We understand that the route from application to in-firm interview to cocktail party can be long, hectic, and nerve-racking. How do you go through it without coming out the other end as a frazzled, nervous, and thinly-stretched applicant? Get prepared by reading our tips and advice section learn about what type of attire is appropriate at an in-firm interview, how to address your cover letter and how to get some great on-campus interview tips. It will let you know what it takes, and how to get it done.
We hire first year and second year law students in accordance with the Law Society of Upper Canada's recruitment guidelines. Please submit your application through the viDesktop Portal.
Your application has two main parts: the cover letter and the resumé. The hardest thing to do well is your cover letter, so we'll spend a little time giving you a few letter writing fundamentals with the help of a 1921 textbook, "English Composition" (which proves that good writing never goes out of style!). Here's an excerpt from that text:
A business letter is written to ask for, or to give, definite information. The style, therefore, should be simple and clear-cut. It is imperative that business letters should be absolutely correct in details of form and expression; that they should be clear in the wording of the message to be conveyed; that they should be concise, so as to include every detail necessary to a full understanding of the message; that they should be courteous; and, finally, that they should indicate character, so as to be effective in securing the attention of the reader.
As trite as the advice sounds, it's very hard for students to get the cover letter right. Let's examine some of the common problems with the "five Cs".
Each year, we receive letters that begin "Dear Ms. Wong" (Gail Wong is the student director at McCarthy Tetrault) or "Dear Mr. McGowan" (hopefully we don't have to point out why this is wrong!). In addition, letters are often plagued with spelling or grammatical errors, or references that appear to be about some other firm.
Bear in mind that you're studying to be lawyers, not secretaries. Secretarial work is a whole other skill set acquired with years of experience and training. Chances are you don't have that skill set. So you have to compensate by being extra diligent in double-checking your information, spelling, grammar, name and address. By the time you're finished this process, you'll be cross-eyed and in poor shape to proofread. In the best possible world, have someone else proofread your letter for you. If you can't find anyone to help you, at a minimum you should make sure that you don't edit your work the same day you create it. Get the letters and envelopes done, put them away for a day, and then review them with a fresh eye.
We know you're smart so there's no need to use big words in your letter to prove it. You may think that you have to use fancy language because that's the way lawyers talk and write. That's not the case; at least not at Cassels Brock. We work hard to make our communications clear. Our clients tend to be sophisticated business people who don't have the time or patience to decipher cumbersome, archaic communications. Our students and lawyers all receive training on how to write well. If you send a letter to us that's clearly written, you're one step closer to being our kind of lawyer!
Here's a bad example: I have utilized and honed said skills in a variety of milieus.
Here's a good example: I used the skills I learned at the Legal Aid Clinic in a number of other positions.
The general rule to use is: "Would you speak to your mother that way?" If you wouldn't utilize said skills to her, please don't use them in your letter to us.
There's no reason why your cover letter should be more than one page long. Don't use it to reiterate the contents of your resumé. Don't use it to describe yourself. Hopefully, after we read your resumé, we'll say: "This is a bright and dynamic individual." By the same token, it will sound egotistical if you describe yourself that way in the letter.
American law firms seem to like cover letters and resumés that are each one page long. We don't know of any Canadian law firm that demands resumés be restricted to one page. Maybe we're nosier here: we want to know what you do in your spare time! So restrict your cover letter to one page but don't feel as restricted with your resumé. By nature of their point form set-up and headings, resumés are a quick read, so if they're two pages, that's quite all right.
Courtesy is good, as long as you don't go too far with it.
For example, don't write like this:
I have long admired Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP. Cassels Brock is without a doubt one of the country's pre-eminent law firms. It would be an honour and a privilege to work at a firm of your renowned calibre.
We hope you'll agree that the above paragraph is a bit much. On the other hand, if you'd like to state a specific reason why you want to work at Cassels Brock, please do so (e.g. "I would like to practice widget law, and I note that you have a significant widget practice").
As you read this, you're getting a glimpse about our personality. Your letter to us should give us a small glimpse of who you are. If you follow tip #2, you won't sound pompous. If you follow tip #4, you'll hit the appropriate tone.
