It is no secret that the job market for current and incoming law students is unnerving. For those fortunate enough to secure an interview, it is simply a foot in the door with plenty of work ahead. Knowing that this time of year brings the intimidating OCIs — or on-campus interviews — and the in-firm week for the Toronto recruitment process, I sat down with three peers who managed to navigate the process successfully and emerge with the coveted Bay Street student positions. We discussed everything from their objectives at the outset of in-firm week to lessons learned by the end. Each student had a different experience. Janette chose a large, full-service firm, Alex opted for a boutique firm and Davis found his calling at a mid-sized firm.*
1. Why Bay Street?
Janette decided to pursue Bay Street because she wanted to have the opportunity to try many different practice areas. “I was certain I did not want to practice criminal or family law, but I was not sure which practice area I wanted to go into,” she says. She knew a full-service firm would expose her to a number of areas of law while providing the best, most effective training.
Similarly, Davis wanted to work Bay Street because he was confident it would provide the best legal training at this stage of his career. He also felt that working on Bay Street could propel almost any other legal career and perhaps expose him to an unfamiliar area of the law.
2. What is one piece of advice you would give to students as they prepare for in-firm week?
The students were unanimous in their answers. They all found that the most important skill, beyond being prepared, was trusting yourself. Alex says, “Going into the week, one of my major stresses was the feeling that I had to decide where I will be working, potentially for the foreseeable future, in three days. However, while I was going through the process, going with my gut and trusting my instincts was surprisingly easy. It is a very hectic and all-consuming process, but the mixture of adrenaline, good food and lack of sleep seemed to result in the ability to make swift decisions.”
3. What are some things you learned from in-firm week? Did anything catch you offguard?
Davis learned about the importance of endurance, confidence and perspective. “Overall, while the process can feel artificial and unnatural, I do believe it creates a useful and fitting assessment of what makes effective law students and future lawyers,” he says. “Despite spending an unreasonable amount of time sending followup emails, attending cocktail receptions and dinners, I knew it was nothing compared to the long hours that lawyers and summer students may endure. Like lawyers, summer students face adversity and the interview process is an important opportunity to persevere in the face of challenges and practise confidence.” Davis attributes his success to his ability to focus, compartmentalize and refrain from distractions that might have detracted from his ability to advocate for himself.
Janette paid careful attention to how the firms treated students. She was quite busy during this week and was pressured multiple times to cancel interviews and dinners from competing firms. Instead of viewing this as a positive, it showed her how little regard these firms had for students attempting to make the best choices for themselves. She looked for a firm that treated the students fairly and respectfully.
4. Did you end up at the firm you wanted?
At the end of the week, all three students were offered positions. Alex tailored her applications to one particular area of practice. This allowed her to spend her time focused on the firms that could fulfil this interest. By contrast, Davis kept an open mind knowing that employment somewhere was the priority. He does recommend reaching out to students working at firms to learn more about certain areas of practice, to become more comfortable having professional conversations and to provide firms with a face to the name when they review applications.
Janette also maintained an open mind, but she knew certain practice areas piqued her interest. She did not bother ranking the firms and paid little attention to the firm’s status (whether it is a seven-sister firm), the pay or any flashy niche areas of law it offers. Ultimately, she made her decision based on meaningful conversations with lawyers and where she felt most comfortable.
5. Reflecting on your summer experience, did you make the right choice?
The students were incredibly happy with their choices, which speaks directly to the importance of trusting yourself. In particular, Alex found a firm that felt like a family. “I got to work on precedent-setting cases, got to watch lawyers in court on a regular basis and worked with a group of bright and hilarious students, lawyers and staff.”
6. What’s one thing you will strive to improve for articles?
Davis wants to be more dedicated to healthy personal habits. “Amid the stress and (mostly self-inflicted) pressure that arises while starting out at a firm, I sometimes thought it was more important to spend a few extra hours on assignments than eating well, exercising or sleeping. I would argue that, overall, healthy students do better work in less time than those who forego self-care. As articles approach, I know that my ability to set boundaries and commit myself to being healthy will significantly influence the quality of my work as a student.”
Whether you are in first year or preparing for in-firm week or a recruitment in another city, it is evident that even if you do not have an idea on the specifics (such as a particular practice area in which you are interested), it is important to set clear objectives and have an idea of what you want from a recruitment. Trust your instincts, be prepared for unforeseeable challenges and be confident. Finally, if you are not able to secure a position, know that this is not the end of the road and there will be more opportunities in your future.
Best of luck to everyone!
* Names have been changed