West Coast Wednesday (Special Thursday Edition): Tips and Tricks for Vancouver’s “Big Firm” Hiring Process

To all of you brilliant and amazing almost-2Ls out there:

How is it August already!?!? Days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and a cloud of palpable stress has descended over law students across Canada…


Don’t worry, CBB Vancouver has your back.

In our second-to-last West Coast Wednesday post of summer 2014, Arend and I want to share our insights about Vancouver’s “big firm” hiring process. We both remember how it felt to ride the emotional roller coaster of job applications last year. Somehow we both made it through in one piece and ended up with jobs that we love.

We have comments on all stages of the application process, from visiting firms in the summer to the “grand finale” of Interview Week. Hopefully you’ll find at least some of what we’ve written to be helpful!

In the summer


  • Invite summer students to coffee – The benefits are immense: you get one-on-one time, students can give you the best impression of what being a summer student is like, you get free coffee and possibly a snack, you might be introduced to some other firm members, and you will make an impression just by reaching out. Always send a follow-up thank you email after the coffee – it’s a nice gesture that will be noticed and appreciated.
  • Do research before you visit firms or meet with students – It makes a good impression if you seem interested and knowledgeable about the firm.


  • Visit as many firms as you can – The best way to get a sense of the general atmosphere of a firm is to visit its office. You can sign up for group tours and open houses, or contact a firm’s student coordinator and request to meet with a summer student individually.
  • Contact people you know who are working in firms you’re interested in – People you know are more likely to give you candid feedback on their experiences at a firm. They may also put in a good word for you when you apply, which can set you apart from other applicants.

“Wine and Cheese” events


  • Arrive early – If you arrive at the very beginning of the event, you will have more opportunities to meet with lawyers and face less competition from other candidates.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t get an opportunity to make an impression on the lawyers – These events can be challenging and intimidating. In a typical evening you might only be able to chat with four or five lawyers, and even when you do, you’ll be competing with other students trying to interject. You’re unlikely to get a job offer or an invitation for coffee or dinner afterwards. The real purpose of the wine and cheese is for students to get an understanding of the firm and a taste of its culture.
  • Relax and enjoy the free cheese – mmmmm cheese!

When you submit your applications


  • Narrow your focus – Some students apply widely, willing to try everything, while others, with clear career objectives, limit their scope. It’s challenging to give advice on how many applications to send, but don’t send an application if you have no intention of working for the firm or in their area of law.
  • Use the resources provided by the UBC Law Career Services Office (CSO) – They provide useful templates and examples of resumes and cover letters. If you aren’t from UBC you can still contact the CSO and inquire about accessing these resources.


  • If you’re applying from an out-of-province school, or you aren’t from Vancouver, emphasize your connection to the city in your application – Firms want to ensure that you’re committed to working in Vancouver before they hire you. Mention why you want to work in Vancouver in your cover letter and be prepared to answer questions on this topic during your interviews.
  • Be strategic about how you write your cover letters – Make sure to mention any visits you made to the firm and the people you met. It will distinguish you application and demonstrate your interest in the firm.
  • PROOFREAD THOROUGHLY – Firms receive hundreds of applications. You want to stand out for the right reasons, not because you misspelled someone’s name or addressed your letter to the wrong firm.



  • Don’t worry if you don’t get asked any “serious” questions about your work and life experience –Interviewers will often ask questions about trivial parts of your resume because they want to hear a non-scripted answer and learn more about you as a person. Be yourself, engage in what they would like to discuss, and be personable.


  • Keep smiling and don’t complain –Bring lots of energy to every conversation and be aware of the body language you’re conveying. If anyone asks you how your day is going, keep your comments positive and upbeat. The OCI process is draining and depressingly similar to speed dating, but just imagine being the interviewers! Likely they are even more burnt out than you, so try to make their job as easy as possible and make an effort to connect with them in engaging conversation.
  • Make a list of questions to ask your interviewers, but don’t feel like you have to stick to your script –To calm your nerves, spend some time thinking of some questions to ask your interviewers during the inevitable, “do you have any questions for us?” phase of the OCI. Write your questions down and bring the list with you to review, if needed, while you wait between interviews. Don’t force your questions; relax and go with the natural flow of the conversation whenever possible. If an interviewer mentions something that you’re genuinely interested in, ask about it! Don’t worry too much if you don’t get time to ask all of your questions, you can save them for interview week!

