What a different world law school would be if Jordan Furlong’s recent column, Millennial Fever was required reading for current law students. While I hold out hope in the accuracy of Furlong’s vision of generational turnover and its resultant culture change in Canadian firms, the balance of power is still largely seen by students to rest in the hands of the employer.
Early November is the time of year when many 2L’s from Ontario law schools are off to interviews (the majority of which seem to be in Toronto), with the hopes of winning a job offer for next summer. And believe me, there is a LOT of talk of this in the school today. What I haven’t yet heard much about, however, are students — Millennials — expressing awareness of their bargaining strength or assets that employers are seeking (Furlong calls the young lawyers “natural-born sellers,” a phrase has seems to have the right mix of flash and certainty that many use to depict the current generation of students). Part of the explanation for this lack, I believe, lies in the over-focus on BigLaw, for whose attention students are told they need to compete.
I think a broader take on the job hunt would benefit today’s students. Wouldn’t it be terrific if students thought less about going to great lengths to secure a job, any job (in a big firm of course), and instead were more cognizant of what they have to offer and what type of work they would be satisfied doing? But I guess that’s the hitch: many of my classmates are (understandably) uncertain about the various fields of law, and look to 2L positions as a sample pack of sorts. The point that goes missed far too often, however, is that students tend to only be sampling the variety of work offered by firms, and appear to be unaware or uninterested in other options that are out there.
The hierarchy that holds firms in a revered position and relegates in-house/NGO/government experiences to secondary spots is still very much in place at law school. It must be the case that the Millennial attributes are sought by these ‘alternative’ sectors. I’ve thought about what perpetuates this hierarchalized view of the world within law schools and don’t feel as though I’ve come up with a good answer. Part of me wants to point to the influence firms have over career services and recruitment initiatives within law schools (i.e. money = marketing), but surely this can’t be an entirely fair or complete explanation.
While I’ve decided in this column to talk less about black-letter legal education and/or the tech-side of learning (Slaw seems very well versed in the tools, gadgets, and other resources available to enhance legal skills and knowledge), I’d like to dedicate a bit of space to thinking about the education one receives about the profession itself. In short, there is little active legal education on this subject; the material that is used for learning is that largely accessed by those seeking it out, rather than anything being put forward by schools. In other words, there is a fair degree of self-selection that allows those already interested to develop further their understanding of the wider world of legal employment.
It’s undeniable that there is a contingent of students who have been exposed to firm life in some way (a relative or friend most likely, or in some cases firm work as an assistant), and for whom the path to a firm job is the only one of real interest. However, in addition to those who already know they are fit for firms and those who know they want something else, there remains a group of students who are undecided yet get caught-up in the BigLaw bustle.
Surely there is nothing inherently good or evil about firm or non-firm work, but the prospect of students pouring their heart and souls into securing employment in a work world of which they are almost entirely ignorant is downright disheartening. A more robust legal education would be one that did more to introduce first- and second-year students to the various types of work that are possible in this changing, sprawling world of law.
There are, in fact, a few resources out there that provide good information about the full spectrum of legal careers:
University of Ottawa Common Law Section:
- Legal Careers in Government
- Give me the low-down on a career in social justice work
- Career Options: “What Can I do with my LL.B.?” (provides information on “alternative” careers, including non-legal practice alternative careers, such as consulting, teaching, librarian, and career counselor positions)
- Federal Department of Justice
- Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General: Legal Careers in Social Justice
I wonder how different the Millennial job search would be if law schools made this type of information required reading?