'No jobs left to be found': Edmonton lawyer launches internship project in response to COVID-19
'Every single mentor is just so cool and to be matched with any of them would be great'
Despite bleak summer job prospects for law students during the COVID-19 pandemic, Nadia Nadeem received great news last week.
The University of Windsor law student is one of 41 students so far to snag an internship with the 100 Interns Project.
"It was just a huge relief," Nadeem told CBC News. "I'm going to be making a step in a positive direction at a time where everything feels so overwhelmingly negative."
The project was launched by criminal defence lawyer and University of Alberta law professor Peter Sankoff.
By June, he aims to place 100 Canadian interns with lawyers and academics working in constitutional, criminal or animal law.
Sankoff didn't set out to create an internship program — he planned to hire two summer students. But after courts largely shut down due to COVID-19, opportunities evaporated and hundreds of applications poured in.
It was like a nuclear Armageddon. There were no jobs left to be found. Everything disappeared at once.- Peter Sankoff
"There was this flood of people who were not only losing jobs but losing opportunity and really losing hope," Sankoff said in an interview on Wednesday.
"Many of them have been told already that the jobs they had been sweating over and working to get have disappeared. And for the students who didn't have jobs yet, it was like a nuclear Armageddon. There were no jobs left to be found. Everything disappeared at once.
"Once I saw that, I didn't feel like I could just stop at hiring two people, so all of a sudden it just exploded."
Successful candidates will work part-time for three weeks at 20 dollars an hour with notable lawyers and academics across Canada. The placements are all virtual so many interns are not in the same city as their employer.
Among the 17 mentors to come on board are criminal defence lawyers Daniel Brown and Jill Presser in Toronto as well as Deborah Hatch and Darin Sprake in Edmonton.
Nadeem, who wants to to learn how to help marginalized members of society obtain justice, will work remotely for litigator Arden Beddoes who is based in Vancouver.
"He does some really great work just like every other mentor in the program," she said. "I don't know where Peter found these fantastic people but every single mentor is just so cool and to be matched with any of them would be great."
Not only is it a good match for Nadeem because of Beddoes' expertise in the area of criminal and constitutional law, but she will work on a case currently before the court.
"So I'm going to be researching a file that is live and that is just a fantastic opportunity," Nadeem said.
"We can't thank professor Sankoff enough for creating this opportunity for students out of thin air, out of his own passion and dedication."
We can't thank professor Sankoff enough for creating this opportunity for students out of thin air, out of his own passion and dedication.- Nadia Nadeem
Students' salaries are being paid for directly by some firms while others are funded by donations from the legal community and the public.
Sankoff has raised about 40 per cent of the overall $50,000 required to date, by offering low-cost legal seminars on Zoom attended by up to 70 people.
A key condition of the internship is that no lawyer can benefit from donations. Unless they're funded directly by the firm, interns can only work on pro bono and legal aid cases or perform academic research.
Students have been hired from 14 universities across the country including McGill University, University of Toronto, University of Calgary, University of Alberta and Thompson Rivers University. Roughly a third of the hires are racialized students.
"They're under represented traditionally at the defence bar," Sankoff said. "So we were looking for students who are part of communities that have traditionally struggled to advance in the defence bar."
The most rewarding part for Sankoff is calling the successful candidates to deliver the good news.
"Students are just so grateful and happy. It's such a sign of optimism."