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Interview tips for articling at family law boutiques


Garfield
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Garfield
  • Law Student

Hi, 

Do you have any advice for interviewing at family law boutiques? In what way are they or could they be different from interviews at non-family law firms?

Any particular advice for family law firms where there are just a handful of lawyers (2-3)? They are family law + estate litigation firms

Any particular advice for interviewing at "high net worth" firms like Blaney/Epstein Cole/McCarthy Hansen etc.? (Not saying that I have interviews from these particular firms.) While I have doubts about whether this kind of law is for me (at least theoretically, I am more drawn to assisting more middle or lower class clients), I wanted to prepare for all interviews anyway. 

I haven't interviewed significantly since the 2L recruit so I am a bit nervous. Any advice that you can share would be helpful as I am not sure what to expect, other than the usual questions that I mentioned earlier.

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Aureliuse
  • Lawyer
On 4/10/2022 at 7:58 PM, Garfield said:

Do you have any advice for interviewing at family law boutiques? In what way are they or could they be different from interviews at non-family law firms?

Any particular advice for family law firms where there are just a handful of lawyers (2-3)? They are family law + estate litigation firms

Any particular advice for interviewing at "high net worth" firms like Blaney/Epstein Cole/McCarthy Hansen etc.? (Not saying that I have interviews from these particular firms.) While I have doubts about whether this kind of law is for me (at least theoretically, I am more drawn to assisting more middle or lower class clients), I wanted to prepare for all interviews anyway. 

I haven't interviewed significantly since the 2L recruit so I am a bit nervous. Any advice that you can share would be helpful as I am not sure what to expect, other than the usual questions that I mentioned earlier.

Interviewing at Family Law Boutiques & High Net Worth Clientele Bay St Firms:

From my personal experience, I think it is important that your Application shows:

1. Show STRONG interest in family law. A deep passion with some experience in the trenches that tells your employer that you won't run the other way once things get tough. A good explanation of "WHY" you want to practice family law.

This can be demonstrated from clinical experience and pro bono experience in family law, courses in family law, strong performance in family law courses... and if you want to "one up" the competition, well written essays on issues in family law/top three finish in family moots/negotiations.

2. Ability to work in a high pressure and high stress environment - big firms and boutiques handle big files. Big files have many moving pieces, can take many years to resolve, often have multiple parties. As a junior/articling student, your role in the firm is supporting senior counsel/partner with file management. You must be able to take instructions and apply them accurately. When it comes to trials, summary motions, arbitration, and appeals, things can get crazy fast. A lot of senior counsel/partner handle multiple trials/trial prep in a year.

If you can show you excelled in a high-pace environment in the past (hell, even McDonald's line cook counts), it is definitely a boon.

3. Show initiative and enthusiasm - show that you can learn just by watching and listening. Don't expect others to tell you what to do, but ask when you have questions or concerns.

Show how in the past, you went above and beyond your role because you want to help/do better.

4. Excellent research, communication, and writing abilities - As a junior, very rarely will you get an opportunity to speak or handle a file in court on your own (this is not a great part of being in a large firm), standing in front of a judge. Most of the time, you will be writing Affidavits, Facta, Pleadings, Briefs etc. Your research and writing abilities are applied heavily in both respects.

Show that you can write well, research well, and communicate well - put in care on how you prepare your job application.

5. Accept Responsibility - you might make mistakes, you might speak out of turn, you might give half-baked ideas. But it's okay, you are new. But learn to apologize when you do overstep, in writing if necessary. Don't become a liability at the firm, don't blame others, just admit that you can do better next time.

Show how you made a mistake in the past at work and how you addressed it.

If you need help writing cover letters or resumes for these kind of jobs, shoot me a PM.

I hope my insight helps you. @artsydork Your turn.

Edited by Aureliuse
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artsydork
  • Lawyer

My advice is going to be very similar to @Aureliuse though directed at smaller, non Bay firms.   

