How to Get Your First Job as a Lawyer

The Prepped Team

October 11, 2022

6 Minutes

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How to Get Your First Job as a Lawyer 

Lawyers play a crucial role in Canada’s judicial system. As a lawyer, you will be responsible for guiding your clients on legal matters, giving them legal advice, safeguarding their rights, writing contracts, and where needed, gathering material evidence and defending them in a court of law. 

There’s no shortage of career opportunities in law, but the path to becoming a lawyer in Canada isn’t easy. We’re here to help chart your course from student to professional lawyer. Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge to successfully land your first job as a lawyer after you graduate.

In this article:

Types of lawyers in Canada

Legal jobs are available in various specializations and settings. For instance, you’ll find lawyers working in the private sector, as independent practitioners, for not-for-profits, and even in the government’s department of justice. Here we describe some of the main disciplines of law: 

  • Family law focuses on family relationships such as divorce and child custody.
  • Estate planning law focuses on estate management, wills, and division of assets among beneficiaries.
  • Criminal defense law involves defending individuals or companies charged with criminal activity. 
  • Business law, corporate law, or in-house counsel involves assisting corporations with guidelines they need to follow, writing contracts, and protecting the firm’s interests.
  • Criminal law is concerned with the trial and punishment of those who’ve committed crimes.
  • Real estate law involves providing legal guidance to individuals or organizations buying or selling property and ensuring that the paperwork is legally binding.
  • Immigration law involves advising foreign nationals who wish to apply for temporary or permanent residence or citizenship in Canada. Immigration lawyers can also accompany their clients for immigration interviews or represent them in a court of law. 
  • Civil litigation focuses on private law, such as matters relating to breach of contract. While most parts of Canada follow the common law for civil litigation matters, Quebec follows the French-heritage civil law.

How to become a lawyer in Canada

If you’ve decided law is the right career path for you, your first step is to get into law school. Law is a regulated profession in Canada, and you’ll need a license to practice after completing your studies. Here is a breakdown of what’s ahead for you, from admission into law school to establishing your career:

Educational requirements for admission into law school

A four year undergraduate degree, such as BA, BSc, BCom, or BEng, is a prerequisite for admission into law school in Canada. Your undergrad can be in any discipline as long as you have a consistent, strong academic track record. You can complete your bachelor’s degree from any university or college; it doesn’t have to be the same university as your future law school.

Writing the LSAT

The LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, is a standardized test required for admission to most law schools in Canada. It is a remotely proctored half-day test. The LSAT consists of four sections of multiple choice questions—Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, and Logical Reasoning—and a 30-minute unscored writing sample, which gets shared with law schools along with your score. The writing sample can be completed separately as early as eight days before you take the multiple-choice sections.

The LSAT is conducted several times a year, but you should ideally take the test the summer following the third year of your undergraduate program. This will give you enough time to retake the LSAT to improve your score if needed. Most Canadian law schools won’t accept your LSAT score for fall admissions if you take the test after January that year. It costs $215 to write the LSAT, not including any late registration or repeat attempt fees.

There’s no minimum passing score for the LSAT but, on average, applicants accepted into Canadian law schools have scores of 160 and above. If you’re unhappy with your score, you can take the LSAT up to three times in a testing year (August to June) and up to seven times in total. Some schools will consider your highest score, while others will look at the average of all your attempts.

Applying to law school in Canada

Shortlisting law schools

Before you apply, it’s a good idea to carefully review all 24 of Canada’s law schools to determine where to apply. Law school admissions are extremely competitive, so try to apply to as many schools as possible to improve your chances of being selected. Some factors to take into consideration while making your decision include:

  • Tuition fees
  • Admission criteria
  • Average LSAT scores the school accepts
  • Class size and the average number of applicants
  • Programs and courses offered
  • Location of the law school

Choosing the right law program

There are four types of undergraduate law programs in Canada: Juris Doctor (JD), Bachelor of Law (LLB), Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL), or Licentiate in Law (LLL). JD and LLB programs are based on the British Common Law, which is recognized in most parts of Canada. However, BCL and LLL degree programs are based on French Civil Law and are only recognized in Quebec. Most law schools offer one or more of these programs, so if you’re interested in a particular degree, be sure to shortlist schools accordingly.

Submitting your admission application

When applying to law schools in Canada, you must submit your LSAT score and prior academic credentials, including your undergraduate degree and transcripts. In addition, most law schools ask for a personal letter or essay explaining why you should be accepted into the program. Your application may also include letters of recommendation from professors, former employers, or other credible professionals who can vouch for you.

