A Tale of 2L Misery: Eleven Things We Wish We Had Known Before In-Firms

Students  are inundated with advice about the 2L recruitment process. There’s never any shortage of intel on how to ‘be yourself’  (but not actually) during OCIs, how to strategically schedule dinners on Call Day, and how to make the most of  a cocktail reception. However, a lot of  important information gets left out of the standard ‘how to get a job’ spiel that you’ll hear from 3Ls and the CDO. This is where we come in. The following is a list of all the things we wish we had known before going into in-firms.

1. Talk To Your Peers

The best way to gauge a firm’s interest in you is to talk to other students who are interviewing at the same firm and compare experiences. Did all of your friend’s Tuesday interviews begin with the sentence: “everyone at the firm has been raving about you”? Is your other friend complaining  (read: backdoor bragging) about the “undue pressure” coming from the firm? Is it Tuesday and you still haven’t met anyone on the Student Committee? If so, you may want to direct your efforts elsewhere. Students don’t realize that half of the in-firm game is strategy – if you waste all of your time sucking up to a firm that’s not into you, you’re probably going to screw up your chances with another firm that would have given you an offer if you had shown more interest. Don’t get fucked out of a job just because you didn’t allocate your time well: talk to your friends; find out what sick psychological games the firms are playing with students.

2. All Firms Need To Be Told That They’re Awesome; Some Need It More Than Others

All firms need to be told how good they are at law stuff and how awesome their people are before they’ll bare their soul and express an interest in you, but some firms need it wayyy more than others. At least three different firms implied to students that they wouldn’t extend an offer unless they heard the words: “you are my #1 choice.” Seriously, those magical words can make it or break it for you. One student called a firm after 5:00 pm on Wednesday and was actually told that  “you didn’t tell us that we were your #1, so we didn’t pick you.”

Most firms won’t actually  force you to submit to the “you’re my top choice” discourse (because it’s pretty much equivalent to the “Do you like me? Check Yes, No, or Maybe” note that I sent my crush in grade 7),  but a small number of them will – so make sure you find out which firms have the confidence levels of a prepubescent teenager before you start in-firms.

3. Honour Might Not Be Worth It

It’s repeatedly stressed by the CDO that students shouldn’t tell more than one firm that they’re their “number 1.” However, when firms repeatedly imply offers are coming but don’t follow through, it really makes you question whether this duty to be honourable is imposed equally on both sides.

Some students told Firm X’s student director on Wednesday that Firm X was their first choice. It turns out they weren’t on the short list, nor were they high on the waitlist. The student director said nothing even though they knew students typically will only give this “#1” nod to one firm, which drastically reduces their chances of getting a job at other firms. A couple of those students ended up without jobs.

Many firms corner students demanding to hear they are the student’s “#1 choice” and when students fail to say those magic words (even though much love is communicated), cut them from the offer list (directly in contravention of LSUC rules). Given this lack of respect, should students really pay firms the respect of being honest about their firm rankings? It’s entirely up to the student and their situation, but it seems like the duty to be honourable falls disproportionately on the student, who is already disadvantaged in the process. A strong argument can be made for “playing the game” as many firms are clearly playing dirty through the process.

4. Firms Are Not Gender-Blind

The legal profession is still a bastion of male dominance. I know what you’re thinking – “mother of god, exaggerate much? I met with tonnes of female lawyers during in-firms, so that can’t be true” – and you need to calm down. This isn’t meant to be a hyperbolic feminist rant.

It’s true that virtually every firm has taken nominal steps to address gender inequality (I dare you to find me one firm website that doesn’t include mention of their commitment to women’s initiatives). Some firms even take this commitment seriously. One firm, for example, told a student that they’re actively trying to rid themselves of their ‘bro’ culture by implementing inclusive practices such as gender-neutral client development activities (like theatre outings) that don’t have the same tendency to exclude women as the more traditional sporting events do. Unfortunately, these types of anecdotes are rare – most student-reported experiences suggest that firms are not as excited about their “strong commitment to gender equality” as their websites would have us believing.

There are at least two gender-related phenomena that I wish I had known about. First, gender is still used as a category of differentiation. It’s not just a certain number of JD/MBAs and UofT or Osgoode students that firms are looking to hire – some are also trying to meet gender-based hiring targets. One student reported being told by a firm that most of the top candidates are now women. She wasn’t offered a job by that firm, but another student was, who also happened to be told that the firm was ‘excited to interview such a strong male candidate because the firm has been hiring so many females lately.’ (Note: this firm’s current articling class is only ⅓ female.)

Secondly, even when firms don’t condone bizarro ‘reverse affirmative action’ plans, the higher male-to-female ratio of interviewers can still inadvertently disadvantage female candidates. There are only so many politically correct topics that interviewers are allowed to bring up during in-firms, so favourite movies and tv shows, current events, and sports tend to get overused as go-to conversation starters. And while these areas are certainly not ‘gendered’ topics that prejudice women, the fact of the matter is that most of your interviewers will be male, and most of them will not be as excited about  the latest season of So You Think You Can Dance as you are. It’s far more likely that they’ll want to talk about their favourite football or hockey team – and if you don’t have any thoughts on how quickly Arian Foster will recover from his back injury, it’ll be much more difficult to connect with your interviewer.