1. Understand who the firm is and who they are not. Nothing is more annoying than reading a cover letter geared towards working with me in particular in a practice area that I don't practice in or in a location that we don't regularly attend to. Many smaller firms might travel and note as such on the website. Look to see where the office is actually located before saying you want to work with me in the GTA. Same with practice areas - if the firm advertises additional services, don't focus solely on those areas unless the job posting relates to it. 

2. Show STRONG interest in family law if you're applying for a family law position. Have a good explanation of "WHY" you want to practice family law. Smaller firms may care less about moots/essays (to be frank, IDGAF) but these can assist if you were asked or if this is a "prestige" firm. I may want to nerd out with your interpretation of torts awards in family law cases but I probably will focus most of my time seeing whether you can hit the ground running. I agree with Aureliuse that having previous experience in the field (paid or not) would be good, as well as anecdotes about transferable skills. I definitely want to see someone that can understand the importance of client management, how to mitigate conflict, and basic research skills. 

3. Be honest about your experience. There can be a lot of independence in smaller firms. I want to have a realistic understanding of where you are at and whether I can leave you with a file, or whether I need to carve out some time to train you from the ground up.  I've never really worked as a jr on a file and have had essentially full control of my family files since my call date. A jr in my office would be expected to hit the ground running (with some retraining based on my standards). My colleagues do the same with their associates. From my perspective, if a posting is looking for someone with only an interest in family law, it won't be expected that you know each family pleading. It's not going to work for either of us if you're drowning with a simple application after telling me that you're hella experienced in the area and you're going to be upset about a lack of mentorship. 

4. Communication, and writing abilities. Family law has a lot of paperwork whether or not are the lawyer that is ultimately giving the submissions. Your application is my first impression on your writing potential and attention to detail. I need to know that you can juggle the writing, meet deadlines and still build your practice. 

5. Ability to work in a high pressure and high stress environment. Family law is high pressure and high stress. You need to juggle. I only started my "Monday - Urgent To Do list" yesterday at 3 p.m. because of a series of unexpected issues that required intervention. Today is going OK but I left a fire yesterday smoldering that could have ignited today. My firm is also a higher volume firm so there can be a lot coming in at once, pulling in multiple directions. And it could mean all hands on deck when a simple motion turns complicated and suddenly requires a factum (ugh).

6. Research salaries/different pay structures, especially if you're looking in smaller markets. Negotiating a salary is fine but don't be pulling numbers out of thin air. Have different proposals ready and be realistic. It isn't unusual to check in after 6 months to see what your billing is like to revisit. Cash flow can be an issue at smaller firms so there is generally the expectation that you will be adding to it as opposed to causing a huge disturbance. Bonus structures are fairly common in litigation where I am. Know your budget and what you need - do you want a more stable income with a modest bonus or can you support a more modest income with the potential for a higher payout? 

7. Accept responsibility (essentially copying/pasting what Aurelieuse said because it's super on point). You might make mistakes, you might speak out of turn, you might give half-baked ideas. But it's okay, you are new. But learn to apologize when you do overstep, in writing if necessary. Don't become a liability at the firm, don't blame others, take accountability and move on. You may want to have an anecdote about a similar situation.

8. Do a quick review of the newest case law/interesting cases. Be aware of any recent-ish amendments. It will be a strike if you're using old terminology (ahem, counsel that still calls it "custody and access" despite it being 2 years post amendment).

9. Last, the best interviews that I've conducted (or been involved in) have all felt like conversations. I want to get to know a bit of your personality since a small firm means I will be around you a lot. Have anecdotes ready that you can speak about as well as think of a couple of interesting things about yourself or your hobbies that you might have. Look at the firm website and maybe look at Canlii to see if counsel was involved with anything cool that has been published. Have a couple of questions for me that demonstrates an interest in my firm.

 

 

 

 

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Garfield
  • Law Student
Posted (edited)

For which types of firms is sending a thank you note essential? Or is it considered extra? Or does it not matter to most firms? Or would you say to just send it anyway because it doesn't do damage if the firm doesn't care about thank you notes but it helps you where they expect them and since you don't know which is which just do it anyway?