There is no one sort of person we're looking for at Cassels Brock. The most important thing we can tell you is to be yourself.
The people with the real insight on how to handle a Cassels Brock OCI are the people who did it the best: our students. We asked our 2012 summer students to share their insights with you. Here are some tips from our students on how to handle the OCIs.
Tips & Insights
Eat a good breakfast. Have a good lunch. Stay hydrated. Smile.
Clara Lee (Windsor)
Have a positive attitude. If you get really nervous at some point, take a deep breath, smile and remember how great you are – but don’t let people know that’s what you’re thinking.
Jeremy Bornstein (Western)
Know your resume, be yourself and don’t fake interest. Confidence, authenticity and interest are everything.
Luke Gill (Toronto)
|Make a one or two page summary of the firms you are interviewing with – include their major areas of practice, other office locations, names of the interviewers, etc. When you have several back to back interviews, things can start to get blurry and a quick cheat sheet will help you stay on top of the plethora of information you’re trying to retain.
Jessica Lee (Osgoode)
Be prepared to speak authoritatively about anything on your resume. The first question I was asked in my first OCI was “So this obscure place you volunteered at almost a decade ago? My sister works there, I visited her there last week. What can you tell me about that?” Be ready for that question.
Max Rothschild (Dalhousie)
Just be yourself and ask questions which show that you are interested in the firm.
Jacob Goldberg (Western)
Even though we’re all focused on the short term benefits of landing a job, try to think how each firm fits into your long term goals as a budding legal professional. Use the process to learn about a firm’s culture, the types of clients it serves, future business development opportunities, and anything else that may become important down the road.
Jared Puterman (Osgoode)
It’s a great idea to get in touch with current summer and articling students at the firms you are interviewing with to ask any questions you may have and to get some information about those firms that you may not necessarily be able to find online.
Kyle Simpson (Western)
Whatever you do, be on time...
Stephen Henderson (Toronto)
Here are a few things you can expect at our in-firm interviews.
|You can contact Leigh-Ann a few days before your interview (e-mail is the best) and she'll tell you who's interviewing you (the interviewers are always subject to change due to unexpected shifts in their schedules).||
When you arrive at Cassels Brock, you'll be directed to the student reception area. Some of our articling students will be there to greet you. If you have any last minute questions about the firm, ask them.
|It's important to keep your energy level up. As demanding as OCIs were, the November interviews are more demanding because they're two days in length. We'll have juices and snacks in the student reception area.||
We keep a first aid kit in the student reception area. If those new shoes are giving you blisters, help yourself to a bandage. If Bay Street is turning your stomach, help yourself to an antacid.
After your interview, our former articling students are available to take you on a tour, introduce you to more of our lawyers, and to answer any questions you might have.
If you feel you need more information about us in order to make an informed decision, don't hesitate to let us know and we'd be pleased to see you again at your convenience.
Tips & Insights
Jeremy Bornstein (Western): Prepare by getting to know the firm and the people in advance so you can show that you want to work there and that you would be a fit.
Chris Selby (Western): Try to connect with your tour guide at the firm. They can be a great resource during your visit to answer questions that you may not be comfortable asking lawyers.
Clara Lee (Windsor): Wear comfortable shoes. Work them in before you realize that walking around in new shoes for 3 days makes for unhappy feet.
Stephanie Voudouris (Osgoode):Bring lots of bandaids! Also, when you have a free minute, take the business cards you’ve received and try to write down some key words about the conversation you had with that person. This makes it easier to send thank-you emails later!
Max Rothschild (Dalhousie): Relax the weekend before. There’s a very good chance you won’t end up sleeping the Sunday night just based on nerves/anxiety. You want to keep yourself healthy and have your wits about you, especially on the Monday.
Samuel Yorke (Toronto): Make sure you bring a “Tide to Go” to the dinners!
Jessica Lee (Osgoode): If you live far away from the financial district, I would highly recommend staying with a friend or family member downtown or splitting a hotel room in the area with a few friends on the first two nights of in-firm week to reduce anxiety and exhaustion on those very important days. You may have early mornings and late nights and you want to make sure you get as much sleep as possible! Trust me, your mind and body will thank you!