5. Grades Still Matter After OCIs (But LPPE Never Does)

It’s tempting to believe that firms will only look at your grades when they’re deciding whether to give you an OCI and then promptly shred your transcript and forget all about that LP you got in Admin class once you’ve met their OCI threshold test. “Firms care more about hiring well-rounded people than straight-HH students,” right? Yes… sure they do….let’s go with that. But it’s probably also fair to say that grades never completely drop out of the picture at most firms. Remember: every interviewer is meeting you on paper before they meet you in person. You’ll always have to work harder to impress an interviewer if your 1L transcript isn’t stellar. The Gold Medallist might still be able to woo an interviewer after accidentally mentioning that they camped outside the firm’s office building during Occupy Toronto, but you’ll have a much bigger hurdle to surmount if you say the same and don’t have the grades to counterbalance the slip up. Friendly dispositions and life-changing volunteer experiences in Uganda can only go so far. Firms do consider every aspect of a candidate’s application – but grades speak first, and often loudly.

That said, you can rest easy for now, 1Ls. Many firms didn’t notice students’ LPPE grades because of the way transcripts are laid out. Several students have reported seeing ‘candidate cheat sheets’ on interviewers’ desks that only listed their six grades from April. And at least one student is pissed off that interviewers didn’t seem to take note of that HH they pulled off after mastering limitation periods and res judicata last December.

6. All In-Firm Offers Are Not Created Equal

Sometimes in-firm interviews appear to be just a formality. Other times, they’re an uphill and seemingly unconquerable battle. When students arrive at a firm on Monday morning, they’re often not on a level playing field. Be it a stellar OCI, an academic medal, or convenient articling student friends, sometimes a student is just going to get the job. And sometimes another student is just not going to get the job. Don’t think the outcome is necessarily a reflection of your performance during in-firm week or your merit as a candidate.

7. Student Directors Talk

It has been rumoured that student directors “trade” candidates. This isn’t a far-fetched idea as student directors are friends and, based on firm culture, certain firms compete over the same pool of candidates every year. If a firm drops you abruptly, it may be because you’re not what they’re looking for. But it may also be because another firm wants you badly and has established a “swap” of sorts. This just adds to the feeling that the process is entirely out of the control of candidates.

8. You Can’t Always Be What They Want

Regardless of being awesome, sometimes you’re just not what a firm is looking for that year. As discussed above, one major firm was “looking for strong male candidates” this year because they had been hiring “a lot” of females recently. Sometimes a firm wants to “up” their diversity factor. Bring in the visible minorities! Other times, they’re content with their usual spattering of visual minorities amongst a sea of white. Sometimes firms have picked up a whack of U of T students during the 1L recruitment period so they’re not looking to add many U of T students through the 2L recruitment process. Other times, firms may be looking to fill a decent proportion of their student class with us fabulous U of T-ers. It all depends on the year.

9. How to Deal: Unrequited Love

Conversational style interviews and pleasant chit-chat over dinner can do wonders to calm your nerves and alleviate any intimidation you may be feeling. We all know this. Talking about your passion for cosplay is way more fun than getting interrogated on every aspect of that shitty job you had in undergrad. But what you might not know is that the pseudo-informality of the whole process can also dupe you into believing that you’ve formed a real, human connection with your interviewers, which only leads to heartbreak or a guilt trip on Call Day. Getting rejected from a firm after you’ve already secretly decided to ask some of the lawyers to join a bowling league with you sucks. As does turning down an offer from a firm that spent the last two days expressing their undying love for you. Remain emotionally unattached – it’s the only way to get through this process (relatively) unscathed.

10. The top candidates don’t necessarily end up at the “seven sisters”

In 1L, we were under the impression that the students that ended up at the “seven sisters” were the top talent coming out of law school. As we know now, many average students end up at those firms. Even average students with relatively unimpressive resumes. Sometimes personalities are compatible, students have connections within the firm, or luck gets involved and helps that student land a job at a top firm. Let me stress that so much luck goes into this process. Many academically stronger students with impressive resumes go to non-”seven sister” firms.

11. “You’ll End Up Where You Fit”

OCIs are 17 minutes long. Sometimes not clicking with a single interviewer or accidentally saying one stupid thing can mean the end of that (almost beautiful) relationship. Does that mean you didn’t “fit” with that firm? Not necessarily.

Fast-forward to in-firms. Now students have the chance to meet a number of representatives from the firm over a longer period of time so finding a good “fit” seems more likely. However, the selection process is not solely based on your personality. So many different considerations are involved in the selection process that people don’t always end up where they “fit” best. This line only makes people who end up jobless seem like social pariahs who “fit” nowhere. A lot of luck is involved in the process and while it may “work” for some that doesn’t mean it “works” in all cases.