Asking because I am literally in the middle of many interviews. I am also getting conflicting advice from different people I know, some of whom are saying it's outdated and no one really cares and others who are saying it's very important. (I also hate thank you notes and find them awkward and even fake at times, but I am used to doing things I don't want to do so it's no problem. Sorry, I'm a bit cranky because of having to do so many interviews during exams.)

Edit: I did ask this question in some other category on the forums but want to ask it here to get family lawyer-specific input.

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artsydork
  • Lawyer

Depends on the lawyer that you interviewed with. Younger, hipper firms probably don't care (we don't). Like, I get enough emails in a day. Older/more traditional firms might care though. 

 

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Ruthless4Life
  • Lawyer

I am not a family lawyer (so please correct me if I’m wrong) but I’ve taken a number of divorce/ custody cases in the beginning of my career.  What I found to be the most important ingredient for success in each case was empathy.  Divorce is usually one of the most difficult times for a person and clients are no different.  Divorces are nasty.  But what I did that was different from most “family lawyers” (in the few cases I did anyway) was I showed empathy not Just to the client by also to the client’s spouse.  I always advise client that as much of a horrible spouse you think he/ she might be, is he/she a good father/ mother?  That always inevitably calms the client and keeps the case “under control”.  I figured that being able to control emotions and have ability to show empathy was the winning factor.  My empathy goes beyond my client but theirs - meaning at each hearing I show to the judge mature judgement and respect for the other side.  And how to communicate this empathy to the judge, is what often determines the outcome, because the judge will listen to me.  All of this require life experience as much as professional skill.  Based on my experience on family cases I would only guess that in the interview you need to show, not just “passion”, but maturity, wisdom and most importantly empathy

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BlockedQuebecois
  • Lawyer
1 hour ago, Ruthless4Life said:

I always advise client that as much of a horrible spouse you think he/ she might be, is he/she a good father/ mother?  That always inevitably calms the client and keeps the case “under control”.

Not that I've ever touched a family law case as a lawyer, but I'm fairly certain asking people whether their ex is a good father/mother is not a sure-fire way to calm a family law client. 

Edited by BlockedQuebecois
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realpseudonym
  • Lawyer
3 hours ago, Ruthless4Life said:

But what I did that was different from most “family lawyers” (in the few cases I did anyway) was I showed empathy

Note to applicants: file this under the category of things not to say during interviews at family law firms. 

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artsydork
  • Lawyer

Depending on timing, family lawyers often have to talk our clients down. I literally just said similar words on Friday after a motion. "You said the children miss their father. This structured time is good for them" to help understand the judge's order.

I get where Rutherless is coming from. It's a tough balance as too emphatic a family lawyer burns out. Timing, knowing the client relationship, and tact are also key. Perhaps not at first intake but similar language can be used when appropriate.

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Rashabon
  • Lawyer

I also think it's insane to claim that you are unique in showing empathy as a family lawyer.

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Ruthless4Life
  • Lawyer
4 hours ago, Rashabon said:

I also think it's insane to claim that you are unique in showing empathy as a family lawyer.

I think it’s pretty unique in my experience anyway , or maybe it’s just the “family lawyers” I’ve come across in the past who only talk down the other side to fuel the flame.  Where I think what a family should really do most of the time is think of a solution that’s capable of reaching the best interests for the children - even if it means sacrificing the parents own interests - or when there’s no children - quickly resolve their disputes and move on to have better lives.  And spend less time arguing minute legal issues and waste $ on legal costs.

Or maybe it’s because my background Is really commercial litigation / arbitration and the moment you say the word “empathy” people are mind blown and think you’re the next Gandhi.  But back to the topic maybe I have Just happened to meet some really adversarial family lawyers which I didn’t didn’t appreciate when family law really shouldn’t be adversarial (in my view) but trying to find solutions to heal what is broken. 

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Ryn
  • Lawyer

While I can appreciate the discussion, let's please keep this on answering OP's question. If you want to talk about the role of empathy in various other areas of law, please make a separate post for it.

