Ultra Vires



Making a choice: abstaining from OCIs

This year, I chose not to participate in the formal on-campus interview (OCI) process, otherwise known as the recruit. By OCIs, I am referring to interviews with Bay Street/Big Law/corporate employers. In this opinion piece, I want to explain why I chose not to participate in the recruit and explore some options available outside of the OCI process.

The work we do as law students is far from neutral. I take the position that the law acts as an organ of the State, maintaining a capitalist status quo and oppressing the working class and marginalized populations. This belief feeds into the view that legal practitioners can either take on work that perpetuates this status quo or seeks to reduce its harms. For example, a union-side labour firm should apply the law in a manner that furthers the interests of unions, thereby pushing back against the exploitation of labour. On the flip side, a management firm may seek to apply the law in favour of the employer, preventing power from being built within a workplace and individualizing the worker in a way that enables exploitation. Broadly, I think the work each firm, clinic, non-governmental organization, etc. takes on has broader implications for class struggle. Our decision to take on positions at these workplaces furthers class interests, whether or not we are aware of it.

The recruit hosts a number of firms that participate in work that either directly or indirectly facilitates exploitation and oppression. As a law student who is solely interested in public interest work, which either mitigates oppression or furthers the interests of working class and marginalized peoples, I did not think that I would find fulfilling work through the OCI process. And so, I did not apply to the recruit.

Many factors, especially at the Faculty, can make students feel like OCIs are the best route to employment. The Career Development Office has created many well-developed and well-researched materials in support of students seeking employment on Bay Street. Substantially fewer materials exist for those interested in public interest careers, which may contribute to a belief that these positions are less viable financially or even less available. Further, outrageous tuition fees and steadily increasing living costs make financial security a concern for many (including the author of this article). Combined, these circumstances encourage students to participate in the OCIs, which represent visible access to well-paid employment.

However, I think it is important to recognize that several opportunities are available outside of the formal OCI process—although many of these opportunities become available later in the year. In fact, most firms that practice public interest work (e.g. union-side labour, criminal defence, environmental law, refugee/immigration, etc.) appear to hire exclusively outside of the recruit. It is true that many of these firms do not have the same resources as Bay Street, and most positions are available for articling students rather than for 2L summer students. Nonetheless, public interest firms present a path for those who might not be interested in the kind of work Bay Street offers but want to gain experience working at a firm. 

Legal clinics are also an option, with many clinics outside of Downtown Legal Services accepting students through fellowships. Speaking of fellowships, the Donner, Debwewin, June Callwood (available to students of Indigenous descent), International Human Rights Program, and Students’ Law Society fellowships allow students to find and fund work that aligns with their values. While these positions may not pay as much as a summer position on Bay Street, they allow students to secure gainful employment that furthers their careers without compromising on a desire to work in support of the public interest.

While it is ultimately your decision to participate in OCIs, I encourage you to think about how your work feeds into capitalist power dynamics. If you are passionate about social justice and the support of class struggle, there are viable careers out there for you. It may take a little more work, and you may be paid a little less, but I believe that, in the long run, it will be worth it.

Editor’s Note: Justin Nathens is a member of the University of Toronto Law Union Steering Committee.

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