First-year students get surprise gift card from Osler

First-year law students across Canada, who are right now stressing out about exams, got an early gift this week and a much-needed break courtesy of a big law firm coming off a mammoth deal.

On Monday, law schools across the country started distributing Tim Horton’s gift cards worth $15 each to thousands of first-year law students. Approximately 4,000 have received them.

And who was their magnanimous benefactor? None other than Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, which advised Tim Horton’s on the innovative tax-inversion deal struck with Burger King in August.

Enclosed with the gift card was a note from the firm’s vice chairman, Clay Horner, expressing his pride in the firm’s work on the deal — which made use of a novel structure while managing sensitive cultural and political factors — and offering students a coffee break on them.

Horner, who wrote the note in early September, says he has been heartened by the outpouring of gratitude from first-year students with a couple of them tweeting out their appreciation.

“I probably hadn’t thought about it for the past month,” he said. “Then, lo and behold, I started getting these e-mails from students across the country saying, ‘Mr. Horner, we were all just handed this Tim’s gift card,’ and their sentiments are just really nice.”

The inspiration for the idea came out of Osler’s students committee. In late September — about a month after the Tim’s deal was announced — committee chairman Shuli Rodal called Horner with an idea for a branding initiative.

With a gesture as simple as sending out coffee cards, the firm could show off its innovative deal making all the while doing something nice for first-year law students during what must be a stressful time.

Horner said he thought it was a great idea: “Every lawyer can remember the stress they had leading up to first-year exams. That was 30-plus years ago for me, but I can still remember that time and thinking, ‘How will I ever get through all of this?’”

The card giveaway has also gotten kudos from Osler’s client. A few days after signing off on it, Horner mentioned the initiative offhandedly to Jill Sutton, general counsel at Tim Horton’s. He expected maybe a nod of approval but was blown away by the response.

“Her reaction was more than I expected,” he says. “She proceeded to send it to all the executive team at Tim’s, who sent back nice e-mails saying, ‘Wow, we really appreciate you thinking of us.’ I feel so good about that. Establishing a partnership with your client like that is really great.”

Horner doesn’t want to overplay the strategic aspect of a simple gift. While the idea has been well received by Tim Horton’s and law students, it was never about buttering up the client or recruiting talent, he says.

“So much of what you’re doing in recruitment is very targeted. This was something we wanted to do for everybody. . . . We were trying to do something nice at what was a modest cost, maybe get a little bit of buzz going around the law schools, and just feeling good about it.”

With the e-mails pouring in, Horner must be feeling even better now. “One of the e-mails I had this morning was from a first-year student at the University of Calgary who said, you know, I really am feeling a lot of stress and this is a great way to take a break and, frankly, 15 bucks makes a difference to me right now.”

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