OCI Tips and Tricks with Craig Power

For those of you who have been following this blawg since its primordial soup days, you will recall me: a fresh-faced young greenhorn by the name of Craig Power. At one point in time, I was a summer student and frequent blogger here at Cassels Brock & Blackwell. Oh, how I miss those halcyon days of summer – the motions blowing through my hair; a cold closing on a hot day; due diligence at the lake; catching and milking several King Cobras in order to make an antivenin for a big client. Just kidding. I didn’t do any due diligence.

It is now one year later, and I have officially graduated from Dalhousie Law School and passed the bar exams. Now I’m on to the next hurdle, which is the articling year. You folks don’t have to worry about articling just yet. However, you should keep in mind that summering is essentially a preview to articling.

To the point then: I have taken it upon myself to update this blog each year around the time of OCIs – a tradition I began last year. You can check out that entry on OCIs here. The goal is to help students prepare for OCIs by bombarding them with random tips and tricks. Leigh-Ann McGowan and Deborah Glatter were supportive of this initiative, although they refused to raise my salary to reflect the added responsibility.

At this point I’m making the assumption that you have already been offered an OCI by a Toronto law firm. However, if you haven’t been offered an interview, don’t sweat it. Some of your colleagues are going to be of the opinion that Bay Street is the be all end all, and that if you don’t get a summer job on Bay Street, you might as well evaporate because your life is over.

There is nothing that could be further from the truth.

The opportunities that a law degree affords you are mind-boggling. When I think on it, almost every graduate I know is doing what they want to do (or what they think they want to do), be it firm work or otherwise. If you don’t get a job on Bay Street this summer, you can use your summer to beef up your resume before you graduate. Try new things. Travel. Volunteer. You don’t have to become a filing clerk in a law firm for the summer. In fact, I would say that’s the exact opposite of what you should do. Get out there in the world and do something. Use your time in an interesting and enlightening way. Imagine if you were a lawyer interviewing for articling students. Would you rather listen to a student’s chronicles of her volunteer work in South America, or her filing experience? Not only will it improve your resume, but you could actually do some good in the world! As usual, I digress.

So, you’ve gotten an interview. Congratulations – so have 10,000 other people. How do you differentiate yourself from the rest of the herd? How will you survive the arduous process of OCIs? What do you wear? What sorts of questions should you ask? On which side should you part your hair? Whoa whoa, whoa. Settle down. I’m going to tell you.

WELCOME TO THE SECOND ANNUAL OCI BONANZA TIP BLITZ WITH YOUR VERY OWN HOST CRAIG POWER

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Wow, I thought that was the whole post, but it was only the introduction.” What can I say? I’m verbose.

Tip 1: Let them sell to you.

The people who are coming to interview you genuinely love their firm. They have worked hard developing their programs and have a vested interest in its future. For these reasons, they probably really enjoy talking about their firm. As much as the OCI is about getting to know you, it is also about you getting to know them.

My suggestion is to ask the representatives questions that allow them to elaborate favourably on their firm. Make the question specific enough to sound informed, but not so sugar-coated that it’ll rot their teeth. Some examples of good questions are:

  • I noticed that you have secondments, while other firms do not. Why do you feel they are important?
  • Your firm has many different practice areas. Do the groups work together on files very often, or are they self-sufficient?
  • I see that your firm has X. Why does X go X and then X but sometimes X X albatross equality?

Think of the notion of positive associations. Advertisers are constantly trying to get consumers to associate their products with good feelings. They show their product on a sunny beach, and hopefully you will take the warm feelings you have towards a sunny beach, and transfer them to their product. If a recruiter really enjoys talking about their firm, and they associate you with the positive feelings they experienced when making the pitch, then your stock can only go up. That’s just psychology.

Tip 2: Know your audience.

The information superhighway is a great way to get information on the firm, as well as the particular people who will be conducting your interview. Know your interviewers’ practice areas, and familiarize yourself with their role in the firm. Ask them to give you an example of the types of work they have given to students in the past. Ask them for a war story. Ask them when they made the decision to practice in that field.

In short, they took the time to read about you. At the very least, know a cursory amount about them. It could help you out, especially if you end up going out for a dinner with the firm.

Tip 3: Dress Rehearsal.

Dress as if you could start work that very second. For a more detailed discussion on fashion protocol, please see my previous post.

