The first step is to carefully consider whether to engage in the formal process, and if so, which cities, firms, and/or government offices to apply to. This process will hopefully lead to a position that will start off your career, and it’s important to go into it with your eyes open so you make informed decisions rather than assumptions.
To make sure you follow the path that’s right for you, do your due diligence, give thought to the environment you want to work in, consider the type of work you want to do, and get to know the offices you are applying to as well as possible at this stage of the process. Although everyone’s strategies vary, hopefully the following suggestions will lead you in the right direction for the simultaneously nerve-racking and exciting process ahead.
Do your research
Scour firm and government office web sites for helpful information and seek out whatever other resources are available to you. Some firms, such as Bennett Jones LLP, compile student brochures that provide a lot of information and advice that is not only useful for applying to that firm but to others as well. With this information in hand, you can cater your application to each firm individually.
Go to tours and career fairs
This is a great way to get to know the firm and demonstrate your interest. The people leading these tours and attending the fairs are more than happy to answer questions about all aspects of work and office culture. After the event, be sure to follow up with anyone you met. It’s possible your initial meeting at an event could lead to further opportunities for you to learn more about the firm and receive guidance about the process.
Seek advice from friends and colleagues
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the years above you for information and advice. If you don’t know someone at a particular firm you’re interested in, send an e-mail to one of the junior associates or a summer student from your law school. Chances are this initiative will be well received and it may start an invaluable mentorship relationship.
Attend OCI information sessions
Keep an eye out for e-mails from your law school about information sessions being held about the application process. When you are just starting to prepare your cover letter and resume, the logistics of the process can seem shrouded in mystery. Going to these information sessions not only helps clarify the steps you need to take, but you also get advice about how to structure your application. As well, the panellists may work at firms you’re interested in applying to, so it provides you with another opportunity to introduce yourself and find out more about that specific firm or organization.
Prepare your application early
A one-page cover letter and two-page resume may not seem like much, but done properly, they can be what sets you apart and gets you the interview. To accomplish this, it can often take days of drafting, reviewing, and rewriting. Your cover letter will be particularly important for grabbing the attention of whoever is going through the applications, so it’s important to spend a lot of time on it. Before submitting your application, ask for advice from the career office at your law school. If you can, ask an upper-year student to see their letter and seek out proofreaders for their advice on form and content. If you know someone well at the firm, and have his or her permission, reference that person as a source of firm information.
No matter what your strategy, do the work now so there is as little as possible followup required once the process gets going during the term. You don’t want to end up scrambling and appear unprepared for the interviews. Instead, you will want to spend that time updating information and focusing on learning about the individual interviewers.
It is important to take the process seriously — because the firms certainly do — but enjoy it as well. This can be an excellent opportunity to discover great firms, meet interesting people, and prepare yourself for the beginning of your career in law.
Sasha Toten recently graduated from the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law’s common law program. She will be starting her articles at Bennett Jones LLP in Toronto in August.