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).
The first stage in the process is the applications. A list is released by career services indicating which employers will be participating in the hiring process. From this list you are encouraged to look up the employer to cater your application to their respective firm. I looked up each firm to identify a target list. I applied to 48 firms, 33 of which participated in OCIs. I had a smaller list of my “Top 10” that I selected to place more effort into. For these firms I met current students for coffee or lunch, and attended firm tours. For the other firms I read everything available about the firms, their student programs, and I spoke with students over the phone. I agonized over my cover letters for months, editing and re-editing each one. This part of the process was isolating; it felt like I was the only one putting in so much effort, for such a small possibility of reward.
Thankfully, and very much to my surprise, my work yielded results. I received 10 OCIs. I honestly didn’t believe I was going to get any. All the things I had heard about the Bay Street firms and what they were looking for made me think the odds weren’t going to be in my favor. I was however, admittedly, disappointed. Not one of my Top 10 firms offered me an interview. While this was disheartening, I had been given a chance to interview with 10 firms! Some students didn’t even get the chance to get this far. I decided I would accept all of the interviews and put my best foot forward for each.
OCI day was probably one of the strangest things I’ve ever witnessed. For one, the majority of my peers looked absolutely panicked and unrecognizable. Friends who were normally bubbly and outgoing were quiet, meek, and reserved. Everyone looked like dim, grey shades of themselves. I’d like to say I didn’t share this quality, and was largely myself. I still had the mindset that whatever happened wouldn’t really matter, good or bad. It was important for me to be myself during the interviews, and that’s exactly what I did. My interviews were completely varied and seemingly benign. I talked with firm representatives about cooking, game of thrones, and travelling. I made jokes, they laughed. There were a few serious questions about my experiences interspersed, but never was I asked anything substantially related to law. I had really great conversations with about half of my firms, and had a good feeling about my odds in being called back for an infirm.
After the interviews were over I was exhausted, but the day was nowhere near over. The night was spent with a bottle of wine and a stack of business cards. I wracked my brain for memorable moments I had shared with my interviewers. I made sure each email had a little flair to remind them who I was and what we talked about. The following morning I received some responses to my emails. They were generally terse and not very indicative of my performance.
Weeks went by and I had pushed the OCI process out of my mind. That was until I received intent to call emails. At 7:50 am on call day I sat anxiously by the phone. I knew two firms would call for sure. By 8:15, I was both excited and disappointed. I only received two in-firms. The two full service firms that were my front-runners in OCIs didn’t call me, despite having seemingly great conversations with them during the OCI. Again, I decided to push through the process and take the interviews. I reached out to students from the firms I would be meeting and tried to learn as much as possible. I did additional research on firm members, memorizing pieces of their LinkedIn bios in the hope of casually integrating these shadily obtained tidbits in conversation.
Having only 2 in-firms was a blessing in disguise. At the time I felt disappointed, but later as the chaotic nature of the process was realized, I was grateful to not have so many things on my plate. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were largely a blur. I spent the early mornings and late nights on the subway. In-between meetings and after receptions I debriefed with friends staying downtown. Each one of us was tired and shell-shocked.
I’m a fairly introverted person, so the infirm process really drained me. I felt like I was constantly on for 3 days straight. I went into interviews with a positive disposition, a painted on smile, and the most optimistic attitude I could muster. At some points when I was talking, I honestly didn’t recognize my own voice. At receptions I circulated the room, trying to meet and converse with as many people as possible while politely rejecting the trays of delicious hors d’oeuvres that were passed around me. I was starving, but I couldn’t eat the food. I was there to meet people, not eat. I ignored my one hunger to fulfill another.
When the process was over, I felt like a shell of the person I was back when the process began. I was no longer passive towards the outcome of the process. I had invested so much time, so much energy, stepped so far out of my comfort zone to reach this point and now I wanted it, badly. I was invited back Wednesday morning to both of the firms in interviewed with – I was told repeatedly an invitation on Wednesday morning was an excellent sign, it pointed towards serious consideration of my employment by the firm. Earlier on Tuesday evening I had told one firm that they were my number one choice. It felt like I had proposed, firm X was now my ‘ball and chain’. I kid but really, do not underestimate the power of those words. They have binding power and are not to be taken lightly.
As I had informed the one firm that they were my first, I was unable to say this to the other firm when they were assessing my interest Wednesday morning. I was worried I would not be granted an offer, so I cleverly (I’d like to think) indicated my interest by saying that everyone was so lovely and I could really picture myself working there. By 11:00 am, there was nothing else I could do. No more people to talk to, no more practice areas to feign interest in, no more reason to wear the heels. All that was left to do was wait.
It seemed like 5 pm would never arrive. I sat anxiously, watching yet not watching episodes of arrested development, waiting to see if I had succeeded. 5 pm came, but no one called. My phone flashed with text messages from my friends. The majority were successful, informing me of their triumphs and wanting to know how I did. Even people who had little to no interest in the Toronto market accepted jobs and were now touting their success as future Bay Street Lawyers. I ignored the messages.
The next day I contacted lawyers I had made connections with through the in-firm process for feedback on my performance. I could not wrap my head around the situation. I had done everything right, hadn’t I? I played the game—I put on my suit and heels and paraded my skills to partners and associates, just as they demanded. What more could I have done? The response was nothing. They wouldn’t change a thing. They loved me, everyone enjoyed meeting me, but it was a tough year with many qualified candidates. I was one of the top contenders, and they didn’t expect every person they offered a job to, to accept. I thanked them for the feedback and asked them for advice on finding employment moving forward.
Don’t get me wrong – my experience with the OCI process was an achievement. I made it far, way further than I had ever imagined going into the process. My original objective was just to gain experience in interview skills, but as time went on, I became invested. Now it was personal. It wasn’t them disliking me because of my grades, or a cover letter. Now they had met me, several times, and decided that I wasn’t the right ‘fit’ for them. I’m still coming to terms with the situation, and I’m reminding myself of the words career services told us repeatedly: the OCI process isn’t the end of the world. If you don’t get a job, it’s just the beginning of a myriad of employment options that will become available.
I think the most important take away point from this experience is you shouldn’t take the outcome of this personally. I’m learning that now. Its not you, it’s them. If you don’t get the job it doesn’t make you any less qualified of a candidate. You’re still the same fun, smart, and dedicated person that you were going in; you’re just going to share those gifts somewhere else.
Ontario Law Student, Class of 2016