The bottom line is that law school has made you an expert or a near-expert in many disciplines. The rigours of law schools as well as their rich academic curriculum has more than prepared law graduates to work in different fields across many industries.
For instance, many law schools have courses that cover the core legal aspects of different disciplines and emerging industries: Aboriginal Law, Admiralty Law, Agriculture Law, Aviation Law, Banking (Finance) Law, Bankruptcy Law, Construction Law, Climate Change Law, Employment (Labour) Law, Entertainment Law, Environmental Law, Family Law, Finance Law, Health (Medical) Law, Immigration and Refugee Law, Insurance Law, Internet Law, Media Law, Military Law, Mining Law, Municipal Law, Oil and Gas Law, Privacy Law, Securities Law, Telecommunication Law, Trade Law, Water Law etc. Clearly, any student that has taken any of these courses would possess a working knowledge of the discipline that the law relates to. And in the event a law graduate wants to start a new chapter of her career in these fields, there wouldn’t be any need to struggle.

Having these pieces of information handy at the commencement of their law school program will go a long way in helping students to shape their future career plans, choose academic courses, and balance their options. Ultimately, they will be prepared for the challenges of the shrinking legal job market.

Hopefully, this gives you an overview of the various career options that you can pursue after law school. Usually, law schools do have resident career advisors that guide students by providing regular updates on available employment opportunities, industry trends, career tips, resumes reviews and lots more. Please take advantage of the services of these professionals if your law school has them.

Good luck!

Adegoke Arowosebe is a Calgary-based corporate lawyer. He holds an LL.M in Energy, Natural Resources and Environmental Law from the University of Calgary and an MBA in Global Leadership from the University of Fredericton.