Non-legal jobs boost law students' people skills
By AdvocateDaily.com Staff
Law firms often underrate the role of tough, non-legal jobs in developing the soft skills critical to the successful practice of law, says Mississauga real estate and immigration lawyer Jia Junaid.
Junaid, principal of Atlas Law, still remembers the scramble among law students at her alma mater, the University of Ottawa, for Bay Street summer jobs and other legal internships to boost their resumes.
However, she says many law students — and even recruiting lawyers — place too much emphasis on legal work experience, while turning their noses up at less prestigious employment in retail, call centres, or serving at restaurants.
“Technical expertise is only one half of the job, and you can get that from your relevant school work and even some internships during the year,” Junaid tells AdvocateDaily.com. “But so much of being a lawyer is about people skills. You have to listen to people and understand them.
“These smaller jobs are the ones that deepen and sharpen your understanding of everyday people. That’s going to be very impactful in terms of attracting and retaining clients, especially if you’re in fields of law like real estate, family law and estates, where you’re interacting with people all the time,” she adds.
Junaid says any young law student panicking about failing to land a legal job should console themselves with the example of lawyers like her.
“I had half a million dollars last year in revenue, and what allows me to drive that is in part my legal experience, which has been developed over time in law school and in practice,” she explains. “But just as important are my people skills, which were there from the get-go through the smaller jobs that I worked before and during law school.”
At the end of her first year of law school, Junaid extracted herself from the summer job scramble, opting instead for “one last hurrah” in downtown Toronto, living with friends while working in retail and hospitality, as well as a public outreach job soliciting charitable donations.
“In these jobs, you need to build an instant rapport with someone. You have five minutes to have a conversation and get them in a position where they’re ready to hand over their credit card,” she says. “I don’t regret that job for a second, because I’ve taken those skills straight into my profession working with clients. Just because you can build a rapport quickly, doesn’t mean it’s not genuine.”
Junaid says there was a low correlation between those law school colleagues who got the most coveted law firm summer jobs and those who have been the most successful during the following years in practice.
“They haven’t all fared poorly. Many are on partnership tracks, but many have dropped out of practice and say the pressure of obtaining clients is too much,” she says.
And Junaid says her suspicions about the value of less attractive jobs have been confirmed by her own experience training articling students.
“The ones who are standing out are not always the ones with the perfect legal resumes, they’re the ones who have developed some grit doing harder, smaller jobs,” she says.
In addition, Junaid says one of her highest performing law clerks worked at a call centre before arriving in her office.
“She’s young and she’s vibrant. Yes, she has the technical knowledge, but she can also multitask, and problem-solve while giving exceptional client service,” she says.
“When you’re putting together a resume, don’t get hung up if it looks low on legal experience. You’ve got to realize that there’s a lot more to the business of law,” Junaid adds.