We are at the end of July. Wait… how did that happen!? It seems like just yesterday we were penning our introductory missives and now, suddenly, our oft-glorious, oft-clueless terms at CBB are coming to an end. The end of July also means one thing, for 2L students across the country… recruitment time. Here’s hoping you abide by the mantra in the poster below more than that cat.
A large number of you may have stumbled across this blog as a part of your own recruitment related research, and you’ve come to the right place. There are cover letters to write, résumés to update, elevator pitches to practice and futures to ponder. To aid your efforts, we sat down with Cassels’ Leigh-Ann McGowan, Assistant Director of Professional Development & Student Programs in a super-duper, ultra exclusive interview to assemble an all-you-can-eat buffet of recruitment knowledge. Bon appétit!
CBBlog: So, Leigh-Ann, 1st year law students have been enjoying their summers, but as the application date draws nearer, the push towards recruitment is about to hit high gear. Any calming words of wisdom to begin our interview?
LA: First of all, relax! The process can be daunting, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Remember, students before you have gotten through it, and you will too. You have lots of time to prepare, and preparation will calm your anxiety.
Blogger’s Note: Leigh-Ann is absolutely right. Law schools are tight-knit communities made so by the power of shared experience. With that comes inevitable comparing and gossiping. Maintain privacy throughout the recruitment experience. If you even dream of broadcasting on Facebook that you just got an interview at Firm X and are SO stoked… don’t…just don’t. And de-friend anyone who does. As LA said, just relax! You have a tremendous opportunity before you, but it’s not make or break. Go for it!
CBBlog: As the largest legal market, the Toronto recruit gets the most attention, but it’s not for everyone. What should students be asking themselves about committing to the ‘big firm’ environment in the big city?
LA: Try and remove the peripheral things from consideration. What your friends are doing shouldn’t be determinative. Think about why you made the decision to come to law school. Think carefully about why you are applying to any given firm. Does the description of the day-to-day activity sound exciting or appealing to you? It is only one of many avenues to take in beginning a legal career. Research as many of them as you can to ensure this is what you want. There are many “pros” to choosing a large Toronto firm. You will get robust training and work on high profile files. The variety of work available can help students who aren’t sure what they want to practice hone their interest areas. On the other hand, if you want to practice in an area of law which isn’t a major component of the traditional corporate firm, you may be unsatisfied with your summer experience on Bay St.
CBBlog: Before drafting cover letters, students often visit each firm’s website to do some research and educate themselves about that particular firm. Pretty quickly, the websites start to look quite similar. Do you have any tips on how students can attempt to differentiate?
LA: Your best resource is upper year students. Leverage the network you have at your law school, and don’t be afraid to reach out to students and ask them how they enjoyed their summer at a particular firm. There is valuable information located on the firm’s websites, and in the NALP Booklet, but you can and should build on those foundational research sources. I would also suggest saving websites like Legal Post, Lawandstyle, Lexpert, and Reports on Business in your favourites and becoming a regular reader of magazines like Precedent. These sources can help you monitor the pulse of what’s happening in the Canadian legal market. Lastly, firm tours can help facilitate those one-on-one conversations which can be so helpful. The tours are by no means mandatory, but building a solid research base from which to operate can’t hurt.
CBBlog: We’ve all heard about the staggering number of applications the big firms receive in September. Honestly… do you really read every cover letter?
LA: Somehow… yes we do! Like many Bay St. firms, we receive over 900 applications. Each application is read by at least two people. I read every single one. In my opinion, the cover letter is the most important part of your application. Sometimes students inquire as to why we don’t request a writing sample as a part of the application. For us, the cover letter fills that role. It is your piece of written advocacy. We don’t ask for a separate “skills” section, because we look to your cover letter to identify the skills you’ve chosen to highlight within it.
I know students get tired of hearing it, but I have to say… proofread, have a friend proofread, and then proofread again! You’ll become so familiar with your cover letters that it’s incredibly easy to miss the odd typo. The numbers prove it. Of the 900 applications we receive, 5-10% have some form of error.
In terms of drafting, use simple language and tell your reader exactly why you want to be at a given firm. If you are interested in corporate law, your application should reflect that or it is natural for us to question if that interest is genuine.
One more thing… No gimmicks! There are some differing opinions on this, but your ultimate goal is to convey yourself as a polished, professional person. Youtube videos, photos and other gimmicks rarely work for me. If you can stand out while playing within the rules of the standard application, that is more impressive.
