Ultra Vires


Commitment issues during in-firm week

Jacob Gehlen (2L) 

If OCIs are the speed-dating of the recruitment process, then in-firms are like one-night stands with jealous and possessive strangers who demand way too much way too quickly.

In-firm guidelines dictate that firms may not make offers to students before offer-day at 8:00 AM, but can hint strongly that students should be expecting their call. Students glean firm interest from the number of interviews they get, the number of dinners, lunches, and cocktails they consume, and the number of winky-face emoticons prospective employers put in their emails.

“You’re a very strong candidate 😉 we hope you’re sitting by the phone tomorrow! <3” – not an actual email.

And fair enough. Students should be able to make reasonable guesses about which firms like them, which don’t, and which would like more face-time before the early morning deadline rolls around.

What is not OK, and what has become the norm during in-firm week, is for firms to demand undying allegiance before being willing to make an offer. As one recruiter put it, firms want to hear the magic words: “If you call me on Thursday I will accept.” Anything less and you run the risk of being skipped over for candidates who have expressed unequivocal commitment.

If your number one firm asks you for a “cue,” of course you’ll be perfectly happy to give it. But what about your number two firm? What if you are having trouble making a decision, and are waiting to see which offers actually materialize?

Some students find themselves in a position where their top choice hasn’t made a firm commitment, but other firms are emailing and calling repeatedly trying to get an answer. On the one hand, a student might be tempted to overstate their interest in their back-up firms as a means of locking them in. Students who take this route run the risk of over-extending themselves and being forced to disappoint a firm they said they would accept. Even in a city as large as Toronto, the bar is small and lawyers have long memories. Recruiters at multiple firms could recite first and last names (unprompted) of candidates who had reneged on their commitment.

On the other hand, students can be open and up front with firms and hope for the best. I took this route, and didn’t receive a single offer from any of my back up firms. The twenty-four hour waiting period on offer day is meant to give students some time to deliberate their options, but under the current model these options rarely materialize.

In other aspects of life, we are encouraged to have contingency plans. I applied to U of T law, but I also applied to other schools in case my first choice fell through. During in-firm week, employers demand that students put all their eggs in one basket.

What’s more, there is a clear disparity in bargaining power between law firms and individual candidates. If a firm doesn’t land all of their dream candidates they will always have a large pool of talented applicants to draw from. They can make as many offers as they need to, and occasionally they will signal their interest in a back-up candidate only to disappoint them on offer day.

Candidates have two fundamental considerations at stake: their future and their reputation. If firms abided by bar association guidelines more rigorously, students would have a better opportunity to attend to both.

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