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Getting the big firm job even after coming up dry after OCIs

|Written By Peter Rowntree
Getting the big firm job even after coming up dry after OCIs

It’s no secret law school ain’t easy! During your first year, you probably: (a) forgot what it was to have a social life; (b) started to regret your life decisions; (c) began experimenting with carbolic smoke balls; or (d) all of the above.

After all the stress and long hours that came with being a first year law student, you probably felt ready — entitled even —  to work at a big firm. Well, things don’t always happen as planned. But have no fear; there is hope yet! I spoke with some articling students who didn’t land summer positions to find out more about their journeys. Each took a different path, but they all ended up with articles at full service firms.

On-campus interviews are not the most natural experience. It’s often compared to speed dating, and indeed this is how many of our articled students felt about their experience.

Nick felt the interviews went by too quickly for him to engage in real, interesting conversations. Paul found he was trying too hard (as one might on a first date) to give answers he thought his interviewers wanted to hear. However, they didn’t let the OCIs faze them, and they went on to the in-firm interview stage. But alas, things didn’t pan out for our students.

Upon reflection, Eric feels his downfall was following the advice of his school’s career development office too stringently. He cautions against calling lawyers to ask them about their firms. Although he was advised that speaking with a variety of lawyers at a firm would be advantageous, he can now see the downside of being too liberal with calls.

The lawyers you call will inevitably speak to each other, and if you ask them the same questions, they might see it as a sign you don’t have any genuine interest in the firm, or — even worse — you are wasting the firm’s time.

I’m not saying don’t reach out to lawyers; just exercise discretion. My tactic was to e-mail the recruiter at the firms I was interested in and ask if I could be put in contact with one of their students. This puts you on the recruiter’s radar, shows you are interested, and gives you a chance to speak with someone who is not too far removed from the process you are going through.

After the summer interview process, our students took very different next steps.

Eric was proactive, and focused on finding a job with a smaller firm. Although he was going to law school in Toronto, he gained access to the University of British Columbia’s law school career web site through a friend and scoured the Vancouver postings. He also reached out to his network for extra help.

His hard work landed him a position with a boutique corporate firm in downtown Vancouver for the summer.

Paul took the opposite approach, and spent time recuperating after the process. After “licking his wounds for several months,” he was able to get a position as a research assistant with his trusts professor. The important thing to remember is that the summer is full of possibilities, which brings me to my next point.

Make the most of your summer! Big firms won’t expect you to have legal experience when you apply for your articles. Take this chance to do something interesting, but be prepared to discuss your summer job with firms during articling interviews.

Nick worked as a tutor for the summer. The job helped him hone his communication and public speaking skills. This not only boosted his confidence during articling interviews, but also gave him interesting stories to tell his interviewers.

Paul’s experience improved his research skills, which proved attractive to his interviewers and was bolstered by a glowing reference letter from his professor.

Eric’s summer experience demonstrated to employers that he could thrive in a firm environment, and also provided him with practical legal skills that have him a leg up at the start of his articles.

When it was time for round two, our students were prepared! Having met with most of the firms they were interested in during summer interviews, Nick and Eric were able to run a more focused campaign during their articling interviews.

Nick made an effort to meet more lawyers over coffee both before and during the interviews. At the same time, you should be more focused with who you meet. If you’re interested in M&A work, don’t be shy to seek out a partner with an M&A focus and express why you’re interested in the work they do.

All of the students I talked to stressed the importance of spending time to get to know your top firms well. Don’t forget the all-important fit!

Paul decided to relax and be himself the second time around, and found a firm where he is happy and thriving. There is no use trying to force yourself to fit the mould of a firm where you don’t belong.

Finally, a resume overhaul may be in order. The law student resume is a different beast than the resume you’ve used in the past — it is shorter, has strict criteria, and always uses bullets over full sentences. In this case, Eric found the examples from his school’s career office to be helpful.

The summer interviews are a tricky process. When you have so many students competing for a limited number of positions with big firms, it is inevitable there will be good people who fall through the cracks.

All of the students I interviewed for this article were exceptional candidates. Although they each had slight problems with their summer interviews — a resume that was too long, difficulty with the conversational interview style, trying too hard to say what the interviewer wanted — they were able to learn from their experience and succeed in their articling interviews.

If you aren’t successful your first time around, the best thing you can do after the summer interviews is to take a step back and really think about what went wrong. You’ve got almost a year to improve — but don’t leave it until the last minute. You’ll be interviewing again before you know it!

Peter Rowntree is a recent graduate of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and is currently articling with Lawson Lundell LLP in Vancouver. In order to encourage candid responses, first names only have been included for the three articling students interviewed for this article.

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