We sat down with Kim Bonnar, Chief Professional Resources Officer, to find out what makes Cassels unique among Canada’s top-tier firms and to chat about Cassels’ student programs. Here’s what she had to say:
KB: Hands down, it is our people who set us apart! We do serious work, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our bright, talented, passionate people work really hard to provide the highest calibre of legal services. And, we work equally hard to foster an environment where people enjoy spending their time, and like the people they’re spending their time with.
KB: One of the best things about Cassels is that we have strengths across the board. Whether it’s litigation, mergers and acquisitions, or real estate, students are given top-level experiences. What helps to distinguish us from other to-tier firms is that we also have strong expertise in more specialty areas like IP, sports and entertainment, and municipal law. We are also quick to jump on emerging areas like cannabis, cryptocurrency and technology.
KB: First and foremost, candidates should be themselves. We aren’t looking to hire robots – we want candidates to show us what makes them uniquely qualified. So, don’t be shy – show us who you are!
KB: We are looking for diverse candidates who can bring different strengths and experiences to our firm. Having said that, we want all of our students to have four core competencies: team orientation, entrepreneurial mindset, service focus, problem solver. How students have acquired and demonstrated these competencies varies a great deal. We want candidates to highlight these competencies when discussing their experiences.
KB: Yes, we do consider applications from candidates, even if we don’t participate in their schools’ OCI process. If we want to meet a candidate, we will invite them directly for an in-firm interview.
KB: Yes, we do consider NCA candidates. We participate in the NCA OCI Day organized by the NCA Network.
KB: As we aim to grow our firm through our summer student program, we do not generally participate in the articling recruit; but, we will do so if we have a need.
KB: Cassels pays a market-competitive salary in each of our Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary offices. In addition, our articling students receive: licensing costs for the LSO (Toronto), PLTC (Vancouver), CPLED (Calgary), depending on which office they are in; dental and prescription coverage; extended health and life insurance; two weeks’ paid vacation; and a fitness allowance.
KB: We aim to grow our firm through our student program. While we don’t offer guaranteed hire back for our summer students, we have traditionally taken all of our summer students back for their articling terms and have provided them with offers before the application deadlines in each jurisdiction. Associate offers depend on a combination of performance and market conditions – we usually offer associate positions to most of our articling students.
KB: Everything! Our summer and articling students meet with clients, go to court, perform due diligence, do research and drafting – there isn’t anything we don’t want our students to get involved in.
KB: Students with a keen interest in a particular area of law should tell me and their mentors, and go and introduce themselves to the lawyers in the applicable practice group to convey their interest. We make sure that our students get the exposure that they’re looking for.
KB: There are lots of different ways in which students get work at the firm. We have an online portal where students indicate how busy they are, and lawyers reach out to students with availability. We also have a ListServ where lawyers can send out projects to all of our students and see who replies, indicating their interest. Typically, students talk amongst themselves to see who has capacity for (and interest in) a particular project and then that student gets back to the lawyer.
As part of our entrepreneurial culture, students are encouraged to find lawyers who work in the areas they’re interested in, go and introduce themselves to those lawyers, and ask to get involved in their files. This is often how students will get their most exciting assignments!
KB: Our students are given a lot of responsibility – they are assigned work that our clients need done. We rely on them as an integral part of our team. Our client files are staffed leanly, so everyone – including our students – is given the opportunity to learn new things and grow their skill set.
KB: Our summer students don’t have rotations. We encourage them to explore all practice areas we offer so that they can confirm their interests and/or develop new ones. That way, they know which area(s) they want to pursue during their articling period.
The articling experience is highly customizable. Articling students in our Toronto office work on a rotation basis. Students can choose to do multiple rotations in one area, if they’re confident that they want to work in that particular area. Or, they can rotate among the three chosen areas, trying out all three. There is no formal rotation structure for articling students in our Vancouver and Calgary offices. Those students may take work from any lawyer in their office.
KB: Students have lots of time to try out different practice areas and find the right fit for them, through first-hand experience. We don’t ask students to declare a primary area of interest until the end of the articling term when they are being considered for associate positions. Even early in an associate’s career, their practice areas are often more general and subject to change.
KB: We have formal feedback sessions for both our summer and articling students. We collect feedback from all of the lawyers that the students have worked with and then provide that feedback to the students. During these sessions, we discuss any concerns that the students may have and provide any additional resources that would be helpful for them in their development.
While these sessions ensure that we are collecting comprehensive feedback, we encourage students to talk with the lawyers they’re working with to get immediate feedback on what they are doing well and where they could improve. Lawyers are invested in the growth and development of students and this remains the best way to get specific and timely feedback.
Our summer and articling students are each assigned two mentors during their student term. Mentorship ensures that each student receives a balanced and rewarding learning experience and has someone who serves as a personal sounding board. Members of the Student Committee also keep in touch with students on an ongoing, informal basis to offer support and guidance. You can read more about student mentorship program here.
KB: Students are asked to indicate initial areas of interest and those indications are used to inform mentor and office assignments.
KB: Each relationship is unique and depends on the needs of the mentee. Please take the time to read how our students describe their experiences.
KB: Yes, in addition to our initial intensive orientation week for both summer and articling students, we have weekly “lunch and learn” sessions throughout the summer and articling terms. These sessions range in terms of coverage; some of them are substantive, while others focus on practice management, “soft” skills or wellness. Students are also encouraged to attend any of the Continuing Professional Developing programming that we offer our lawyers and that they are interested in.
KB: We have an Inclusion and Diversity Committee that runs various initiatives throughout the firm and throughout the year, including social events, like our international foods luncheon, and training events, like our firm-wide unconscious bias training. We also have eight Affinity Groups – the 2SLGBTQ+ Affinity Group, the Asian Affinity Group, the Black Affinity Group, the Indigenous Affinity Group, the Jewish Affinity Group, the Parents of Young Families Affinity Group, the Mental Wellness Affinity Group, and the Women’s Affinity Group. You can read more about these groups here.
Students are encouraged to get involved with both our Affinity Groups and our broader inclusion and diversity initiatives at the firm. You can read more about our inclusion and diversity initiatives here. In addition to their assigned mentor, students may also request a mentor from any of our Affinity Groups.
KB: We are involved in various pro bono initiatives, including advocacy efforts for: the College of Early Childhood Educators; Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada; Classroom Champions; Law Help Ontario; RARE Theatre Company; and Special Olympics Canada. We also provide pro bono services to our Black-Owned Small Business Grant recipients. Students are encouraged to get involved in pro bono files during their summer and articling terms and most students take us up on the opportunity to do so.
KB: We offer all kinds of events for our students throughout the year, including charitable events such as Aidsbeat, Power To Play and the Dodger; team building events – LOB Bocce Ball Golf, Rock Climbing, and The Edible Story – a cooking challenge; sporting events such as the Raptors, the TFC, and the Vancouver Canadians; and eating events, including Assembly Chefs Hall, Kiin, and The National On 8th.