“Call Day” for Interview Week


  • Be selective in who you choose to interview with – I’d recommend taking five or six interviews. Having to manage 8 or 10 interviews during interview week will be exhausting, and will reduce the energy you need to woo your favourite firms.


  • Make a game plan ahead of time – Write out a list of your OCI firms in order of your preference. Schedule your preferred firms earlier in the week (preferably Monday). If possible, leave the Wednesday open and unscheduled. Wednesday should be used for follow-up interviews with your favourite firms, which will be scheduled during Interview Week.
  • Write out a blank timetable in advance and fill in the time slots when firms call – Allow two hours for each interview (just to be safe). Include time slots for the evenings, as there will be receptions and dinners. You can squeeze a reception and dinner into one evening if need be, but don’t RSVP to a reception if you think you’ll be there for less than an hour.
  • If you make a mistake, people will understand – Firms know that this is a stressful and hectic process for candidates. If you double-book or need to cancel an interview, just call or email the firm’s student coordinator and politely explain what happened. They will understand, especially if you get in touch as promptly as possible and well in advance of the interview.

Interview Week


  • Keep your long-term career goals in mind – It’s easy to be excited at the prospect of working for an impressive firm, but don’t let the short-term glory of telling your grandma you’ll be working for a former Supreme Court judge cloud your long-term goals. This is more than just a summer job: chances are that you’ll be with this firm through articles and during your first few years as a lawyer.
  • Make sure you actually like people at the firms you’re interested in – A smart candidate prefers fit over prestige. The excitement of getting a summer job will quickly pass, and you’ll be left with the people you chose.
  • Profess your love to firms (appropriately) – As Jenna will discuss below, telling a firm that they’re your “first choice” is a terrifying but essential process. I recommend on Tuesday or Wednesday leading up to it by telling a firm that “you’re one of my top choices.” If you get any love back from them, then jump in and shout “I LOVE CASSELS!!! I can think of nothing better than spending an entire summer here!” (replacing “Cassels” with whatever firm you claim you can love as much as Jenna and I love Cassels). What about backup firms? Tell your number two “you’re among my two preferred firms,” and your third “you’re among my top three.” If you don’t want a firm to call, don’t tell them anything.


  • Be nice to everyone – Every minute you spend visiting a firm during Interview Week is an opportunity to impress and make a good impression. This may seem obvious, but treat everyone you encounter with respect and consideration, from students to support staff to senior partners. Everyone has a say in hiring decisions.
  • Anticipate sources of stress and deal with the ones that are within your control – Interview Week is nerve-wracking enough, the last thing you want is to be worried about is a stain on your shirt or bad breath. I recommend carrying a bag of survival essentials, including tide-to-go, breath mints, extra pairs of nylons (you know they will rip), a cell phone charger, band aids, and energy bars (stomach grumbling mid-interview is the worst).
  • Consider staying in a hotel downtown – Even if you’re from Vancouver, staying downtown removes the unnecessary stress of waiting for a bus or a cab in the morning and reduces the time it takes you to get home to crash after a long day. I also found that it helped me stay “in the zone” and provided invaluable quiet time to think and reflect on the firms that I interviewed with.
  • If you know a firm is your first choice, TELL THEM! But only if you’re sure… You can only say “you’re my first choice” to one firm in the interview process, so make sure you say it to the right one! This phrase is code for “if you call me on call day, I will accept your offer.” If you say this to a firm and then decline their offer, you will burn bridges and start out your career with a negative reputation. Save the “first choice” conversation for Wednesday, after you’ve had at least one interview with all of the firms and carefully considered your options.

That’s all we’ve got for now, but please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about CBB Vancouver. We know that that preparing applications for OCI’s and Interview Week is stressful and we’re happy to help in any way we can!

Best of luck with the application process! Not that you’ll need luck, because you will do great.

Until next Wednesday,

Jenna C.

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