OCIs: consider ‘how’ you want to work

This time last year, my 2L peers and I were on edge waiting to hear back from employers after submitting OCI applications.

As well as a period of uncertainty and stress, I remember it being a time of serious reflection on my interests and values. I was really pondering what I wanted to do in my legal career. The OCI application process was the first time we had to make a concrete (although certainly not a permanent) decision as to what direction to go in.

For those students who were all about business law, now was the time to get their foot in the Bay Street door. For students on the fence about Big Law, this was the first chance to see what it was like. No matter where you stood on the spectrum, it was a time of serious reflection about which legal path you wanted to embark on.

Now, as I begin 3L and the discussion moves from summer jobs to articling, I found my reflection has shifted its focus as well. Having volunteered in a couple of organizations, summered at a clinic, and completed an experiential education internship at a firm, I think I am clear on what kinds of law I want to practise.

But what is gripping my attention more so is how I’d like to work — what kind of environment, what kind of hours, what kind of work. It is beyond the typical work-life balance question; I’m digging deeper than that.

My experiences in real-world settings have shown me I like diversity in my workweek. I like to be drafting submissions at my desk one day and in court another. I like to interact with clients, as well as my colleagues, as much as possible. I like collaboration. I like being able to do some non-legal traditional work as well, such as teaching public legal education seminars in community agencies or co-ordinating events. I don’t like being holed up in an office doing research on my own day after day. I don’t like that monotony.

I like to work in a collegial environment that fosters open dialogue about policy and current affairs — a place where it is OK to be political. I like a space where my supervisors care most that I submit quality work, not what time I leave the office. I like work environments that believe in more than just civility, but courtesy and encouragement too. I like workspaces that integrate junior lawyers into the fold. I don’t like being afraid to share my thoughts on a newspaper article because I think my supervisor won’t agree. I don’t like feeling like just one of many.

I’ve learned a lot of things about how I’d like to function in my career, beyond what I’ve listed above. Had I thought or simply known about these factors last year when I was going through OCIs, I think the process would have been much easier. My decisions on where to apply would have been clearer and I would have known which questions to ask beforehand when doing my research.

At the end of the day, I could be practising civil litigation in a big firm or as a sole practitioner. I could practise immigration in a corporate law firm or in a clinic. Of course, the specific material will differ in each setting, but the general area of law and skills utilized would be the same.

For many, the “what” question is still central and rightly so. What you want to practise is surely an important piece of the puzzle. Thankfully, I have been able to narrow that down a bit. But now when I speak to practitioners, I inquire just as much about the “how.”

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