By: Stacey Dunn
Getting a job in law school can be daunting – there are relatively few summer job positions compared to the mass number of student applicants. If you know you want to specialize in IP, this ratio is even less in your favour. Here are five tips to help get through the Ottawa IP summer recruitment process:
I. Do Your Homework
Research, Research, Research – this point CANNOT be stressed enough. There are three general areas of research you should be doing: research the firm, research the interviewers, and research recent and current summer and articling students.
(1) Research the Firm
Make sure you understand the firm you are applying at. Many firms have a specific culture and values and it’s important that you agree with the direction the firm is going in. Afterall, many summer positions lead to articling and then to an associate position. Make sure that firm is where you want to spend the next few years. You’ll hear a lot about whether or not a student has a good “fit” with a firm – however, it’s equally as important that you think the firm is a good “fit” with you. For example, some firms track billable hours and your performance metrics are largely based on the number of billable hours you have a year. Other firms do not track billable hours and charge on a fixed fee basis. Billable hours vs fixed fee can have a significant impact on your work-life balance. It’s important that you make the right choice for your lifestyle.
(2) Research the Interviewers
You should always know who you will be interviewing with. If you were not informed when scheduling the interview, ask! This will show that you’re are interested and proactive. Make sure you memorize, at the very least, each person’s name, position, and scientific background. Also, consider asking your interviewers questions about their scientific/engineering background. Afterall, many IP summer jobs are in patent prosecution or patent litigation. The interviewers will be interested in your scientific or engineering prowess. You can impress them by asking them specific scientific questions related to their background. When researching your interviewers, look into papers or articles they’ve previously written. Regardless of whether the articles are about IP or science, asking them specific questions about their own expertise will surely impress them!
(3) Research Recent and Current Summer and Articling Students
Look into previous students at the firm. There is nothing worse than interviewing a candidate who asks generic questions, like “what type of tasks will I be working on” or “what is a typical day like for a student”. While these may be valid questions, your questions should be tailored to the organization. For example, instead of asking “what type of tasks will I be working on”, ask “I noticed on your website that X (a recent student or articling student) has a similar scientific/engineering background as I do. What types of daily tasks do they work on and would I be expected to do similar tasks?”
II. Reach Out to Someone at the Firm Before Applying
To show interest in the firm, it’s always a good idea to reach out to a student or young associate at the firm to ask if you can take them out for coffee or do a phone “informational” interview (i.e., to ask them questions about their job and about the firm in general). The summer is a perfect time to do this (i.e., before the recruitment process starts – there are rules about contacting students during the recruitment process). Do your research on all the potential people you could ask and choose someone that you have a connection with – no matter how small. Did you do your undergrad at the same school? Do they have the same technical background? Did they attend the same law school? Are they from the same city? All you need is a small connection to show you did your research when cold calling or sending them an email.
III. Be Willing to Travel
This is the time to invest in your career. You may not have much money to travel at this point but traveling to attend an interview can make or break getting a summer job. For example, I was specifically told once that the only reason I did not get a job was because I did not travel to the city for the second interview (the second interview was conducted via Skype™). This was after the recruiter told me that it was “no problem” that I couldn’t travel to that city. Lesson learned.
IV. Know Your Own Skills
This may seem like a given – you wrote your resume and should obviously know your skills and experience. However, you’d be shocked at how many interviewees stumble at questions about their own skills. Reviewing your own resume and having a clear list in your head of the skills you learned with each experience can also help boost your confidence during the interview. Furthermore, always review your previous scientific or technical projects – it is not uncommon for questions about previous projects to come up in an interview. Not knowing the answer to a scientific question about your own previous research projects is fatal to getting that job.
V. Don’t Underestimate Small Firms
If you really want a summer IP position, don’t limit your applications to the big firms. Smaller IP boutiques are great training grounds because students don’t get pigeonholed into a specific role. Generally, at a large firm, you’re placed in a specific technical group and that is the type of work you’ll be doing all summer. At a smaller firm, you will get exposure to several different technical areas and potentially different areas of IP. Resulting not only in a more interesting summer, but better overall training that will result in you being a more rounded and knowledgeable lawyer.
Another advantage of a small firm is that you generally have more hands-on training. At a big firm, it’s easy for students to get lost in the shuffle. At a smaller firm, you often have direct training from partners and advanced associates. Furthermore, working at a smaller firm gives you more visibility to stand out. Combine that with significantly less competition and you have a much higher chance of getting hired.
Lastly, if you don’t get that summer position, don’t fret – the majority of law students do not get law related summer jobs. However, it’s always a good idea to call or email each recruiter to ask for feedback on the process. After all, “the only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – Henry Ford.