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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!
Posted by Sam Yorke
This year, Cassels Brock was proud to submit a group to run in the annual Pride and Remembrance Run, which was held on Saturday, June 30th. All proceeds were donated to two deserving LGBT charities in Toronto: The Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line and HALCO (HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario). While Participants can chose to partake in either the 5 km run or the 3 km walk, everyone in the ever competitive CBB group decided try to make it through the 5 km route.
The team met early before the 10 am start of the race to fuel up on coffee and granola donated by some of our lovely supporters. The CBB group joined forces with the contingent from U of T Law’s “Out in Law” organization.
This year, the race stretched from Church and Wellesley to Queen’s Park circle, where the runners looped around twice before heading back along Wellesley.
In the end, everyone survived the blistering sun and 30+ degree heat to finish . Some fabulous CBB folks that made it through include: Caitlin “Speedy Gonzalez” Waring, Ryan“The Rolling Terror” Davy, and Luke “Square Wheels” Gill. Special mention has to go out to Brittany “Cash Money” Moloney for her support during the race and “Pistol” Pete Sullivan for bring up CBB’s average time significantly (and for being the only legitimate runner of the bunch!).
Hey Sports Fans!
It’s that time of year – firm tours! I know some students aren’t able to make it to 40 King Street West for our open houses this summer, but that’s okay because this blog post goes out to all of you. Today I’ll be showing you a “snap shot” of our firm, well several actually. You can thank me later (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As you may or may not know, Cassels Brock is located downtown Toronto in the Scotia Plaza at 40 King Street West. Let’s start the tour.
Welcome to the 21st floor! We’re at main reception. If you have the pleasure of waiting in our lobby, Val and Lisa are extremely friendly. Plus there are cookies and refreshments. You may notice a theme throughout this tour.
Moving on – If you were here in person I would be very cruel and make you walk down to the 18th floor.
Leather-bound books and rich mahogany. If you’re looking for a textbook, need assistance with some case law research, or simply want to check out the McGill Guide for your footnotes, the library is a great place to be (and it’s conveniently located in the heart of our advocacy group on the 18th floor – research memos anyone?).
Ooooo, ahhHhh! Okay now up to the 20th floor. I wasn’t kidding about those stairs. Tip: wear comfortable shoes to in-firm interviews. We have elevators, but we’re just plain mean here at Cassels Brock.
Welcome to the Document Production Centre, or as we all call it, “DPC”. The wonderful staff here work tirelessly to convert our documents to cds/dvds, format charts, create and organize closing binders, and accommodate many other time-sensitive requests.
All of this fake walking is making me tired. Let’s take a break.
Located in the kitchens on every floor – coffee machines. Generally my first stop in the morning.
If coffee is not your thing – fear not! Note the label on that cupboard. More on that later.
Ah yes, the drink fridge. Fully stocked. Niiceeee. This wonderful appliance is located in our servery. You know – that place where we have a lunch buffet every day.
Okay, back on the tour. Let’s see an example of a summer student office!
It can’t really get better than that. It can get worse though. Jared spiced his office up by making his own window. Nice work, Jared.
On the topic of offices, let’s visit the office of our Assistant Director of Professional Development & Student Programs – Leigh-Ann McGowan. Leigh-Ann can answer practically every goofy student question that exists, and also all of the serious ones. From “where is Prairie Girl Cupcakes?” to “How do I politely tell an associate that I’m swamped right now and cannot take on these additional 12 closing books?”, Leigh-Ann makes life at Cassels easier for all!
Thanks Leigh-Ann! Now for our last stop, The Cassels boardroom. Lots of things happen here, from closings, to lawyers lunches, to student open-houses and cocktail receptions! Shameless CAMH plug: next month in this boardroom, the students are hosting a breakfast for the firm complete with silent auction and a live-feed of the Olympics all in the name of fundraising for CAMH!
That about wraps it up! Thanks for checking out Cassels Brock & Blackwell with me today. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.
Ps, now that you’re all gone. I’ve headed to the cookie cupboard.
You got an interview. Good for you! You know every inch of the student website, you have smart questions to ask and have an antecdote for every line on your resume. Now let’s work on a winning outfit to show personality, but not in a bad way:
Ladies, do NOT wear or bring: fishnet tights, miniskirts, skintight clothing long fake nails, dark nail polish, teased or unruly hair, bright makeup, flashy jewelery, backpack, multiple rings or bracelets. The Erin Brockovich movie-look may not work very well for interviews.
Men, do NOT wear or bring: jeans, white socks, non-dress shoes, baseball cap, backpack, earrings. Have minimal jewellery.
Everyone: If you really want to stand out, go to a tailor and make sure your suit fits you properly. That’s my advice. Also, iron your shirt the night before, work your shoes in, practise sitting/walking/talking in your interview outfit, and cut off the stitches on the back flap and pockets of a new suit. If you don’t look like a rookie, chances are you’ll feel less awkward and you’ll actually enjoy the interview.
You can usually drop off your coat, bag, umbrella, etc. in the coat room at the firm. But look presentable even when walking into the reception area before meeting any lawyers. Spit out your gum, put your phone on silent and do not take your phone out during the interview. If you need to know the time, wear a watch and check your wrist.
Do: Stand tall, smile and be polite, have fun, and be yourself. Also, watch Things Law Students Don’t Say.