Policies and Politics

Law firms have their own way of doing things. Young lawyers should be quick to learn the rules
WHEN SUMMER STUDENTS COME IN to a corporate law firm, for most it’s their first real brush with law-firm life, and there are policies and expectations that need to be communicated. But not as many as you might think, says Shirin Mirsaeidi, acting Head of Student Programs at Torys LLP in Toronto, adding that judgment and common sense are traits that come through during student interviews. “I find law students are getting more and more mature and poised, and have looked into these things by the time they get here.”

Still, as part of is orientation program, Torys brings in speakers to talk to students about things like email expectations, how they should present themselves in emails (no emojis, presumably), how to interact with others lawyers and how to do business development. While she suspects much of it is not news to the majority of summer students, “we cover the bases” on firm policies, including workplace discrimination and harassment, which is discussed with each incoming class and includes law society rules in the area.

The Torys orientation program covers unwritten policies as well. “We tell them if you work past a certain time you can definitely take a cab home, dinner is served at such-and-such a time, Monday to Thursdays you wear suits, Fridays it’s jeans, that kind of stuff. We go through all of that with them to make sure everyone’s on the same footing.”

At Goodmans LLP
, before summer students do their two rotations, they have two weeks of orientation that combines boardroom and experiential learning, says Nancy Stitt, Director of Student Programs. It’s designed to convey the firm’s guidelines and help students find their feet in an unfamiliar environment.

In a program it started last year, students are broken into groups of four or five and assigned tasks such as finding out, using only the firm’s intranet, who the department heads are, and then going out to take a picture with them and their staff. “That’s designed to do more than put a face to a name, but also to get them talking,” says Stitt, who is in Toronto. Other tasks include going out for lunch together, then figuring out the proper procedure to expense it, and jointly commissioning and writing an affidavit. “There’s only so much that can be imparted in a boardroom before people start to tune out, so we mix it up.”

The students are advised on the firm’s guidelines (Stitt says she hesitates to call them “policies,” as some can be fluid depending on the circumstance) in areas such as hours, expensing, travel, and interaction with their colleagues including possible harassment. Handouts are then provided to reinforce the information.

Each summer student is also assigned mentors for each their two rotations, at least one of whom will be an associate, and they are encouraged to ask questions. If they feel uncomfortable inquiring about something, Goodmans has an app that allows them to do so anonymously. The question goes to Stitt and her group, who find out the answer, which they often post for the whole group to see “because if one person has that question, maybe others do as well. The important thing is, if they’re not sure about something we want them to feel completely comfortable about asking.”