Blogger’s note: If you were all set to record a recruitment remix to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”… sorry to burst your bubble. We feel this is sound advice. Remember to always consider your audience. Recruiters like Leigh-Ann aren’t the only ones who will read your application. Would a self-promotional Youtube video work for a senior partner? We aren’t sure, but we are guessing you probably don’t want to be the one to find out.
CBBlog: Simply put, are grades determinative?
LA: Grades are certainly a large component of our considerations, but they are not solely determinative. We review our applicants holistically. A straight A average doesn’t guarantee an interview and a subpar mark or two doesn’t preclude one. Every year, students hovering around a B average are hired at the major firms. There is no need to discuss a C you received in property in your cover letter, unless you have a legitimate extenuating factor which may have contributed to subpar performance academically. In those cases, supporting documentation from an Associate Dean or doctor is recommended.
CBBlog: The on-campus interview (OCI) process has been comically compared to a hybrid of speed dating meets cattle auction. In your mind, what makes an OCI successful?
LA: The comparison isn’t far off! Really though, it’s not that bad. An OCI is successful when it doesn’t feel like an interview. Both parties have prepared for the interview and have information about the other side, so just have a conversation! A great OCI will feel like it’s over in a flash, and sometimes, when it’s not going so well – it will feel like hours. If the latter situation happens to you, just forget about it and move on to the next one. You can’t let one awkward exchange upset your focus on an important day.
The best way to avoid those awkward moments is by not over-steering the conversation. If you have something you really want to tell us, don’t “crowbar” it into a conversation unless it fits. Trying to do that too aggressively is a sure-fire way to ruin the flow of a good conversation. Most importantly, just be pleasant! It is a long day in which both parties suffer fatigue, so maintaining positive energy will work wonders for the dynamic in your interview.
Firms will almost always leave time for you to ask questions, so definitely prepare some ahead of time. Make sure your questions aren’t on topics that are deemed knowledge, for ex., asking a standard question about the rotation program which is easily answered from a glance at the firm’s website. We know you can do better than that!
Blogger’s note: It is really important to “go with the flow” and not let a mediocre interview bother you. In advance of these interviews, try to avoid putting any given firm “on a pedestal.” If that “pedestal” firm doesn’t go so well, you may be overly and unnecessarily disappointed. You are going through OCI’s to try and formulate informed opinions about each firm you are interviewing with – keep an open mind for each and if you can, try and jot down your unbiased impressions immediately after each interview.
CBBlog: Can you help our readers mitigate the chaos of call day?
LA: Organization is essential, and is the best way to reduce the stress at 8:00am when the phone starts ringing. After OCIs, you may begin receiving “intentional to call” notices from firms, indicating their plan to extend an in-firm interview offer to you. Collect as much of this information as possible ahead of time and draft a desired schedule for your Monday and Tuesday morning, including meals. It will inevitably change on the fly, but at least you are as prepared as possible. You may receive a call from a firm you weren’t expecting, and you can’t control the order in which you’ll hear from firms, so be careful to save spots for your top choices.
Allow at least two hours for each interview, and if you accidentally double book a slot, it’s ok! Relax, take a deep breath, and call to try and reschedule. The firms understand what a whirlwind call day can be, and if you are composed and apologetic firms will largely try and make it work.
CBBlog: In-firm week comes with great excitement and considerable trepidation. For students who are totally new to this process, what can they expect in November?
LA: If you are fortunate enough to have multiple interview offers, be careful in scheduling too many. Spreading yourself too thin precludes you from demonstrating the interest in your top choices that you should. In many cases, those top choices may change throughout the interviews. Try and find time for self-reflection and if you are genuinely impressed with a firm and begin to see a “fit”, don’t hesitate to tell them!
CBBlog: Now that we’ve been objective, we need to tap into your inner bias! Why is Cassels Brock the best choice for our application audience?
I could talk for hours on this point, but I’ll keep it simple. At Cassels, you can make your summer experience whatever you want it to be. We take a highly flexible approach to the summer, allowing students to experience the broadest possible range of work. The strength and diversity of our different practice groups makes this possible.
Students are a vibrant component of our law firm. Lawyers get legitimately excited about involving students in their work and providing both formal and informal mentorship.
Aside from work, our student classes are consistently amazing. I wish I could take all the credit for this, but I don’t know what it is – our students just consistently gel very well, in and out of the office. They take pride in being part of the team and that has a tremendously positive impact on the overall quality of the experience.
Blogger’s Note: That’s all for now! Many thanks to Leigh-Ann for generously donating her time to us. We hope you found this helpful. Please feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in the comments section below. There will be additional blog entries on recruitment in the coming weeks, so be sure to stay tuned!