Applying for a provincial law licence

Law is a regulated occupation in Canada, and you must be licensed in the province where you intend to practice. Usually, you must enrol in the provincial bar admissions program, which includes two examinations (the barrister and solicitor exams) and an experiential learning requirement, such as articling or work placements. 

Articling experience

In most provinces, applicants must complete an articling requirement before being called to the bar. Articling is similar to a work placement or internship at a law firm. Provincial law authorities specify how long the experiential learning period must be, but it typically ranges from eight to 12 months.

Firms often start the hiring process for articling students two years in advance, so you should begin applying to law firms immediately after your second year of law school. Although job descriptions for articling roles vary, your work will often involve legal research, drafting letters, briefs, and memoranda, analyzing bills before the legislative assembly, attending court, and summarizing legal documents.

Passing the bar exams

Once you complete your law program, you are eligible to appear for the bar examinations. In most provinces, you must pass two exams—the Barrister and the Solicitor examinations. These exams test you on competencies required for entry-level legal practice, including knowledge of the law and ethical and professional responsibilities. The test formats and content will depend on the province in which you are applying for a license. In Ontario, for instance, both licensing examinations follow a self-study, open book format.

Meeting other licensing requirements

In addition to passing the licensing examinations and completing the experiential learning requirement, you must also be of good moral character to qualify for a law license. You must submit all the required documents and pay all required fees, including application and licensing fees. 

All eligible candidates then attend a call to the bar ceremony where they are presented with their Degree of Barrister-at-Law and swear the oath required to practise law in the province.

For more information on provincial licensing requirements, refer to the below law society websites:

Note: If you have a law degree from outside Canada, read Arrive’s article on how to immigrate to Canada as a lawyer.

How long does it take to become a lawyer in Canada?

On average, it takes eight years to become a lawyer in Canada. This includes four years for a qualifying undergraduate program, three years for your law degree, and one year to complete the provincial law practice program, including articling and passing the required bar examinations.

How to write a legal resume

As a future lawyer, you’ll need a resume not just when you start looking for a full-time legal job, but also while applying for articling positions before being called to the bar. A well-written resume and cover letter can show employers that you’re a good fit for the role and convince them to interview you. Here are some tips to help you craft an impressive resume:

  • Choose the right resume format: The resume format you pick should be based on your skills, experience, and career level. When looking for articling or entry-level lawyer roles, a functional resume format will be most suitable as it draws attention to your transferable skills and education while de-emphasizing your lack of professional legal work experience.
  • Showcase your education and experience: If you are still in law school and applying for articling positions, put your education first and experience second. You may want to continue leading with your education credentials even after you have more work experience. As a law student, you can include part-time or volunteer work experience as long as it is relevant to the job. When looking for your first full-time job after passing the bar, be sure to highlight your article experience and achievements.
  • Tailor your resume to the job description: Every resume you send out should be customized to the position you are applying for. Most employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to shortlist resumes that closely match the job description, and only a fraction of the resumes received ever reach the hiring manager. To improve your chances of being selected, include relevant exact-match keywords from the job description in your resume and cover letter. You can also use the Prepped Resume Scanner to check if your legal resume is ATS-friendly.
  • Keep it brief and simple: Legal hiring managers often scan resumes quickly to find the right person. To stand out, make sure your resume is short and easy to read. As someone just beginning their career, your resume should be no longer than one or two pages. Avoid images and design elements, and stick with simple headings and bullet points.
  • Emphasize your transferable skills: Although you may not have full-time work experience as a lawyer, you’ve likely acquired valuable skills through your studies, articling position, and volunteer or part-time work. In-demand hard and soft skills for legal jobs include research skills, analytical skills and logical reasoning, attention to detail, persuasive communication, and more. You can also mention courses or subjects you took during your law program.
  • Use action words in your legal resume: As a lawyer, your words should carry weight. Avoid vague words like “conducted”, “assisted”, or “can”, in your resume and instead choose verbs that succinctly describe what you did and your accomplishments. 
  • Proofread your resume: Writing and attention to detail are crucial skills in the legal domain, and typos or grammatical errors can discourage hiring managers from inviting you to an interview. Always proofread your resume before sending it out and, if needed, ask someone else to review it as well. 

The step-by-step approach to job search success.

