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The Social Justice Path

Coursework

The concept of ‘Social Justice’ can be found in any academic field that impacts the public in some form.  It can also be seen as its own discipline whereby critical analysis of equity issues in the law and policy as it relates to marginalized and historically disadvantaged groups is employed to evaluate and expose the existence of systemic inequities and advocate for the need for progressive social change.

Some academic areas where social justice is inextricably linked include:

  • Domestic and International Human Rights
  • International Law
  • Labour and Employment Law
  • Immigration and Refugee Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Aboriginal Law
  • Constitutional Law

The Windsor Law course offerings have a strong Experiential Learning component to them.  At Windsor Law, the courses offered with a Social Justice theme include:

Job Shadowing Program

The Job Shadowing Program was created in 2003 and is administered through the Career Services Office of Windsor Law.  The Program aims to provide every current Windsor Law student who registers in the Job Shadowing Program with an opportunity to spend one day, typically during study week, with Windsor Law Alumni.  The program gives students the opportunity to observe the routine of the Host and gain knowledge about the practice of law in an authentic setting.  As well, the student should have the opportunity to meet and talk with articling students and other lawyers.

Virtual Coffee Program

Virtual Coffee is almost like a mini-job shadowing opportunity.  Like Job Shadowing, Windsor Law Alumni have offered to provide students with insights into what their careers are like on a day-to-day basis.  This program is something to take advantage of if you want the real story, to know what it’s truly like after law school, whether it’s about the city you live might in, the firm you might serve, or the work that you would do.

With Virtual Coffee, there is no need for travel.  The "meeting" is usually done by telephone, but more tech-savvy alumni and students have carried on Skype conversations.  "Virtual Coffee" is much easier to schedule than a face-to-face meeting, and you don't need to leave school.   

Volunteer

Volunteering is important.  For many people, especially those with a pre-disposition to Social Justice and Public Interest, it is just something they do automatically....it's the right thing to do.  However, volunteering can also help you along your career path.

Employers will look closely at your history of volunteering.  It provides them with many insights.  A solid history of volunteerism reveals what sort of community-minded lawyer you might become.  Many firms have strong Pro Bono involvement; do you fit that mold?

Just because your volunteering is not a paid position, doesn't mean you don't acquire and hone new skills.  Pay attention to what you learn in your volunteer position(s).  Did you learn to take initiative, exhibit teamwork, communication skills, tact and diplomacy, research and presentation skills?  These are all skills employers are seeking and you will be able to refer to them in your cover letters and interviews.

The type of organization where you volunteer will also tell the employer the sincerity of your intentions regarding the type of law you claim to wish to practice.  Did you volunteer for an environmental organization?  A downtown mission?  An Aboriginal Friendship Centre?   A women's shelter?  A summer in Ghana?  Basically, it helps you sell yourself.

Summer Work

After First Year: A relatively small number of law students get “law” jobs between first and second year.  Don’t be discouraged if you are among this majority.  However, you shouldn’t discount the transferable skills that you can learn in your “non-law” summer jobs.  You can develop multi-tasking skills, communication and interpersonal skills, time management, multi-tasking, dealing with difficult clients with tact and diplomacy, etc.  When it comes time for your law job interviews, employers are not so concerned that you worked at Jenny’s Diner, but what you learned while working there.

After Second Year:  Unquestionably, this is an important period.  More and more, law firms are hiring their articling students directly from their summer student pool.  For those looking at the traditional, larger law firm career path, this is why OCI's (On-Campus Interviews) during second year are so important.  For Social Justice candidates, since there isn't an OCI process, you need to attend the Windsor Law Justice at Work conference in November and be paying attention to job postings on Symplicity throughout the whole year, not just after February.

Articling

This is the big one.  After graduation, there is a strong likelihood that where you article is where you will begin your career as a lawyer.  Larger firms across the country go through their articling hiring process during the summer before you begin your third year.  As noted above under Summer Work, many firms hire their articling students from their summer student pool.  Firms have already met these students, invested in their training and know the calibre of their work.  Although not part of the organized recruiting process, this also holds true for smaller firms in large and small cities, plus many of the Social Justice / Public Interest organizations.  Fortunate third year students return in September already knowing where they will begin articling after graduation.

However, and this is especially true for Social Justice positions, articling positions will arise throughout your entire third year of Law School.  Smaller firms need to determine if they have sufficient work and/or a principal to offer an articling position.  Some organizations won't know if they have a budget for an articling student until their budgeting process finishes later in the year.

Have faith.  Continue to work hard.  Check Symplicity.  Talk to Career Services. 

Timeline

For traditional law positions, there are strict timelines when recruiting, interviewing and job offers occur.  For many employment opportunities, Social Justice positions will follow these same timelines. PLUS, opportunities occur throughout the entire year.