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Aureliuse
  • Lawyer
On 4/14/2022 at 2:53 PM, Garfield said:

For which types of firms is sending a thank you note essential? Or is it considered extra? Or does it not matter to most firms? Or would you say to just send it anyway because it doesn't do damage if the firm doesn't care about thank you notes but it helps you where they expect them and since you don't know which is which just do it anyway?

Asking because I am literally in the middle of many interviews. I am also getting conflicting advice from different people I know, some of whom are saying it's outdated and no one really cares and others who are saying it's very important. (I also hate thank you notes and find them awkward and even fake at times, but I am used to doing things I don't want to do so it's no problem. Sorry, I'm a bit cranky because of having to do so many interviews during exams.)

I would send "Thank you" letters to all the firms you interviewed with. I customized my "Thank You" letters based on a broad template so firms feel that I truly appreciated what was unique about them, and appreciated their partner's time and commitment to the interview.

It is an opportunity to ask additional questions too, questions that you didn't get to ask during the interview.

From the employers' perspective, they would not need to dig up your email address from your resume/CV. They can just search your name in their inbox to send that Offer of Employment.

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Garfield
  • Law Student

Thank you for the great advice, everyone. To future students reading this, the advice in this thread was spot on, IME. I received multiple offers and obtained an articling position at a family law firm literally using the advice in this thread.

I wanted to add on to and confirm the advice given:

  • Know the firm you're interviewing with, as artsydork mentioned. I played up different aspects of my resume and skillset depending on the firm, its clientele (e.g. high net worth clientele vs. middle class clientele), and its other areas of practice, like estate litigation or criminal law.

    For example, if it was a smaller, non-Bay Street firm whose clientele are middle/working class, I emphasized hands-on experience, such as my clinic experience and how I had carriage of my own files.  If the firm did a bit of criminal law, I would also add at some point that I was interested in criminal law (due to its frequent intersection with family law or something similar).

    If it was a "prestige" firm, I would still mention my clinic experience and related skills of course, but I might emphasize my drafting and research skills throughout the interview. (As Aureliuse had mentioned, drafting and research is what you'd likely be doing at these firms as a junior.) In the interviews that I did with Bay Street family law firms, I also found they were interested in the non-family law-related aspects of my resume, such as extracurriculars and interests. So be prepared to discuss those aspects of your resume. 
     
  • Always always have an answer prepared for why you want to work for that particular firm, which relates to the point above. 
     
  • Show, don't (just) tell + make sure you use the right terminology along the way. As previous posts state, you should be able to show x or y, whatever that may be. It's important to have anecdotes on the ready, so that you can clearly articulate past experiences to illustrate a skill, achievement, or interest.

    Also, if you're using anecdotes that involve work in family law, make sure your terminology is correct and that you are accurate about the details, because there might be follow-up questions, as there were in almost all my interviews. I did not have the feeling that these follow-up questions were to "test" me on substantive or procedural family law or to "catch" me in some lie or exaggeration. They seemed like genuine questions asking for further context, but as artsydork said, it could be a strike if you fumble something along the way (like the terminology or some other detail).
     
  • Have an answer ready for how you would handle the emotional aspects of family law practice.
     
  • Send thank you notes... even if you hate them.
     
  • The best interviews really are like conversations. Think about ways to lighten up the conversation (because it can get boring), such as adding interesting anecdotes or asking certain questions. The general "feeling" that interviewers have about you coming away from the interview may be a strong factor in whether you are given an offer. Also, steer clear of certain subjects in certain contexts. There are probably many situations where asking about work-life balance would make the conversation take an awkward and negative turn. 

Last, I want to add that I prepared answers addressing the very questions in this thread. I felt that that boosted my confidence going into interviews. I also kept in mind the usual interviews tips: knowing my resume in and out, having an answer for "Why should we hire you?", turning negatives into positives, having an explanation for any weaknesses in my application, having questions prepared at the end of each interview, and so on.

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