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How to get your first lawyer job

Applying for your first lawyer job can be overwhelming, especially when you’ve just passed the bar and don’t have any real work experience. Where do you look for jobs? And more importantly, how do you convince employers that you’re qualified? Here are some tips to help you land your first job with a law firm or in the legal department of an organization:

Identify jobs in a field of law that interests you 

The legal field is vast and as you begin your career as a lawyer, you’ll have many options to choose from. You may want to work at a large law firm and become a generalist or have your heart set on a specialization, such as environmental law. Alternatively, you can also look for a job in corporate law, as in-house counsel for an organization, or in legal aid. Take some time to envision your desired career path and look for job opportunities that’ll help you reach your goal.

Gather articling and other part-time experience

The mandatory experience you gain as an articling student is valuable not just for your bar license but also for your future career as a lawyer. If possible, supplement your article experience with part-time or volunteer jobs. For instance, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association invites law students to volunteer during summer breaks and during the school year. Added experience can help you stand out among other fresh law school graduates and catch the eye of recruiters.

Build your professional network

As a lawyer, networking can help you access hidden job opportunities, learn about the job market, and build connections with professionals who can help your career. Your provincial law society connects you to a large community of lawyers who are often willing and eager to help new lawyers. Some also have regular networking events and conferences, as well as continued learning resources you can leverage.

You can also use LinkedIn to connect with alumni from your law school—message them to set up a coffee chat. Your expanding network can provide guidance and job referrals, and introduce you to hiring decision-makers in various law firms. You should also nurture your relationships with managers and colleagues from firms you articled or interned with. Often these part-time or short-term work opportunities can open the door to full-time roles after you’ve passed the bar.

Look for legal jobs online

Start exploring online career portals such as Workopolis, Monster, and LinkedIn for new job postings before you’re ready to start actively applying. This will give you insight into the law firms that are hiring, organizations that recruit in-house lawyers, as well as the skills and experiences employers are looking for. You should also make a list of employers you’re interested in working for and keep track of their career pages.

Keep in mind not all available job opportunities are posted publicly. Your network can help you access the hidden job market and learn about jobs that aren’t widely advertised.

Ask for references

Strong references can support your candidature and convince employers of your skills, strengths, and work ethic. Most employers will do a reference check or ask for reference statements, so it’s good practice to prepare for this in advance. Start by asking your law professors and articling supervisors for references. If you volunteered during your studies, ask your managers or senior co-workers if they can be your references. If you have a mentor in the legal field, they may also be willing to attest to your character and abilities.

Include a cover letter while applying for lawyer jobs

The importance of a powerful cover letter cannot be overstated. Your legal cover letter is your opportunity to demonstrate your passion for a particular field of law, your motivation to practise your profession, and why you want to work for the company. It gives you a chance to provide examples of situations where you utilized the skills cited in your resume and helps the employer visualize the value you bring to the table. Like your resume, your cover letter should be customized—you don’t want to focus on a field of law that a particular law firm doesn’t practice!

What does the hiring process for lawyers look like?

One of the things that makes the recruitment process stressful for applicants is not knowing what to expect. What happens once your resume gets shortlisted? And how long does it take to get a job offer?

To begin with, your resume will likely go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) for comparison against the job requirements. If the software deems your resume to be a match, your application will be sent to the hiring manager. The hiring manager parses through the shortlisted resumes and selects top candidates for interviews. 

Most law firms and organizations conduct multiple interview rounds, including an initial screening interview, panel interviews, and in some cases, informal group interviews to introduce you to the team and assess how well you’ll fit into the company’s culture. 

After you clear the interview rounds, most law firms will undertake a conflicts check, especially if you worked with or articled for a competing law firm. Finally, the employer will run background checks, including verifying your bar association membership, academic credentials, and references from past employers, before giving you a job offer.

Common interview questions for lawyer jobs 

In general, lawyer interviews focus on your soft skills, experience, and ability to perform essential job duties rather than legal knowledge, as passing the bar is considered proof of your technical know-how. You can also expect a few general questions, behavioural questions, and culture fit questions

Here are some questions you may face while interviewing for entry-level lawyer jobs:

  • Why are you passionate about a career in law?
  • Why do you want to work for our law firm (or legal department)?
  • What was your favourite subject in law school? Which subject did you find the most challenging?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Tell me about your articling experience. What skills did you learn during that time?
  • What are the most important skills a lawyer should have?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Why should we hire you?

Preparing for commonly asked questions in advance will ensure you’re confident and ready to ace your interviews and get your first legal job. You can also practice by recording your answers to these common interview questions with Prepped AI Interviewer.

Be Prepped to enter the job market

At Prepped, our objective is to help you land your dream job. Our tools will help you build an ATS-friendly resume and improve your interview skills, so you are well prepared to start your career when you graduate. Sign up for Prepped to get access to tools and resources that’ll help you navigate your job search with ease and confidence.