A bring-down comfort letter to Arts Undergrads:

Dear Arts Undergrads:

Right now, you are probably combing over your resume, writing your cover letter, and going on a thousand and one firm tours in an attempt to wrap your head around the beast that is the 2L recruitment process. A beast it is– and made a little more beastly if the accomplishments on your resume showcase (awesome) things like ‘Poetry Contest Winner’ and ‘Star of High School Musical’ (if you are Zac Efron, you should probably be reconsidering your decision to apply anyway), rather than “Winner of Widget Case Competition” or “CFA Level 3.”

The idea of working at a business law firm can be intimidating for some students without any previous exposure to the business world. The world of M&A, CBCA, and a bajillion other acronyms can be totally foreign to a 1L student fresh out of nothing but Torts, Constitutional, Crim, Property and a Bachelor of Arts.

You may have a bit of a steeper learning curve ahead of you than the Ivey kids in some areas, but you will get there.

Yesterday, I was asked what the definition of ‘working capital’ was. The Arts student in me saw the terms ‘working’ and ‘capital’ and my brain started spewing ‘Marx!’ ‘I don’t know but I can give you a post-modernist deconstructionist essay on the term!!!’

I could give a vague answer, but didn’t really know what I was talking about. The associate I was speaking with gave me a thorough and clear explanation of the term, which was neither terribly confusing nor intimidating.

The most important thing I have learned so far this summer is to always ask questions. Lawyers don’t find it annoying (as long as you are not asking the same question multiple times)- they encourage and expect it from you. You are hired here as a student– you are here to learn. The more you ask, the more you’ll learn, and the more effective you’ll be.

Here are a few ‘trade secrets’ that have helped me get by so far this summer (really, these are applicable to anyone):

  • Wikipedia is your friend. Not as a definitive answer, but it is a great starting point for many things, and can help you tailor the questions you’ll ask.
  •  Read The Economist and New York Times DealBook. Mostly because reading The Economist will make you a better human being, but the NYT DealBook has a great section called ‘Deal Professor’ that will discuss the legal/regulatory impact of big deals and decisions. It’s very readable and can help you understand basic corporate structures and transactions.
  • Read PLTC (for BC) or Continuing Legal Education materials. And this is an obvious one, but take relevant courses in law school. I thought I could get away with delaying Corporations until my third year because I didn’t get a spot in the class, and that was a big mistake.
  •  MD&A is not a drug. It is actually your friend; essentially, it is a company’s financial statements, translated into (relatively) plain English so that people like us can understand a company’s financial and operations narrative.

Of other students and lawyers that I have come across at Cassels, I have met music majors, art history majors, biology majors and yes, business majors. They are all great lawyers.

Don’t underestimate your value. Just last week, Deborah Glatter (who will probably be reading your application), gave a seminar on the vital importance of good writing in legal practice. At the end of the day, writing is a lawyer’s trade product. Throughout your arts undergrad, you have learned to be eloquent, analytical, concise and have (hopefully) learned the proper usage of a semicolon. Those are all skills that will serve you well.

Recognize that this whole thing is a serious learning process for everyone, and each will face their own challenges. Keep asking questions and sooner than you know, you will be at the point where you understand the cheesy pun in the title of this blog post!

Yours in the mutually inclusive pursuit of eloquence and business smarts,

Caroline (B.A. International Relations)

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