OCIs: An Environment of Heightened Anxiety

In-Firm interviews can be an ordeal, overshadowed by the daunting prospect of trying to convince the country’s elite law firms that they should give you one of a vanishingly small number of summer jobs. I have several friends for whom this was a harrowing process. From the beginning, my experience was different. I had more in-Firm invitations than my schedule could accommodate. My experience was a privileged one. But an abundance of choice is both a blessing and a curse.

I was assured by everyone I spoke to that, once I got to Toronto, both the firms and I would get an intuitive sense of whether or not we “fit” with each other and that this would help me make my decision. I was skeptical, but it was comforting to think that there might be something subjective to fall back on. Because, by this point, all of the firms I was interviewing with were objectively desirable.

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OCIs, In-firms and Beyond: An Honest Account

The OCI process can be a very rewarding part of any 2L’s law school career. But the process is stressful and can get under your skin. This is my no-frills, brutally honest account of the OCI and in-firm process.

I entered the process with a very focused mindset: I told myself I wouldn’t become consumed by it, whatever the outcome it would be a teachable moment. If anything, I’d become great at writing cover letters and improve my interviewing skills. I still feel this was the right mindset to have going in. I was protecting myself should the process go awry in the early stages. The reality of OCIs was touted repeatedly by career services: very few students find jobs through this process. The vast majority of students find employment through other avenues (whether it be an independent job search, or articling recruitment).

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Getting my life back into balance

Ontario Law Student, Class of 2015

My experience at law school has been quite an interesting journey. I think I spent the better part of first year wondering if someone in the admissions office had made a mistake. I really didn’t know what to expect as I am the first member of my immediate family to obtain a professional degree, actually a post-secondary degree at all for that matter. And even though I had some very successful years within my previous career before law school, I was a little more than overwhelmed at first.

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“If I couldn’t handle the first term, how was I going to get through 3 years plus articling?”

Ontario Law Student, Class of 2016

My biggest struggle with law school was that I didn’t realize how much of a mental and emotional toll it would have on me. From the infamous bell-curve to the super-humans that were my peers, my confidence took a huge hit. I tried telling myself “obviously they accepted you because you can do it.” But as my first term progressed and we hit midterm season, I started breaking down more and more. I felt like everyone was getting it and I just wasn’t. I couldn’t keep up with the workload, I didn’t understand what was going on in class, and my anxiety was so bad I couldn’t eat or sleep properly.

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“During my time in law school, I have developed increased stress and anxiety around my grades, my career, my finances, etc”

Ontario Law Student, Class of 2014

 

In many ways law school has been beneficial for me; in terms of the education I’ve received, the career opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of, and some very wonderful and like-minded people I’ve met. However, in other significant ways law school has changed me from a person who was relatively healthy to a person who is unwell.

During my time in law school, I have developed increased stress and anxiety around my grades, my career, my finances, etc. The structure of law school is one that fosters competition, exclusivity, and contentious behaviours among students and sometimes even professors. It takes students who are all accomplished in their own right and accustomed to over-achieving, and puts them in classes where only a handful of them will get A’s. It subjects students to the pressures of OCIs with few alternatives (and the alternatives that are presented are made to feel second-rate). It advertises the names of prominent downtown law firms on its walls, classrooms, and even on the back of t-shirts that first-years are told to put on the minute they arrive, all of which serve as a daily reminder that those careers are our goals and anything less is a failure.

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Law school is an emotional boot camp

Ontario Lawyer, Class of 2010

Law school for me felt like a mental and emotional boot camp. During the first year, law school served to break down everything I had previously believed about myself: who I was, what I was good at, my self-esteem and place in the world. Overnight  I went from being at the top of my class and being generally successful at whatever I tried, to being completely average and struggling to maintain a place at the middle-to-bottom end of my class. I went from loving school and enjoying my colleagues, to having almost nothing in common with my classmates and hating the subject matter of my classes. In my first week of law school I felt that everyone I met was better than me at everything: everyone appeared to he fit, happy, healthy, they owned business, sat on multiple boards, ran charities, had kids at home, had 5 years more experience than me, had PHDs… and not to mention pretty much everybody seemed to be related to a lawyer in some way. They all seemed to know the system and had some idea of what to expect from law school. I did not come from an upper class background. I had never even met a lawyer.  I had no idea what to expect. And frankly, I hated it. I felt so out of my league.

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Mental illness is not a sign of weakness

Rebecca Lockwood,
Osgoode Hall Law School, Class of 2014

In October of my first year of law school, a counsellor explained to me I was suffering from anxiety and depression. I knew something was very wrong, but I didn’t know what was going on or where to turn.

My doctor referred me to this counsellor after I broke down during a routine check-up. She inquired about my general health and asked, “How are you doing these days?” With that question alone, I began to sob. She sensed something was up.

Although my counsellor wasn’t a psychiatrist and thus her diagnosis wasn’t official, it had the same effect as one. Coming to understand what I was experiencing brought both relief and shame. I was relieved to know that spending entire days in bed crying wasn’t my new “normal” state of being. I had been afraid this was going to last indefinitely. I was ashamed because I felt weak, like I had failed to live up to people’s expectations, including and especially my own.

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