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“Nothing you did before law school matters in law.” That line came from a young Bay Street associate in response to my questions about how I could bridge my previous careers with law. I was starting from scratch, he insisted. I thought about it for 90 seconds and decided to prove him wrong.
I was about to start law school because I wanted to invest in myself for further growth, not because I didn’t know what else to do or because I was bored. Most recently I had enjoyed working in the health sector.
There’s nothing wrong with having interests outside of law. In fact, holding on to them can help you sustain yourself, even help propel you in your legal career.
In my first year of law I was faced with a tough decision: take the time to properly prepare for my final exams, or get published with a reputable academic press. I had been offered the chance to work on a public health chapter in a textbook by Oxford University Press. I couldn’t say no: I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity of having university students read my textbook. Predictably though, I didn’t make the Dean’s List that year.
Before long, my peers had nicknamed me the Chuck Norris of law school in reference to an internet meme ("Chuck Norris is awake 25 hrs a day”). “There’s no way he can be doing all of those things,” skeptics would say. Fortunately I was documenting and cataloguing everything in my online profile — or scrapbook, if you will. Whatever you may call it, it gave my profile credibility.
There are different ways you can build your profile online. A personal website (http://YourName.com) is great, but for those less technically inclined a BlogSpot site (http://www.blogger.com) or LinkedIn profile (http://LinkedIn.com) works well too. The advantage of personal websites is the allowance of rich media, like videos and audio.
If blogging is too much of a commitment, websites like JDSupra (http://www.jdsupra.com), the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) (http://ssrn.com), and Scribd (http://www.scribd.com) can easily host your articles and papers and share it with a wider audience. Lawyers, employers and future clients regularly search these sites using key words. Someone might stumble across your work.
Uploading law school papers online helped me get several professional speaking invitations while still in school. One of my papers has been added to the syllabus of an undergraduate criminology class in Ottawa; a class in women’s studies in Virginia reads another; and I have even found my law blog posts referenced in legal journals, law conferences and at least one PhD dissertation!
Remember: as busy as law students think they are, the practice of law is far busier. The time to create a foundation for client referrals and advocacy is now. Any practitioner will tell you that given the transactional nature and frequent specialization of practice, law students often know more substantive law than he or she does. So why not post case summaries and legal updates, something that is always useful to lawyers? Answering general legal questions (but not giving advice!) can be good practice on general sites like Quora (http://Quora.com). There are even legal specific sites like AdviceScene (http://legal.advicescene.com/ca) that are also a great way to interact with the bar.
Eventually, my participation in a professional discussion group on LinkedIn, and a citation of my Oxford University Press publication on my profile, caught the attention of another editor. The next thing I knew I was busy writing a chapter in my next textbook — this time on the rather obscure topic of “Geographic Information Systems” (GIS). That it would turn into a future career opportunity was far from my mind, but I embraced the project nevertheless. Needless to say I failed again to make the Dean’s List in my second and third years.
No matter. The book was published during my articling year, and some of the promotional material landed on the desk of a department head in geography at Ryerson University, who just happened to be looking for someone to teach a course in “Legal and Ethical Issues in GIS and Digital Data.” Yes, people actually study things like that.
I was asked to give the course even if I hadn’t even been called to the bar yet. It wasn’t an issue. What mattered was everything I had done before and during law school. In fact, it’s what made me perfect for the job.
True enough, traditional law firms will put a premium on grades. But the best prospects will want something that distinguishes you from the rest. So embrace the unique opportunities during law school and share your experience online. That perfect job might just come to you.
Omar Ha-Redeye is a JD graduate of Western University. He served on the Student Division Executive for the Ontario Bar Association during law school, and is currently the vice-chair (Central) of the Young Lawyers Division. He practises primarily in civil litigation out of Fleet Street Law, a full-service law association which he founded, and is general manager for My Support Calculator, the only free and accurate child and spousal support calculator in Canada.