Mentorship comes in all shapes and sizes. Like many lawyers, my partners and I receive lots of unsolicited emails from students looking for a job. One such message recently landed in my inbox. The student appeared to be new to the job search process, and while I admit that my first instinct was to just delete their email, I thought this person could use some advice.
I responded to the student with some suggestions for targeting and improving their emails, and I’m sharing those thoughts more widely here. I’m posting this for two reasons – for students or young lawyers looking for a job, I thought this information and perspective might be useful to you; and for those of you who get unsolicited emails like this from time to time, maybe this will encourage you to take a few minutes to help someone who appears to be in need of guidance.
Personalize every email that you send – We are a personal injury firm. At no point in their email did the student express an interest in personal injury law, or anything else we do. Their email didn’t suggest that they even knew what our firm does. Taking some time to do that research, and to make the request specific to the law firm (or other organization), will likely give you a better chance of getting a positive response.
Be specific – What do you want to do? What do you want to learn? What are you good at, and what do you have to offer? Don’t get me wrong, the email shouldn’t be long. But if you have specific skills, let people know.
Add a resume – If you don’t have one, make one. When applying for a job, you should share that information up front. Just attach it to your email. If possible, the resume should be one page in length.
Don’t just address it to a bunch of partners – No one will take responsibility for responding, and it is far more likely to be ignored. Lawyers are busy, and they don’t want to get extra emails in their inboxes that have nothing to do with them. Of the seven partners who received the student’s original email, only one of them could actually help them get a job at our firm (and that’s the managing partner). Instead, do some research. Browse the firm’s website to identify the appropriate hiring contact. Larger firms may have an HR professional or a head of students, while at many smaller firms such as ours, potential recruits are directed to the office manager and the managing partner. Address your email ONLY to the office manager and one other lawyer. Ask them to redirect you if there is a better person to whom you should be communicating.
Don’t sell yourself short – Your subject line is one of the most important elements in your message, especially if you’re sending an unsolicited email. In this case, the student’s subject line (Unpaid Internship Opportunity) begins with the word “unpaid”, which doesn’t put them, or their skill set, in the best light. In the body of the email, you could absolutely point out that you would be willing to consider volunteering if the position is right for both parties. But I wouldn’t lead with that. You may have skills that would be valuable to the firm.
It takes courage to send an unsolicited email seeking student employment, and I respect this student’s efforts. I hope my advice will help them with their future job applications, and in the meantime, I will remind you senior lawyers out there – don't just hit delete all the time. If we all take a few minutes every once in a while to mentor students, our profession, and our community, will be better for it.
Adam Wagman is a senior partner and former managing partner at Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP. Adam is a past President of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association (OTLA), and he also served for many years on OTLA's Board of Directors in addition to holding numerous other leadership positions in the brain injury and legal communities. Adam is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a Specialist in Civil Litigation and he frequently chairs and speaks at Continuing Legal Education programs. Adam is honoured to be recognized as a leading practitioner in several respected legal directories, and he was named the Best Lawyers 2022 Personal Injury Litigation "Lawyer of the Year" in Toronto. Adam can be reached at 416-361-0988 or firstname.lastname@example.org.