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Three tips for law students

A few weeks ago, I watched as my friends in 2L nervously checked the career office website every 15 minutes. What could possibly be happening, I wondered. All it took was their facial expressions to tell me it was one of the most dreaded days in any law student’s journey: OCI results day.

On-campus interviews represent the first step in the long journey toward getting a summer job. It is a process through which most students feel forced to go, even if they have little interest in a career on Bay Street.

So, how can students succeed in this process? This article provides three tips to keep in mind.

Have someone to guide you through the details of the process

One of the most stressful aspects of the OCI process was that I barely understood it. I didn’t know when to send an email, when to reply to an email or what to say in those emails. When did I tell a firm it was my first choice? How should I discuss that one bad grade? I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions and neither does anyone else in 2L.

Laura Brown, a 3L from Osgoode Hall Law School, says, “Everything in this process was difficult and unknown, especially what to say in a thank you email, how to figure out if the firm liked me, etc.”

That’s why you absolutely need a 3L to guide you through the process.

Often, I find, 2Ls (myself included) ask their upper-year peers about the big questions, such as “Do you think I’m a competitive candidate?” But what 2Ls really need help with are the tiny operational questions such as, “Does this email sound good?” and “What should I say if they ask me this question?”

Find someone who will answer your text at midnight or your call at 7 a.m. Once you have that person, don’t be afraid to ask them for help!

If you can find someone who can help you with the on-the-ground questions, you will do better in the process and be much less stressed.

  1. Don’t worry about fit — and worry about fit

2Ls hear a lot about “fit.” The theory is that firms look for applicants who “fit” with their team and their specific firm culture. Students get worked up about this. I certainly did. I was constantly worried that I didn’t present myself in a way that “fit” with the firms.

Students spend so much time fretting about whether the firm thinks they fit and spend almost no time thinking about whether the firm fits them — their personality, their expectations, their goals. You can often tell this from the people you meet.

“When I interviewed with my current articling position, I knew it was what I wanted from the start, based on the people I met from the firm,” says Lucas Kilravey, an articling student at BLG. “It was important to me, not only that I got a good substantive articling experience, but that I worked in a firm where I enjoyed going into the office every day.”

So, when I say don't worry about fit, I mean don’t stress out about what the firm thinks of you. Maybe they like you, maybe they don’t. You may never know. But don’t get lost in the haze and accept just anything — keep in mind that you’ll have to go into the office for 14-hour days, and so you need to make sure the firm fits with you, too.

  1. Keep calm and carry on

OCIs are stressful. Students panic about their chances and worry about what their friends are doing. “She’s networking already? I’m so behind!” It is OK to be stressed. But it is not healthy to catastrophize. Not only is it not healthy, it’s not reasonable.

The majority of students do not get a job through OCIs. However, it can often seem like the entire profession and the entire student body is solely focused on the OCI process. There are endless events, firm tours, etc. Everyone talks about it. I have seen students who have no interest in Bay Street desperate to get a job they never wanted.

All of this focus can make you think that your career rests on your 2L summer job — that’s certainly what I thought at the time. And, of course, deep down, we all know this is simply not true. The vast majority of law students do not get an OCI. So, I tell my 2L friends that not getting an OCI is not only OK, it’s normal. And I tell them that if they don’t get one, they need to keep calm and carry on.

If you don’t get an OCI, you need to keep your eye on the prize. Ask for feedback and move on.

“You might not get an OCI or you might get one that you didn’t really want,” says Heather Donkers, an Osgoode student. “But just know that almost everyone ends up with something they love in articling. I have friends who were devastated when they didn’t get an OCI, and now they’re excited every day for their dream articling job.”

Patrick Schertzer, a graduate of the University of Windsor Faculty of Law, agrees. “OCIs are one small component of your legal career, so if you don’t end up with any, don’t panic.”

Keep calm and carry on — it’s not the end of the world to come out of the OCI process without a job. In fact, it’s normal. You are in the majority.

Trevor Fairlie is a 3L student at Osgoode Hall Law School and vice president of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario. He can be found on Twitter @TrevorFairlie and email at trevorfairlie2016@osgoode.yorku.ca.