Ultra Vires


A Guide on How to “Show Interest” in Criminal Law

Advice from the CLSA for aspiring criminal lawyers

While much of 1L consists of simply trying to survive the year, students with an eye on their 2L colleagues taking part in the recruit might be thinking about their own recruit coming up next year. One of the biggest concerns 1L students interested in pursuing criminal law have is how to show their interest on a resume after just one year of law school with standard classes and limited extracurricular opportunities.

If you fall into this boat, not to worry! I have compiled different ways you can show your interest in criminal law both within and outside of the law school (and learn more about it as you go). 

Within the Law School 

Attend Criminal Law Students’ Association (CLSA) events

I am shamelessly plugging our own club here…. but the CLSA is a great way to learn about criminal law. The CLSA hosts one panel a month of speakers who engage with different areas of criminal law. In my first year, I attended the Crown vs Defence panel, a CLSA staple and an exciting way to watch two traditionally adversarial parties talk about common issues in the system. It’s also a great way to meet lawyers who love their jobs and are often more than happy to talk with students one-on-one after the panel. 

Previous panels include Financial Crimes and Corporate Compliance in conjunction with the Business Law Society, Women in Criminal Law, and Forensic Sciences. Keep an eye on the mailing list or Facebook for this year’s panels! 

Work with Downtown Legal Services (DLS) 

Since the opportunity to volunteer at DLS was unavailable in my 1L year, I took the Criminal Law and Academic Offences Clinic course for credit in my 2L year. By the time the recruit rolled around just one month later, I already had both client-facing and court experience I could speak to from my work there. More importantly, DLS was my first exposure to how criminal law works outside of textbooks and academia. I came to understand that criminal law wasn’t for me, but I felt incredibly fortunate to have learned that before the recruit as opposed to after I had already begun a career in that field. 

Participate in mock trial/mooting/other advocacy events

Whether defence or Crown, if you pursue criminal law, you will be in litigation—which means arguing in court. In my 1L year, we had the opportunity to do a mock trial. It was one of the highlights of my year. I learned that I loved the work that went into building a case, such as crafting a convincing story, as well as the excitement of the courtroom. While we were arguing a civil case, the atmosphere and the work that went into litigating a case made me passionate about litigation, which is something that I could speak to in my interviews. 

Load up on criminal law classes 

While U of T only has a few criminal law classes to choose from, loading your schedule with courses such as Wrongful Convictions, Criminal Procedure, Trial Advocacy, and Sentencing and Penal Policy is a great indication that you are seriously considering pursuing criminal law. 

Summer jobs 

There are several criminal law-adjacent summer jobs offered through the Career Development Office. For instance, you could apply to work in the Criminal Division of DLS. You could also apply to teach Criminal Law through the Youth Summer Program (which is what I did in my 1L summer). It was a great way to stay fresh on criminal law while networking with the judges and criminal lawyers who attended the program (one of them later interviewed me). 

Another option is to apply to any public-interest jobs, even if they are not strictly related to criminal law. Especially if you hope to pursue a job at the Crown, it’s great to signal your interest in public interest work. 

Beyond the Law School 

Go to court

One great way to learn whether criminal law is for you is to go to court to observe a trial. There’s no need to email lawyers to shadow them—courts are open to the public. However, it can be hard to know what case to pick and what stage the case is on— luckily, the CLSA is working on putting together a small trip to a court, so stay tuned! 

Look for a job/volunteering/shadowing opportunity outside the recruit

While it may seem daunting, there are plenty of defence firms which would be happy to take a law student on to shadow them for a day or even as a summer student. You can look up defence firms and cold email associates there or consult the directory to see the network of U of T law students working at various firms. Although it certainly takes courage, at the very worst, you receive a polite rejection email or no response. It’s worth a shot!

Yuliya Mykhaylychenko (3L) is Co-President of the Criminal Law Students’ Association, 2022–23.

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