Tip 4: Ease up.

This process can be stressful, but there are many approaches to stress. Your ability to remain level-headed will be a great indicator of how you will handle stress on the job.

Being relaxed allows the firm to get to know you on a more personal level. When people face stressful situations, it can be hard to act natural. If you appear as if you are projecting a certain image, rather than being genuine, then your chances of success are greatly diminished.

Take a deep breath, slow down your speech and enjoy the OCI for what it is: a chance to meet new people.

Tip 5: You already have the interview.

The interviewers have seen your transcripts and your resume. It is safe to assume that they know you are smart. If they thought otherwise, they would probably not be interviewing you. My personal opinion is that being “normal” is a huge asset in an OCI. They are looking for someone who the other members of the firm would enjoy working with. If you constantly flex your intellectual muscles, and border on the egotistically erudite, then you might not be good company.

Tip 6: Know your resume.

Each item on your resume is a good starting point for an interviewer. Know your resume from top to bottom, and be prepared to elaborate on every single item. You should use this opportunity to highlight your strong traits. If you had a particularly interesting job in your past, don’t just say, “Yeah, that was great.” Tell them why it was great, and explain what you took from the experience that would be an asset to the firm. You can do this without appearing laboured. And by that I mean, don’t memorize scripts. As trite as it may sound, know yourself really well. After all, that’s what they’re really interested in.

The Obligatory Cassels Plug

You should know something: I’m no shill. I’m not going to tell you that Cassels Brock is better than every other law firm out there. There are many fine firms in Toronto, and each one has something to offer. If you like the work that you do, and enjoy the people you work with, then you’re doing okay.

In conclusion, I know everything will work out for you. You will find the firm that you mesh with the best, and hopefully they will feel the same way. The concept of “fit” is very elusive, but everyone agrees that you know it when you feel it.

Good luck everyone!

Eva’s Initiatives Open House Day of Fun!

By Adrian W.

This past week Eva’s Initiatives hosted an open house to celebrate its 15th anniversary and we were luckily invited to help them celebrate this milestone. We got to take a break from due diligence and memo writing to get in touch with our craftier sides. We spent the morning helping decorate the shelter with ribbons and our masterfully created centerpieces made from balloons and shells. While helping to prepare the snacks for the guests we debated what the perfect combination of fruits is for the kabobs. And that was the work portion of our day!

We then had the afternoon to spend time with the kids that live at Eva’s Initiatives. We all participated in an Arts & Craft hour where Sandra, Jennifer and JDP made some beautiful bracelets and anklets for themselves. I was able to make my dream T-Shirt (with the help of colour co-coordinating Colin) that consisted of a giant letter A and some hearts. This was followed by some 4-4 basketball. I am not the most sporty person but I had so much fun, even if the most running I did while playing was trying to get out of the way of one of the amazing basketball players that I was playing against!

Another special part of the day was the Cassels Brock cheque presentation to Eva’s Initiatives. We have previously blogged about the Ice Cream Wednesdae-s fundraiser that we organized at the firm and at the open house we were able to present Eva’s Initiatives with a cheque for $2,000, which is the money we raised from that fundraiser. After volunteering at various events throughout the summer and spending time at the shelter and meeting the amazing kids that rely on and benefit from their services, we are happy to be able to help this organization continue its mission.

Below are some of the highlights from our day.

The Balance

By: Joanna L.

‘Work-life balance’ is a term that I first heard at an OCI prep session at my law school last September, and it has been continually emphasized this summer by my friends, family , and co-workers. After participating in the 18th annual Maccabiah Games, sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and World Federation of Sports, I have begun to truly value and realize how important the ‘work-life balance’ really is.

At the Maccabiah Games, which are held every four years in Israel, I played on the Canadian National Women’s Basketball Team and earned a bronze medal. Over 5000 athletes from over 60 countries around the world participated in the games. During the trip, I spent time meeting players from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Great Britain, Israel, Australia, and the United States. Witnessing the mass assembly of Jewish athletes at the opening ceremonies in Ramat Gan evoked in me a great sense of pride. Throughout the trip, I felt grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such an exciting experience, and as well for the encouragement I had received on the home-front.