Luke Gill (Toronto): Don’t schedule too many, there are a lot of names and faces too remember. I’ve heard 4-6 is the maximum, but even that might be pushing it. And if you forget who is who you might send a follow-up email to a lawyer about the baby pictures you looked at when you definitely did not look at ANY baby pictures with that person.
Jared Puterman (Osgoode): Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right balance between confidence and enthusiasm, I suggest the latter.
Leonard Loewith (Dalhousie): Don’t feel you have to spend every minute “selling yourself” – be honest, be friendly, and don’t worry if conversations seems very light/casual.
Kyle Simpson (Western): Try to meet as many people at the firm as you can, including any articling and summer students that may be helping out during the in-firm process. The more people you are able to meet, the better you will be able to gauge the firm culture and whether the firm would be a good “fit” for you. While it can be a busy few days, try to relax and be yourself, and remember that the interviews work both ways – both sides are trying to find the best fit. Lastly, always be polite, smile, and try to keep your energy level up.
You are not alone if you hate cocktail parties. Even extroverts find it hard to introduce themselves to strangers. Realistically though, you are going to have to attend cocktail parties for business, social or political reasons long after you land a summer job or become a lawyer. Here are some tips to help you gain "schmooze control".
If your interview schedule permits, arrive on time rather than fashionably late. This will give you an opportunity to speak to the recruiter or members of the student committee before they're swamped with other guests.
Don't take the easy route at a law firm cocktail party by finding your friends, relaxing and sharing a few laughs. This will not assist you in landing a job.
Force yourself to meet the lawyers and students at the law firm. Often it's as important, at least at Cassels Brock, to meet our articling students as it is to meet our lawyers. One industry war story goes as follows: a student guest starts chatting with a law firm articling student. The student guest then spots a lawyer he wants to talk to. He simply walks away from the articling student mid-sentence. Needless to say, the story spread throughout the firm and the student committee; the student guest was not offered a position as a result.
There certainly was a better way to handle it. The student guest could have asked the articling student to introduce him to the lawyer he wanted to meet. The articling student would then have nothing bad to say about the student guest. In fact, the articling student could say that the student guest was pretty savvy, had done his homework on whom he wanted to meet, and was smart enough to turn his chat with an articling student into an opportunity to target an introduction.
When introducing yourself to someone, smile, shake hands firmly and state your name clearly (even if you're wearing a name tag). Pause briefly between saying your first and last name. Even if you've met the person earlier that day, you should still state your name. You can safely assume that the person has spoken to at least a dozen other students over the course of the day and would appreciate a memory prompt such as, "Hi Sam. We met earlier today. I'm Perry Lee."
Keep your drink or food in your left hand. Your right hand should be available to shake hands.
Make sure that your purse or briefcase strap does not obscure your name tag and that you have placed the name tag in a spot where it is easy to read.
You may find it's easier to transition into a cocktail party by targeting someone close to your own age with a friendly smile as your first approach.
It's fine to keep your conversations to five minutes or less. You have a lot of people to meet. You can excuse yourself by saying you'd like to refresh your drink or go to the washroom. Or simply say, "It was a pleasure meeting you. Excuse me." If you're trying to meet people, researchers say that the food table is a better bet than the bar. Apparently, when we eat we release endorphins that relax us and make us more receptive to conversation.
Dos & Don'ts
- Don't sip your drink when someone is talking to you. Give them your undivided attention.
- Maintain eye contact and don't let your eyes wander to see who else is in the room.
- Steer clear of issues like religion, money and personal crises.
- Don't gossip.
- Avoid off-colour jokes.
- Stay on top of your game: restrict yourself to one alcoholic drink.
- Don't ask general questions about the law firm. It suggests that you haven't done your research.
Don't apologize when it's time to go. The law firms all know that you have multiple commitments. It's not necessary to find the recruiter to say goodbye. If you've connected with anyone in particular at the firm, and there is a clear path available, say goodbye to that person (for example, the lawyer who conducted your OCI or your in-firm interview).