Making the most of firm tours

Alex Redinger (2L) and Brett Hughes (3L)

Every summer, 1-going-on-2-Ls anxiously turn their minds to the November recruitment process and related activities, including the summer firm tour circuit. At firm tours, large downtown law firms open their doors to students and provide some combination of: a speech (and maybe Q&A session) from the student recruiter, a slide presentation about the firm, an office tour with summer or articling students, a casual networking reception with lawyers, and other activities.

You might leave a firm tour having started a beautiful lifelong friendship with the student director and immediately secured a second-year summer job. However, more likely, you will forget most people’s names, feel like you have only a marginally better understanding of the firm, but at least you can write a somewhat more informed cover letter. That’s perfectly okay.

A very small number of students leave an impression (good or bad), but you should go in expecting to simply learn a little more about the firm. If you make a genuine connection with a lawyer, that’s an added bonus. With that in mind, read on for some suggestions to help you get the most of any firm tours you attend.

Before the Tour

  1. Don’t stress. A firm tour is often your first chance to visit a law firm before the actual in-firm interview process, and it can provide a valuable chance to learn and network. That said, you do not need to attend any firm tours, let alone all of them, to be successful in November. Many people get interviews (and jobs) at places they did not visit in the summer, and visiting a firm by no means guarantees you will get an interview or job there.

  1. Research. Do some basic research about the firm. You will be able to ask more focused questions, which allows you to both get more out of the tour and come across as more prepared. At a minimum, learn the main practice areas of the firm and the firm profile (size, office locations, etc.). You could read about recent deals or cases the firm has worked on, but you can just as easily ask a lawyer, who will happily tell you.

  1. Dress “professionally.” We don’t really know what that means, but keep in mind that you are meeting prospective employers in the world’s most conservative profession. You will also be wearing a name tag, so wear something you can comfortably affix it to. (Almost all firms provide name tags, but you should keep your CDO one handy, just in case.)

  1. Know thyself. You will almost certainly be asked a few perennial icebreakers, including “what kind of law are you interested in?” or “how are you liking [your law school]?” You don’t need to treat this like interview preparation, but be prepared to answer some questions about yourself in a thoughtful and positive manner.

During the Tour

  1. Mingle. Meet students and lawyers, establish a rapport, and ask questions. You are not there to chat with your law school colleagues, so make an effort to start or join conversations with people who work at the firm. That said, there is nothing wrong with approaching lawyers with a friend who is also attending.

  1. Be courteous. Make room for others to join your conversations if they seem interested. Don’t monopolize anyone’s time. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be friendly and polite to everyone. Lawyers place great weight on your sociability and you want to leave a positive impression (or at least avoid leaving a negative impression).

  1. Focus on differences. At the outset, most Bay Street firms seem indistinguishable, with only superficial differences. This will still be true at the end of summer. However, you will pick up on some differences, especially in terms of practice groups and culture. For example, some firms have a perceptible “bro” culture, some are “nerdy,” and others have more diverse personality types.

  1. Talk to different people. You should seek out different perspectives by talking to different students, associates, and partners. Don’t feel awkward about ending conversations; no one will be offended. You might even ask the person you’re speaking with to point you towards other lawyers you might want to speak with (e.g. in relevant practice groups). That said, if you find yourself clicking with someone, making one meaningful connection is more valuable than several superficial conversations.

  1. Drink water. Stay hydrated. All the talking is bound to make your throat parched. Feel free to have one or two alcoholic drinks; that is what they are there for, and the lawyers certainly will. But it’s perfectly fine to stick with water or soft drinks instead.

  1. Don’t overstay your welcome. Pay attention for signals the event is winding down. If serving staff are cleaning up, it’s time to go. You don’t get points for being the last one there.

After the Tour

  1. Take notes. Write a few bullet points about the firm tour, including the names of people you met, key pieces of information, and details of anecdotes. These will be invaluable for writing cover letters and throughout the OCI process.

  1. Follow up. If you clicked with someone at the firm, send a brief email saying that you appreciated the conversation and maybe ask if they are willing to go for coffee with you. Networking requires following up. Firm tours provide a springboard for making connections with lawyers which you can develop later.

Finally, keep in mind that firm tours are not the be all and end all of recruitment activities. As we mentioned, making one or a few meaningful connections is more important than making many superficial connections. It is often easier to do this by directly approaching students and lawyers and asking them to go for coffee, rather than attempting to stand out from the crowd in a firm tour setting. Of course, if you attend with the right preparation and right attitude, you can get a lot out of firm tours, but don’t stress – there are many successful paths through the recruitment process.

Good luck!