From the outset, Cassels had been incredibly supportive of my partaking in this sporting event. Though it was certainly a challenge to attend training camps, work on a massive due diligence project, participate in student events, and stay awake throughout, the support from my fellow summer-students, as well as from other lawyers, proved to me that the firm truly values their employees. I felt that it was this support that enabled me to work and play hard – I was able to enjoy my time away and return to work re-energized after the two weeks.

I trust that most firms, be it law or in any other profession, endorse the ‘work-life balance.’ I would urge incoming summer-students to actively pursue their hobbies, passions and extra-curricular activities, and to find a workplace which endorses such out-of-office endeavours. I look forward to the opportunity of being a part of the Maccabiah Games in four years and hope to maintain the balance I have pursued until now.

Law and “More” Order

by Sam W.

A trial is a significant event in a litigator’s career, and I was fortunate enough to be able to observe one this summer. My role was to transcribe what was said at the trial, word for word. The lawyers from our firm could then refer to my notes immediately in preparing for examination of witnesses and objections. I also had the chance to get to know the clients, who actually turned out to be charming and genial.

The atmosphere at the trial was solemn. The lawyers were cloaked in dignified black robes. Whenever the judge entered the courtroom, a hush fell upon the room. Each lawyer took his or her time in making a submission or an objection to ensure all points were covered. This was not like Law and Order with Jack McCoy yelling out objections and the judges simply overruling or sustaining them. A lawyer stood up to object to certain evidence being given and the judge pondered the objection for a while. Each objection was met with careful consideration. He asked both lawyers to present arguments on why the evidence should be admitted or not and after some more time, he determined his evidentiary ruling and explained it to the lawyers.

The trial brought what I learned in Evidence Law at school to life. Hearsay was difficult to identify and even more difficult to explain. When the lawyers presented an expert as a witness, they had to argue that the expert would provide information that was likely outside the experience and knowledge of the judge and his opinion was therefore necessary. If a lawyer believed that the witness he was cross examining was lying, he had to put the evidence that contradicted the witness’s testimony to the witness for her to justify the contradiction.

During the recesses, the lawyers huddled in a private area to determine what information they should attempt to elicit in examination of witnesses, how they should approach the examination, and how to frame a particular legal argument. For instance, one lawyer was aggressive in his cross-examination of a witness because he knew the witness could withstand the pressure. With another witness, he was gentle in his questioning because he knew the witness tended to be emotional and was in a vulnerable position. Thus, he avoided looking like a bully.

This would last the whole day and the lawyers returned to the firm a little tired. Frequently, they devised strategies and drafted points they were going to make at court without taking much of a break. Evenings were spent preparing for the next day of trial. It was exciting to watch the trial and the behind-the-scenes drama. I was very impressed with the amount of preparation the lawyers put into the trial and the skill they demonstrated at the courtroom.

“Do you have any questions for us?”

By Rishi H.

One of the tough things about trying to learn about a new subject can be figuring out what questions to ask. Law firms are no exception. When I went through the Toronto recruitment process, I was somewhat mystified about what it was that firms actually did. The problem, put plainly, was that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The quicker you can start to figure out what you don’t know, however, the quicker you can actually start to find some substantive answers.

To help those of you going through the process, I thought I would share some illuminating questions that different practice groups at Cassels were recently asked to answer for the current summer student class. [Note: You should know that firms are divided into different practice groups, some with clearer distinctions than others.] I have adapted the questions slightly to make them more appropriate for those not yet at a firm. I have also added a note or two to help explain the question a bit more.

Hopefully these questions will help you to get to the bottom of what Cassels and other firms actually do.

The Questions

(a) What do your different practice groups do? [Note: You would do well to actually know the different practice groups in the firm.] Are there any sub-groups within the practice groups?
(b) Who might be a good person to ask about [insert practice group name]?
(b) What type of clients do the practice groups serve and are there any examples that you might be able to share?
(c) How is work delegated to students? [Note: This is one of the things that separates law firms. This question is for firms that like Cassels that do not have a centralized way of distributing work.] Do partners normally delegate directly to students or does the work get funnelled through associates?
(d) What kind of job shadowing is available over the summer? Who are some people who tend to have job shadowing opportunities available for students?
(e) What kind of work is assigned to students?
(f) What kind of work do junior associates do in the different practice groups?
(g) What kind of qualities do successful lawyers in your practice group possess?
(h)What advice do you have for students interested in working in your practice group?