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.


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!

1 Comment

Filed under Misc.

One Response to OCI Tips and Tricks with Craig Power